Sammy Mack

Health News Florida Reporter

Public radio. Public health. Public policy.

Most days, Mack covers health care policy for WLRN – Miami Herald News and Health News Florida. Her health care journalism is supported by a fellowship with the Kaiser Health News and NPR Health Care Reporting in the States project.

Like most folks who've worked at a member station, she's worn a lot of hats: interim digital editor during the re-launch of WLRN.org, assistant producer for The Florida Roundup, morning news producer, intern coordinator, party planner. She was one half of the StateImpact Florida education reporting team. 

Her stories have appeared on NPR, Monocle 24, the Miami Herald, Global Health, Health News Florida, Gambit Weekly, MAP Magazine, Gulfshore Life, Philadelphia Weekly, the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and other outlets.

Mack’s work has been honored with Florida AP Broadcaster and SPJ Sunshine State awards. She’s collaborated on projects that have won a Third Coast International Audio Festival bronze award, an Emmy, regional Edward R. Murrow awards, a Wilbur Award and a Dart Award. Mack was a writing fellow during the 2008 Poynter Summer Fellowship for Young Journalists.

She was recognized by her colleagues as the 2011 Herald Top Chef. She’s happy to share her recipe for garam masala macarons with lemongrass filling.

Ways to Connect

The Florida Department of Health reports a child in Miami-Dade County has come down with a case of measles.

 

According to a release from the health department, the child who came down with measles had not been vaccinated.

The department said public health officials would be notifying people who may have been exposed.

The health department did not say where the child may have traveled before or after getting sick.

The measles virus can hang in the air and continue to be infectious up to two hours after the sick person has left the room.

  The number of Zika cases in Florida has grown to 188—which includes 38 pregnant women who are being monitored by the state.

So far, all of those cases are travel-related. But public health officials are bracing for local outbreaks.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip was in Fort Lauderdale Thursday to give a presentation on the state’s Zika plans to the Broward legislative delegation.

Mental health care ranks among the most expensive kinds of health care in American medicine—and having a 

mental illness or behavioral disorder can drive up costs for other kinds of care.

But new research suggests that the Affordable Care Act has helped young people with mental illnesses afford health care—especially young blacks and Latinos.

Medical bills can be incredibly confusing and difficult to read.

But do you have a better idea?

No, seriously, do you?

Federal officials are all but certain there will be a Zika outbreak in the continental U.S. this summer.

The mosquito-borne virus continues to spread in Central and South America and the Caribbean. It’s linked to severe birth defects and other serious side effects.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, spoke with WLRN about what this all means for Floridians:

What Floridians can expect:

Health News Florida has been reporting that Florida’s health insurance companies are asking for double-digit rate increases.

Federal officials are all but certain there will be a Zika outbreak this summer.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, explained, “In the next couple of months as we approach the very active mosquito season, we project that we will see local outbreaks of Zika particularly in the Gulf Coast area around Florida Texas and other states.”

On a Thursday afternoon, 17-year-old Brendon Santana is sitting cross-legged on his bed, cradling a ukulele as he sings Karen O’s Moon Song.

I'm lying on the moon

My dear, I'll be there soon

His bedroom is plastered with Beatles memorabilia and paintings of instruments.

It's a quiet and starry place

Time's we're swallowed up

In space we're here a million miles away

Muhammad Mahdi Karim / Wikimedia Commons

The Zika pandemic has gotten people talking about mosquito control.

But humans aren’t the only ones affected by mosquito-borne diseases in South Florida.

Florida kids go to the emergency room more often than kids in the rest of the country—even when they have insurance—according to a new analysis from the Health Care Cost Institute.

The researchers at HCCI analyzed three years of insurance company billing information from Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser Permanente to look at trends in how children are receiving health care.

They found that children in Florida and across the country are going to the doctor less often, but when they do it’s getting more expensive.

Florida Blue

The insurance company Florida Blue says its rate increases were published too soon on the Obamacare website.

The numbers that were briefly available showed as much as an 11 percent price increase on some plans.

Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post first saw the numbers when he was surfing the HealthCare.gov website.

  Florida health care advocates and politicians are making the case that health care access is a religious issue.

Health-care prices are complex and in many ways secret—which can affect how much you end up paying for your health care.

But not everyone agrees on what transparency in health-care pricing should look like.

You can listen to a story about what we mean when we talk about transparency here:

Real prices for health care are complicated and oftentimes secret. Health News Florida, WUSF and WLRN have launched an online guide to bring clarity to health care costs. PriceCheck Florida is a database of prices of common health care procedures and supplies.

