Carol Gentry

Health News Florida Special Correspondent

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four  decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.

After serving two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, Gentry worked for a number of newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times), the Tampa Tribune and Orlando Sentinel.  She was a Kaiser Foundation Media Fellow in 1994-95 and earned an MPA at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1996.  She directed a journalism fellowship program at CDC for four years.

Gentry created Health News Florida, an independent non-profit health journalism publication, in 2006, and served as editor until September, 2014. She and Health News Florida joined WUSF  in 2012. 

Contact Ms. Gentry at at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.

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HNF Stories
5:39 pm
Wed November 19, 2014

Grand Jury Targets Medicare HMO

Florida's insurance officials are recommending a state takeover and liquidation of Florida Healthcare Plus, a Medicare Advantage plan accused of submitting $25.2 million in phony bills to Medicare and Florida Medicaid.

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HNF Stories
6:47 pm
Tue November 18, 2014

Hep C Drugs Cost FL Medicaid $30M So Far

This handout photo provided by Gilead Sciences shows the Hepatitis-C medication Sovaldi.
Associated Press

Florida Medicaid has spent at least $30.6 million in the past year on costly drug treatments for Hepatitis C, according to records from the Agency for Health Care Administration. 

Most of the spending was for Sovaldi, an antiviral approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2013. It was fast-tracked after clinical trials showed it had a high cure rate for patients in advanced stages of liver disease who were infected with the most common strain of the Hepatitis C virus.

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HNF Stories
5:37 pm
Tue November 11, 2014

WellCare Questions Medicare Ratings

Medicare Advantage plans that draw a lot of their enrollment from the poor side of town say they're at a disadvantage on the government's five-star ratings scale, which commands respect and governs pay.

One company pressing the issue is WellCare Health Plans, based in Tampa. Its Medicare Advantage plans are rated at 3 or 3 1/2 stars, below the 4-star minimum required for plans to qualify for bonus payments. Plans' premium and bonus payments are kept confidential, but other media report that the bonuses amount to a few hundred dollars per member.

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HNF Stories
5:04 pm
Wed November 5, 2014

WellCare Boasts 4M Members

Drew Asher, WellCare exec
Credit wellcare.com

WellCare Health Plans' stock shot up 7 percent Wednesday after the release of a third-quarter earnings report that showed membership now exceeds 4 million. That's up from 2.8 million members at the same time a year ago, a jump of 43 percent.  

The share price topped $70 for a couple of hours, the first time that has happened since WellCare stock tanked on July 25 at the news that the company would not meet its original financial goals for the year.

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HNF Stories
12:06 am
Tue November 4, 2014

New Whistleblower Charges at WellCare

Attorney Kevin Darkin
Credit tampalawfirm.com

WellCare Health Plans, which paid more than $400 million to settle past accusations of health-care fraud, is once again being sued under the False Claims Act.

The whistleblowers in this case are a half-dozen former WellCare staff members, including the former Vice President of Care Management Dr. Kirk Cianciolo. All are represented by Tampa attorney Kevin Darken, from the same firm that handled the previous whistleblower case against the Tampa-based WellCare.

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HNF Stories
12:01 am
Wed October 29, 2014

Hospitals Take Leap on Prevention

Nearly half of Florida hospitals have earned an "A" on error prevention in a new report card from a business-backed group concerned about patient safety.

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HNF Stories
12:53 am
Tue October 28, 2014

Medicare Plan Fights State Order

Ultimate Health Plans, a scrappy little company north of Tampa, is offering Medicare HMO deals that  sound too good to be true: no premium, no deductible, free gym membership and even cash back.

What's not to like? Ask the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, which suspects the company lacks sufficient funds to pay claims for its 3,000 members. OIR issued a suspension order Oct. 2, but it was  placed on hold when Ultimate invoked its right to a hearing. It can take months, sometimes years, for the hearing process to unfold.

