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Walmart and Humana: Can we just get through one week without a giant merger talk?

Walmart and Humana: Can we just get through one week without a giant merger talk?
[Photo: Flickr user Mike Mozart]

One day you may be able to pick up health insurance on a trip to Walmart. The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Walmart and health insurer Humana may be partnering up, while Reuters reports that the companies are discussing a partnership, and a full acquisition is also on the table.

Is anyone else getting merger fatigue? Last week it was Target in talks with Kroger, and in December it was CVS Health announcing a $69 billion deal to buy Aetna. We’ve also had Cigna’s $54 billion deal to buy the country’s biggest pharmacy (Express Scripts), and Amazon’s recently announced partnership with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to create some kind of healthcare entity.

That last venture is meant to help Amazon curb its employee healthcare costs, and Amazon isn’t alone in that. Apple is opening medical clinics for its 120,000 employees. For those of us who don’t work for tech companies, though, we’ll just have to wait and see if the U.S. government lets these mergers go through, or if the companies can expect the kind of courtroom battle that AT&T and Time Warner are fighting as we speak.

In reality, large mergers are often bad for consumers as they can mean fewer choices, less competition, higher markups, and can lead to unfair tactics that leave consumers with hefty bills. Considering that healthcare costs are one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcy in this country–even among the insured–there’s a lot of incentive to get this right. How much more can consumers take?

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