A Closer Look

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Cardiologist David Mokotoff, who has been working for almost 50 years, contemplates what comes next.

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I haven’t given up on journalism and hope you won’t

This column began in 2008 when I left the Orlando Sentinel as a senior reporter and entered the health-care profession as a licensed massage therapist. This week, the column ends as I begin a new chapter of my career and enter nursing school.

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Consumer Corner

Frustrated with the health-care system? Don’t know where to turn for help? Want more on the human side of health care? We’ve got you covered.

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Can you trust your dentist?

By Lottie Watts
8/10/2012 © Health News Florida

I was overdue for a dental check-up and feeling guilty about it when I got a coupon in the mail from a dentist's office.

It offered new patients a free exam with X-rays. For $84, I could get a cleaning at the same time.

Having moved to St. Petersburg for graduate school, I lacked both a dentist and dental insurance. So I booked it. 

It was a well-equipped office, with a flat screen TV on the wall so I could see inside my own mouth.

After X-rays and the hygienist’s cleaning, the dentist came in to check my teeth. She had another woman with her, who just stood in the corner and watched.

After some probing, the dentist informed me I had six cavities.

Six cavities? I was shocked. I had always taken good care of my teeth, and had only two fillings in my 24 years.

The cost of filling six cavities would be $1,504.

The dentist stressed that if I didn’t take care of the cavities now, I would face more serious, and more expensive, problems.

The other woman in the room, it turned out, was a payment advisor. She explained my options: cash, major credit card or third-party financing. She recommended that I sign up for Chase HealthAdvance, which offers 0% interest if you pay within 12 months

The application took mere minutes. I booked the appointments for the fillings, and my new credit card was charged.

It wasn’t until my drive home that what had happened started to hit me. I was taking on a payment of more than $100 each month, and if I didn’t pay it off in a year, the interest rate would jump to 27.99%. And how did I know I really had the six cavities the dentist said I did?

I wanted a second opinion but I didn’t really know where to go. Something just didn’t feel right.

Three days later, I called to cancel my appointments and get the charge removed from my card. I went to the clinic and paid $35 for a copy of my X-rays. I asked friends for referrals to other dentists and searched the Internet, but after my experience, I was reluctant to try another new place. Three months passed.

When I was able to go home on break, I booked an appointment at the dental office I’d been going to for more than 20 years in Elmira, N.Y.  At Chemung Family Dental, Dr. Richard Dunn saw no cavities on the X-rays I brought from the St. Pete office. He poked around in my mouth, and said aloud he thought one tooth needed a filling. A couple more were questionable, he said.

Dr. Dunn filled one tooth and applied sealant to two more. The total came to just $204. In other words, $1,300 less than the Florida dentist wanted.

When I returned to St. Pete, I called the dental clinic to seek an explanation. But neither the dentist who examined my teeth nor her boss, the dentist who owned the clinic, would return my calls.

They did not appreciate my questions. I received a certified letter saying I would not be welcome there as a patient in the future and that I needed to find another dentist. It was my first experience at being “fired” as a patient.

How could there be such a wild variation in diagnosis and recommended treatment? I have asked the Florida Department of Health, which licenses dentists, to find out.

--Lottie Watts is Health News Florida's editorial assistant and can be reached at Lottie.Watts@healthnewsflorida.org.
 

 

Resources

We’ve collected a list of resources for you, including federal and state agencies and private associations. This is a free listing, without paid advertisers.

Healthcare practitioner license search

People can look up a health-care professional to see whether they have any disciplinary history or pending complaints.

Nurse practitioner degree programs

This site, a personal project of Joyce McKay, lists schools across the country currently offering nurse practitioner degree programs.

Medicare Rights Center launches MRU

Medicare Rights University is a subscription-based online service that features courses on key Medicare topics and provides subscribers with information.

What is Medicare and what does it cover?

Here is an online guide that explains the four parts of Medicare.

