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
12:30 am
Thu May 21, 2015

Punishment for Fatal Error a Tough Call

Justin Solnay with family poodle
Courtesy of Solnay Family

  Two years ago, a little boy with a leaky heart valve was rolled into the operating room at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando.  Before starting surgery, as required, the team took a “Time Out.”

Doctors and nurses made sure they had the correct patient on the table – Justin Solnay, age 11 – and were planning the right procedure – replacing Justin’s weak aortic valve with a mechanical implant. They ran through the list; check, check and check.

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HNF Stories
8:02 am
Mon May 18, 2015

Hospitals Hesitant to Give Commission Data

Credit Phallin Ooi / Albumarium

Gov. Rick Scott, who last week asked the state's hospitals to provide a large amount of financial data by Monday, will not get all that he asked for that quickly. He may not get some of it at all.

Hospital executives and lawyers say they want to cooperate with Scott and his newly appointed Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding, which seeks data on services, profits, costs and patient outcomes. 

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HNF Stories
1:08 pm
Tue May 12, 2015

FL's Health Care Dispute: A Conversation

Melissa Ross, host of First Coast Connect
Credit WJCT

Jacksonville's public-radio call-in show First Coast Connect on WJCT 89.9 hosted a discussion Monday of Florida's stalemate over health-care funding.

Health News Florida Special Correspondent Carol Gentry took questions from host Melissa Ross and a number of callers, all of them irked at Gov. Rick Scott's standoff with federal officials over whether Florida should accept billions of dollars to cover 800,000 of the state's low-income uninsured.

Here is a transcript:

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HNF Stories
9:38 pm
Thu May 7, 2015

Gov’s Hospital Commission Brings Deja Vu

Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro served as chairman of Gov. Rick Scott's first hospital commission in 2011.
Credit Florida Tax Watch

Gov. Rick Scott’s call for an investigation of hospital finances, officially issued this week, had a familiar ring to Floridians in the health-care industry.

“My first thought was, ‘Gee, didn’t we just do that?’” said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association. She was one of those asked to testify at a 2011 hearing held by Scott’s first hospital-financing panel, created shortly after he was sworn into office.

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HNF Stories
5:47 pm
Wed April 29, 2015

House Packet on Medicaid Called Misleading

House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes
Credit AP

Florida House leaders, who for three years have rejected federal funds to expand health coverage to the poor, brought the legislative session to an early halt Tuesday because of their rock-solid belief that “Medicaid is broken.”

This strongly held position is not new.  It developed in the past when doctors shunned Medicaid because of low pay rates. Even as Medicaid has been transformed and turned over to the private sector, the attitude has persisted and intensified among groups opposed to the Affordable Care Act and all its parts, including Medicaid expansion.

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HNF Stories
2:52 pm
Mon April 27, 2015

Gardiner: Send Full FHIX Plan to Feds

Senate President Andy Gardiner
Credit Florida Senate

Florida Medicaid’s request that federal officials send the state $2.2 billion dollars to keep the Low Income Pool subsidies flowing to hospitals won’t work because a vital part is missing, Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner says.

The missing link, he said, is the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange, known as the FHIX. It is the Senate’s plan to cover up to 1 million of Florida’s low-income uninsured residents by accepting billions of dollars in Medicaid expansion money under the Affordable Care Act.

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Health News Florida
5:22 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

Medicaid HMOs Losing Money on Drugs

Kevin Kearns, president & CEO of Prestige Health Choice
Credit Health Choices Network

Florida Medicaid, which has been touting its "Managed Medical Assistance" program as a national model, may want to hold off.

The program, which shifts virtually all Medicaid recipients into managed-care plans, underestimated how much their care would cost.

A spreadsheet the Agency for Health Care Administration prepared shows that nearly all HMOs and provider-service networks involved in the program are losing money.

The losses between May and December totaled more than $300 million, and some of the health plans said they could reach $700 million by June 30.

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HNF Stories
12:08 pm
Mon April 13, 2015

Board: We Can’t Trust Doctor With Women

Edwardo Williams

A Tallahassee doctor accused of sexual misconduct by five women patients has turned down a deal with the Florida Board of Medicine that would let him practice if he treats only men.

Family practitioner Edwardo Williams said that limitation – which was imposed as an emergency restriction last August – makes him unemployable.

“Because of the emergency restriction, I was basically unemployable," he said. "I am broke, I have no money to go anywhere else.” 

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HNF Stories
11:59 am
Fri April 10, 2015

Spine Doctor Wins Settlement

Dr. Alfred Bonati
Credit ZocDoc.com

After expressing frustration, the Florida Board of Medicine on Friday accepted a settlement that allows a controversial surgeon to continue in practice without interruption.

Orthopedic surgeon Alfred Bonati, who attracts patients from all over the country to Bonati Spine Institute north of Tampa, had been charged with mishandling four cases, leaving patients with permanent disabilities.

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HNF Stories
7:42 am
Fri April 10, 2015

Spine Doctor Saga Continues

Credit Florida Board of Medicine

On his website, Dr. Alfred Octavius Bonati is described as a pioneer in relief of back pain, creating a type of microsurgery that requires no general anesthesia or hospital stay. 

His ads say he’s done 45,000 of the procedures with a 94-percent success rate. Patients from all over the country offer testimonials on YouTube.

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HNF Stories
10:43 pm
Wed April 1, 2015

Bruising Battle Over Balance-Billing

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami-Dade
Credit Florida Legislature

 After an emergency trip to the hospital, some patients find a nasty surprise in their mailbox -- bills their insurer didn't pay. Florida law protects some patients from this but not others.

Those in an HMO would see all their bills covered: ambulance, hospital, and doctors. But those who have another type of health insurance could be slapped with astronomical bills. They could have collection agents calling to get whatever their plan didn't pay.

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HNF Stories
9:19 pm
Tue March 31, 2015

Consumer Bill Takes Heat From Doctors

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami
Credit Florida House of Representatives

A bill designed to protect patients from unexpected charges for emergency treatment – so-called “balance billing” -- passed the powerful House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

But its future remains uncertain amid opposition from the Florida Medical Association and Florida Hospital Association.

Health-care providers who aren’t in a contract with an insurer say they shouldn’t be bound by what that insurer wants to pay. Insurers say they shouldn’t be forced to pay more than is reasonable.

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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

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
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
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
Credit Georgetown Health Policy Institute

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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