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State AIDS chief joins Medicaid HMO

Tom Liberti, who has been fighting the spread of AIDS since before the disease had a name, is taking his decades of expertise and contacts into the private sector.

Liberti is now a "strategic adviser" for Clear Health Alliance, a new Medicaid plan for HIV/AIDS patients, according to a release from the company. Liberti had been chief of the HIV/AIDS Bureau of the Florida Department of Health for 15 years.

Liberti is only the latest in a stream of high-ranking officials to leave the department, which is being reorganized following a downsizing ordered by the Legislature. Sherry Riley is now serving as interim director of HIV/AIDS, which has become a section within the division of communicable diseases.

Clear Health is sponsored by Simply Healthcare Inc., created in 2010 by the private equity group MBF Healthcare Partners, led by Miguel "Mike" Fernandez.  The millionaire entrepreneur had already developed and sold two South Florida HMOs,  Physicians Healthcare Plans and Care Plus Health Plan.

Simply Healthcare, which acquired Total Health Choice two years ago, is based in Coral Gables and most of its enrollees live in Dade and Broward counties. But in December, the company announced it was expanding into Central Florida, where it has met fierce pushback by Orlando Health, as News Service of Floridareported last week.

Profits await Medicaid HMOs as the state prepares to turn responsibility for virtually all those enrolled in the joint state-federal program for the poor -- even frail elderly people in nursing homes -- over to private managed-care plans. The state initiative awaits a federal signoff.

Clear Health Alliance stands to gain from the state's decision this year to expand Medicaid's HIV-AIDS coverage statewide. Gov. Rick Scott signed that bill into law in April, the same month that Simply Healthcare announced the launch of its new HIV/AIDS specialty plan.

At the launch, the company announced that Magic Johnson Enterprises was a major investor in the project. Earvin "Magic" Johnson, a former pro basketball player, has AIDS.

Liberti, though less well-known, has deep roots in the HIV/AIDS struggle, both in Florida and nationally. He began his public health career 38 years ago in Miami-Dade, later moving to Pinellas to fight sexually transmitted diseases. When HIV became a threat, Liberti was named to lead the fight in Tampa Bay.

He moved to the state DOH offices in Tallahassee in 1990 and became chief of the HIV/AIDS bureau 15 years ago. More information on Liberti is on the state DOH website.

His bio is listed under that of Julia Gill, former director of the division of disease control, who has also left DOH, as Health News Florida reported earlier this month. 

In a release on Liberti's new job, Simply Healthcare quoted CEO Marcio Cabrera as saying: “Tom is a respected leader whose strong partnerships, extraordinary expertise and knowledge of the ever-changing AIDS epidemic will play a significant role in expanding Clear Heath Alliance and access to health care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Florida and beyond.”

Liberti was quoted as saying he was "excited about the opportunity to expand health care access to Medicaid enrollees living with HIV/AIDS with a plan designed to meet their specific healthcare needs."

Simply Healthcare spokeswoman Pam Gadinsky said Liberti will remain in Tallahassee, commuting to Miami as needed.

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication dedicated to journalism in the public interest. Contact Editor Carol Gentry at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.


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.