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CEO: Centene close to securing all regulatory approvals for WellCare deal

Centene Corp. Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff disclosed that his company has received conditional approvals for its pending acquisition of WellCare Health Plans Inc. from every relevant state except Illinois and New Jersey.

The managed care insurer is confident that it will receive all the necessary approvals to close the transaction by the first half of 2020.

"Given the progress of activities to date, there may be an opportunity to close earlier" in that year, Neidorff said on a third-quarter earnings conference call.

Neidorff also said he was disappointed Centene was not selected for a Medicaid contract in Louisiana. After reviewing the scoring and evaluation process, Centene filed a protest against the state. Louisiana is considering using emergency contracts with the incumbents to avoid member disruption until the appeal is resolved, the executive said.

Centene updated its GAAP diluted EPS projection for 2019 and its tax rate to reflect the impairment charge and the refinancing cost that would be incurred in the fourth quarter. It now expects full-year GAAP EPS to come in between $3.04 and $3.21, down from the prior estimate of $3.70 to $3.87.

The company also announced in its earnings release that its board signed off on a $500 million increase to its stock repurchase program. CFO Jeffrey Schwaneke on the call said buybacks could be used to help reduce debt and help with accretion. Given where the stock is trading, upping the repurchase plan "just makes sense," he added.