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
7:55 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Senate Health Panel OKs Consumer Bills

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville
Credit WLRN

Bills aimed at helping patients save money on contact lenses and confront fewer hurdles in access to drugs passed the Florida Senate Health Policy Committee on Monday. The panel also passed a bill to crack down on rogue clinics that escape state oversight by taking only cash.

Here are details:

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HNF Stories
5:55 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

Access-to-Drugs Bill Gains Steam

Mari Velar
Credit Facebook.com

Mari Velar, who has lupus and osteoporosis, has bones as fragile as butterfly wings. 

To keep them from breaking, she depends on an IV drip of a bone-strengthening fluid, which costs a lot more than pills. Whenever she has a new plan or new doctor, she has to switch to the cheaper therapy until she begins to itch.

“In order to appease the doctor, I have to try the drug and show them the hives and prove to them that I cannot take the drug,” says the 54-year-old Tampa woman.

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HNF Stories
10:19 pm
Wed March 18, 2015

Delays Often Cost FL Federal Funds

USF Professor of Public Health Jay Wolfson
Credit USF Health News

When federal money’s on the table, most states go for it like coupon-clippers at a closeout sale.

But studies show that when it comes to seeking federal money, Florida holds back, particularly in health care. Sometimes, the state changes its mind later and asks for its share of the money, only to discover that it’s too late; other states have made off with it.

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HNF Stories
12:01 am
Thu February 26, 2015

Billions at Stake as State, Feds Negotiate Medicaid

Wikimedia Commons

When the 2015 legislative session begins next week, many of the state’s decisions on health care for the poor are on hold as state and federal Medicaid officials negotiate over funding, behind closed doors. Billions of dollars are at stake.

When it comes to health-care funding, Florida’s in a funny position. The state has twice turned down billions of dollars from federal Medicaid that would have covered care for about a million poor Floridians.

This year may be no different.

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HNF Stories
12:01 am
Thu February 26, 2015

Rep. Hudson on Medicaid Expansion: No!

Rep. Matt Hudson
Credit Florida Legislature

Florida business groups, insurers, and hospitals are pushing state officials to accept billions of dollars in federal funds to cover the low-income uninsured.

But when the 2015 legislative session opens next Tuesday, this impressive coalition will run into Rep. Matt Hudson, a Naples Republican who chairs the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.

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HNF Stories
10:44 am
Tue February 10, 2015

CMS Official: No More LIP for Florida

Eliot Fishman
Credit Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services

The nation’s Medicaid chief said Tuesday the federal funds Florida hospitals have depended on to pay for the uninsured will not be arriving any more.

There is “no way” that Florida’s “Low Income Pool” program will continue when it expires in June, said Eliot Fishman, director of the Medicaid division of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  “Not in its present form.”

Fishman’s message blows a hole in Gov. Rick Scott’s budget, which includes $2 billion in federal funds for the Low Income Pool, or “LIP.” Half of the LIP is federal matching funds.

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HNF Stories
6:18 am
Mon February 9, 2015

Psychiatrist Called 'Clueless' About Drugs

Credit Florida Board of Medicine

A long-time Miami-area psychiatrist who prescribes heavy-duty drugs in abundance has not been doing it safely, the Florida Board of Medicine said Friday.

Dr. Francisco J. Pages, charged with mismanaging the care of nine patients, needs to be evaluated to see what his knowledge level is, the board decided at a meeting in Stuart. Pages needs training to make up the deficits and close supervision by another psychiatrist for at least two years, the board said.

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HNF Stories
2:07 pm
Fri February 6, 2015

Accused Molester Loses Medical License

Dr. Albert Esmailzadeh
Credit The Back Center (archive)

After emotional testimony from three former patients, the Florida Board of Medicine revoked the  license of a Central Florida pain doctor charged with sexually molesting six women.

Dr. Albert Esmailzadeh was accused of committing the abuse while practicing at clinics in Melbourne, Daytona Beach and Altamonte Springs between 2010 and 2013. Since then, he has been restricted to treating male patients under an emergency order from the Florida Department of Health.

