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Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer

Justine Griffin

Justine Griffin covers retail business and tourism for the Tampa Bay Times. She is a native Floridian who spent most of her childhood in Pasco County. Prior to coming to the Times in 2015, she worked for the St. Augustine Record, the Sun Sentinel and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, where she gained national attention for her retail coverage and for a longform article she wrote about her experience as an egg donor. Justine is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she studied journalism. She's an equestrian. Her horse is named Belinda.

Phone: (727) 893-8467


Twitter: @SunBizGriffin

  1. In Tampa Bay and elsewhere, early numbers show record sign-ups for Obamacare


    Despite the budget cuts, the attempts to repeal and replace, and reports of sharp rises in premiums, Floridians and other Americans are signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at record rates this year.

    Enrollment has surged 47 percent over this point last year in the 39 states with federal health care exchanges, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. About 1.5 million people across the country have signed up through in the first 11 days of the six-week enrollment period for 2018. That includes the 876,788 consumers who purchased insurance during the second week of the period, Nov. 5-11....

    About 1.5 million people across the country have signed up through in the first 11 days of the six-week enrollment period for 2018. That's up from about 1 million last year at this time. "We've been very, very busy," said Melanie Hall, executive director of the Family Health Care Foundation, a health care navigator organization in Tampa. [Times files]

A look at the website in November 2017 as signups began for 2018 under the Affordable Care Act.
  2. Study: Mental quickness exercises can lower risk of dementia


    Where did I leave my keys?

    As we age, it can take longer to answer a question like that.

    Humans begin to lose cognitive ability at age 25. Dementia, or the decline of memory most commonly seen in aging adults, takes hold early on and is gradual, but accelerates in the seventh or eighth decade of our lives.

    However, a local researcher and the lead author on a ground-breaking medical study has found a way to reduce the risk of dementia by a remarkable 29 percent. The answer? Computer games. ...

    This screenshot shows part of a computer brain-training exercise that asks participants to quickly identify objects like the two vehicles in the center and stay focused on them, even as distracting images like the road signs around the edges try to throw them off. During a study on how such exercises can reduce the risk of dementia, the exercises got more difficult as people mastered them. [Photo courtesy of USF]
  3. Owner of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg faces federal inquiry over funds for low-income patients


    The corporate owner of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg could be facing a serious federal investigation related to its commitment to take care of St. Petersburg's poorest residents.

    In its most recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Nashville-based Community Health Systems mentions that it received a "civil investigative demand" on Sept. 14 from the Department of Justice. The agency is requesting documents and information related to Bayfront Health's involvement in Florida's Low Income Pool program, which is used to reimburse hospitals for the cost of providing care to uninsured residents and is sometimes referred to as "charity care." ...

    Bayfront Health St. Petersburg is owned by Community Health Systems, which stated in a recent SEC filing that federal officials are demanding documents related to funds for low-income patients. Bayfront Health also is facing another development -- a decision next week on whether it will be allowed to buy out the charitable foundation that owns a 20 percent stake in the hospital. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  4. Exploring cryotherapy: The room is 180 degrees below zero, but it sort of feels good


    This was colder than the time I skied through a snow storm in the Swiss Alps. It was even colder than when I fell through a sheet of ice into a frozen lake in Colorado.

    This was a cold I had never experienced. The kind that makes your teeth chatter. Really. And you shiver beyond control.

    That's what I get for wanting to see what it feels like to try cryotherapy, a popular alternative to icing sore muscles, joints and other ailments, and a health fad that seems to be sticking around. ...

    Sessions in the cryotherapy chamber at U.S. Cryotherapy in Tampa typically last two or three minutes, but Times reporter Justine Griffin felt so cold she stepped out after a minute. A facemask, gloves and boots helped keep her extremities warm. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  5. When the goal is getting to the ER fast and cheap, some choose ride sharing over 911


    Matt Lavin had just arrived in Charlottesville, Va., for a business trip when he started feeling sick.

    By the time he got to his hotel around 11 p.m., he felt excruciating pain.

    "I didn't know what was happening, but I knew something wasn't right," said Lavin, an attorney who lived in Washington D.C. at the time but is also the medical director for a Florida-based chain of addiction recovery centers. He had good insurance through his employer, but still second-guessed calling an ambulance for help. ...

