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

United Patients Scramble for New Coverage

Nov 27, 2012

Thousands of UnitedHealthcare's Medicare Advantage members spent Monday looking for new coverage in order to keep their doctors after BayCare Health System ended its United contracts.

Carol White of St. Petersburg ended up going with Florida Blue, but she's plenty steamed over being forced to switch insurers to keep her doctor.

"They have caught senior citizens in the middle," White said. "It's almost unconscionable they could not work this out."

One of the nation's largest health insurers has been shown the door by BayCare Health System, Tampa Bay's dominant non-profit hospital chain.

The dispute over money affects 400,000 United customers in employer, Medicare and Medicaid plans,  said Elizabeth Calzadilla-Fiallo, spokeswoman for the Florida division of the Minnesota-based insurer.

Medicare members are in open enrollment until Dec. 7, so those who want to switch to a different health  plan still have time to do so.  BayCare, in letters and newspaper ads, has been inviting them to make the switch.

Meanwhile, United has taken the unusual step of making some of the contract numbers public to back up its argument that BayCare is being greedy. For its part, BayCare says United owes millions in unpaid bills.

Customers are left in the middle.

Don Gaetz, who will be installed as president of the Florida Senate on Tuesday, said he will appoint a "select committee" to study how to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka "ObamaCare."

Gaetz's announcement is the latest sign that Florida officials have accepted the inevitable following the re-election of Pres. Barack Obama.

Not everyone is ready to accept the electoral verdict. Americans for Prosperity, a group linked to the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers, called on Florida officials to resume resistance.

Gov. Rick Scott has requested a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss creating a health-insurance exchange that meets requirements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The exchanges will be online markets where the uninsured can shop for coverage. States can build their own, leave it to the federal government, or develop a hybrid of the two, called a "partnership." That's what Scott said Florida wants to explore.

While the letter takes a conciliatory tone -- he called the law the PPACA instead of the usual "ObamaCare" -- Scott made clear that he does not like it and doesn't think it will accomplish its  goals.

Florida EBT Network Experiences Six-Hour Outage

Nov 16, 2012
Myra Stringfellow

Floridians who receive cash and food assistance are once again able to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards  after technology issues at JPMorgan Chase shut down the system for six hours, according to Florida Department of Children and Families.

The outage started at 7 a.m. During that time, stores could opt to manually process transactions up to $40. At Wal-Mart, they could run transactions up to $100, according to DCF.

But at one Wal-Mart in Town 'n' Country, they weren't even processing the transactions manually, said customer service manager Bibti Vora.

Florida could gain a badly-needed economic boost and thousands of new jobs each year if state officials accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, three new studies say. One study calculates the payoff at 16-to-1.

The studies -- two by university researchers, one by a hospital association -- all took a decade-long view of the fiscal impact of enlarging Florida's health program for the poor. All found a significant net gain.

"The state can actually both save money and serve an additional million Floridians -- both adults and children -- by making the choice to extend their Medicaid program," said Joan Alker of Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute,  co-author of one of the studies.

Screen shot

Grab the Kleenex. This video of Hakam Daley just might make you well up.

Daley, a senior at Centennial High School in Port St. Lucie, has cerebral palsy and grew up in a series of foster homes, according to WABC-TV. But none of that mattered Friday night, as this video from WPBF News explains.

The Office of Governor

Gov. Rick Scott's introduction to politics was his multimillion-dollar fight against Barack Obama's health proposals even before the President was elected in 2008. His opposition to what became the Patient Protection and Affordability Act, signed into law in 2010, has never wavered.

State health officials are on the scene at Town and Country Hospital this afternoon. The Tampa medical center has been barred from admitting any new patients into its surgical unit, pending an investigation into the death of three patients last month.

Lutz resident Jean Miller was shocked to find out about the emergency moratorium put on Town and Country hospital. She's been admitted three times.

"I had gallbladder surgery there and I had no problems," she said. "I would always go back there."

The U.S. health-care system has begun a huge transformation from a cottage industry noted for waste and inefficiency to one that rewards value, four Florida health executives said Thursday.

The CEOs -- two from hospitals, two from physician networks --appeared on a panel before dozens of insurance specialists at the Tampa Bay Association of Health Underwriters.

