Carol Gentry

Health News Florida Editor

Carol Gentry, founder and editor 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.

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

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HNF Stories
10:22 am
Mon April 21, 2014

Gaetz Letter Seeks Medicaid 'Flexibility'

  All session long, Florida's legislative leaders have frustrated advocates for the poor, as well as much of the business community, by declining to talk about the billions of federal dollars for Medicaid expansion that the state is forgoing.

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HNF Stories
12:57 am
Wed April 16, 2014

This HMO Can Be Fixed: New CEO

Susan Rawlings Molina
Credit Linked In

Florida Healthcare Plus, a financially struggling Medicare Advantage plan, has brought in a new CEO who's an experienced senior-products executive and turnaround artist.

Susan Rawlings Molina, who arrived at the Coral Gables-based company in January, says she was recruited for the task by her predecessor, Ray Quirantes. Although the company has been losing money, she told Health News Florida Tuesday afternoon, its investors have provided adequate capital and want to make it a success.

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HNF Stories
1:32 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

Ex-Pres. of Medicare Plan Arrested

Haider Ali Khan, patriarch of the now-defunct Quality Health Plans Inc., has been arrested and charged with more than a dozen felonies involving health-insurance fraud, state officials said.

Khan, who was president of the Tampa-based Medicare plan before it closed, turned himself in to Leon County Jail officials on April 3 and was released on $150,000 bond, according to the state Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). His arrest came 20 months after that of his son and daughter, both of whom were also executives in the company.

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HNF Stories
10:58 am
Tue April 15, 2014

Medicare HMO in Trouble?

Federal officials have imposed a fine on Florida Healthcare Plus, a Medicare Advantage plan based in Coral Gables, for failing to notify members of upcoming changes in the plan by the deadline last fall, just before  open-enrollment season.

Meanwhile, the plan seems to have retrenched, with some of its offices closing around the state. Calls to Florida Healthcare Plus offices in Orlando, Jacksonville and West Palm Beach drew recorded messages that said those numbers were no longer in service.

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HNF Stories
6:55 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

Feds OK $2.2B for Hospitals, Med Schools

Cindy Mann, director of Medicaid.
Credit Medicaid.gov

Florida Medicaid received word Friday evening that federal officials have authorized a $2 billion hospital fund for indigent care starting July 1 and an extra $200 million for the state’s medical schools.

Justin Senior, Florida’s Medicaid director, said the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services okayed $2.2 billion for the “Low Income Pool (LIP),” which is used to support “safety-net” hospitals and clinics that treat a lot of Medicaid patients. The LIP is a combination of local and state funds that draw down federal match.

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HNF Stories
5:15 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

CMS: We're Open to State Ideas

Marilyn Tavenner
Credit commons.wikimedia.org

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says he has hopeful news for those who are stewing over Florida's refusal of $51 billion in federal funds to cover the state's low-income uninsured.

Nelson, D-FL, says the federal agency in charge of Medicaid is "ready and willing to work directly with Florida on a Florida-designed approach" to covering those below the poverty level. He cited a letter he received Friday from Marilyn Tavenner, chief of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

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HNF Stories
10:55 am
Fri April 11, 2014

Compromise Saves Crisis Funding

Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring.

When there's a big fight brewing, call in the grownups. It helps if one is a nurse.

On Thursday, with mental-health centers and hospitals ready to fight over state funds for crisis stabilization, Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring,  presented a compromise on SB 1726 to the Appropriations Committee that passed unanimously

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HNF Stories
11:07 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Health Bill 'Train' on Its Way

Credit Freefoto

The Florida House Health & Human Services Committee passed a megabill Thursday  morning that combines three prickly issues, in the hope that packaging them will make it harder for the Senate to kill or maim any of them.

HB 7113 would protect private for-profit trauma centers, allow for independent practice for nurse practitioners and allow out-of-state doctors to participate in telehealth without a Florida license. The Florida Medical Association opposes the latter two.

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HNF Stories
9:10 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Crisis-Unit Funding Fight Today

A dramatic restructuring of the way Florida pays for crisis care in mental health -- one that pits hospitals against crisis stabilization units -- comes to a head today.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has scheduled a five-hour meeting Thursday beginning at 1 p.m. to handle two dozen matters, including SB 1726.  It would shift some of the money that now goes to the crisis units, called CSUs, to hospitals that are so-called "Baker Act receiving facilities" because they take in patients who qualify for involuntary treatment under a state law commonly called the Baker Act.

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HNF Stories
7:00 am
Thu April 10, 2014

Health Care 'Train' Coming?

Leaders of the Florida House, hoping to protect their pet health issues from being picked apart in the Senate,  have bundled them into a package to be introduced Thursday morning. In legislative parlance, they're creating a "train."

