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My Florida C F O

Dear Fellow Floridians:

As your Chief Financial Officer, one of my primary goals is to ensure that all Floridians have the information they need to make smart financial choices. Just as every individual is unique, each person has a differing set of financial circumstances, goals and challenges that make saving unique. As Florida is home to more than 65,000 active duty service members and an additional 1.5 million veterans, I feel it especially important to provide information and clarity on the specific saving challenges faced by military families. This week is Florida Saves and Military Saves Week, and in support of these dedicated men and women, I’d like to share with you the programs and resources available to all of Florida’s military families through our Department.

Launched in 2013, Financial Frontlines, Financial Frontlinesis an online initiative that provides information and resources to help Florida’s military families reduce debt and fight back against financial fraud. Financial security for all is based on proper planning that begins with the creation of a savings plan that includes specific goals, along with a realistic budget. On top of these basic skills, Financial Frontlines helps individuals navigate military-specific resources, like the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Military Lending Act, both of which provide resources and protections tailored to the lives of service members and their families.

We also took time recently to visit with several service members, both active duty and retired, and talked with them about their experiences navigating the financial challenges of being in the military. We’ve put together their thoughts in a short video that I hope you will enjoy. I encourage Florida’s military families to review these testimonials and to begin implementing savings and budgeting strategies that work best for their needs.

No matter what stage of life, we should all have a plan in place to save and work toward our financial goals. For useful tips, please visit our Your Money Matters webpage at www.myfloridacfo.com/ymm.

Jeff
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

News of Interest

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida's economy is expected to grow a solid 3.3% in 2015

Tampa Bay Business Journal: Florida construction surging, facing worker shortage

Bradenton Herald: Spending Smart: Teaching children the value of a dollar

Jacksonville Business Journal: Florida ports seek help in luring shipping companies

Sun Sentinel : CFO Atwater cites Florida's strong comeback

Chipley Foster Folly News: CFO and State Fire Marshal Jeff Atwater announces arson investigator health screening initiative as part of cancer prevention month

Tampa Bay Times: Why private equity matters to Tampa Bay

Orlando Sentinel: Floridians want to conserve water but not spend much to do so

February is Black History Month

Each week this month, we are featuring one prominent African-American leader and highlighting his or her contributions to our country.

August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize for Drama winnerAugust Wilson

Playwright August Wilson was born April 27, 1945, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wrote his first play, Jitney, in 1979 and would go on to win Pulitzer Prizes for his plays Fences and The Piano Lesson. The latter would also earn him a Tony Award. His successful playwriting career evolved into nine original Broadway productions. A collection of Wilson’s work, entitled Three Plays by August Wilson was published in 1991. The following year his play Two Trains Running premiered on Broadway, followed in 1996 by Seven Guitars, King Hedley II in 2001 and Gem of the Ocean in 2004. Wilson passed away in 2005.

The new PBS documentary about the Tony- and Pulitzer-winning playwright, American Masters - August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, explores his creative process and tenacity in looking at the African-American experience.

CFO Atwater to Champion Health Care Billing Legislation

Committed to advocating for Florida families, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Monday announced SB516/HB681 as a priority legislative issue for the 2015 Session. This bill, sponsored by Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Carlos Trujillo, eliminates unexpected consumer costs that can arise following emergency medical care by outlining that preferred provider organizations (PPOs) must work directly with medical providers to determine an agreeable payment amount for out-of-network care.

"Consumers carry insurance to defray unexpected medical costs," said CFO Atwater. "Emergency care shouldn’t leave consumers with surprising and costly medical bills, and this piece of legislation ensures that both consumers and providers will be treated fairly during the billing process."

This legislation aims to create billing processes for out-of-network care that are similarly structured to that of in-network care. By doing so, medical providers and PPOs determine payment amounts, and consumers are guaranteed a predictable fee for out-of-network care.

"We don’t hesitate to take our loved ones to the nearest hospital in a medical emergency, just as doctors don’t hesitate to treat them," said Senator Aaron Bean. "There’s a level of trust there, and it should carry over to the billing process, which should be straightforward and fair to all parties involved."

"Whether a consumer recognizes the term 'balance billing' or not, a vast majority of Floridians have been affected by its exorbitant billing at some point in their lives,” said Representative Carlos Trujillo. "I’m proud to sponsor this bill that will take consumers out of this equation altogether."

"Like many of Florida’s families, our family, too, has been detrimentally impacted by the high costs associated with balance billing," said Senator Oscar Braynon. "Because I carry this personal experience, I know first-hand the importance of leveling the playing field for consumers."

