Thursday, April 26, 2018
Health

Pinellas gets around state ban on Obamacare workers in health departments

After a state ban on helping people get subsidized insurance at their local health department prompted an uproar from St. Petersburg to Washington, some quick thinking on Thursday appears to pave a path forward — at least in Pinellas County.

Florida's health departments are run from Tallahassee, where Republican leaders from the start have opposed the federal Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Monday, state health officials declared that they would not allow insurance outreach workers onto their property anywhere in the state.

But Pinellas County government just received a $600,000 federal grant to work with the health department to hire and train those workers, called navigators. The decree struck a blow at this partnership considered key to the success of the insurance marketplaces that open Oct. 1.

Thursday, Pinellas County Health Department Director Dr. Claude Dharamraj, a state employee, pointed something out to officials in Tallahassee.

"All our buildings are county property," she wrote in an email. Not only does Pinellas County own the buildings, it also shares office space in four of them with the state, she observed.

"I believe I am not in the position to dictate to (the county) what kind of staff they put in their office," she wrote.

It appears her bosses agreed.

Later that day, Dharamraj notified county commissioners that the navigators will be allowed into county health department offices.

It's unclear what will happen in other counties.

"Each situation is different per county," said Nathan Dunn, a spokesman for the state Department of Health.

In Pinellas, at least, the space-sharing could lead to a scenario in which DOH staff send people across the hall for help with insurance.

Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken Welch was relieved that a compromise was found around the state's ban.

"It reminds me of the '60s with the governor standing at the door and federal marshals having to come in," he said, referring to former Alabama Gov. George Wallace's attempts to stop desegregation of the state university by literally blocking the door to the enrollment office.

State health officials "didn't have the authority they thought they had," Welch said.

State officials said they sought to bar the navigators because they are an outside group that shouldn't have access to health department offices.

"Within an area and a facility that houses Department of Health services where we have private health information and patient information, that's going to be protected," Dunn said.

But U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said blocking the navigators, coming on top of Florida's failure to expand Medicaid and create its own insurance marketplace, is a clear sign of politically motivated meddling.

In a letter to Gov. Rick Scott and state Surgeon General John Armstrong on Thursday, she wrote: "The continued obstruction by you and many state leaders of the Affordable Care Act is contrary to the best interests of the citizens and businesses of Florida.''

Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

Comments
‘Pretty scary’: Study found 71 percent of commonly used medical scopes tainted by bacteria

‘Pretty scary’: Study found 71 percent of commonly used medical scopes tainted by bacteria

In an ominous sign for patient safety, 71 percent of reusable medical scopes deemed ready for use on patients tested positive for bacteria at three major U.S. hospitals, according to a new study.The paper, published last month in the American Journal...
Published: 04/25/18
Residents went three days without running water at unlicensed ALFs

Residents went three days without running water at unlicensed ALFs

ST. PETERSBURG — Three days.That’s how long residents of two unlicensed assisted living facilities went without running water before the authorities shut the facilities down last week.The Public Works Department said it turned off the water at 3418 a...
Published: 04/24/18
Exercise myths persist, so let’s fight them

Exercise myths persist, so let’s fight them

When it comes to fitness, can you tell the difference between fact and fiction? Misinformation abounds, and research is continually disproving it. Some myths, like "no pain, no gain," are fading away, but there are plenty more that persist. It’s impo...
Published: 04/24/18

Veteran who survived blast receives unusual penis transplant

WASHINGTON — A veteran who lost his genitals from a blast in Afghanistan has received the world’s most extensive penis transplant, and doctors said Monday he’s recovering well and expected to leave the hospital this week. Saying they wanted to addres...
Published: 04/23/18
Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Do not eat any romaine lettuce, the CDC warns

Public health officials are now telling consumers to avoid all types of romaine lettuce because of an E. coli outbreak linked to the vegetable that has spread to at least 16 states and sickened at least 60 people, including eight inmates at an Alask...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida hits a milestone: More than 100,000 people are registered to use medical marijuana here

Florida has hit a milestone of sorts as it slowly moves toward wider availability of medical marijuana.The number of patients in the state who are registered to use the substance has surpassed 100,000 for the first time, according to Florida Departme...
Published: 04/20/18
Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood spending $17.5 million to expand emergency department

Florida Hospital Carrollwood is expanding its emergency department. The hospital, 7171 North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, is spending $17.5 million to add 15 new private treatment rooms, new pediatric rooms and waiting areas, and new technology, acco...
Published: 04/18/18
Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

Barbara Bush’s end-of-life decision stirs debate over ‘comfort care’

As she nears death at age 92, former first lady Barbara Bush’s announcement that she is seeking "comfort care" is shining a light — and stirring debate — on what it means to stop trying to fight terminal illness.Bush, the wife of former President Geo...
Published: 04/17/18
Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

Preparing for the worst, staffers at Johns Hopkins All Children’s learn through simulation

When the patient got violent, Dr. Michelle Hidalgo didn’t have time to think. She had to react. The woman was moving strangely and seemed erratic. Hidalgo had to make a tough call — it was time to physically restrain her for everyone’s safety.Then th...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18

Lung cancer patients live longer with immune therapy

The odds of survival can greatly improve for people with the most common type of lung cancer if, along with the usual chemotherapy, they are also given a drug that activates the immune system, a major new study has shown.The findings should change me...
Published: 04/16/18