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HNF Stories
10:37 pm
Thu October 23, 2014

Suspended Medicare HMOs Still Listed

Many Florida shoppers at Medicare.gov will find Day Break and Sunrise among their lowest-priced HMO options. But if they call to enroll in either one, they’re out of luck.

Florida Healthcare Plus, a small Coral Gables company that sponsors the two Medicare Advantage plans, is under state and federal suspension, unable to sign up new members during the current open-enrollment season for Medicare, Oct. 15-Dec. 7. Being frozen at this time of year can be a death sentence for such plans.

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Health News Florida
5:19 pm
Mon October 20, 2014

USF Cancels African Journalists Visit; Ebola Fears Blamed

African journalists from the 2010 Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists pose along the USF St. Pete waterfront
Credit University of South Florida

Officials at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg have canceled a five-day visit by 14 African journalists that was to begin Oct. 31, because of fears of the Ebola virus.

In a letter today written by Han Reichgelt, regional vice president for academic affairs (see below), he says they're doing so out of an abundance of caution.

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HNF Stories
8:49 am
Thu October 16, 2014

Sickest Medicaid Kids in 'Chaos,' Doctors Say

Florida pediatricians who care for severely disabled children  say the state's overhaul of Medicaid has left  kids, parents and caregivers in turmoil.

Extremely fragile children, including some with tracheostomies and feeding tubes, face barriers in access to specialty care, physical therapy, home medical supplies and other urgent needs, the pediatricians say.

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HNF Stories
7:45 am
Mon October 13, 2014

Eye Surgeon Wins Close Call

Dr. Alan Mendelsohn
Credit myeyesurgeons.com

A letter from the Federal Bureau of Prisons almost cost Alan Mendelsohn his medical practice, only months after resuming it.

The prominent Hollywood eye surgeon, who served 2 ½ years of a four-year prison term on charges of public corruption and tax evasion, was sent to a halfway house in July.  There, residents are required to work during the days but must return each evening.

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HNF Stories
5:29 pm
Sun October 12, 2014

2 Doctors Lose Licenses for Pain Pills

Credit Florida Board of Medicine

Two Gulf Coast physicians lost their medical licenses Friday on similar charges, prescribing large quantities of addictive pain pills in ways the state said endangered the public.

One of them, Dr. Konstantine Yankopolus of Fort Myers, had already been suspended from practice in an emergency order filed by the Florida Department of Health in May 2013. 

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HNF Stories
9:27 am
Fri October 10, 2014

After Prison, Surgeon Returns to Practice

Credit Florida Board of Medicine

A 71-year-old Sebring surgeon who completed his prison sentence on an embezzlement conviction will be allowed to resume practice on probation, the Florida Board of Medicine agreed Friday.

In August 2012, Dr. Alfred Massam pleaded guilty in federal court to improperly taking $1.2 million from his medical practice’s employee pension fund, state records show. He served about 17 months at a minimum-security prison camp and three to four months in a halfway house, wearing an electronic monitor, he said at the board’s meeting in Deerfield Beach.

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HNF Stories
9:59 pm
Thu October 9, 2014

FL Medicare Plan Wins 5 Stars

Just in time for Medicare's open enrollment season, a Florida-based HMO has won the federal government's coveted  five-star rating, a rare honor that brings more than bragging rights. Such plans receive the freedom to enroll new members all year long. 

The winner, CarePlus Health Plans Inc., is a subsidiary of Humana Inc., Florida's largest Medicare vendor. Humana did well in the quality ratings, too,  but was outscored by the little plan it bought in 2005.

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HNF Stories
10:06 pm
Wed October 8, 2014

Medicare's Complexity Can Be Scary

Credit U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

As of Nov. 1, I will be on Medicare, which means I have to enroll this month. I should have plenty of company, since open enrollment for 2015 begins Oct. 15.

