CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews Newsletter

Volume 5  Number 31  August 1, 2008

CONSUMER SERVICES HELPLINE 877-MY-FL-CFO

CONSUMER HELPLINE
1-877-MY-FL-CFO

Many Floridians may not be aware of the Insurance Consumer Advocate's office and how it can assist them. Florida's Insurance Consumer Advocate is an independent leader with an effective and powerful voice for all Floridians.  

For example, this week the Insurance Consumer Advocate's office, working with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), helped a Tampa woman's family overcome daunting health care challenges.

Earlier this year a crime occurred in the Tampa Bay area that left a  bright young woman with life-threatening and permanently life-altering injuries. In the midst of this tragedy, the family found themselves caught up in the confusing and frustrating red tape surrounding the medical coverage necessary to provide rehabilitation and the best possible outcome for recovery.

Thanks to the compassion and quick work by our Insurance Consumer Advocate and AHCA, the young woman will be allowed to remain at the medical facility where she is currently making painstaking progress.

We want to take this opportunity to recognize our colleagues in state government for their dedication to consistent, high-quality service that often goes unrecognized.

Working together, the public servants in these agencies have given the young woman’s family the priceless peace of mind that their loved one will continue to receive the care so desperately needed. We thank all of our Florida colleagues for their excellent work on behalf of this family.

The Insurance Consumer Advocate is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians.  Our highest purpose in Florida’s state government is to serve our citizens. Our consumer helpline, 1-877-MY-FL-CFO
,  is your link to obtaining help when you need it most. We are here to advocate on your behalf.


CFO SINK JOINS WITH THE FLORIDA BAR ON A STATEWIDE CAMPAIGN TO HELP FLORIDIANS FACING FORECLOSURE

“It takes a lawyer.”

That was the advice CFO Alex Sink heard last year from April Charney – an attorney at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid who had been working on behalf of Floridians facing foreclosure.  CFO Sink participated in a meeting with Charney, other attorneys and community leaders at the offices of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid to discuss what could be done to help Floridians who were about to lose their homes.

With Florida ranked number two in the nation in foreclosure rates, CFO Sink challenged the Bar to launch a statewide campaign to provide pro bono services to Floridians facing foreclosure.

The Florida Bar answered CFO Sink’s call for help by launching a toll free hotline and coordinated statewide pro bono campaign. The campaign provides attorneys to impacted Floridians to help them negotiate with their lenders. Attorneys across the state are signing up to participate in the program.

Floridians who need legal assistance through the program can call the free telephone hotline, 1-866-607-2187. The program is coordinated by the Florida Bar, the Florida Bar Foundation and Florida Legal Services.   CONTINUED


 


 

CFO SINK TO AUCTION UNCLAIMED PROPERTY IN TAMPA BAY ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 2

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink reminds Floridians that the State of Florida will auction off more than 40,000 unclaimed items estimated to be worth more than $500,000 at the auction on Saturday, August 2, 2008, at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

Online and phone staff from the DFS Bureau of Unclaimed Property help consumers search for lost treasure at the auction site.

“Every year, the State of Florida auctions thousands of valuables, including jewelry, rare coins, sports memorabilia and historical items,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “I encourage everyone to come by the auction for an opportunity to bid on a piece of Florida’s lost treasure.”

For additional information on terms for participating, please visit http://www.fltreasurehunt.org/ and click on “Upcoming Auction.”

Date:        Saturday, August 2
Time:       Registration opens at 8:00 a.m.
                Auction will begin at 10:00 a.m.
Location: Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, 2900 Bayport Drive
                Tampa, FL 33607
                


Donna O'Neal, Deputy Chief Financial Officer

 

MEET DEPUTY CFO DONNA O'NEAL

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink would like to introduce Donna O'Neal, a member of her management team.

Donna was recently promoted to one of three Deputy Chief Financial Officer positions, with the Divisions of Risk Management, Accounting and Auditing, Administration, and Information Services in her oversight responsibilities.

Donna O'Neal joined the Department of Financial Services team as Deputy Chief of Staff in February 2008, working to advance the CFO’s financial management and accountability initiatives. Donna came from the Department of Juvenile Justice, having served as Chief of Staff for Secretary Walter McNeil.

O'Neal has more than 20 years experience in state and local government issues, having spent more than a decade with the Florida Department of Revenue in the areas of executive project management, taxpayer education, strategic planning, performance assessment and communications. Previously a capital bureau reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, O'Neal holds a master of arts degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and bachelor’s degree in communications from Louisiana State University.

An avid touring bicyclist, O'Neal has ridden across the states of Vermont, Montana, Washington, Georgia, Florida and several provinces of Canada.


My Family CFO
Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal
watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

IDEA: HOW TO MINIMIZE DEBT IN COLLEGE

College students, easy targets for credit card companies, are aggressively solicited to sign up with offers of free stuff. At major events like football games and in school cafeterias, credit card reps ply students with offers that are hard to refuse - and the lure of easy money is hard to resist.

