Providers weigh Varney exit
Focus on antitrust laws made ‘companies take notice’
U.S. Justice Department antitrust chief Christine Varney, who oversaw an increase in scrutiny on healthcare companies during an era of sweeping consolidation and reform, will resign her federal job Aug. 5.
A month later, Varney is slated to become an attorney with Cravath, Swaine & Moore, according to the firm, which has offices in New York and London and specializes in corporate law and litigation and has a longheld expertise in antitrust law.
As assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Varney came into her role in the Obama administration in 2008 vowing to step up antitrust enforcement across the board—and especially in healthcare, among providers and insurers.
“She’s clearly made healthcare one of her priorities, and she certainly has made healthcare companies sit up and take notice,” said Jones Day Partner Toby Singer, who formerly represented Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan in recent antitrust cases. “So she’s definitely accomplished what most antitrust regulators want to accomplish, which is to get people to pay attention to the antitrust laws.”
Observers say Varney lived up to the expectations she set when she announced her arrival in Washington by rescinding a looser antitrust enforcement policy promulgated by Justice Department lawyers under President George W. Bush.
“I think people are having to give more conservative advice than they did on some kinds of transactions,” said Art Lerner, a partner with Crowell Moring. “I think she definitely established a tone of greater vigilance in terms of public posture.”
Varney’s impact will be felt for years with the promulgation of proposed waivers from antitrust rules for accountable care organizations, but healthcare lawyers noted two Justice Department cases in particular as defining Varney’s two-year run: the Justice lawsuit filed against Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan and a settlement reached with a hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas, called United Regional Health Care System.
Both cases concerned healthcare pricing, and specifically, allegations that a dominant player in a market was using clout to drive up costs and