As a reporter and editor on the health-care beat, I’ve been explaining Medicare to the public since 1976. So people assume that I understand it thoroughly.  

But writing about Medicare is one thing; living it is another. For advice, I called Barbara Katz, a former reporter and lawyer who recently moved to Longboat Key from another state.  She enrolled in Medicare and a supplemental plan six years ago.

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HNF Stories
7:24 am
Tue September 16, 2014

Damages Reduced in Kickbacks Case

A federal judge has reduced the punitive damages that a Tampa jury imposed in June on national drug-testing firm Millennium Laboratories after finding that it engaged in unfair competition by breaking anti-kickback laws in Florida and two other states.

But Millennium Labs, based in San Diego, still owes more than $11 million to its rival Ameritox Ltd. after the reduction. In Friday's 29-page order, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew called Millennium's conduct "fairly reprehensible."

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HNF Stories
10:00 am
Sat September 13, 2014

FL Health Centers Get $13.4M

Four dozen health centers around the state that provide a medical home for uninsured low-income Floridians and for those who are newly insured through the Affordable Care Act will get a share of $13.4 million in federal funds, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday afternoon.

Most of the grants fell into the range of $150,000 to $400,000, but a few of them were for more:

·         Community Health of South Florida in Miami, about $507,000.

·         Manatee County Rural Health Services in Palmetto, about $499,000.

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HNF Stories
1:39 am
Thu September 11, 2014

Will Low Bidder Care for Kids?

Pearline Reno, LPN, with DJ
Carol Gentry/WUSF

In an ordinary house on an ordinary street near Orlando live some extraordinary children. To stay alive, they depend on machines and tubes and the caregivers sent out by an agency called Children First.

Registered nurse Maria Schiavi, co-owner of Children First, says some of the kids they care for were injured in an accident, such as a near-drowning. Others were born with life-threatening problems that modern medicine can’t fix.

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HNF Stories
1:38 am
Thu September 11, 2014

Home-Care Firm Rules Medicaid Market

Medicaid Director Justin Senior
Agency for Health Care Administration

It’s much too soon to say whether this summer’s flood of Florida Medicaid patients into private managed-care plans will accomplish the state’s goals of improving access to care and saving money.

But one result is already clear: The overhaul is concentrating power in the hands of specialty companies over which the state has no direct control.  Some say one such company has essentially taken over home care services and equipment.

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HNF Stories
1:28 pm
Mon September 8, 2014

FL 'Navigator' Grants Total $6.8M

The University of South Florida has been awarded by far the largest grant in the state to hire "navigators" who help uninsured people sign up for health insurance coverage through the federal Marketplace, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday.

Only two other Florida organizations won  navigator grants: the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, $871,275, and the Pinellas County Commission, $535,156. 

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HNF Stories
5:08 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

Medicare HMO Fined, Frozen

Susan Molina, CEO, Florida Healthcare Plus
Credit Linked In

Florida Healthcare Plus, a Medicare HMO and drug plan, is under state review for making a $600,000 error in a financial statement and has been temporarily blocked from enrolling any new members, its chief executive says.

The company, based in Coral Gables, was also recently fined $113,200 by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for a different type of infraction -- "systemic failures" to provide all the benefits due to members under CMS rules.

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HNF Stories
9:59 pm
Tue September 2, 2014

WellCare, Centene Medicaid Winners

With the multi-billion-dollar, four-month enroll-a-thon for Florida’s Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program now complete, totals show WellCare Health Plans still on top. 

The Tampa company’s Staywell plan now has more than 600,000 Florida Medicaid members. That’s 23 percent of the state’s roughly 3.3 million residents with Medicaid coverage, according to calculations by Citigroup Global Markets’ analyst Carl McDonald.

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HNF Stories
8:29 am
Tue August 26, 2014

Obamacare Sign-Ups to Rise 23%?