    Most hospitals in the Tampa Bay area don't track how often ride-sharing drivers drop off or pick up patients. But at Tampa General Hospital, pictured here, they are "here quite a bit over the course of a day," said spokesman John Dunn. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  6. Obamacare fact vs. fiction: What you need to know before open enrollment


    Consumers are struggling to separate fact from fiction as the open enrollment period approaches for health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act's federal exchange, advocates and insurance companies say.

    The controversial health care law lives on, even as the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress look for ways to kill it. Obamacare will continue to be the way millions of Americans sign up for coverage next year, and Wednesday is the first day they can enroll. ...

    President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Oct. 12 that clears the way for potentially sweeping changes in health insurance, including sales of cheaper policies with fewer benefits and fewer protections for consumers. But despite that action and other efforts to kill Obamacare, the law remains intact and the 2018 enrollment period starting Wednesday, Nov. 1. [DOUG MILLS | The New York Times]
  7. Patel to focus on philanthropy after sale of Freedom Health


    Now that Kiran Patel the entrepreneur has sold his managed health care services company, he plans to get more in touch with his other side, Kiran Patel the benefactor.

    "I want to focus on the other things that I have started, from hospitality to different funds and technology companies," Patel told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday. "But more of my time will go to the philanthropic side."...

    Dr. Kiran Patel, left, and his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel, are putting up $200 million toward a new medical school in Clearwater run by Nova Southeastern University. Kiran Patel said Wednesday he will focus more on the couple's philanthropic efforts now that his managed health services company, Freedom Health Inc., has been acquired by Anthem Inc. [Photo courtesy of Nova Southeastern University]
  8. Coming soon at two Tampa Bay area hospitals: a cancer treatment that could replace chemo


    A new cancer treatment that could eventually replace chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants — along with their debilitating side effects — soon will be offered at two of Tampa Bay's top-tier hospitals.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August approved the first ever Chimeric Antigen Receptor Therapy, or "CAR-T cell therapy," for children and young adults up to age 25 suffering from leukemia and other blood and bone cancers. And just this week, the agency approved the same immunotherapy for adults with large B cell lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. ...

    Dr. Peter Shaw is the deputy director of the Johns Hopkins All Children's Cancer & Blood Disorders Institute. He says the new cancer therapy, known as CAR-T, has great promise. "There is a possibility that it could be a better treatment than what we've been using for many years." [Photo courtesy of Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital]
  9. For many, rising premiums for Part B Medicare will erase Social Security gains


    More than 2.4 million seniors in Florida rely on Medicare, and a good chunk of them could face rising health care premiums next year.

    With Medicare's annual open enrollment period beginning Sunday, most of the changes to plans and services seem slight for 2018. But experts say Floridians will be among the millions affected nationwide by anticipated rising premiums for Part B plans, which cover outpatient care, doctor bills, physical therapy and more routine health services....

    Christopher Wittmann, a physician assistant, examines a patient for lower back pain at Trinity Pain Center in Pasco County. Outpatient health care visits like this are covered under Medicare Part B, which will see premium increases of more than 5 percent on average in 2018. Medicare open enrollment begins Sunday and runs through Dec. 7, with a special extension to Dec. 31 for people affected by the recent hurricanes. [Times | 2014]
  10. Navigating Medicare enrollment: What you need to know for 2018


    When we think of October, candy corn, jack-o'-lanterns and cooler, dry weather are top of mind.

    But for Floridians looking for health care coverage, early October also signals that Medicare enrollment is just around the corner.

    Oct. 15 marks the start of the annual enrollment period for Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors 65 and over. The traditional window to shop around for plans runs through Dec. 7 this year. But that period has been extended to Dec. 31 for people who qualify who may have been impacted by the recent slew of hurricanes, Harvey, Irma and Maria....

    Florida is one of the biggest players in Medicare, with more than 2.4 million people enrolled, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. While most enrollees tend to stick with the plans they know and have used before, there are some subtle changes to Medicare Advantage plans for 2018 that could affect some benefits. [Getty Images/iStockphoto]
  11. Are Florida doctors prepared to treat patients with medical marijuana?