Three Arrested for Operating Unlicensed Orlando Clinic Used in PIP Fraud Scam

Insurance Fraud BadgeThe Department of Financial Services recently announced three Central Florida arrests made by the Division of Insurance Fraud for the operation of an unlicensed clinic in Orlando that was used as part of a personal injury protection (PIP) fraud scheme. Dr. Lherisson Domond, a Coconut Creek resident, fronted ownership of the clinic, Unity Pain and Injury Center, from February to December 2012, but the clinic was operated by several non-licensed individuals who offered to pay Domond $1,500 a month for use of his name.

An investigation conducted by the Florida’s Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud revealed that Unity Pain and Injury Center illegally provided medical treatment and physical therapy to individuals involved in motor vehicle accidents. The treatments were then billed to various insurance companies under the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage of the patients’ insurance policies.

Dr. Domond has admitted that he entered into an agreement to be paid for the use of his name as owner. The investigation further revealed that Nesly Loute of Naples and Pierre Alex Herisse of Orlando hired clinic staff and managed its operations. The three arrested individuals face felony charges for fraud, operating an unlicensed clinic and grand theft that carry sentences of up to 30 years. Warrants for the arrests were issued by the office of Orange County State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton, which will be prosecuting the case. The Division of Insurance Fraud has made 249 PIP fraud arrests since July 1, 2014.

Anyone with information about suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. Citizens who provide tips can remain anonymous. The Department of Financial Services has awarded almost $350,000 to nearly 60 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program. The program rewards individuals up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme.

Stop Adult Financial Exploitation

Operation S.A.F.E.Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater invites you to participate in Operation S.A.F.E., Be Scam Smart, a free workshop for seniors, their families, and caregivers.

The Florida Department of Financial Services launched Operation S.A.F.E. (Stop Adult Financial Exploitation) as part of CFO Atwater’s On Guard for Seniors initiative. Be Scam Smart workshops help inform, empower, and protect Florida’s seniors from financial scams and fraud. If you want to make sure your savings are protected, register for this workshop and get a better understanding of how scam artists and scams work.

Be Scam Smart by learning more about:

  • The Psychology of a Scam
  • How to Spot Fraudulent Behavior
  • Common Scams that Target Seniors
  • How to Fight Identity Theft
  • Resources to Keep You Safe

Find out more about us in the About Us section or Register for an upcoming event, including the workshops in West Palm Beach and Miami Gardens.

  • Tuesday, March 3rd - West Palm Beach
    10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
    1700 Golden Lakes Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33411
  • Wednesday, March 4th - Miami Gardens
    10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
    St. Thomas University School of Law Convocation Hall
    16401 NW 37th Ave., Miami Gardens, Florida 33054

Florida Economic Briefs

Florida home sales increase in 2015
There were 16,087 closed home sales in January, 10 percent more than January of 2014 (14,628). Additionally, the median sale price increased 7.4 percent over the year, from $163,000 in January 2014 to $175,000 in January 2015.
Source: Florida Realtors

Florida's economy is expected to grow a solid 3.3% in 2015
Led by solid employment gains, economic growth in Florida is expected to outpace the nation in 2015. Real GDP in Florida should grow a solid 3.3 percent in 2015, up from the 2.7 percent growth of 2014 and slightly ahead of the national average.
Source: BMO Economics

Outlook on 2015

Outlook on 2015This issue of Florida’s Bottom Line highlights opportunities for 2015, as well as issues from 2014. It includes economic forecasts and expert analysis on Florida from leading economists, along with insightful outlooks on key industries from the industry leaders themselves, including this one from Richard McAllister.

Richard A. McAllister, President & CEO Florida Retail Federation: There’s no denying the face of retail is changing. Gone are the days of music and hors d’oeuvres at Burdines. Today, shoppers prefer convenience and value. If a retailer isn’t online already, they will be soon - doing so is equivalent to adding 10 new stores. In Florida, we are extremely blessed with great beaches, tourist attractions and four of the 10 largest malls in America. 2015 will bring an even stronger surge of travel and consumer confidence, and with it, spending. New lifestyle centers will continue to pop up, featuring fast fashion alongside staple grocers and niche retailers. Brick and mortar will maintain their loyal customer base, for those who favor a touch-and-feel shopping experience. Unemployment will continue to drop, and retailers will play their role in providing every one in five jobs here in Florida. Read more.