FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 5, Number 31, August 1, 2008

HOME


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. With more and more Floridians falling behind on their mortgage payments, CFO Sink participated in a meeting with Charney and other attorneys and community leaders at the offices of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid last year to discuss what could be done to help Floridians who were about to lose their homes.

Following the meeting, CFO Sink went to see the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar. 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.


In a massive effort to assist Floridians in their fight against a foreclosure crisis, 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 Floridians to help them negotiate with their lenders. Attorneys across the state are signing up to participate in the program.

“CFO Alex Sink asked for the help of the Florida Bar to address the avalanche of foreclosures facing Florida homeowners,” said Sandra Fascell Diamond, chair of the Real Probate and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar. “The Real Property Probate and Trust Law Section is pleased to have the opportunity to assist with the coordination of the efforts of volunteer attorneys in this task. We hope to help individual owners and their families find a way to keep their homes.”

This week, CFO Sink traveled to Palm Beach to thank the Real Property and Probate Section of the Florida Bar for their efforts in starting the program.

“This is an incredible statewide effort, and you are making a real difference to help Floridians during these difficult economic times,” CFO Sink said to the approximately five hundred attorneys at the Bar meeting. “I want to commend each of you who are giving your time to volunteer to help Floridians keep their homes.”

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.

Lawyers interested in volunteering for volunteering should visit the Bar’s pro bono website at: http://www.floridaprobono.org.


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.

“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.”

To participate in the preview and auction, potential bidders will be required to register with the auctioneer and provide a valid ID with current address and refundable $100 cash deposit that can also be applied to any purchases. 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


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 in 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

State agencies and community partners ramp up statewide Back-to- School outreach campaign to help uninsured families apply for Florida KidCare

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 target 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.”

Sink was joined by Florida Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros, Department of Children and Families Secretary Bob Butterworth, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Holly Benson, Education Commissioner Eric Smith, Healthy Kids Executive Director Rich Robleto, legislators, community groups, business leaders, health plans and health care providers at the State Capitol on Monday to launch the back-to-school campaign.

Dawn’s story is not so unusual. In Florida, uninsured children are the exception, not the rule. In fact, nine out of 10 children in Florida have healthcare coverage – either private or public. Dawn’s daughter joined the 1.4 million children enrolled in Florida KidCare. Since last summer, the state and federally-subsidized program enrolled 70,000 more children who now have access to preventive care such as regular doctor visits, immunizations, dental check-ups and prescriptions. Like Dawn, many families pay $20 or less per month; most pay nothing at all.

This year, the Governor and legislature approved funding for 38,000 more uninsured children to join KidCare and each state agency has pledged to increase opportunities for families to apply for the program. In addition to having a visible presence at back-to-school events, the agencies are implementing the following activities:

• All 67 county health departments will host KidCare promotional events the first weekend in August.
• Florida KidCare is working with the school districts to distribute more than 2.5 million applications to children at the start of the school year.
• The Agency for Healthcare Administration is placing KidCare promotional materials and applications in emergency rooms and large pediatric centers across the state.
• The Department of Children and Families is sharing KidCare information with families receiving public assistance, such as food stamps and WIC.
• The Office of the Governor is working with Volunteer Florida to distribute KidCare information to faith-based groups statewide.

With the recent state budget cuts and lack of funding for traditional marketing of Florida KidCare, all of the program stakeholders are implementing creative outreach methods to target families with uninsured kids. The Florida Association of Health Plans and its members, as well as health care providers including the Florida Hospital Association, have always promoted KidCare and they are increasing visibility of the program in new ways. For example, approximately 167 clinics will air KidCare public service announcements on waiting room televisions.

Another new approach to outreach includes a push by the Healthy Kids Corporation to teach community-based organizations how to help families apply for KidCare benefits. The organization recently launched an online course called “Florida KidCare 101” that educates approved groups about the program and demonstrates how to complete the application process and assist eligible families.

“We’ve got a strong and growing network of people who truly care about the uninsured kids in this state and they are helping us remove the barriers that keep families from applying for KidCare,” said Surgeon General Viamonte Ros. “We also want parents to know KidCare offers the best value out there because the program is open to everyone, regardless of income. So if you have uninsured children, apply for KidCare now. You can’t afford not to.”

For more information or to apply for Florida KidCare, visit www.floridakidcare.org. Families can also call 1-888-540-5437 to receive an application by mail.


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 today urged 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.

Applicants must meet all of the conditions and criteria established by law, and provide documentation verifying the operation of an active business, including tax forms, license information and business receipts, per Florida Statute 627.6699(3)(u).

A list of insurance companies offering coverage is posted on the Department of Financial Services' website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/small_group_market_carriers.htm.  Go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ and click on the button in the right column "Small Employer Health Insurance August Open Enrollment."

To learn more about plan options, visit https://apps.fldfs.com/sercs/.

In addition to basic and standard policies, coverage options for employers include health savings accounts (HSAs) or health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). HSAs, which operate like Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), allow people to save their own money in a tax-free account for use on health-related expenses. If the money is not spent, it rolls over annually and accumulates until the policyholder reaches age 65, at which time the money can be used for any purpose.

For information on sample rates for small-group policies, visit the Office of Insurance Regulation’s website at www.floir.com, click on the “Consumers” tab at the top, then scroll down to “Compare Small Group Medical Rates.” Be sure to click “One Life Factor” to view appropriate sample rates for single-group employers.

A Health Insurance guide and Small Business Owners’ Insurance guide are available at www.MyFloridaCFO.com. For further assistance, call the Department of Financial Services’ toll-free consumer helpline at 1-800-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


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.


Consumer Services Helpline 1-877-MY-FL-CFO

Consumer eViews  MyFloridaCFO.com/PressOffice/Newsletter/