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Health News Florida

Miami 'Mike' to Acquire Universal Health Care

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Miami health-care investment firm MBF Healthcare Partners -- whose chairman is multimillionare Miguel "Mike" Fernandez -- is buying Universal Health Care,  a multistate Medicare plan based in St. Petersburg.

The proposed deal involves two of the fundraising titans of Florida's Republican Party.  As the Tampa Bay Times reported, Fernandez served on the finance team for unsuccessful Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, Universal's founder, chairman and CEO A.K. Desai is the finance chairman of the state GOP.

MBF announced the planned acquisition -- scheduled to take place before the end of March -- on Wednesday, after days of rumors among sales agents.

Marcio Cabrera, managing director at MBH Healthcare Partners, told the Tampa Bay Times for Thursday's edition that Desai will step down as CEO and chairman but will continue to play a role in the company. Desai and Fernandez are long-time friends, he said. In the MBF press release, which quoted Fernandez, he called Desai a "visionary."

Before recent financial troubles, Universal had expanded its Medicare plans to 20 states with more than 191,000 members, including a Medicaid contract in Florida.  

The planned acquisition of Universal's plans would more than double -- maybe triple --the number of managed-care customers under MBF companies Simply Healthcare Plans and Better Health provider-service networks.

The MBF companies are listed at  MBF Healthcare Partners website.   On another website, MBF lists companies that it has sold for a profit, including two health plans.

Before recent financial troubles, Universal had expanded its Medicare plans to 20 states with more than 191,000 members.  It lost members during Medicare open-enrollment season in the fall after federal officials sent letters to Universal members saying the plan had below-average ratings on quality measures and customer satisfaction. The letter suggested that members consider switching plans; many did.

Around the same time, in mid-November, Georgia's Insurance Department halted sales of Universal's Medicare plans in that state because of its shaky finances, as Georgia Health News reported. Ohio insurance officials took similar action.

It is not clear whether the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation had planned to crack down, as well; a spokeswoman said there was no information on that available to the public.

Florida's insurance department tried to place the company under state receivership in early 2007, saying its financial reserves were inadequate to meet state requirements. But a cash infusion freed Universal from state supervision.