Healthy State

We have big news today here at WUSF Public Media.  Health News Florida, a non-profit website with a substantial following, is now part of WUSF.

This means we're also being joined by Health News Florida founder and editor Carol Gentry, who is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

I'm personally very excited to have someone of Carol's caliber coming to work with us at WUSF. It's just part of our commitment to provide in-depth coverage of health, education and other issues that are important to you.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.”

U.S. News & World Report is out with its annual list of the county's best hospitals.

The magazine evaluated treatment centers on death rates, patient-to-nurse ratio, hospital reputation and other criteria. Top billing went to Massachusetts General in Boston.

The city of Tampa got a health check Thursday morning from none other than Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Tampa was just one of several stops on the list for the "Dr. Oz Show," a popular health program syndicated and broadcast nationwide.

Oz met with only a handful of contest winners, but volunteers at the Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute checked each person's blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and waist size according to Tampa Bay Online.

Around 700 people were given 15 minute physicals and around 2,300 people completed a 40-question health questionnaire.

From the data collected, Oz came to a few conclusions about the health of Tampa Bay.

Several cancer research centers are responding cautiously to Gov. Rick Scott's ultimatum to stop franchising their brands - or lose millions in state funding.

In letters to the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and the Shands Cancer Hospital in Gainesville, Scott told the centers they “may not franchise their name or brand to other private entities.”

He also said they “may not receive royalties or other remuneration from other entities in exchange for use of their name or brand,” according to the Miami Herald.

As record-breaking temperatures sweep the nation, it's hard to keep anything cool, especially if the power goes out.

And, try as you might, it's hard to find health products — from prescription drugs to over-the-counter pain relievers — that don't caution against storage in high temperatures.

Health officials in Florida are struggling to contain a tuberculousis outbreak that's been described as one of the worst in 20 years.

It's been blamed for for 13 deaths and 99 illnesses. That includes six children, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Public health officials are coming under fire for not telling the public about the outbreak earlier.

The Affordable Care Act isn't just creating divides down political lines.

Citizens, health care providers, and business owners are falling on both sides of the issue-for all sorts of reasons. 

Recently WUSF spoke to two small business owners who have different views on how the federal health care law will affect them.

Alan Saylor is the owner of Saylor's Suncoast Water in Pinellas Park. He's a member of the National Federation of Independent Business, a small business association that lobbied against the Affordable Care Act. 

Tampa is getting graded on its level of health -- and the report card will be given out by none other than Dr. Oz.

The "Dr. Oz Show", a popular health program syndicated and broadcast nationwide, will be making a stop in Tampa on Thursday, July 12 to give 15 minute physicals to local residents.

Using tabletop blood test devices and Practice Fusion's Electronic Health Record system, Dr. Mehmet Oz will be giving free health screenings to about 1,000 people.

Medical data from the screenings will be analyzed on site and presented as a report card to the city of Tampa.

Medicaid Expansion: Who's In? Who's Out?

Jul 6, 2012

In the week since the Supreme Court upheld almost all of President Obama's health care law, some of the biggest action has been on the Medicaid front, where the administration definitely lost.

Until last week, the Affordable Care Act was expected to drive an expansion of Medicaid to the tune of about 17 million more people being covered over the next 10 years.

The Affordable Care Act, as written, would have required states to provide Medicaid coverage to adults, whether they have children or not, with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have derided it from the beginning as "Obamacare."

Recently, something interesting happened. Supporters of the ACA, even President Obama, began to adopt the term "Obamacare" as well.

At that point, "Obamacare" began being used by NPR as well as media outlets throughout the country.

But former University of Michigan professor and Sarasota resident Stephen Cooper wrote in to say why he thinks we still shouldn't use the term:

Gov. Rick Scott says he won't implement key parts of the federal health care law, including Medicaid expansion.

But what about the nearly one million Floridians who are currently uninsured? Will they end up paying higher taxes if they can't afford health insurance, but Medicaid is not an option for them.

Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett asked Scott what will happen to Florida's uninsured if Florida doesn't expand Medicaid.

"Are you telling me if Florida opts out...all people in Florida will still be able to get health care?” Jarrett asked.

Jonathan Cohn is a senior editor at The New Republic.

As it turns out, the scariest part of Thursday's ruling on the Affordable Care Act was the issue that got the least attention. Yes, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate and its associated reforms of private insurance. But it also ruled that the law's expansion of Medicaid was unconstitutional.

Does that mean the Medicaid expansion might not go forward? Does it mean that a significant number of low-income Americans will remain uninsured because they can't get into the program?

Florida was the lead plaintiff in the 27-state lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

Now that the law has been upheld by the Supreme Court, Governor Rick Scott tells Fox News he will not implement it.

"We're not going to implement Obamacare in Florida," Scott said. "We're not going to expand Medicaid because we're going to do the right thing. We're not going to do the exchange."

He says the law is too costly for Floridians and bad policy, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Scott hopes the law will be repealed after the November election, if a new president is elected. He says even if that doesn't happen, Florida will not set up a health exchange or participate in an expansion of the Medicaid program.

Scott says the state can't afford to add an estimated 1 million people to the Medicaid rolls -- even with the federal government picking up 90 percent of the cost.

"We can't pay for that; there is no way Floridians can pay for that," he said.

University of South Florida

With Election Day still four months away, the anger and elation felt in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act may die down slightly by November. But if the economy is issue-1 on people's minds when they go to the polls, USF Political Science Professor Dr. Susan MacManus says healthcare reform will likely be issue-1a.

"Clearly the economy and jobs is still going to be preeminent," she said. "But what this ruling does do is to now interweave healthcare as a cost item and a job creation item into the debate. So in that way, it sort of joined the two issues."

Just after 10 a.m. on Thursday, a cheer went up at Hispanic Health Initiatives, a nonprofit in Casselberry, Fla., just north of Orlando.

The enthusiasm for the Supreme Court's decision to uphold nearly all of the federal health care law was unmistakable at the nonprofit, which advocates for health care for the local Latino population.

The news took Josephine Mercado, the nonprofit's founder and executive director, by surprise — and changed her plans for Friday.

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a health care law expert with the University of South Florida and Stetson University talks about the Supreme Court's decision and the effect it will have on Floridians.

If you thought sharks were the scariest threat at the beach, you might consider the lowly bacteria lurking in shore waters instead.

Melane Byrd says it was 8-years ago that her mother Doris Sherer started showing the signs of Alzheimer's Disease.

"It sneaks up on you. Yes it sneaks up on you. I didn't realize what was happening," Sherer says.

Because of her impeccable dress and her gift for gab, the former university pageant queen fooled most people.

Byrd explains, "Of course Miss Auburn here has such great social skills, it's not apparent to everybody."

However, the 87- year old's illness was apparent to Byrd.

"She would forget things like, the most frightening thing was that mother was taking her medicine several times a day."

When former cab driver Deodat Jhoda was shot in the spine during a 1993 attempted robbery, he thought his driving days were over.

“For four years I was not able to do a lot of the things for myself – my independence was more or less taken away from me," he said.

The injury left him unable to move his legs and with limited movement in his arms. He says he couldn't even leave his house because he didn't have a wheelchair ramp.

Fidelity Investments says couples sailing off into the sunset will be doing so with less cash in pocket.

It's part of a long trend of rising health care costs for retirees -- up 4 percent since last year.

"As long as health care cost trends exceed personal income growth and economic growth, health care will still be a growing burden for the country as a whole and for individuals," says Sunit Patel, a senior vice president for benefits consulting at Fidelity.