Jack McDermott, Director of Life & Health Products Review, Florida Office of Insurance Regulation
Credit FL Office of Insurance Regulation

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected regarding the way state and federal agencies report Affordable Care Act insurance enrollment . 

The number of Floridians enrolled in individual health plans under the Affordable Care Act in June was 866,485, according to new state data compiled from insurers’ reports. The carriers expect enrollment to rise to 1.1 million next year, an increase of 23 percent.

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HNF Stories
1:34 pm
Fri August 22, 2014

Sexting Doctor Agrees to Suspension

Dr. Tuan Dean
Credit TriCounty Physicians LLC website

A Central Florida doctor who sent sexually explicit photos and videos to a patient has settled disciplinary charges against him by agreeing to a temporary suspension and a permanent restriction on his practice.

Dr.  Tuan Dean, a family practitioner in The Villages, agreed to see only male patients when he returns from suspension, according to documents posted at the Florida Department of Health website. The Florida Board of Medicine earlier this month asked DOH to seek the suspension and permanent restriction through a formal hearing if Dean had not signed the agreement.

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HNF Stories
7:30 am
Fri August 22, 2014

FDA Panel Says No; Docs Say Yes

Dr. Ronald Wheeler
YouTube.com

Sarasota urologist  Ronald Wheeler says he's going to continue doing a controversial prostate-cancer treatment, even though an FDA panel recently voted against it and even though the state could punish him for it.

Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the French device that Wheeler uses for high-intensity focused ultrasound, called HIFU, he has been treating his patients in Mexico.

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HNF Stories
7:50 am
Tue August 19, 2014

15 FL Scientists Named 'Most Influential'

Roy Baumeister, Ph.D, FSU psychologist
Credit YouTube.com

A list of "cutting-edge" scientists who have the most influence on their fields -- using citations by other scholars as the yardstick -- includes 15 researchers based in Florida.

While most are known only in their field of study, a handful have made news. One even co-authored a bestseller.

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HNF Stories
4:58 am
Tue August 12, 2014

'Predatory' Doctor Prevails in Hearing

David Simon, D.O.

A Lake Worth family doctor accused of beating, choking and locking up a patient during a year-long sexual relationship should be allowed to continue practicing, a state hearing officer says. 

Dr. David Simon should not lose his license over the affair, Administrative Law Judge John G. Van Laningham in Tallahassee wrote late last month.  While Simon should not have engaged in sex with a patient – Florida law prohibits that under any circumstances – he has not been in trouble before and deserves probation, Van Laningham wrote.

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HNF Stories
7:22 am
Thu August 7, 2014

So Are Premiums Up or Down?

Elizabeth Carpenter of Avalere Health, a consulting company.
Credit Avalere.com

Some premiums on the federal health exchange for 2015 are going up. Some are going down. That's all the public really knows right now.

But it appears that the big idea behind the marketplace -- creating competition -- may be working, since three new companies have joined the 11 early adopters, according to Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation.

The OIR released a forecast for a 13 percent premium hike for 2015 plans on the federal marketplace (Healthcare.gov) earlier this week.

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HNF Stories
12:53 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Sexting Doctor: 'I Was Stressed Out'

Dr. Tuan Dean
Credit TriCounty Physicians LLC website

A doctor accused of sending sexually explicit videos and texts to a patient should be barred from treating females and should be suspended until he completes a psychiatric evaluation, the Florida Board of Medicine said Friday.

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HNF Stories
1:59 am
Thu July 31, 2014

Doctor Faces Discipline for Sexting

Tuan Kishfran Imran Dean
Credit TriCounty Physicians LLC website

A doctor who got into trouble for sexting at work will be called before the Florida Board of Medicine on Friday to explain why he should be allowed to keep practicing.

Dr. Tuan Kishfran Imran Dean, a family practitioner in The Villages, was working at a Doctor Today walk-in clinic in Lakeland when he displayed inappropriate conduct in August 2011, according to Department of Health records.

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