Health News Florida

Since 2006, Health News Florida has provided in-depth journalism on health policy issues in our state.

Health News Florida is a project of WUSF Public Media in Tampa and is heard on public radio stations throughout Florida. It also is available online at

The feud between one of the Tampa Bay region's biggest insurers and health care providers is over.

Late Friday, UnitedHealthcare and BayCare Health System announced they have reached a new, five-year agreement.

The two companies had fought over reimbursement rates. Their battle played out in a series of advertisements in local newspapers.

In late November, the agreement between the two entities ended, leaving thousands of customers wondering if they'd have to switch doctors or go to a different hospital.

Dead Dog and 'Parents' Sue Vet for Malpractice

Jan 16, 2013

It's been a year and a half, but Pamela Ferrara still tears up when she talks about Carmella’s death.

Ferrara and her husband Chris do not have children; the 9-year-old Shih Tzu was like a daughter to them.

They feel her death was completely preventable. That's the issue at the heart of the civil lawsuit they've filed against Tampa Bay Veterinary in Largo.

While medical malpractice cases are not tracked by American Veterinary Medical Association, experts who work in the field say these types of cases have become more common in recent years. But proving veterinary wrongdoing is responsible for a pet's death can be difficult.

It's extremely rare for these cases to result in the recovery of major damages, says Joyce Tischler of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Still, the Ferraras are determined to get what they call justice for Carmella.

Hulk Hogan Sues Laser Spine Institute

Jan 15, 2013

Wrestler Hulk Hogan is suing the Laser Spine Institute in Tampa, saying a series of surgeries he had there actually made his back problems worse, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

An expert on health insurance exchanges told Florida lawmakers  today they made a mistake in not building a state-based insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, instead leaving it to the federal government.

But it’s not too late to try for a state-federal partnership, and Florida should go for it, said Holli Ploog, vice president of CGI Government Markets.  Her company is contracting with the federal government and six states to build health exchanges, which consumers will be able to use beginning in October to buy coverage for 2014.

Florida and several other states are wrestling with a decision: whether to expand Medicaid.

When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act last year, the court said states could opt out of that part of the law. But it's key. It would provide coverage to millions of low-income Americans who currently have no health insurance.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says he's concerned about how much expanding Medicaid would cost. But others charge the governor is exaggerating.

Agency for Health Care Administration

After two days of heavy criticism, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration released  a new, much smaller estimate of the cost of expanding Florida Medicaid late Wednesday night. The new report pegs the price tag at about $3 billion.

At the most, if all those eligible signed up, it would cost the state $5 billion over a decade, the new report says. That is less than one-fifth the cost that Scott has been citing.

The state’s chief economist has warned the staff of Gov. Rick Scott that his Medicaid cost estimates are wrong, but Scott keeps using them anyway, according to a series of e-mails obtained by Health News Florida.

James R. Burkhart, the president and CEO  of Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, will assume the same roles at Tampa General Hospital on March 4, the governing board of the Tampa hospital announced Wednesday.

Burkhart, 58, replaces Tampa General’s retiring CEO Ron Hytoff.

Both hospitals are private not-for-profit teaching facilities with close affiliations to state universities. Both are Level 1 trauma centers and members of the Safety Net Alliance of Florida, a group of hospitals that treat large  numbers of uninsured and low-income patients.

The man who allegedly shot 20 first-graders, seven adults and himself last Friday supposedly had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism.

Since then, some may have assumed that Adam Lanza’s violent killing spree was somehow linked to his having a form of autism.

Three Florida mental-health experts who work with autism say the answer is almost certainly no.  Even patients who have the most severe cases of autism would not behave that way – not without some other  form of mental illness or personality disorder.

Don’t expect Friday’s massacre of first graders to nudge Florida in the direction of gun control, not even on assault weapons.  Washington is one thing. Tallahassee is something else.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, who chairs the state House Judiciary Committee, says the problem in schools is that there are not enough guns.

Couple Chooses to Fight for Tiny Baby's Life

Dec 17, 2012
Tampa Bay Times

When Kelley Benham and Tom French’s daughter was born at 23 weeks, doctors told them the situation was grim. Half the babies born this early do not survive. Every body part is underdeveloped at this age and many face disabilities.

The couple was told they would have to make a very tough choice: allow their baby to die or fight for her survival. They chose to fight.

Parents Face Big Decision About Tiny Baby's Life

Dec 14, 2012

Kelley Benham and Tom French faced one of the most difficult decisions any parent would ever have to make: whether to allow their daughter to die or fight for her survival.

In 2010, their daughter was born 17 weeks early. Half the babies born this early do not survive. Many who do face developmental disabilities.

Benham wrote about her experience in a series for the Tampa Bay Times. Health News Florida recently interviewed Benham and French about their experience.

The Affordable Care Act, as passed by Congress in 2010, assumed that every low-income person would have access to health insurance starting in 2014.

That's when about 17 million Americans — mostly unmarried healthy adults with incomes up to 133 percent of poverty, or about $15,000 a year — would gain access to Medicaid.

For all of you interested in health news, consider this a holiday present.

WUSF Public Media recently acquired Health News Florida, an award-winning website focused on explaining how health policy affects you and your family.

As of today, Health News Florida has a beautiful new website, with more health stories from NPR, and great audio and video as well.

Health News Florida also is producing a weekly radio feature that’s aired every Thursday on WUSF 89.7 and on public radio stations throughout the state of Florida.

When the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak exploded into headlines two months ago, Florida health officials responded quickly, tracking the contaminated drug lots and finding potential victims. At least 25 in Florida were sickened, and three died.

This is the second time I've had a close-up look at how hospice operates. Again, I am struck by how wonderful the nurses are; also, what a relief it is not to have to fend off unwanted treatments.

My family's first encounter was with my father, who died a most horrible of deaths, from Lewy Body Dementia. (Lewy Bodies are plaques on the brain, named for their discoverer).

President Obama's re-election sent a message to state capitals: The war over the president's health care overhaul is finished.

Even in Florida, where Republican leaders led the legal battle against Obamacare, there's recognition now that the state has to act fast to comply with the new law.

Congratulations to WUSF filmmakers Jennifer Molina and Sarah Pusateri  for winning a Suncoast Emmy for their documentary "Uniform Betrayal: Rape in the Military."

The hour-long film exposes what many warriors may not consider when signing up to serve their country -- sexual assault or rape by their brothers and sisters in arms.

The film highlights an epidemic of sexual assault in the military that up until recently was largely overlooked by military officials.

Executives from Naples-based Health Management Associates released data today that appear to show HMA is right in line with industry averages on admissions through the emergency department -- countering what they expect will be the subject of an unflattering CBS 60 Minutes segment scheduled to run Sunday.

HMA owns 70 hospitals in the United States with 22 in Florida. These include Pasco Regional Center, Spring Hill Regional Hospital and Brooksville Regional Hospital.

A major component of President Obama's Affordable Care Act is the creation of "state health exchanges." These are online markets where consumers will go to compare and shop for health insurance. Some groups, which are longtime supporters of Obamacare, are calling on the feds to step in and set up this exchange in Florida. They say there's no way state officials can do it by the deadline -- a little over a year from now. The states have until Dec.