Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 37, September 13, 2004          

In the past few weeks, Floridians have been confronted with two destructive hurricanes that have challenged the very fabric of our state.  I am proud of the strength, determination, and resilience shown by our citizens in these trying times. 

Early last week, I had the opportunity to travel to the areas most impacted by Hurricane Frances.  I saw first hand how citizens were handling the aftermath of that storm.  I was amazed by the citizens I met – by their resolve, and by their positive attitude in the face of difficult circumstances.   

We are now poised to potentially bare the brunt of another devastating storm.  Hurricane Ivan could be the most intense tropical system of the season, and Florida once again appears to be in its path.  

Should Ivan come ashore in our state, I am confident that our citizens will once again rise to this challenge as they have done so many times before.  By working together, our communities will pass this test and Florida will continue to remain the vibrant and beautiful place we call home. 

I firmly believe the perseverance of our citizens and the strength of our communities will lead Florida through the rough waters that lie ahead. 

Yours in service,

                        -- Tom Gallagher


ANHEUSER-BUSCH FOUNDATION SUPPORTS FLORIDA HURRICANE RELIEF FUND

Anheuser-Busch Foundation donated $1 million to the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, shown here at the ceremony in Tallahassee. The American Red Cross also received $250,000 from the foundation for their continuing relief work.

To date, the Fund has received pledges from 34 states, Canada, Belgium, Taiwan and Singapore. Other major pledges include the Darden Restaurants Foundation, BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., Shell Oil Company, SunTrust Bank Florida, WCI, Wal-Mart Foundation, BP, Ocean Bank, Pepsi, Washington Mutual and Dow Electronics.

"Storm victims need all the help they can get to start rebuilding their homes and their lives. These incredible donations will provide direct assistance to Floridians and their families," said CFO Gallagher.

Governor Jeb Bush announced pledges and donations to the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund now total more than $7 million.

The Florida Hurricane Relief Fund is being directed to help Floridians impacted by the hurricanes rebuild. It will be allocated for needs that cannot be completely met by other relief organizations, federal and state agencies. Communities will decide on use of funds, with input from other relief organizations and county governments.

Governor Bush appointed Florida leaders to guide the fund's growth who are serving as volunteers for the fund. All donations are tax-deductible and will be used for the hurricane relief effort in Florida. For more information, call 1-800-FL-HELP-1 or go to www.FLAHurricaneFund.org. 


 

STORM VICTIMS FACING DOUBLE DEDUCTIBLES FROM HURRICANES CHARLEY AND FRANCES

A message of concern from CFO Gallagher.
 
"There is growing concern among storm victims facing the potential of being hit with two deductibles from the recent back-to-back storms.  I am deeply troubled that a second deductible will increase the financial burden for many who are trying to rebuild.

Currently, state regulators’ hands are tied because a Florida law passed in 1996 permits insurance companies to charge a two to five percent deductible, depending on the value of a policyholder’s home.  We need to look for options from the Florida Legislature that will help relieve this financial burden and speed up the process of rebuilding.

I believe it is fundamentally unfair for consumers to pay multiple deductibles during a hurricane season.  I also believe that consumers deserve to have a choice in the amount of deductible they will pay, whether it is $500, two percent or higher.  State law should not prevent consumers from choosing a deductible that best fits their financial circumstances.

Governor Bush is already considering the need for a special session to address these issues and potentially others.  I echo his concerns and join with the Governor in pursuing solutions that will balance both the availability of insurance coverage with the need for affordability for Florida citizens.

In the interim, I am encouraging consumers who sustained additional damage from Frances to call the Department of Financial Services at 1-800-22-STORM so we can work with consumers facing the additional financial burden of two deductibles.”


ONE MORE TIME – IVAN IS A THREAT TO FLORIDA

Studying storms and getting information to the public is a 24/7 task this time of year as Ivan is approaching the Gulf of Mexico.

The Tropical Prediction Center (TPC) is a component of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) located at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. The TPC mission is to save lives, mitigate property loss, and improve economic efficiency by issuing the best watches, warnings, forecasts and analyses of hazardous tropical weather, and by increasing understanding of these hazards. Through international agreement, the TPC has responsibility within the World Meteorological Organization to generate and coordinate tropical cyclone analysis and forecast products for twenty-four countries in the Americas, Caribbean, and for the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the eastern North Pacific Ocean. TPC products are distributed through a close working relationship with the media and emergency management communities.