You can search the database, and you can contribute information about the prices you paid.  

This week on Florida Matters (Tuesday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 1 at 7:30 a.m.), we sit down with project founder Jeanne Pinder and Health News Florida reporter Sammy Mack to talk about how the database works and why it’s needed. We also feature a discussion on the impact of health care costs on employer-based insurance.

Ask what something costs in medical care and you could easily come back with a half dozen different answers. Health care costs are complex and often secret.

That’s part of why WLRN, WUSF and Health News Florida are launching PriceCheck, a reporting project aimed at bringing clarity to the cost of health care in Florida.

Florida hospitals continue to have some of the highest Caesarean delivery rates in the country, according to a new analysis out from Consumer Reports.

“People might find differences in nearby hospitals, so they really have to look at a map and at the rates and see what stories the numbers are telling,” said Doris Peter, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

Chronic diseases--like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers--are the leading cause of death across the country. They disproportionately affect many minorities and people living in poverty.

Your life expectancy depends a lot on where you live—down to the very neighborhood, according to a new analysis from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The distance between Downtown Miami and the city’s Overtown neighborhood is about a mile. The difference between life expectancies in those two places? Fifteen years.

On Wednesday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez unveiled a new plan he hopes will prevent shooting deaths of children.

More than 100 children in the county have been killed by gun violence over past three years.

At 85 years old, Alpha Edwards did not expect to be out of savings or to have $3,000 of credit card debt.

"I don't do anything that costs money," Edwards says. "I can't."

The problem started four years ago, when Edwards moved to Miami Springs, Fla., with her little brown dog. Her husband had recently died, and Edwards wanted to be closer to her daughter.

Edwards regularly sees doctors for her chronic lung disease and her pacemaker. And not long after she moved, she needed a cardiac procedure.

Back when Laura Rollins first used food stamps for her family—more than two decades ago—she was sometimes embarrassed to use her  stamps at the grocery store.

“When we used to have those books of food stamps that you know that to me was embarrassing because that was telling everybody that was around me and letting them know that, ‘oh, she’s poor,’” Rollins recalls.

Leaders from the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics went to Tallahassee Thursday to personally ask lawmakers to keep them in the budget this year.

What they’re asking for: at least $4.5 million in appropriations to serve 14,000  more uninsured Floridians

“These clinics play a critical role,” says Nick Duran, head of the association.

Last year, lawmakers in Tallahassee fought over how to fund health care for uninsured Floridians. Now two new reports say county leaders are the ones who really need to be concerned.

Florida State Rep. Carlos Trujillo is in the middle of some pressing and controversial issues this legislative session.

The South Florida Republican sponsored one bill that would close a health insurance gap and another that would make it illegal for people who have been deported to come back into Florida.

And before session even started, he took heat from the gun lobby for his position on a Stand Your Ground bill.

Florida's annual legislative session gets under way today. WUSF News will bring you live coverage of the governor's State of the State address starting today at 11 a.m. This week on Florida Matters (Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 17 7:30 a.m.), we will feature highlights of the address, along with the Democratic response.  

Linda Quick has been a force in Florida health care policy for decades.

Quick—who was born at Coral Gables Hospital—spent 40 years working in health care. The past two decades of that were with the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, which represents hundreds of hospitals and health-care businesses on legislative and industry issues.

Quick has had an insider’s view of some of the biggest policy and economic events affecting the health of Floridians.

And as of January, she’s retired.

HealthCare.gov

Two insurers - Cigna and Preferred Medical Plan – aren’t offering plans on the Florida health care exchange in 2016, forcing more than 100,000 Floridians to shop for new coverage.

Florida hospitals are doing less harm than they used to. 

According to a report out from the Florida Hospital Association, a two-year project across the state prevented more than 27,000 mistakes and injuries to patients. 

Not long after Sherry Poulin married her husband Louis last year, the newlyweds sat in their kitchen with health insurance information laid out in front of them.

“We were like, this is just not, this is not do-able,” says Sherry.

Before getting married, Poulin paid $50 a month for a subsidized plan through Obamacare. Now, for a plan offered through her husband’s employer, she was looking at about $500 a month.

 

Florida legislators have been grappling with the problem of balance billing—also known as “surprise billing”—and now the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has proposed a broader rule aimed at fixing the issue.

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