The idea of a train is that it's a bunch of railcars that are connected and it would be hard to remove one of them without causing them all to derail. As a practical matter, it means some lawmakers might have to accept a bill they don't like in order to get one that's a must-pass.

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HNF Stories
5:58 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

FL Scientists Key in Melanoma Breakthrough

Kieran Smalley in lab at Moffitt.
Credit Carol Gentry, HNF/WUSF

In a lab the size of a basketball court, Moffitt scientist Kieran Smalley and his team study human genes and proteins involved in different kinds of cancer. Their machines whir and clang, but the researchers don't seem to hear it.

Dr. Smalley has a particular interest in stage 4 melanoma – the kind that’s so advanced neither surgery nor drugs will help.   

Half of late-stage melanoma cases are triggered by a gene mutation, called B-Raf.  There's a way to block it, Dr. Smalley says.

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HNF Stories
5:09 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

Bill Cuts Crisis-Unit Funds

Every time there is a mass shooting, everyone agrees there should be more focus on identifying and treating persons with emergency mental health problems.

But a mental-health bill up that comes up this week in Senate Appropriations would have the opposite result, according to consumer groups in mental health.

"We call it the 'Nightmare of the Senate'," said Maggie Labarta, clinical psychologist and CEO of Meridian Behavioral Health Care in Gainesville. 

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HNF Stories
7:30 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Bill to Close Clinic Loophole at Risk

A bill that would close a loophole for cash-only clinics has drawn strong support from  three committees in the Florida Senate. Yet it’s dying in the House for lack of a committee hearing, like a plant without sunshine.

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HNF Stories
10:09 am
Tue April 8, 2014

Doctors to Get 1-Time Fee Cut

Florida’s 61,000 medical doctors will get a 31-percent cut on their license renewal fee under a proposal adopted by the Florida Board of Medicine.

The renewal fee for MDs who have active licenses will be reduced from the usual $360 to $250 during the calendar years 2015-16, under the proposal. MDs have to renew their license every other year.

This one-time fee cut was adopted by the board's finance committee in March and by the fullboard last Friday. It still has to go through the rule-making process, which takes several months. No serious opposition is expected.

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Health News Florida
10:02 am
Mon April 7, 2014

Parade of the Pill-Pushers

While two former pill-mill doctors were being sentenced to prison in a federal courtroom in West Palm Beach on Friday, nine luckier doctors accused of over-prescribing narcotics drew less-stiff punishment from the  Florida Board of Medicine at a hotel nearby.

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HNF Stories
7:30 am
Fri April 4, 2014

HCG Clinics Beyond Board's Control

An effort to rein in a weight-loss fad that the FDA calls risky ran into a wall Thursday night at a Florida Board of Medicine hearing in Deerfield Beach.

Assistant Attorney General Ed Tellechea, the board’s general counsel, told members that state boards and agencies are no longer allowed to enact rules that could be costly to small businesses. HCG weight-loss clinics meet that definition.

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HNF Stories
1:08 am
Tue April 1, 2014

Crunch Time Hits Uninsured, Website

Walt Seely, volunteer for Get Covered, America
Carol Gentry WUSF

Al Lopez Park in Tampa is normally an oasis of serenity on a Monday. But on the last day of open enrollment for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the community center was crowded, noisy and stressful. Hundreds of procrastinators came seeking help from navigators.

It was a microcosm of the nation, as 3 million Americans visited the HealthCare.gov website and another 1 million used the call-center line on the last official day to sign up for a 2014 health plan.

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HNF Stories
11:18 am
Thu March 27, 2014

Nelson Plan: Use Local Match

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson cranked up the hopes of many Democrats last week by hinting that he had a plan that might revive the moribund Medicaid expansion in Florida, which would cover those too poor to qualify for tax credits on Healthcare.gov.

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HNF Stories
10:56 am
Thu March 27, 2014

Florida Subsidies Average $3,000

A new study finds that 90 percent of Floridians who are enrolling in health plans under the Affordable Care Act qualify for tax credits amounting to an average of almost $3,000 apiece.

And  yet only one in four Floridians who qualifies for a subsidy had enrolled in a plan by March 1, the study said.  This indicates that more than 1 million people in the state who qualify for the financial help had not yet taken advantage of it as of the date when the federal data were released -- before procrastinators started a late-stage surge at Healthcare.gov and the toll-free line.

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HNF Stories
11:18 am
Fri March 14, 2014

FL Malpractice Caps Thrown Out

Credit JMV0586 / FLICKR

Thursday's Florida Supreme Court decision that threw out medical malpractice limits on "pain and suffering" drew quick rebukes from doctors and applause from trial attorneys.

The 5-2 landmark decision, issued two years after oral arguments, called into question the very reason the Legislature imposed the limits in the first place: the "alleged medical malpractice crisis."

