The $34.1 billion blockbuster deal between Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc. is seen as complementary to both health insurers in terms of helping grow their involvement in private and public health insurance exchanges.

Tucker Sharp, global chief broking officer with Aon Health, points out the two carriers participate in a number of different private exchanges, including Aon’s own fully insured HIX. While Aetna serves actives and retirees, Humana is primarily focused on the latter. The merger would not alter “any of Aetna’s strategy around participation in exchanges – they’re going to be a big player in both active and retiree exchanges,” he says.

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Humana’s involvement in the retiree exchange and innovation in the Medicare Advantage space is likely to deepen Aetna’s breadth of offerings on the retiree exchange, according to Sharp. He says it’s doubtful the merger “will have much impact on Aetna’s participation in the active exchange because, again, Humana’s commercial business that would play into that active exchange isn’t that deep.”

Also see: Pros, cons for employers in Aetna-Humana deal

Since individual retail policies are among the fastest growing lines of business for many health insurers, then it’s possible that Aetna will be able to grow this area through its participation in public exchanges, observes Ed Kaplan, national health practice leader at The Segal Group. That scenario “could dovetail right into Humana’s individual Medicare product,” he adds.

The merger wouldn’t have too much impact on large employers because it’s more about “the Medicare Advantage space than the commercial space at this point,” according to Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. He says post-65 retiree options for accessing Medicare coverage “isn’t a market employers are as focused on as they were 10 years ago.”

The timing of this proposed merger suggests a crucial timetable in the months ahead. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini hopes antitrust regulators will approve the deal before they take an equally close look at a merger sought between Anthem and Cigna.

Also see: Brokers react to Aetna cutting commissions

Another motivation is that his company would owe Humana a hefty $1 billion breakup fee based on 3.75% of the deal’s enterprise value if the proposal is blocked on antitrust grounds, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Bertolini and Humana CEO Bruce Broussard have expressed confidence that federal regulators will green-light the merger because the commercial coverage Aetna sells mainly to employers would complement Humana’s strong Medicare presence.

Additional reporting by Andrea Davis

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