The TPC collaborates with universities, government research laboratories, international tropical weather centers, the private sector and other National Weather Service components to maintain its leading edge in tropical meteorology through coordinated operations, research, training and forecast development techniques.

Chart A shows an approximate representation of coastal areas under a hurricane warning (red), hurricane watch (pink), tropical storm warning (blue) and tropical storm watch (yellow). The orange circle indicates the current position of the center of the tropical cyclone. The black line and dots show the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecast track of the center at the times indicated. The letter inside the dot indicates the NHC's forecast intensity for that time.  

NHC forecast tracks of the center can be in error; the average track forecast errors in recent years were used to construct the areas of uncertainty for the first 3 days (solid white area) and for days 4 and 5 (white stippled area). The historical data indicate the entire 5-day path of the center of the tropical cyclone will remain within the outer uncertainty area about 60-70% of the time. There is also uncertainty in the NHC intensity forecasts. The intensity forecast chart and table below provide intensity forecast and intensity forecast uncertainty information.

It is also important to realize tropical cyclones are not a point. Their effects can span many hundreds of miles from the center. The area experiencing hurricane force (one-minute average wind speeds of at least 74 mph) and tropical storm force (one-minute average wind speeds of 39-73 mph) winds can extend well beyond the white areas shown enclosing the most likely track area of the center. The distribution of hurricane and tropical storm force winds in this tropical cyclone can be seen in the Cumulative Wind Distribution graphic displayed below.

Chart B shows the probability, in percent, that the center of the tropical cyclone will pass within 75 statute miles of a location during the 72 hours beginning at the time indicated in the caption. The caption also provides the name of the tropical cyclone and the advisory number from which the probabilities were generated. Contour levels shown are 10%, 20%, 50% and 100%.

Chart C shows how the size of the storm has changed, and the areas potentially affected so far by sustained winds of tropical storm force (in orange) and hurricane force (in red). The display is based on the wind radii contained in the set of Forecast/Advisories indicated at the top of the figure. Users are reminded that the Forecast/Advisory wind radii represent the maximum possible extent of a given wind speed within particular quadrants around the tropical cyclone. As a result, not all locations falling within the orange or red swaths will have experienced sustained tropical storm or hurricane force winds, respectively.


GALLAGHER ORDERS INSURANCE COMPANIES TO REPORT PRICE GOUGING BY INDEPENDENT ADJUSTERS

TALLAHASSEE-With Floridians recovering from back-to-back storms and facing the potential for a third storm early next week, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is addressing what may become a fourth problem - a shortage of insurance adjusters.

Gallagher asked Florida’s Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty to issue an emergency order today requiring all property and casualty insurance companies licensed in Florida to report any instances of price gouging by independent adjusters. Gallagher said that he and McCarty had heard of independent adjusters demanding exorbitant fees from insurance companies desperate to find more adjusters.

“Our first priority is to make sure all claims are handled as expeditiously as possible, and we appreciate the response we have had from adjusters, ” Gallagher said. “But at the same time we will fight to contain costs that may get passed on to consumers because of the actions of a few rogue adjusters.”

The emergency order also requires property and casualty insurance companies to report any violations of Florida’s insurance codes, including activity by unlicensed adjusters.

Gallagher, who as Florida’s CFO oversees the Department of Financial Services, also served as insurance commissioner in 1992 when South Florida was struck by Hurricane Andrew. After August 13, when Hurricane Charley struck, Gallagher dispatched more than 50 of the department’s investigators into the storm-damaged areas to be on the lookout for adjuster fraud. Following the arrests of two unlicensed public adjusters, the department has received no new reports of unlicensed adjusters.

Public adjusters do not work for any insurance company, charge an independent fee to help file and collect on a claim, and will require a contract. Gallagher has capped public adjuster fees at 10 percent. Company and independent adjusters represent the insurance company in determining the amount of property damage and what is covered by your policy.

“Floridians must be vigilant about verifying license status before signing any adjuster agreement,” Gallagher said. “And now we are urging the companies to help themselves and their policyholders by not giving in to unreasonable demands by independent adjusters.”


