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Health News Florida

Economic Impact Of WellCare Purchase Unknown

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Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans may soon merge with a St. Louis-based company to create one of the biggest insurers in the country.

But that means the loss of headquarters for one of the Tampa Bay area's top public companies.

Centene announced plans Wednesday to purchase WellCare for $17.3 billion.

It's uncertain at this time what will happen to the company's 4,500 Tampa-based employees, and exactly what the economic impact will be.

Alexis Muellner, the editor-in-chief of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, said local WellCare employees were shocked by the news.

"There is some anxiety and stress over the future of their jobs because there hasn't been a lot of detail about what happens to positions, especially in a merger, because sometimes, and oftentimes, there's redundancies,” Muellner said.

WellCare founder Kiran Patel told the Business Journal that he doesn't believe the merger will result in a big reduction in workforce.

Muellner said local economies want to grow companies that are tempting acquisition targets, but losing them has a impact, both economically and psychologically.

"Any loss of a headquarters company I don't think is a great big positive for us, Muellner said. “This is not an area with a huge amount of Fortune 500 companies compared to places like you'd see in the Midwest."

“We also take a lot of pride in our headquarter companies because those are corporate citizens that play a role as employers, and supporting community efforts, and also fostering job growth and talent retention that comes here to work and stay and root in and eventually start their own companies.”

Craig Richard, president and CEO, Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation said they’re ready to work with the merged company.

“We stand ready to work with WellCare executives to help mitigate any potential impact on their local workers. We look forward to getting to know the team at Centene and helping them get dialed into the Tampa community,” Richard said in statement to WUSF.

The Business Journal reports that the merger will not have any immediate changes in users' premium, benefits and network of providers.

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2020, but needs approval from shareholders and regulators.