Far from objecting to the   Affordable Care Act, the panelists said it doesn’t go far enough in restraining costs, given demographics of an aging population. In fact, the problem is worldwide, said John Harding, regional CEO at Florida Hospital Tampa.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Republican legislative leaders counted on Mitt Romney to win the election and repeal what they call “ObamaCare.”  That didn't happen.

Now, like a kid who didn’t do his homework, the state’s about to miss an important deadline in implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Twenty years ago, Humana’s Gold Plus Plan was a mess. Patients went blind and lame, waiting for cataract and knee-joint surgery.

Many doctors who contracted with Humana and tried to help those patients went deeply into debt.

But today, Humana’s Gold Plus HMO is the only statewide Medicare plan to achieve a near-perfect rating in the new 1-to-5-star rating scale, receiving 4 ½ out of 5 stars. No plan in the state got a 5-star rating.

"Humana gets the fact that the future of health care will be driven by being able to demonstrate how well they do what they do — not how much they do," said Jay Wolfson, professor of public health and medicine at University of South Florida. "It shows they're serious about being a real lead player."

How serious? Last year, the company says, it paid more than $34 million to nearly 900 primary care physician practices in the state that participated  in the Humana Provider Quality Rewards Program.

In a week or two, seniors enrolled in certain Medicare health plans and drug plans will get a letter from the federal government. It is not good news.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) letter will say their plan is substandard, "rated 'poor' or 'below average' for at least the last three years."

A Florida Department of Health report that became public on Friday ordered the suspension of a Boca Raton compounding pharmacy because it  “constitutes an immediate, serious danger” to the public.

Conditions at Rejuvi Pharmaceuticals Inc. were so “deplorable” when a state inspector arrived on Oct. 12 that nothing short of an immediate shut-down would suffice, the DOH report said.

Other than timing, there is no apparent connection between the DOH action in Florida and an ongoing outbreak of illness attributed to a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts.

In an emergency order, the Florida Department of Health suspended the license of a Boca Raton compounding pharmacy, Rejuvi Pharmaceuticals Inc.

DOH said Rejuvi prepares injectable drugs -- the same type of delivery system implicated in the ongoing nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis from contaminated steroid injections. The DOH release did not mention the outbreak, linked to New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts, and there is no apparent connection.

WATCH: Obama Supporters at Ybor Rally Speak Out

Oct 25, 2012
Alex Cook / WUSF News

President Barack Obama spoke to potential voters at a rally in Ybor City on Thursday morning.

He wasn't the only one who had things to say.

The people who got up early to see the president spoke about why they came, gave their thoughts on the election, and discussed the political issues that are important to them.

Their words below.

As three more cases of fungal meningitis were confirmed in Florida on Wednesday, bringing the case count to 22, the state's top health official said the number of patients who were placed at risk by contaminated steroid injections was considerable: 1,038.

But the good news, issued Wednesday by the CDC, is that they won't have to fret forever.

In  new guidelines for clinicians, the disease detectives said the greatest risk of contracting serious illness was  within six weeks of receiving a steroid injection from New England Compounding Center. The risk drops to about 1 percent after that, they said on the web site.

Ann Romney will be in South Tampa today to campaign today. She'll be at Wright's Gourmet House, 1200 S. Dale Mabry Highway, during the lunch hour.

Romney will also be in Lakeland at 2:40 p.m. at Fresco's Bakery and Bistro, 132 S. Kentucky Ave. She'll then be in Winter Park in the Orlando area.

President Barack Obama will campaign in Ybor City Thursday morning. The event will be held at the Ybor City State Museum and Centennial Park on Eighth Avenue. Doors open at 7:00 a.m.  There's limited parking is available in the surrounding area, so carpooling is strongly encouraged.

Florida is making great progress in getting children enrolled in health insurance, according to a report released Tuesday. But the authors warn the trend could stall if the state rejects Medicaid expansion.

Between 2009 and 2011, despite the bad economy, Florida was able to reduce the number of uninsured children by 125,000, according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families.

Lakeland Regional Medical Center, which recently opened a new family health center, has won a $4 million grant  in a new state initiative to encourage more primary care for low-income Floridians.

LRMC is one of 28 winners in the state sharing $35 million in grants. In this region, five organizations were awarded a total of $13.4 million.

Aside from LRMC, the local winners are:

--Suncoast Community Health Centers, based in Riverview, $3.8 million.

--Tampa Family Health Centers, two grants, $2.5 million and $590,000.

--Tampa General Hospital, nearly $1.9 million.

--Pinellas County Health Department, $560,000.