Shareholders at Centene Corp. and WellCare Health Plans on Monday overwhelmingly approved the health insurers' plans to merge.
Over 99% of each companies' shareholders who voted opted to approve the $17 billion deal, which was first announced in March. Combined, the companies would cover nearly 22 million people in Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and health insurance exchange plans.
Shareholder approval is just one hurdle the companies needed to clear before closing their merger. Centene and WellCare said they are now working to obtain approvals from insurance regulators in 26 states. They have already nabbed conditional approvals in four states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky and Missouri, the companies said. Missouri's approval requires the insurers to divest certain Medicaid business in the state, but Centene and WellCare didn't disclose the conditions imposed by the other three states.
The merger must also be approved by the U.S. Justice Department. In May, the companies disclosed that federal antitrust regulators asked for more information on their plans to merge, which the companies said Monday "was not unexpected given the size of the transaction."
Centene and WellCare continue to expect the merger to close in the first half of 2020; they said they do not plan to provide updates about the status of the deal's regulatory approvals going forward.
"We are pleased that Centene stockholders overwhelmingly support the recommendation of the board of directors on the pending combination with WellCare and have voted in favor of the transaction," Centene CEO Michael Neidorff said in a news release announcing the voting results. "With the addition of WellCare, we are creating a combined company that is better able to serve members and help them achieve better health outcomes."