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Express Scripts plans to lay off 390 in Tampa

TAMPA — Express Scripts, the nation's biggest pharmacy benefit manager, is planning to cut hundreds of jobs across the country. But the 390 employees the company plans to fire from its Tampa operation constitute the largest layoff in Tampa Bay in 2014.

That's more than half of the company's 720-person workforce at 5701 E Hillsborough Ave. The layoffs include nearly 150 high-paying pharmacist positions. The company said it told those employees about the cuts Tuesday and filed the required layoff notice with the state.

"In some respects, we're overstaffed in some of our pharmacy operations, including Tampa," company spokesman Brian Henry said Wednesday.

Express Scripts manages drug benefits for insurers and employers, and fills and mails out prescription medications directly to patients. It became the nation's top pharmacy benefit manager in 2012 when it bought Medco Health Solutions for $29.1 billion.

But in 2013, Express Scripts lost Medco's biggest client, United Healthcare. The insurance company decided to handle its pharmacy needs in-house.

Express Script's first-quarter report, released Tuesday, showed an 18 percent drop in prescriptions handled and a 10 percent decrease in revenue compared with the same period last year.

Now the company said it has to shed 1,890 jobs in the coming year in light of a drop in prescription volume.

Orders fell from 390 million prescriptions in the first quarter of 2013 to 320 million in the first quarter of 2014, a company statement said.

Company revenue fell by $2.3 billion in the first three months of this year compared with the same time period last year. That was a 10 percent drop in revenue, to $23.7 billion.

The company attributed the declines to several factors.

Express Scripts blamed the severe winter for hampering the number of prescriptions it handled. The company also said it did not anticipate that so many of those who recently enrolled in health care exchanges would wait until the last minute to do so. Many also were already enrolled in Express Scripts, so the company didn't get quite the bump in business that it had hoped.

Chief executive officer George Paz said Wednesday during a conference call with investors that he still thinks the Affordable Care Act will ultimately benefit his company.

"We are still bullish on health care reform," Paz said, according to a transcript.

Express Scripts employs 2,400 people in Florida, split between Tampa and Orlando. The Tampa operation is a "front-end pharmacy" where pharmacists review doctors' prescriptions and make sure the medications are appropriate for patients before the orders are filled and sent out.

The Tampa office will remain open, and employees there will continue to perform quality-assurance work and run a call center for customers. The Orlando office will not be affected by any cuts.

Express Scripts has headquarters in St. Louis and employs 29,000 people across the country. The company said it plans mass layoffs in three other states — 290 jobs in Ohio, 370 in Nevada and 580 in Texas at two facilities that will close.

The company said it offered buyouts to 260 employees across the nation.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com.

Express Scripts plans to lay off 390 in Tampa 04/30/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 11:09pm]

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