Jeffrey Feingold, a zealous advocate and prolific Republican fundraiser who gave at least as generously as he asked others to give, died Oct. 7 of cancer, his family said. He was 75.
In the late 1980s, Feingold owned a string of dental clinics and was active in Florida Republican politics. Though in his 40s then, he approached both his businesses and political causes with the energy of a 20-something intern trying to get a foothold.
“He shows up at campaign headquarters in South Florida to put Tom Gallagher yard signs in the back of his boat-long Lexus,” recalled Paul Mitchell, then an aide to the Insurance Commissioner.
“There was just something different about this guy,” Mitchell said. A thought came to him: “Like, ‘Close your mouth and open your ears and listen and watch and learn.'”
In retrospect, Dr. Feingold was just getting started. He would realize a bigger dream of founding a company that provided dental care to underserved children and adults. Managed Care of North America (MCNA) created a dental managed care system funded by Medicaid and other programs in eight states.
A former Florida chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Feingold sometimes backed Democratic candidates while remaining right of center.
“He was one tenacious son-of-a-gun,” said Mitchell, now a lobbyist with The Southern Group. “If he had a cause of a point, he was persistent, and some people found that hard to take. But you could apply that same personality to his passion for Israel and Judaism. I’m a practicing Christian, but he understood Christianity as well as Judaism. Everything about his life he approached with full passion.”
In 1975, Feingold and his wife, Barbara, co-founded the Dentaland Organization. Its seven clinics would stretch from Aventura to Melbourne. The practices were often located in underserved areas, including well off Interstate 95 surrounding Port St. Lucie, an area populated by farmworkers.
Dentaland’s unique template brought multiple dental specialties into the same practice.
“No one ever had that before,” said his son, Glen Feingold. “He would have a general dentist, a pediatric dentist, orthodontist, periodontist, all of the specialties under one roof.”
But Feingold, a periodontist specializing in gum disease, wanted to go much further. By treating Dentaland’s patients, he knew how much these Floridians lacked proper care.
“He was living in Dade County, and Medicaid was paying all this money, but kids were not getting seen by doctors,” Mitchell said.
So, Feingold saw them, many with irreversible damage from years of neglect.
“He took the worst of the worst,” Mitchell said.
When he looked in their mouths, he saw a broken system.
“If they’re adult teeth and they’re rotten, all Medicaid would pay for was extractions. And he’s looking at a 17-year-old kid and saying, ‘The only solution I have for you is to just yank them out.’ So, you’ve got kids who are going to struggle with that for the rest of their lives because they’ve got appearance issues, and that leads to confidence issues. He became obsessed with that,” Mitchell added.
In 1990, Feingold founded MCNA Dental Plans in Fort Lauderdale, originally to manage Medicaid benefits for state agencies. Managed care, which tries to hold down costs through networks of providers, had been gaining momentum through the late 1980s over traditional fee-for-service insurance. What started as pilot programs in Duval and Broward counties soon expanded to Miami-Dade and across the state.
“It was a dental benefits administrator run by a dentist,” said Glen Feingold, who served as MCNA’s chief operating officer. “It wasn’t like a hedge fund that just wanted to create a health plan. So, he knew the value of providing care to members, giving them access to dental care in rural areas all across the state.”
Jeffrey Peter Feingold was born on Jan. 3, 1946, in Brooklyn. After graduating from Tulane University, he earned a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree at New York University College of Dentistry in 1971. He completed a residency at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, part of the University of Rochester known for pioneering work on the use of sealants and dental implants.
Along the way at the Doral Country Club (now Trump National Doral Miami), he met Barbara Moss, a speech and language pathologist. They married in 1973.
Feingold went on to Farleigh Dickenson University’s School of Dental Medicine in Teaneck, New Jersey, where he earned a master of science degree in periodontics. His son said all of that advanced training, including treating farmworkers at Eastman who lacked shoes, reinforced for Feingold the necessity of getting dental care to the underserved.
