Centene CEO: 'The time was right' to buy WellCare for $15 billion

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Centene CEO Michael Neidorff on Wednesday told CNBC his company’s $15 billion acquisition of WellCare Health Plans “made more sense than I’ve seen in a long time.”

“What I’ve always found [is] when there’s a certain amount of uncertainty, there’s a challenging environment, that’s the time to act,” he told “Mad Money’s” Jim Cramer in a one-on-one interview. “That’s when it’s the best opportunity: Nobody’s watching, nobody’s expecting it. You take a play that makes sense.”

The host noted that investors have begun selling off health care stocks, along with a range of other securities. Health insurer shares also tumbled on Tuesday after the Trump administration began making moves that seek to get rid of the remaining parts of the Affordable Care Act.

WellCare is a government-sponsored managed care company, while Centene services government-sponsored health care programs for uninsured people.

Since early February, shares of WellCare had shed more than $40 before the start of the week, though the stock shot up more than 12 percent during Wednesday’s session. Centene’s stock is down about 10 percent this year and lost nearly 5 percent on the day.

Cramer asked Neidorff why not wait to make a deal.

“We did wait,” the chief responded. “There was a time this stock was a lot higher … The time was right and some things don’t come back around.”

Neidorff ran through the number of reasons he likes the deal. Wellcare bolsters Centene’s Medicare product, while Centene’s technology platform bolsters WellCare’s operations, he said. Centene is using preventative technology to reduce costs and “get ahead of the curve,” he said.

Neidorff also gave a nod to Apple and its health-focused wearable technologies, which he said is “heading in the right direction.”

The merger expands Centene to three new states and strengthens its business in Michigan, he continued. Furthermore, the company now has a presence in all 50 states in one form or another, he said.

“Short-term, I don’t think about it. We have a lot of time and patience for our long term and we have a lot of them,” Neidorff said. “And I’m willing to bet a year from now we sit down and talk you’re going to say to me: ‘You did it at the right time.'”

Neidorff also gave his thoughts about the President Donald Trump’s declaration that the GOP would be known as “the party of health care.”

“Let’s wait and see what they try to do first. There are lots of ideas, they have no ideas,” he said, highlighting Republicans past plans to “repeal and replace” ACA, also known as Obamacare. “Well they’ve tried that. I believe that it’s gonna hurt them politically if they keep doing that. The last election, I believe people were worried about their health care.”

Centene’s board officially extended the CEO’s contract to 2024, Neidorff said.

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