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Tampa's WellCare announces CEO will resign

When WellCare Health Plans Inc. made Heath G. Schiesser president and chief executive officer in 2008, Schiesser seized the role of the sheriff brought in to clean up a troubled town.

The $7 billion Tampa managed care company was under investigation for defrauding the state's Medicaid fund by tens of millions of dollars. The Securities and Exchange Commission probed the company about tainted earnings reports.

After WellCare agreed to pay more than $90 million last month to settle the most serious charges, Schiesser decided it was time to bow out. The 41-year-old informed the company's board of his departure on June 26. He'll man his post until a search committee finds his successor.

In a statement Monday, Schiesser praised the employees for resolving legal headaches that intensified in late 2007 during a raid by the FBI and the Florida attorney general's Medicaid fraud control unit.

Under contract with the state and federal government, the company serves about 2.5 million Medicaid and Medicare clients. It was charged with helping itself to $40 million in Medicaid money it was supposed to have reimbursed the state.

Schiesser replaced Todd Farha as president of the company 11/2 years ago. He was paid a base salary of $400,000. As one of the region's biggest companies, WellCare employs about 2,000 locally.

"I am proud of all that the WellCare team has accomplished since January 2008," said Schiesser, who has worked for the company in several capacities since 2002.

The cost of compliance, combined with the recession, has sapped company earnings. WellCare shares sold for $48 when Schiesser took charge and traded for $18 on Monday.

Before the investigation, WellCare had been a candidate for acquisition. In a cost-saving measure, the company announced it would cut 360 jobs in May, some in Tampa.

And it's not out of legal jeopardy: The company continues to operate under the threat of civil suits by the Justice and the Health and Human Services departments.

The government also has prohibited WellCare from selling Medicare plans, accusing it of marketing irregularities. The company hopes to overturn the ban later this year.

Schiesser hasn't announced what he'll do next. Nor has the company said if he'll be compensated when he leaves.

Tampa's WellCare announces CEO will resign 06/29/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 29, 2009 10:03pm]

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