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The American Hospital Association urged the anti-trust division of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the proposed acquisition of Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans by Centene Corp. of St. Louis.

Clayton-based Centene Corp.'s acquisition of WellCare Health Plans Inc. has earned the support of an influential proxy advisory firm, Centene announced Wednesday.

The firm, Institutional Shareholder Services, recommends that stockholders vote in favor of the acquisition in the June 24 vote.

In a report, ISS said the merger appears "strategically and financially" sound, citing the combined company's expanded geographic footprint, increased scale and product diversification as advantages of the deal.

The deal reportedly is opposed by some Centene shareholders. A handful of activist hedge funds want Centene to put itself up for sale rather than buying WellCare, Reuters reported last month.

The acquisition has been valued at more than $17 billion. The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2020 and would leave the combined company with approximately 22 million members in the U.S., Centene and WellCare reported in March.

Centene's stock fell 0.9 percent in Wednesday trading.

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