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Wellcare founder Kiran Patel buying troubled Universal Health Care [Tampa Tribune, Fla.]

By Tampa Tribune, Fla.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Feb. 01--ST. PETERSBURG -- One of the Tampa Bay area's biggest names in health care, Dr. Kiran Patel, is buying the financially troubled Universal Health Care insurance company.

A private equity firm Wednesday reversed its recent decision to buy the St. Petersburg-based company, which employs 1,000 people.

The purchase, if approved by regulators, will mean big changes at Universal, Patel said.

Layoffs are likely, though Patel would not say how many employees ultimately would be retained.

"The best answer I can give you there is that my involvement will mean anything better than zero," he said. "Because if I don't intervene, then the company is shut down."

Patel's ultimate plan would be to merge Universal with one of his existing health care companies based in Tampa. He said he didn't think he would need to keep Universal's current offices at 100 Central Ave. because of his companies' existing infrastructure.

Patel, a cardiologist and philanthropist, made a fortune when he sold WellCare HMO to an investment group. He later bought small Tampa firms Freedom Health and Optimum Healthcare. He is chairman of both.

Universal laid off employees in December, has fallen under scrutiny from federal regulators and has been ordered by two states to stop writing new policies.

The federal government last year rated Universal's Medicare policy as below average, giving it two and a half stars out of five in its ranking system.

Last year, the company reached an agreement with Georgia to stop enrolling new Medicare customers.

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(c)2013 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)

Visit the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.) at www.tampatrib.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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