Medicare Extra Help program

Medicare recipients now have access to the Medicare Extra Help Subsidy Program, which allows Medicare recipients to receive discounted prescription drugs. A family member, trusted counselor or caregiver can apply at www.socialsecurity.gov or call 786-469-4600. 

American Lung Association of Florida

Florida Center for Public Health Preparedness

Florida Government e-Rulemaking Site

Provides notices of proposed rules and rule changes, public meetings, etc.

Continuation Coverage

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' site and helpline where unemployed workers may request review of a denial of eligibility for COBRA premium assistance.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality-Consumer Guide

Falls-prevention DVD available to health professionals

The Florida departments of Elder Affairs and Health are offering a DVD on falls prevention to health professionals. For a copy, e-mail DEMO_InjuryPrevention
@doh.state.fl.us
.

New fed site gives health information in Spanish

Federal officials have unveiled a Spanish-language version of its tool to help people navigate the increased coverage resulting from the health-care overhaul. Click here to visit.

Group offers free ‘living will,’ other forms

Free, downloadable end-of-life forms (to designate a health-care surrogate, for example) are available at a web site sponsored by the Hemlock Society. 

Government site outlines new health-care law

A new government site, aimed at individuals, Medicare recipients and small employers, explains how the new health-care law works for the consumer as well as for seniors on Medicare. Click here to visit.

FDA site lets public find drug safety info

The Food and Drug Administration launched a website where patients and health-care professionals can find safety information about recently approved drugs and vaccines. Click here to access.

Florida sets up oil spill info line

 Florida has set up a toll-free telephone line to provide residents and visitors with information about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. When you call 888-337-3569, operators will answer questions about the state's response activities, volunteer opportunities and health, safety and protective tips.

Complaints against licensees now online

Public administrative complaints filed against licensed health-care practitioners are now available on The Florida Department of Health Web site. Consumers can see if a public complaint exists for any health-care professional licensed by DOH at this site. 

Consumer Reports looks at reform

Consumer Reports has a guide to health reform, with videos, Q&As, viewpoints and in-depth papers. Access it here.

Online resources for information on health reform

The Washington Post has compiled a handy list of guides to the new rules. Access it here.

Summary of new health-reform law

Here is a summary of the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (adjusted by the reconciliation act that followed.

And here is the timeline for implementation.

Updated Medicare primer

The Kaiser Family Foundation has updated its Medicare primer that explains key elements of the program. It describes characteristics of the Medicare population and how much people pay out-of-pocket. The updated 2010 Medicare primer is at www.kff.org/medicare/7615.cfm.

Mesothelioma cancer risks in FL

A national group that seeks to inform the public about this type of cancer lists environmental risk factors in Florida.

Consumer health information

The FDA has created a partnership with Everyday Health to deliver FDA's consumer health information to the 30 million users who visit EverydayHealth.com each month. EverydayHealth.com/FDA will offer health information from FDA on food and medical product safety as well as prevention and wellness topics.

What you need to know about anti-viral drugs

Not everyone needs antiviral drugs when they get sick. This CDC fact sheet explains who should take them.

State offers flu hotline

The Florida Department of Health has launched a toll-free hotline, 877-352-3581, to provide public health information and updates on the H1N1 "swine" flu.
It is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Information is available in English, Spanish and Creole.

Information can also be found at the department's website, doh.state.fl.us.

New consumer guides

Spanish-language consumer guides are now available from the Department of Health & Human Services's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality for consumers and clinicians. To access the guides in Spanish as well as English, go to effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov. Audio versions of many guides also are available.

Suspect insurance fraud?

Call Florida's Fraud Fighters Hotline at 800-378-0445. It's operated by the Insurance Fraud Division of the state Department of Financial Services. 

Helpful hint

Did you know the state offers a Web site where you can quickly find the best price in your local area for the drugs you take? The Drug Finder can save you money.

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