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

New Happiness Gene Found in Women

Aug 28, 2012


Sorry guys. This one's for the ladies. A new study has found a gene that appears to make women happy. The findings appear online in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry.

According to USF Health, scientists at the University of South Florida, the National Institutes of Health, Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute reported that the low activity form of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is associated with higher self-reported happiness in women. 

However, the findings were not the same for men.

The number of Tampa International Airport's international passengers is gaining some altitude. Two new services that weren't in place last year are the reason why.

Tampa International Airport's international passengers increased by 20 percent year to date compared to the first 7 months of 2011. 51,000 more international passengers went through Tampa this year.

Airport spokeswoman Janet Zink says she's attributing the increase in passengers to two new services. TPA now has 5 weekly flights to Cuba and has a nonstop flight to Switzerland.

Bobbie O'Brien

Republican voters in eastern Hillsborough County are sending a familiar face into the general election and most likely back to Tallahassee in the GOP leaning State Senate District 24. Tom Lee, a former Florida senate president, beat his GOP challenger state Rep. Rachel Burgin in a bitter primary battle.

It’s been six years since Tom Lee served in Tallahassee and he’s anxious to return with a more seasoned, statesmanlike perspective.

Prostitution in the Tampa Bay area is expected to increase during the Republican National Convention. But will that lead to the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases?

We asked that question of a county health official, a high-end escort, and an academic expert. The answer is complicated.

When it comes to heat exhaustion, local health officials are planning to hand out fliers to educate convention-goers. But the Hillsborough County Health Department is not planning anything special to deal with the STD threat.

The Affordable Care Act has gotten a lot of attention lately for its mandated provisions, which went into effect in the beginning of August.

Donald Palmisano, a doctor, attorney, and former president of the American Medical Association, says he's not a fan for several reasons.

Palmisano is the head of the anti-ACA group "The Coalition to Protect Patients' Rights." He also offers himself to doctors to "help you protect yourself against the potentially devastating effects of malpractice and liability claims."

When Fred Davis lost both of his legs to infection --he thought his walking days were over.

Then he was introduced to a therapy that combines movement and timing to help the brain redevelop motor skills.

It’s called Interactive Metronome. For six months, Mederi Caretender therapist Tameka Walker has been helping Davis relearn to walk.

"Left hand, right toe, left hand, right toe. Got it?” she instructs.

To the chime of a cowbell, Davis steps one foot forward on a mat – and then pulls it back. Then, it’s the other foot, always sticking to the beat.

ACA Mandated Preventive Services for Women Kick Off

Aug 1, 2012

Beginning Wednesday, most employers who provide health insurance must now cover women's birth control.

It's one of eight preventive services mandated by the Affordable Care Act – but not everyone’s excited about the new requirements.

There's continued opposition to this part of the federal health care overhaul.

Three million Americans will be getting a pleasant surprise in the mail – a refund check from their insurance provider.

That’s because of a provision in the Affordable Care Act. It limits how much insurers can spend on administrative costs. This includes salaries, sales or advertising.

Depending on who they cover, the insurance companies now must spend between 80 and 85 percent of customer premiums on patient care.


Just weeks after U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke barred the enforcement of the so-called “Docs and Glocks ” law, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Health are appealing the ruling.

The law forbade doctors and other medical providers from asking patients about guns in their homes.

When Ruben Bermudez, 31, found out that he had HIV more than a decade ago, he didn't want to take his medicine. He went on treatment for a few weeks, but said the intensive pill regimen made him feel dizzy.

He stopped treatment and tried to ignore the diagnosis, moving to Florida from Washington in pursuit of sunshine. In 2008, he learned that one of his best friends died of a brain tumor that couldn't be treated because his immune system has been debilitated by AIDS. Bermudez realized that his only chance at a relatively healthy life would depend on taking pills daily.

Sal Gentile says sometimes his tinnitus sounds like bacon frying in a skillet.

Other times it’s hissing – like air out of a popped tire. Or it can sound like conveyor belts, or rough ocean waves.

On his worst days, Gentile says, it’s a combination of these things – a cacophony of sounds within his head.

Steve Newborn / WUSF

After the Floridan Hotel rose 19 stories above downtown Tampa during the Roaring 20s, it became not only the tallest building in Florida - but the swankiest hotel around.

It was the home of the famed Sapphire Room - dubbed the "Surefire Room" by servicemen during World War II. But the creeping suburbanization after the war relegated the Floridan to what was essentially a flophouse before it closed in 1989.

And so it sat, until Clearwater hotel developer Antonios Markopoulos purchased the building in 2005.

Diabetes, heart disease, and even hypertension -- just three of dozens of pre-existing conditions insurance companies have historically used as reasons to deny health care coverage.

That is, until the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court. 

Families USA released a report showing that  3.8 million non-elderly Floridians are no longer at risk for denial because of the law.

Last week, we reported that Tampa Bay's roads were among the most congested in the country. But new numbers suggest bay-area traffic is more than just inconvenient. It's also abnormally fatal.

One year ago, a postal worker in Orlando said he handled a suspicious package from Yemen -- and said it made him seriously ill. Jeff Lill is now living with his mother in Rochester, N.Y., after becoming incapacitated from the fumes. The Postal Service says it could have been residue from a previous spill that had been cleaned up.

Hillsborough County Sees Big Spike in STD Cases

Jul 25, 2012

New health department statistics show an alarming jump in sexually transmitted diseases in Hillsborough County.

From last June, there's been a 65 percent increase in cases of syphilis.

Carlos Mercado is the Hillsborough County STD Program Manager. He says the reasons for this vary. 

Steve Newborn / WUSF

The Columbus Drive Bridge in West Tampa reopened this afternoon, after five months of extensive repair and renovation. The 86-year-old bridge needed a complete rehabilitation because engineers believed it had outlived its normal life span.

Ongoing work had periodically closed lanes of the Columbus Drive Bridge since May 2011. The bridge had been completely closed since Feb. 21. This complete closure was required to allow the contractor to open the bobtail swing bridge and perform replacement work on its components.

Baycare Health System

While dozens of health care providers have experienced a ratings downgrade, things are looking up for Baycare, the largest health care system in the Tampa Bay area.

It was one of just three Florida not-for-profit health providers to see a ratings upgrade during the second quarter of 2012, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

BayCare was upgraded to Aa2 from Aa3.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Around 450 Floridians found this out the hard way after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a phony program that promised to cure alcoholism.

The Florida Attorney General says the Alcoholism Cure Company, owned by Robert Douglass Krotzer, claimed his program “cures alcoholism while allowing alcoholics to drink socially.”

Cuts to Pediatric Program Affects Local Teen

Jul 23, 2012
Paul Crate from News Chief

A local teenager is in Washington D.C. today to talk with legislators about how their decisions affect his health care.

17-year-old Hunter Ratcliffe had a heart transplant when he was six weeks old. He is still a patient at the All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

This hospital receives funding for its Children's Hospital Graduate Medical Education program. This federal program trains half of all pediatricians in the U.S.

But its funding continues to be cut.

Ratcliffe said cuts to programs like this and programs like Medicaid affect him.