GALLAGHER ACCOMPANIES PRESIDENT, GOVERNOR ON TOUR OF STORM-DAMAGED AREAS AND SENDS MORE HELP TO STORM VICTIMS

TALLAHASSEE-Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher accompanied President George W. Bush and Governor Jeb Bush on a tour of storm-affected areas along the east coast today. Governor Bush and Gallagher also visited the Charlotte County Emergency Operations Center to meet with disaster response officials. Gallagher, who yesterday deployed the Department of Financial Services’ Mobile Response Unit to Ft. Pierce, also dispatched additional staff to more than 20 disaster recovery sites statewide.

“We’re now dealing with a statewide recovery effort,” Gallagher said. “It’s my job to make sure Florida’s insurance consumers are treated fairly and are met by an adjuster as quickly as possible, so they can start on the road to recovery.”

“The president’s support and encouragement to storm victims, emergency responders, and relief and recovery volunteers is greatly appreciated,” Gallagher said. “Even though our recent storms have brought terrible hardship, it’s inspiring to see federal, state and local organizations and neighbors helping neighbors, to rebuild our homes and communities.”

After touring many of the areas affected by Hurricane Frances, Gallagher yesterday deployed the Mobile Response Unit (MRU) to assist Floridians in filing insurance claims and quickly resolving insurance problems. The MRU remains deployed at the Furniture Mart Shopping Center (Old Ft. Pierce Outlet Mall) at 2817 Peters Rd. in Ft. Pierce. The site is accessible from Exit 152, Okeechobee Rd., of the Florida Turnpike or Exit 129 of I-95. Available on the mobile unit are satellite and cellular phones, computers and other information resources to allow staff to assist victims immediately, in their communities. The unit will also help insurance agents and adjusters locate policyholders. Co-locating at the site are representatives from the following insurance companies: Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, Allstate, American Strategic, Florida Select, Metropolitan Property and Casualty, State Farm, First Floridian, Nationwide, Amica and Liberty Mutual.

Additional sites with insurance consumer specialists available are listed below:

Harold Recreation Center, 23400 Harold Avenue, Port Charlotte
Nicor Building, 1602 Goldenrod Rd., Orlando
Martin County Fair Grounds, 2616 SE Dixie Hwy., Stuart
Palm Beach Gardens Community Center, 4404 Burns Rd., Palm Beach Gardens.

For more sites consumers should call the hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM.

The department will soon begin airing radio PSAs directing storm victims to a disaster recovery site or the toll-free hotline.

“Thousands of Floridians have suffered losses, both from Charley and from Frances, but we will recover,” said Gallagher, who served as insurance commissioner during Hurricane Andrew. “We’re here to help. Our hurricane hotline remains open at 1-800-22-STORM and consumer specialists are now mobilized in the affected communities.”

Consumers looking for tips on the rebuilding process, including storm-resistant construction and materials, can visit the website of the Federal Alliance For Safe Homes at www.flash.org <http://www.flash.org>.


RELIEF IS ORDERED FOR THOSE DISPLACED BY HURRICANES ON PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS

Commissioner of Insurance Regulation for the state of Florida, Kevin McCarty, has ordered the state’s health insurance companies and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) to temporarily suspend their regulations regarding prescription refills.  McCarty’s order, issued today, is in response to some of the problems people have encountered resulting from the back-to-back hurricanes Florida has suffered, in addition to the threat posed by Hurricane Ivan. 

McCarty said, “It has come to our attention that the usual 30 day limits on refills can pose problems for Floridians who have had to flee their homes and possibly their communities.”  “People who are displaced from their homes absolutely should not have to worry about their medication,” said McCarty.   “I am sure the industry will see the need for this measure because of the unique dangers this state has endured and continues to face.”

The order requires health insurance companies and HMO’s to waive restrictions on refills to enable insureds to fill prescriptions in advance.  It also authorizes payments to pharmacies for at least a thirty-day supply of medication regardless of the date the prescription had last been refilled.  The order is to be effective through November 30, 2004 and is for the entire state of Florida. 

 


Florida Department of Financial Services
Consumer Services HelpLine
(800)342-2762.