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....
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....
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....
TAMPA — After he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Ernie Gonzalez became a model patient. He read up on the disease, learned the medical lingo and compiled lists of questions.
And yet he remained overwhelmed by all that lay before him. So Gonzalez hired a "navigator" — Susan Scherer, an independent oncology nurse who helped him pick a physician, explained his options and scheduled his treatment. She even sat in on several medical appointments....
02/21/14 State Roundup
TAMPA — Three weeks after a Florida Supreme Court ruling put medical marijuana on November's election ballot, the multimillionaire trial lawyer behind the effort says he's feeling more "emboldened" than ever that the measure will pass.
Orlando attorney John Morgan, speaking at a meeting of the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa, cited poll numbers and the feedback he's getting from patients hoping for relief and farmers hoping to get in on the cultivation. He noted that even Senate President Don Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican who opposes the initiative, acknowledged recently that in 1984 he bought marijuana for a very sick minister friend....
TAMPA — An internationally recognized researcher in obstetrics and gynecology has been named dean of the University of South Florida's Morsani School of Medicine.
Dr. Charles Lockwood, 59, is currently dean of Ohio State University College of Medicine and member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine.
"I can't wait to get started," Lockwood told reporters on Thursday.
He replaces former USF medical school dean Stephen Klasko, who left last year after nearly a decade at the helm to become president of Thomas Jefferson University and chief executive officer of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital System in Philadelphia....
TAMPA — One final question remained before a federal judge can decide how to sentence the former WellCare executives convicted of health care fraud last summer: How much did the men cost the state of Florida?
The price tag matters because U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. will take it into account when determining potential prison sentences for the former leaders at the Tampa-based managed care group....
Buried in the Affordable Care Act was what seemed a sweet deal for doctors willing to treat Medicaid patients: an estimated 70 percent pay boost.
There was a good reason for it. The law was adding millions of people to the health insurance program for the poor, at a time when fewer doctors would sign on because it pays them so little.
But the two-year bump has had a mixed impact. It hasn't been a boon for every physician willing to work with Medicaid, a program that manages to be both critical safety net and political tangle....
TAMPA — On the first day of class at cannabis college, the professor gave a quick survey of a long history: from a Chinese emperor's writings on hemp to the founding of High Times magazine.
But the students gathered in a red-carpeted meeting room of a Residence Inn didn't perk up until the lecture turned to botany, the foundation for cultivating medical marijuana — and, perhaps, making money....
RUSKIN — At 67, Gary Lazar was a very sick man. His heart was failing, and so were his kidneys and his liver. He was diabetic and could barely walk. In the summer of 2011, specialists said they could do little for him.
Yet what killed him on Feb. 27, 2012, an autopsy showed, was a mix of three powerful painkillers. Two had been administered by Dr. Betty Jo Carter, who described herself to sheriff's deputies as Lazar's friend as well as his physician. She had slept on his couch, fed his dogs and, hours before he died, sprinkled crushed oxycodone on his ice cream....
TAMPA — Sent to fight in Afghanistan, Brian Anderson killed a man for the first time in 2009. He helped load two slain buddies into body bags. Ran low on rounds as Taliban fighters attacked. Heard a dying local man scream for Allah.
Only a few years later, the former Green Beret was a suburban husband and father, physically uninjured but struggling with the psychic fallout of war.
Some days he locked himself in the bedroom to avoid his family. He swore he saw his two dead friends on the street. He passed open doorways and felt his chest tighten and his heart race as if he still had to brace for sudden attack....
TAMPA — For Florida Gov. Rick Scott, it's more than a budget. It's his blueprint for a re-election campaign.
Today, Scott will submit budget proposals to the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins July 1. With a projected revenue boost of $846 million, Scott wants to spend more on popular programs while also offering tax and fee cuts.
He has been hitting the road, promoting his ideas in public as never before, while his staff privately seeks buy-in from key legislators....
ST. PETERSBURG — Just five months ago, a land swap with the city paved the way for All Children's Hospital to build a downtown medical tower. Now, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet have signed off on a separate deal to give All Children's additional land for a research and training facility.
The All Children's campus is poised to grow by another 2 acres as part of the deal approved this week. Scott and Cabinet members agreed to transfer 2 acres of state-owned, vacant land — located behind the University of South Florida's "Band-Aid" research building at 601 Fourth St. S — to USF. The land had been donated to USF 20 years ago, but for technical reasons it was placed in state ownership, said USF lobbyist Mark Walsh....
TAMPA — About one-fifth of the 158,000 Floridians who signed up for health coverage through the Obamacare marketplace are young adults, a hard-to-reach population considered critical to stabilizing the individual insurance market.
Florida's enrollment numbers mirror national figures announced Monday, which show the 18-34 age group makes up a quarter of the 2.2 million Americans who signed up for coverage. Older adults, who tend to have higher health costs, dominated the sign-ups, with the 55-64 age group making up roughly one-third of the enrollees both statewide and nationwide....
By Jodie Tillman
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — It has been called a game changer, a first-of-its-kind, a Disney World for doctors. It conducted 700 tours in its first year alone.
By any name, the University of South Florida's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, known as CAMLS, is a place that dazzles. In its sleek, $38 million downtown home, the 2-year-old education and research center offers gee-whiz features like a virtual operating room that simulates the sights and sounds of a battlefield and a 3-D printer that creates customized knee implants....