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After a brief 'retirement,' Zoeller is back

Ronald K. Zoeller just isn't cut out for retirement.

After reselling a third-party administrator business back to Independent Health Association over the summer, the longtime health care executive is now shopping for new opportunities to buy a small business.

And for a change, it doesn't even have to be in health care.

"I'm off looking to see what's next. I'm looking for the right opportunity now," said Zoeller. "When I'm not working, I'm totally bored. I need to be working. I'm lousy at that retirement thing."

In July, Zoeller, 63, sold his Azeros Health Plans business back to Independent Health Association. That was just a year after he had purchased 80 percent of the national business, then known as Nova Healthcare Administrators, from the Williamsville-based Independent Health.

Founded in 1982, Nova had been acquired by First Niagara Financial Group in 1999 and was sold to Independent Health in 2003.

Independent Health now plans to restore the Nova name and will relaunch the business with a new logo in the first quarter of 2011, under its own management. Azeros administers self-funded employer health plans and will remain at a separate location, at 6215 Sheridan Drive in the Sheridan Meadows office park in Amherst.

"The original Nova brand was synonymous with providing premier [third-party administrator] services to self-funded clients and members across the country, and the name change back to Nova reaffirms that commitment," Independent Health spokesman Frank Sava said.

"With health reform, Independent Health anticipates an even greater need for TPA services and continues to devote the necessary resources to meet the needs of all our self-funded clients. Nova will continue to accommodate the highly customized self-funded plans with a renewed focus on the same dedication to customer service as Independent Health."

Zoeller said he had "improved the company dramatically" during his year of ownership and "it was doing well," but he didn't make a profit on the deal.

"I sold it back for what I paid for it," he said. "They got a business back that they'd be the first to say is very good, very improved."

He said he had enjoyed running Azeros despite the challenge of growing it -- it remained at the same size, although Zoeller said it's more profitable now, with some additional revenue streams and lower expenses.

But he preferred to be on his own. He said he hasn't worked for someone else since 1982, when he founded North American Health Plans, which grew into one of the nation's largest third-party health plan administrators before it was acquired in 2004 by a Connecticut-based investor group. It's now known as Meritain Health and based in Amherst, with 450 employees.

"I wanted to be an entrepreneur again and not be partners," Zoeller said. "I want to work for myself, since I've done that for 28 years and enjoyed it."

He retained the rights to the Azeros name, which he had previously used for a consulting firm, and will "definitely" use that name if he returns to the health care field.

But he's not ruling anything out. "Any opportunity that's coming along I'm looking at," he said.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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