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WellCare Profits Drop, Blames the Flu

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WellCare Health Plans

WellCare Health Plans, a major player in Florida's Medicaid system, saw lower profits during the fourth quarter of 2014 and pointed to the heavy flu season as a cause.

The Tampa-based company reported Wednesday that net income during the fourth quarter was $7.7 million, or 18 cents per diluted share, down from $42.9 million, or 97 cents per diluted share, during the same period in 2013. On an adjusted basis, net income during the final quarter of 2014 was $18 million, or 41 cents per diluted share, compared with $48.2 million, or $1.09 per diluted share, during 2013.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, WellCare said it had higher-than-average costs for influenza treatment during the final three months of the year.

"While we are disappointed with our fourth quarter earnings due to the effect of the early and more severe flu season on our Medicaid business, we are focused on enhancing our core capabilities to deliver stronger performance in 2015 and to seize long-term growth opportunities," Kenneth A. Burdick, WellCare's chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement.

Under Florida's new statewide Medicaid managed-care system, WellCare has received contracts to manage care for beneficiaries in eight of 11 Medicaid regions.

The company said in Wednesday's filing that it had more than 650,000 members in Florida's Medicaid program as of Dec. 31.

Bill Would Add to DOH Emergency Powers

A House Republican filed a proposal Wednesday that would bolster the authority of the Florida Department of Health in trying to prevent the spread of communicable diseases during public-health emergencies.

The proposal (HB 697), filed by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice, would add to the department's power to order quarantines for people who are believed to have been exposed to communicable diseases but are not ill.

During public-health emergencies, it would allow the department to order "isolation" for people who are "reasonably believed to be infected with a communicable disease." Also the bill says that orders for quarantine or isolation would be immediately enforceable by law-enforcement officers.

The bill will be considered during the legislative session that starts March 3. Gonzalez, a newly elected House member, is an orthopedic surgeon.