ST. PETERSBURG - Dr. Akshay Desai of St. Petersburg prides himself on his versatility. A physician turned entrepreneur, the 48-year-old Indian native is also a major Republican donor and frequent appointee to state boards, most recently named by Gov. Charlie Crist to the body that oversees Florida's schools.
"Making policy is a tremendous enjoyment for me," Desai said. "I do it instead of golf."
But many members of Desai's fast-growing Medicare plan provider, Universal Health Care in St. Petersburg, wish he'd pay more attention to his business. Universal was co-founded in 2002 by Desai and Dr. Zachariah P. Zachariah, another prominent Republican fundraiser from Fort Lauderdale. As it has grown to become the state's fourth-largest Medicare HMO, Universal has also attracted a disproportionate share of customer complaints for aggressive marketing, false advertising, denied medical treatments and poor customer service. [....]
Though 20 percent of Universal's members switched to another insurer for 2007, the company still netted 75,000 new enrollees for the year.
The reasons: expansion of Universal's Medicare HMO, Medicare Masterpiece, into eight new Florida counties plus the introduction of a new Medicare Private Fee for Service (PFFS) plan in Florida and seven other states. PFFS plans allow members to go to any health care provider that accepts Medicare as long as the provider is willing to bill the insurer, instead of the government.
Universal gets about $800 a month from Medicare for each HMO member. The PFFS plans are even more lucrative, paying the insurer about 19 percent more than original Medicare.