    Richard Hackler recently drove five-plus hours round trip from his home in Vero Beach to St. Petersburg, hoping to find out if medical marijuana could help with his post traumatic stress disorder.

    But the doctor he traveled to see seemed just as uninformed as the other physicians he had visited in Melbourne and Stuart. Though all three had been qualified by the state to prescribe medical marijuana, none of them, he said, seemed to know much about the plant or its ability to treat cases like his. ...

    A marijuana plant awaits judging in the Oregon Cannabis Growers' Fair last year. In Florida, more than 39,000 residents have signed up through the state health department to receive medical marijuana as a form of treatment for a list of qualifying illnesses since the registry opened in 2016. But some say their state-approved physicians seem tentative in their knowledge about the substance. [Associated Press]
  12. Feeling allergy symptoms? Blame Hurricane Irma, some doctors say


    Allergies out of whack?

    You can blame Hurricane Irma for that. Well, kind of.

    As many continue to wait for cleanup crews to haul away the sopping piles of withering tree debris in front of their houses from Irma, plenty of people across Tampa Bay are sniffling and coughing more than they were before the hurricane passed, narrowly sparing the region from the worst of its wrath.

    "I've been telling my patients that it seems like Irma brought the allergy season on a little earlier," said Dr. Rachel Dawkins, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. "We usually see the peak of it in the fall at the end of October and into November, when the trees start shedding their leaves. But right now we have a lot of trees on the ground, which means we have a lot of pollen on the ground, and there's an uptick of mold from standing water."...

    Piles of yard debris like this one from Hurricane Irma can become laden with mold and other environmental triggers and can "heighten allergic symptoms," said Dr. Farzanna S. Haffizulla, assistant dean for community and global health at Nova Southeastern University in South Florida. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  13. Florida Hospital buys 100 acres in Polk to connect Tampa and Orlando hospitals


    Adventist Health System, the parent company of Florida Hospital, purchased a large tract of land in Polk County this summer with plans to expand and connect its hospital systems in Tampa Bay and Orlando.

    The health care company paid $14.5 million for 103 acres along Interstate 4 just west of Florida Polytechnic University. Earlier this summer, executives with Florida Hospital, which has eight hospitals in the Tampa Bay region, met with Lakeland city officials to discuss the future development of the property. Plans include a freestanding emergency room and a possible 200-bed hospital in the next decade, if demand in the region warrants it. ...

    This illustration shows Florida Hospital's concept for a possible medical facility on 103 acres the system has purchased in Polk County. Plans include an emergency room and eventually a 200-bed hospital. Florida Hospital says the new development could connect its hospitals in the Tampa Bay region with those in Orlando. [Photo courtesy of Florida Hospital]
  14. Pinellas mosquito control detects West Nile virus, targets Sawgrass Lake and Lake Maggiore


    Two sentinel chickens tested positive for the West Nile Virus in Pinellas County this week.

    Pinellas County Mosquito Control confirmed the birds were located in the Sawgrass Lake and Lake Maggiore areas of St. Petersburg, and tested positive for the virus on Thursday. Technicians are treating the area by targeting adult mosquitoes and larvae by ground and air, according to a news release....

    Male and female mosquitoes are separated during a test for West Nile virus. The virus was detected this week in two sentinel chickens in St. Petersburg and mosquito control officials are targeting the affected areas. [Times files | 2005]
  15. Uncertainty over Obamacare's future sends premiums up, budgets down


    Open enrollment for individual health insurance is still about a month away, but insurance companies and "navigator" programs that help people find coverage are already bracing for what's likely to be a rocky year ahead.

    Premiums for health care plans sold on the Affordable Care Act's federal exchange and outside the exchange will rise an average of 45 percent in Florida this year, according to prices released this week by Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation. Insurers blame the rate hikes on the uncertainty surrounding the future of Obamacare, given recent repeal attempts in Congress to repeal the law. ...

    Petal Pennycook of Tampa, left, works with navigator Ashley Brunson to choose an Obamacare health plan in 2015. This year, when the enrollment period begins for 2018, the number of navigators will be drastically reduced because of budget cuts, and advocates fear that could lead to fewer people signing up for coverage. [KATHLEEN MCGRORY |  Times]