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

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.

BayCare-United Fight Spurs Call for Transparency, Mediation

Nov 29, 2012

The contract dispute between BayCare Health System and UnitedHealthcare forced 74-year-old Mike Dellmore to choose between his doctors and his insurance plan. It was a no-brainer.

"I've got certain doctors I like, and I'm not gonna lose them," the Clearwater retiree said. " I don't care. If I get sick, I'll have to go to another hospital, and there are some hospitals in the area -- and I'm not going to mention no names -- I wouldn't take my dog to."

In January, Dellmore will be insured by Florida Blue. He says the switch wasn't a terrible hassle for himself, but for many of the 400,000 others in Tampa Bay who are affected by the dispute, his wife included, it is.

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.