Jodie Tillman, Times Staff Writer

Jodie Tillman

Jodie Tillman covers the health and medicine beat. She started at the Times in May 2006.

Phone: (813) 226-3374


Twitter: @JTillmanTimes

  1. Tale of two eye drugs plays out in Medicare's doctor reimbursements


    Behind ophthalmology's recent ranking as Medicare's highest-reimbursed specialty is a tale of two eye drugs.

    Lucentis and Avastin have been shown equally effective in combating age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. They share a similar molecular make-up and even the same manufacturer.

    But the cost per dose is much different: $2,000 versus $50. With a recommended two-year, 24-injection course of treatment, the difference per patient is huge....

  2. Spring Hill cancer doctors get highest Medicare reimbursements in Tampa Bay


    Three doctors with Florida Cancer Specialists in Spring Hill rank as the Tampa Bay area's most highly reimbursed providers by Medicare in 2012.

    Drs. Vikas Malhotra, Mary Li and Thomas Huayang Tang received a total of more than $20 million from the federal health program for seniors and the disabled, according to data released Wednesday.

    All are oncologists, a medical specialty that dominates the list of the most highly reimbursed Medicare providers, in large part because of the expensive drugs they use....

    Salomon Melgen, atop the state and U.S. lists, is being investigated for billing practices.
  3. Tampa Bay consumers race to beat insurance deadline


    TAMPA — A record number of Americans on Monday rushed to beat the midnight deadline to buy health insurance, many encountering website delays reminiscent of the Obamacare marketplace's troubled rollout last fall.

    The website was out of service for nearly four hours early Monday morning as technicians patched a software bug. The system came back up shortly before 9 a.m., but then another early afternoon problem temporarily kept new applicants from signing up....

    Carlos Ortiz, 21, of Tampa gets help from Carmaletta Stephens as he tries to sign up for health insurance at Al Lopez Park.
  4. Huge turnout for free dental care at Tampa fairgrounds



    Like any good chef, Manny Cruz needs to taste what he's cooking. But lately that job requirement has become painful because of four badly decaying teeth.

    Cruz has had neither dental insurance nor the cash — $2,500 was the estimate — to get the teeth pulled.

    So the 40-year-old Seffner resident was one of the first in line Friday at the Florida Mission of Mercy, a free two-day dental event at the Florida State Fairgrounds. More than four hours after he arrived, he was ushered behind the curtains of the "oral surgery" section. It was worth the wait....

    Hundreds of patients are seen during the Florida Mission of Mercy event organized by the Florida Dental Association 
at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa on Friday. About 700 dentists and hygienists provided free care.
  5. St. Petersburg General ranks low on new Consumer Reports safety ranking


    ST. PETERSBURG — A new review of hospital data by Consumer Reports shows one of the most unsafe hospitals in the nation for seniors is St. Petersburg General.

    In an analysis of Medicare data for some 2,500 U.S. hospitals, St. Petersburg General, which is owned by for-profit chain HCA, scored poorly for surgical deaths, excessive radiation exposure and bloodstream infections that health officials say can largely be prevented. Out of an overall score of 100, St. Petersburg General received a 25, tying with three other hospitals for 10th worst in the United States....

  6. Q&A: As deadline looms, more Obamacare extensions and exemptions


    This week's news that Americans can get extra time to enroll in a health insurance plan is the latest effort to ease the Affordable Care Act's difficult start.

    The Obama administration had previously said March 31 was the final day to enroll in a 2014 plan and avoid a possible tax penalty for going uninsured. But now consumers can get more time if they try to apply through and can't finish....

    Anthony Rouzier helps Valentina Adarraga, 20, right, sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act in Miami last week.
  7. Free two-day dental clinic in Tampa begins Friday


    TAMPA — About 2,000 people are expected to get free dental care at a two-day event this week sponsored by the Florida Dental Association.

    The state's first Mission of Mercy event will be held Friday and Saturday at the Florida State Fairgrounds, in the special events pavilion. Services provided by volunteer dentists will include cleanings, fillings and extractions.

    The doors open at 5:30 a.m. each day, and patients will be seen first-come, first-served. Organizers are urging participants to come early. No proof of income is required....

  8. Costly hepatitis C drug worries insurers, patients


    ST. PETERSBURG — When he ran one of the area's first clinics for AIDS patients, Dr. Bob Wallace dealt with a frustrating dilemma: High price tags were keeping promising new medications out of reach.