Many aren't prepared for the interest, overlimit and late payment fees that come with credit cards. As a result, college students can end up with excessive debt that may hamper renting an apartment, landing a job or even gaining admission to graduate school.

Armed with the financial knowledge and techniques of credit management, students can successfully navigate through the college years without the added burden of excessive credit card debt. Guidelines to follow:
  • Create a realistic budget - know what is there to spend and don’t spend more than is in the budget.
  • Always have savings for an emergency - don't rely on credit cards if you can help it.
  • Use cash, a debit card or a check as much as possible, which will help avoid unnecessary spending.
  • Pay cash for items under $10 and items to eat or drink - little things add up.
  • If having a credit card is a must, have only one, and only charge things that can be paid for on time to limit interest and avoid fees.
  • Stop charging if credit card debt is not within the budget, then pay off as much as possible every month.

 

 

MORE THAN 70,000 KIDS AND COUNTING


Dawn Bass was recently forced into a difficult situation. She says she was going through a trying time and realized she couldn’t afford private health insurance for her 16-year-old daughter. As the parent of a growing teenager, she knew she had to do something. Fortunately a co-worker told her about low-cost insurance available through Florida KidCare and Dawn took advantage of the opportunity. She submitted an application and within a few weeks, her daughter had quality health care benefits that cost less than $20 per month.

The growing number of kids enrolling in Florida KidCare is the result of a year-long outreach campaign led by the Governor’s office, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Alex Sink and the leaders of several state agencies who’ve dedicated resources and staff to promote the program. With the help of business and community groups, the state will reach out to the families of the half million uninsured children in Florida and help them apply for KidCare as they prepare for the new school year.

“We have a simple message: KidCare is open for business and is providing quality health insurance at an affordable price,” said CFO Sink, who chairs the Healthy Kids Board. “With Florida KidCare, many working families are ensuring their children have access to preventative health care.”  CONTINUED


DFS HELPS FBI NAB SUSPECT IN WIRE FRAUD CASE

A 35-year-old man is in custody after being arrested on charges of wire fraud. Moments before he boarded an international flight, Ali Hammoud was arrested by federal agents at the Miami International Airport.

The Department of Financial Services’ Division of Accounting and Auditing (DFS) contacted the FBI immediately after determining that $5.7 million in funds payable to a state road contractor had been fraudulently re-directed to an account in Hammoud’s name.

Monday afternoon, the Department of Financial Services was successful in obtaining an injunction against Regions Bank, Wachovia Bank, and Bank of America to freeze any funds that had been transferred in connection with the fraud. A full recovery of all funds is expected.

“We’re grateful the FBI responded swiftly and arrested this individual,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who oversees DFS. “We are working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Attorney and others to assure that this case is successfully prosecuted.”

Acting U.S. Attorney Thomas F. Kirwin stated that, “Hammoud’s arrest at the Miami International Airport arose from a criminal complaint filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida charging Hammoud with wire fraud. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years’ imprisonment. Hammoud is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”


 

 

CFO SINK URGES SELF-EMPLOYED TO BUY, REVIEW HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE DURING AUGUST OPEN ENROLLMENT

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink urges Florida’s self-employed individuals to take advantage of the August open enrollment period that allows single-group employers, sole proprietors, independent contractors and others to obtain health insurance or switch plans on a guaranteed-issue basis.

“This is a once-a-year opportunity for self-employed individuals to make sure they have the coverage they need to protect themselves and their families,” said CFO Sink.

August 1 through August 31, 2008, insurers and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) that write small-group policies must offer basic and standard coverage to the self-employed without regard to health status. Policies written or renewed in August have a plan start date of October 1, 2008.  CONTINUED


 

CFO SINK ADDRESSES THE FLORIDA SHERIFFS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

CFO Sink shared her insights with Florida sheriffs about how the downturn in the economy is fueling an increase in fraud-related crime investigated by her department.

Speaking to the Florida Sheriffs Association 2008 Summer Conference Monday in Orlando, Sink observed that Florida's challenging economic times not only are triggering state and local government budget cuts but also are likely to lead to an increase in certain crimes, including house fires, vehicle arson, unauthorized insurance activity and workers’ compensation fraud. These crimes are among those handled by the CFO's divisions of State Fire Marshal, Insurance Fraud and Workers' Compensation.

CFO Sink noted that Florida’s budget cuts are also impacting law enforcement agencies by contributing to vacant prosecutor positions, fewer corrections officers and cuts in deputy positions.

With oversight of two statewide law enforcement agencies CFO Sink expressed her strong support for the work of the Florida Sheriffs Association to protect those in uniform.

CFO Sink also expressed her condolences in the wake of Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Forgione’s recent death, offering the people of Florida's gratitude for the risk that officers and their families accept every day.

The Florida Sheriffs Association membership is composed of the 67 Florida sheriffs, about 3,500 business leaders and 130,000 citizens throughout the state.