Michael Neidorff, the former longtime leader of Centene, died Thursday after a lengthy illness, his wife said in a statement conveyed by the company. He was 79.
Neidorff transformed the St. Louis-based insurer into a formidable player in the healthcare sector during his 26 years at the helm. After becoming CEO in 1996, Neidorff grew the company from a small firm into the largest Medicaid managed care company in the country, and one of the nation's largest insurers with $126 billion in revenue and more than 26 million covered members.
After the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Centene began selling plans on the newly created marketplace and found early success as other insurance giants like UnitedHealthcare struggled. Exchange plans became a key product line for Centene, which is now the largest carrier on the marketplace.
Centene's core business is providing Medicaid benefits by contracting with states for those services, but in 2019 the company made a key acquisition of rival WellCare, which more than doubled its Medicare Advantage footprint, further cementing the company's focus on providing government-sponsored health plans; from Medicaid to marketplace to Medicare.
Neidorff was on a medical leave of absence for an undisclosed illness when he died. He had planned to retire by the end of the year after agreeing to a deal with activist investor group Politan Capital Management, which succeeded in its quest to shake up leadership.
Last month, the insurer appointed a new chief executive, Sarah London, 41, who on Thursday called Neidorff a visionary leader in American healthcare.
"Today, the company he built provides healthcare for nearly 1 in 15 vulnerable Americans, and his life's work has transformed the delivery of care in our country," London said in a statement, expressing condolences to the Neidorff family on behalf of Centene's 75,000 employees.
Supporting civic institutions, philanthropic causes and the arts was important to Neidorff, who served as a trustee for the Kennedy Center and was a former chairman of the National Urban League.
Following the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, Neidorff played a large role in funneling investments into the community, including a jobs center and a $25 million Centene office.
In St. Louis, he was well known for his philanthropy, serving on the board of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and as a trustee for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Neidorff was raised in Altoona, Pennsylvania, two hours east of Pittsburgh, and graduated from Trinity University, where the business school was named after him in 2021 after he donated $25 million to the school, the largest single gift in school history.
Centene generated revenue of $126 billion in 2021, a 13% increase over the year prior as more people were enrolled in Medicaid plans following the pandemic. Net income dropped 26% to $1.3 billion as more people returned for care compared with the first year of the pandemic.