    More than 25 years later, that's no longer the case for many HIV/AIDS patients in the United States, thanks in part to publicly funded drug-assistance programs. But Wallace, now a part-time Pinellas County Health Department doctor nearing retirement, is watching a similar problem play out again — only this time with hepatitis C patients....

    Bruce Lee, 53, of St. Petersburg, uninsured and out of work, has been unable to get proper medical care for his hepatitis C. He is working with Dr. Bob Wallace to remedy that.
  9. Scott appears in South Tampa to knock Obama, Obamacare


    TAMPA — Speaking Friday afternoon to seniors at a South Tampa assisted living facility, Gov. Rick Scott sounded like a man running for re-election — and not against likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, but against President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

    Scott told the dozen seniors gathered at Horizon Bay at Hyde Park that President Obama was cutting Medicare Advantage plans to pay for the federal health care law. He got the seniors talking about problems they'd had with their plans — higher prescription drug costs and losing doctors from their network plans — and told them it was the fault of Obama's cuts....

  10. On Match Day, USF medical students meet their futures


    TAMPA — No one told Alicia Billington that the hardest part of medical school would come in the final months: Trying to land a residency gig when the number of graduates is growing faster than the number of openings.

    "I thought getting into medical school was the hard part," said Billington, 30, a University of South Florida medical school senior who has also been pursing a doctoral degree....

    University of South Florida students all cheer for their friend Jack Charles Burns II, 28, of Louisville, Ky., who will be going to the University of Kentucky for a residency in plastic surgery. Students learned their futures during the annual Match Day at Skipper’s Smokehouse on Friday.
  11. Obamacare advocates gear up for final two weeks of open enrollment


    TAMPA — Kristen Nash fueled up with a frappuccino, grabbed a handful of fliers and bounded across the University of South Florida campus.

    "Hey, you guys all have health care?" Nash, 23, asked a group of students walking past the library one recent afternoon.

    "No," said one of them.


    Nash got into step with her targets and started to launch her pitch for the Affordable Care Act, but the guy cut her off....

    Kristen Nash gets stickers ready to hand out to University of South Florida students in Tampa.
  12. Rainy morning, flat tire, new kidney: TPD helps morning commuter with real problems

    Human Interest

    TAMPA -- Officer George Boyd gets plenty of calls about disabled motorists while working the overnight shift. But the one that came in around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday was different: A man reported he had a flat tire — and just a half hour to get to Tampa General Hospital, where a new kidney awaited him.

    The Bradenton man is on a kidney transplant waiting list and had received a call a few hours earlier that he was up. He was told to be at TGH at 6 a.m. But as he got into Tampa, the rain started, commuter traffic picked up and, now, the flat tire....

  13. Medicare HMO plan drops popular doctor, leaving patients to wonder why


    TAMPA — Walter Bennett had one question before signing up for a Medicare HMO plan: Was his doctor of 14 years, Fred Bearison, in its network?

    Yes, came the answer from Physicians United Plan, a private company that contracts with the government to offer managed care plans to seniors and disabled people. So Bennett, 84, enrolled for 2014.

    But in January, less than a month after seniors were locked into their Medicare picks for the year, the insurer informed him — and nearly 200 other patients — it was dropping Bearison's Valrico practice from its network....

    A memo notifying patients that Dr. Fred Bearison will soon stop seeing people enrolled in the Physicians United Plan.
  14. Clamor arises over 2011 law that cuts funding for many hospitals


    TALLAHASSEE — Hillsborough and Pinellas hospitals are on track to lose $133 million next year as a new state law that spreads health dollars around the state takes full effect. And the biggest loser is Miami-Dade, whose hospitals are expected to take a $218 million hit.

    The funding formula was a little-known part of Florida's 2011 Medicaid reform law, a Republican-driven overhaul of the federal/state insurance program for the poor. But its impact is only now becoming clear as the provision is scheduled to take effect in July. Hardest hit are hospitals in counties like Hillsborough, Pinellas and Miami-Dade that put their own residents' tax dollars toward the program....

  15. Feds to fine state over limit on Medicaid patients' ER visits


    Florida has been limiting Medicaid patients to six emergency room visits a year even though federal officials consider such a cap illegal.

    As a result, the federal government intends to penalize the state by withholding a portion of Medicaid funding.

    "We hope the state will realign their Medicaid program with federal standards to avoid this penalty," said Emma Sandoe, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services....