St. Petersburg's Universal Health Care lays off 100

Published Dec. 15, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Universal Health Care Group has laid off about 100 area employees, many of them seasonal workers brought aboard during this fall's open enrollment period for Medicare, the St. Petersburg managed care company confirmed late Friday.

Shaun Keck, Universal's chief of staff, said the majority affected were in sales, hired in the fall and trained for the open enrollment period between mid October and early December.

The remaining layoffs came from operations across-the-board as the company "rightsized" after missing its sales target, Keck said. "It made sense to take care of some other layoffs due to smaller-than-projected (Medicare) enrollments," he added.

Universal Health Care's sales weren't helped by a troubling letter the federal government sent to Medicare enrollees urging them to consider options other than Universal. Medicare has rated the company's performance either "poor" or "below average" for three years in a row.

"We encourage you to compare this plan to other options in your area and decide if it is still the right choice for you,'' the letter cautioned.

The government's rating system — from 1 to 5 stars — started five years ago. Universal received a red "warning" label, which is affixed to any plan that earns less than 3 stars for drug or health benefits for three years running. Universal executives vowed to improve scores.

Founded in 2002 by Dr. Akshay Desai, Universal Health Care has grown into a provider of Medicare Advantage Health Plans in 20 states plus the District of Columbia. It also has offered Florida Medicaid benefits. It has about 1,000 employees remaining, 85 percent of them at its St. Petersburg headquarters.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or