MCNA would serve Floridians through Medicaid, Medicare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which targets children living at home and not eligible for Medicaid. Its selling point to the state was its ability to treat more clients at a lower cost.
Having pioneered a business model he believed in, Feingold successfully pitched it to other states.
“We showed them what we were doing in Florida,” Glen Feingold said, “and how we could save them money but get better results and get rid of waste, fraud and abuse.”
He brought Texas aboard, then Arkansas and Louisiana. The success of those programs led to contracts in Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska and Utah. While he stepped away from actively treating patients in the mid-1990s, he was very much at the helm of the business and its interests in Tallahassee.
“Being a dentist himself, he understood the nuances you had to go through to provide that type of care,” said Joe Anne Hart, the Florida Dental Association’s chief lobbyist.
“He had a great personality,” she added. “He always made sure he had time to greet you and catch up.”
He expanded his philanthropic interests, and in 2010, then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Feingold to the Board of Trustees at Florida Atlantic University. In his first term, Mitchell recalled hearing from him, aghast at the “card tables” that served as meeting space for trustees.
“He said, ‘We’re trying to present ourselves as a destination for kids.’”
The Feingolds spent nearly $2 million in 2014 to build a first-rate meeting facility at FAU, the Dr. Jeffrey P. and Barbara S. Feingold Board Room. Both served on numerous other boards and gave to charities, among them a synagogue and torah at an Israeli Army base and a Feingold family torah at B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton.
His political will burned brightly throughout, and in the run-up to Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial election, Feingold threw his hat in the ring for Ron DeSantis, then a U.S. Representative. Mitchell remembers telling his friend that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam all but had the Republican nomination sewed up.
“Dr. Feingold was like, ‘I don’t care, this man should be Governor, and that’s the way it’s going to be,’” Mitchell said.
In June 2019, Mitchell was sued by Ronald Rubin, then Florida’s Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, alleging bribery, extortion and improper influence of a public official. The suit claims Mitchell, with help from Feingold, badgered Rubin’s father, a wealthy developer, for $1 million in campaign contributions to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis “as payback for Patronis supporting Rubin’s nomination.”
DeSantis and the Cabinet terminated Ronald Rubin in July 2019, five months after he was hired, after multiple women filed complaints alleging inappropriate behavior. Mitchell declined to address the lawsuit for this story, which made waves in POLITICO and local newspapers for its depictions of undue influence by lobbyists over state government.
But in a 2019 news report, he dismissed Rubin’s accusations as “largely fictional” and a “self-serving attempt to distract from the shocking fact that in a state government career that spanned mere weeks, he managed to rack up a series of sexual harassment complaints that, if true, completely disqualify him as a public official.”
The year it was filed, President Donald Trump appointed Feingold to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington. By then, he might have suspected he would not be able to finish the five-year term. Doctors had discovered prostate cancer more than 20 years earlier.
“He always stayed on top of it,” his son said. “Always got the newest and latest treatments.”
MCNA is now one of the largest companies of its kind in the country, serving more than 8 million adults and children. Feingold sold the business late last year to UnitedHealthcare, which has continued MCNA’s organizational profile and retained its name. Many health care professionals who started with Dentaland or MCNA went on to prosperous practices.
DeSantis delivered the eulogy for Feingold on Oct. 11 at Beth Israel Memorial Center in Delray Beach, where Feingold and his wife lived. Former Texas Governor and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who now chairs MCNA’s board and directs its legislative strategy, made additional remarks at a shiva after the service.
“My dad made a lot of people’s careers; he changed people’s lives,” Glen Feingold said. “My dad left a remarkable legacy but most important to him was his family, his Jewish faith and his friends.”
Feingold is survived by his wife of 48 years, Barbara; sons, Eric and his wife, Deana, and Glen; daughter, Samantha Feingold Criss and her husband, Jonathan Criss; and seven grandchildren.