Second-guessing the legislative intent in such a case is extraordinary, says Jay Wolfson, University of South Florida professor of public health and medicine.

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HNF Stories
7:30 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Don't Say 'Medicaid' Around Gaetz

Senate President Don Gaetz
Credit State Impact, NPR

Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, who doesn't think it's sappy to speak of "public service" and would go the second mile for a kid or a veteran or an elder, doesn't want to talk about Medicaid.

Even though he spent much of his adult life as a health-care executive - he's been a hospital administrator, and founded a hospice - he seems to despise the joint state-federal health program for the poor. He gets grumpy when the subject of Medicaid comes up.

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HNF Stories
8:45 am
Tue March 11, 2014

Save the Date - Come Meet Us!

The Health News Florida team, from left: Editor Carol Gentry, Mary Shedden and Lottie Watts
Credit Sam Dolson

Health News Florida is coming to Tallahassee, the place where we have more eAlert subscribers than anywhere else in Florida, for a meet-and-greet on Monday, March 24. And you're invited.

It will be at Andrews 228, across from the Capitol, from 5 to 7  p.m.

As founder and editor of our non-profit news service, I'll be there, along with staff members Lottie Watts and Mary Shedden, who joined us a few months ago from The Tampa Tribune.

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HNF Stories
11:09 am
Thu March 6, 2014

‘It’s All About Hope’ -- and $51B

Drs. Owen Linder and Mona Mangat
Carol Gentry Health News Florida/WUSF

A lot of money - $200 million a month or $7 million a day – could be used to buy health coverage for Florida's poor. But it all could go to some other state, said advocates who held a Capitol press conference Wednesday with the message: “Take the Money!”

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HNF Stories
10:27 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Fines an Issue for Assisted Living

No one questions that assisted living facilities need to be regulated - or if they do question it, they’re being quiet about it. But there’s disagreement on how the regulation should be carried out, especially how much the fines should be.

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HNF Stories
9:10 am
Tue March 4, 2014

Telehealth Bill Irks FMA

Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville

A Florida House bill that would promote "telehealth" - patient care from a distance - passed a key committee Monday by a unanimous vote. It provoked an outcry from the Florida Medical Association.

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HNF Stories
11:37 am
Thu February 27, 2014

Why Nurses Want More Power

Nurse Practitioner George Peraza Smith
Credit Carol Gentry/WUSF

A bill that would give nurse-practitioners more authority is one of the two big health issues being pushed by the House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation, which aims to increase access to primary care.

The other big issue of the session, which starts March 4, is telemedicine: Ironing out how it could be paid for and regulated. (See Health News Florida's: Telemedicine Ready for Reboot.)

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HNF Stories
8:38 am
Wed February 19, 2014

Nurse-Power Bill Gets Its Start

Florida's Capitol

A bill that would expand the authority of nurse practitioners and open a door for some to practice independently of physicians was approved by the Florida House Select Committee on Health Care Workforce Innovation on Tuesday evening.

The vote drew bipartisan support, with only two "no votes" on a board of more than a dozen. But several members said their support was tentative, that they wanted to see further debate and some tweaks.

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HNF Stories
6:00 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Vote Set on Nurse-Power Bill

Florida's Capitol in Tallahassee

UPDATE 6:30 p.m.-- The House Select Committee on Workforce Innovation approved a massive bill that would expand the authority of nurse practitioners and open a door for them to practice independently.  The vote, with only two dissents, followed testimony against the bill by a number of physician organizations.

With a key committee set to vote today on a bill allowing nurses more authority, doctor groups were sending out alerts to their members Monday, urging them to call their representative and register a protest.

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HNF Stories
1:00 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Telemedicine on Tap Today

Many Floridians like the idea of using technology to keep patients more in touch with caregivers, saving time for all concerned. But insurers have been slow to pay for telemedicine, and physicians remain uncertain about whether they can use it legally.

On Tuesday at 2 p.m., the Florida Senate Health Policy Committee will take up SPB 7028, the Florida Telemedicine Act. It would set up a method for regulating health care professionals who conduct telemedicine consults, whether in-state or across state lines.

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HNF Stories
1:25 am
Thu February 13, 2014

Enrollment Surges in FL

Avalere Health, a consulting company, rates Florida as one of just 15 states closing in on projected enrollment for 2014.
Credit Avalere Health

Despite state officials' opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the relative scarcity of helpers available,  Floridians are finding their way to Healthcare.gov and signing up for plans even beyond the growth in most states.

By the end of January, nearly 300,000 Floridians had enrolled in a new health plan through Obamacare -- a surge that left most other states in the dust.

Jodi Ray at University of South Florida, who leads the grant-driven effort to sign up the uninsured in most counties of Florida, said she's not in the least surprised.

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