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HNF Stories
11:43 am
Fri February 6, 2015

Board of Medicine Approves $1-a-Page Copy Fee

Credit Barry Gutierrez, NPR

  Doctors’ offices and others can charge patients $1 a page for copies of their medical records under a rule change adopted by the Florida Board of Medicine early Friday. The increased fee applies even if the records are kept and sent electronically.

The rule previously set the maximum for patients at a lower amount for lengthy records: $1 a page for the first 25 pages, and 25 cents a page thereafter. 

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HNF Stories
7:37 pm
Thu February 5, 2015

Behavior Could End Doctor's Career

Albert Esmailzadeh, MD
Credit The Back Center (archive)

A Central Florida doctor accused of molesting six women patients – sometimes while he was injecting pain medicine into their spine – is expected to receive the ultimate punishment Friday from the Florida Board of Medicine.

The board, meeting in Stuart, is expected to revoke the license of Dr. Albert Esmailzadeh, 49, a certified pain specialist.  That is the recommendation from Administrative Law Judge R. Bruce McKibben, who held hearings several months ago.

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HNF Stories
8:20 am
Thu January 29, 2015

Tampa-Area Hospitals Face $151M Cut

Credit Tampa General Hospital

Hillsborough County hospitals are scheduled to lose more than $151 million a year in funds for care of the uninsured beginning June 30, according to a report released Thursday.

The scheduled changes to two revenue streams “represent a tremendous loss of federal funding to the county and pose a significant risk,” warns the report by the Community Justice Project, part of Florida Legal Services.

Statewide, the coming annual loss will be $2.1 billion, estimates co-author Charlotte Cassel.

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HNF Stories
12:33 am
Thu January 29, 2015

Free Clinics Beat Insurance, for Some

Gary Babcock of Clearwater
Carol Gentry Health News Florida

With open enrollment for health insurance ending in just two weeks, the push is on to get everyone who qualifies signed up. But some of the uninsured are balking, and it’s not only the so-called “young invincibles” who think they don’t need it.

Gary Babcock of Clearwater, for example, is neither young nor invincible.  He’s 55, with diabetes so severe he has to give himself daily insulin shots.

Remove

At his income level, he could choose from several Affordable Care Act plans with no premium, fully subsidized.

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HNF Stories
12:56 am
Thu January 22, 2015

Shot Can Rescue Opiod Overdose Victims

University of Washington Health

For more than 40 years, there’s been a drug that can stop a heroin overdose in its tracks, if someone gives the drug in time.  

And it turns out that the same drug works for patients who overdose on prescription painkillers such as morphine or OxyContin --drugs called opiods because they mimic the action of opium.

Patient advocates say many deaths from accidental overdoses of prescription painkillers or heroin could be averted simply and at little expense if there were wider distribution of a drug the drug called nalaxone,  or its better known brand name of Narcan.

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HNF Stories
1:45 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Report's Forecast Grim for Hospitals

Joan Alker

Florida’s “safety-net” hospitals – the ones that provide the most charity care -- received another in a series of depressing projections Wednesday in a report from Florida Legal Services.  

Taken together, the three reports issued to date by the patient-advocacy organization describe a pending loss of $2 billion a year to the state’s health-care providers for the poor. Federal funding that has propped them up is scheduled to end June 30, Florida Legal Services said.

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HNF Stories
10:20 am
Thu January 8, 2015

Tax Preparer Offering ACA Penalty Advice

The Affordable Care Act requires that everyone who can afford health insurance should buy it – or there’s a penalty on their federal taxes.

H & R Block, a major player in the tax-preparation industry, decided to open its doors Thursday to answer questions for those who wonder if they owe money or should be worried about it.

Nearly a million Floridians found coverage through the federal marketplace last year. Many others, who could have but didn't bother, may have to pay up as part of their federal income tax filing, due April 15.

