1. News
  2. /
  3. Business

Dr. Akshay Desai, founder of Universal Health Care, dies at 61

The health maintenance organization at one point had 140,000 members in 23 states.
Dr. Akshay Desai, founder of now-defunct  Universal Health Care. .
Dr. Akshay Desai, founder of now-defunct Universal Health Care. .
Published Dec. 4, 2019
Updated Dec. 4, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — When Republicans held their presidential nominating convention in Tampa in 2012, Dr. Akshay Desai was among the biggest local players in party politics.

Dr. Desai, a geriatrician and founder of Universal Health Care, feted Republican governors at his bayfront mansion, dined with former President George W. Bush at his Texas ranch and with his wife, Seema, contributed more than $800,000 to Republican candidates and causes. But behind the scenes, Dr. Desai’s company was collapsing amid allegations of fraud and embezzlement. Within months of the convention, FBI agents raided Universal’s St. Petersburg offices as the company filed for bankruptcy.

Dr. Desai stepped back from public view but continued seeing patients. He died Nov. 29; his funeral was held Tuesday. He was 61.

RELATED: Akshay Desai and the rise and fall of Universal Health Care

A native of India, Dr. Desai did his residency in the United States and opened a practice in St. Petersburg because of its large elderly population. He soon began managing the practices of other doctors and in 2003, he started a health maintenance organization, Universal Health Care, for people on Medicare and Medicaid.

With his new company and palatial Snell Isle home, the frequent site of charity galas, Dr. Desai quickly established himself in civic circles. Bush named him to his Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Former Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to a board that oversaw Florida’s university system.

Universal grew quickly, eventually boasting more than 140,000 members in 23 states. Its “Any, Any, Any” Medicare Advantage plan was a huge hit; members loved the promise that they could see any doctor anywhere at any time.

But hospitals and members complained about delayed payments and denied claims. A joke had it that "Any, Any, Any'' meant Universal wasn’t paying “any doctors, any hospitals and any agents.”

At the same time, state records showed, Dr. Desai spent lavishly, rewarding executives with $120,000 BMWs, buying a condo and building an art-filled new headquarters on two floors of a downtown St. Petersburg office building. (It is now home to the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.)

Universal lost $27 million in 2011 and the losses continued to grow even as Dr. Desai gave himself a $2.5 million bonus on top of his $900,000 salary. By early 2013, regulators were starting to liquidate the company when it declared bankruptcy. The FBI raid came the same week that a bankruptcy court trustee alleged a "pattern of dishonesty or gross mismanagement'' at Universal, including "side deals'' that benefited insiders.

Dr. Desai, through his attorney, told the Tampa Bay Times then that his company "always acted in ethical and legal fashion.''

Universal’s collapse left more than 800 employees without jobs, scores of providers unpaid and thousands of members searching for alternative plans to cover their health care needs. Investors in the company — including other doctors — lost millions. The bankruptcy case is unresolved, six years later.

Although Dr. Desai had many critics in life, several people praised him this week on a memorial page. "He believed in education, allowing me an opportunity to attend school full time to obtain my nursing license,'' one woman wrote. "I could never thank him enough for his generosity and kindness.''


Dr. Akshay Desai

Born: Jan. 29, 1958

Died: Nov. 29, 2019


  1. More than 44 percent of people who searched on for the Tampa Bay area from June to December were outside the region, according to a report from Apartment List. Percentages in the “Top Three Sources” box represent the share of searches coming from outside the metro area. (Apartment List map) [Apartment List]
    The region trails only Denver, Baltimore and San Diego for the percentage of people from outside the area searching for apartments on Apartment List.
  2. To accommodate the swelling numbers of aging baby boomers, experts say we will need to make transportation more readily available, build more affordable housing, modify homes and apartments to help seniors age in place, and create programs to bring young and old people together. [Times (2011)]
    “There’s never been a time like this,” one expert says. Solutions include more health aides, taming long-term care costs and just healthier living.
  3. In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo Oscar the cat sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Airlines might soon be able to turn away cats, rabbits and all animals other than dogs that passengers try to bring with them in the cabin. The U.S. Transportation Department on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, announced plans to tighten rules around service animals. The biggest change would be that only dogs could qualify. (Ross D. Franklin | Associated Press] [ROSS D. FRANKLIN  |  AP]
    Soon mainly dogs would be allowed on planes, under plans announced on Wednesday.
  4. The sale of Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans to Centene Corp. is expected to close Thursday, the companies said on Wednesday. [File photo]
    The companies said Wednesday they have satisfied all regulatory approvals, including with the U.S. Department of Justice, for the merger to close.
  5. Power Design has a 22-acre campus in the Gateway area of St. Petersburg. [Rendering courtesy of Power Design]
    In settling the case with the District of Columbia Attorney General’s Office, the electricial contractor company denies that it violated worker classification laws.
  6. Rooker Properties of Atlanta plans to build at least 400,000 square feet of industrial and office space at what is now county-owned  land on Old Pasco Road, Wesley Chapel. Pictured is Rooker's Spartan Ridge Logistics Center, a 273,000-square-foot, Class-A industrial building in Spartanburg, S.C. It was constructed in 2018 and the company said the buildings planned for the Pasco County site will closely resemble this. [Rooker Properties]
    Rick Narkiewicz is seeking tenants for the planned Rooker Properties spec buildings known as North Tampa 75 Business Center.
  7. This home in Colonial Hills neighborhood in west Pasco has been vacant for 10 years, neighbors said. A new Pasco County ordinance would require the owners of vacant and rental residences to register their properties with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. [C.T. BOWEN  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A new ordinance is supposed to aid sheriff’s deputies and code-enforcement officers dealing with rental or vacant properties.
  8. Four Tampa Bay businesses made Fortune’s list of “Most Admired Companies” in the world for 2020. Pictured is a Publix location in the Channelside district last year. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times (2019)] ["OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Four Tampa Bay businesses made Fortune’s list of “Most Admired Companies” in the world for 2020.
  9. After a spike last week, gas prices in the Sunshine State are down slightly. Pictured is the Courtney Campbell Causeway in 20098. [Times file] [CLIFFORD, DOUGLAS R.  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    Low demand and higher gas supply are bringing cheaper gas this week, experts said.
  10. Next month the Pirate Water Taxi will debut a 100-passenger vessel and two smaller taxis as part of an expansion of the company's routes and coverage of Tampa's waterfront. (Yacht StarShip) [Yacht StarShip]
    The service, owned by the operator of Yacht StarShip Dining Cruises, is investing $1.6 million in three new vessels and adding a long-desired stop near the Florida Aquarium.