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HNF Stories
7:37 am
Tue January 6, 2015

Prominent Cardiologist Sued for Fraud

Dr. Asad Qamar

One of the top Medicare billers in the country, Central Florida cardiologist Asad Qamar, is the target of two lawsuits accusing him of systematic Medicare fraud, including padding bills and performing unnecessary procedures.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s civil division has joined in the whistleblowers' cases on behalf of Medicare and Medicaid taxpayers.  The lawsuits, filed in 2011 and 2014, were kept secret while the DOJ investigated and debated whether to join them. 

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HNF Stories
6:31 am
Thu December 11, 2014

State Takes Over Medicare HMO

Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds III
Credit Credit Florida's Second Judicial Circuit

Florida Healthcare Plus, a Medicare HMO with 10,000 members, was declared insolvent Wednesday and turned over to state authorities.

In such cases, state and federal officials help patients move into other health plans or to traditional Medicare. More information is expected on that today or Friday.

The state Division of Financial Services took over the Coral Gables-based plan immediately after the order was issued Wednesday by Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds in Tallahassee. DFS is expected to sell off the company’s assets Jan. 1.

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HNF Stories
9:29 pm
Tue December 9, 2014

OB-Gyns Protest Safety Rule

Dr. Karen Harris, OB-Gyn
Credit North Florida Women's Physicians

Florida’s tough new safety rule for medical-office surgery, years in the making, has been delayed at the last minute by an outcry from obstetrician-gynecologists.

The OB-Gyns appeared Friday at the Florida Board of Medicine, which was to have passed the safety rule that day, to ask for an amendment to spare them from some of the provisions.  Board members decided instead to postpone the issue while they figure out what to do.

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HNF Stories
12:47 pm
Fri December 5, 2014

Board Asks Doctor to Undergo Mental Test

At Board of Medicine hearing, psychiatrist Penelope Ziegler (foreground), then Dr. Harry Wilks, then Wilks' attorney Lester Perling.
Carol Gentry WUSF

Clearwater internist Harry S. Wilks should undergo psychological testing to see whether he is still mentally sharp enough to practice safely, the Florida Board of Medicine said today.

Time is of the essence, board members said, since Wilks is currently practicing without supervision. They voted to require that the evaluation be conducted and reviewed by the middle of next month.

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HNF Stories
12:06 am
Fri December 5, 2014

Board Considering Doc's Mental Health

Credit Florida Board of Medicine

A Clearwater internist who was described as unsafe to practice because of mental decline will try to persuade the Florida Board of Medicine that it isn’t true at a hearing today.

Dr. Harry S. Wilks, 72, is expected to appear at the meeting in St. Petersburg to answer questions, accompanied by his attorney Lester Perling.  They are armed with psychiatric and neurological evaluations that they say will refute those presented by the state.

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HNF Stories
8:38 am
Thu December 4, 2014

Middle-Aged, Low Income Fall into 'Gap'

Carlos Seibane is both a patient and volunteer at the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.
Carol Gentry, Health News Florida

When the Affordable Care Act’s federal marketplace opened last year, Beth and Doug Warner of St. Petersburg asked a navigator to enroll them. But they discovered their income wasn’t high enough to get a subsidy.

Without one, Doug Warner said, the policy for the couple would cost $700 a month. “Basically the choice was, ‘Keep the roof over your head or buy healthcare.'”

It’s one of the great ironies of the health overhaul. Floridians most in need of health insurance -- adults below the poverty line -- are often blocked from coverage the Affordable Care Act provides.

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HNF Stories
10:39 am
Wed November 26, 2014

Which Medicare Path Do I Take?

Carol Gentry, Special Correspondent

(Editor's Note: It's Medicare enrollment season, now through Dec. 7, and beneficiaries are trying to decide on a plan. Health News Florida’s Carol Gentry, who has covered Medicare for many years, is seeing the federal program from a new point of view: as a beneficiary. Her first commentary, which aired Oct. 9, was "Medicare's Complexity Can Be Scary." The second one, "Which Medicare Path Do I Take?" is below).

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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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