Volume 7 Number 14 April 2, 2010
It is more important than ever that your hard-earned tax dollars come back to our state. With Florida’s budget deficit and record high unemployment, it is imperative that we position our state to receive our fair share of federal dollars that can be put to work to help businesses create jobs, to build infrastructure, and to help our public schools. And unfortunately last year my Department conducted a study that shows that Florida ranks 45th out of the 50 states in accessing Federal grant funding.
That's why I’m encouraging each of you to do your part by participating in the U.S. Census. By taking just a moment to fill out the information, you are helping Florida’s communities access part of the $400 billion that the federal government returns to the states annually, and making sure that we get more of our money back in the Sunshine State.
That's also why this week I called for stronger commitment from the Florida Department of Education to work collaboratively with Florida’s local school boards, superintendents and teachers to ensure that our students can receive important "Race to the Top" grants. I will continue working to make sure that Florida does everything we can to be more successful in our push for more of our tax dollars to come back to our state.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday called for a stronger commitment from the Florida Department of Education to working collaboratively with Florida’s school boards, superintendents and teachers as Florida applies for the 2nd Round of “Race to the Top” education grants, in order to put Florida in a better position to receive this important funding.
During the grant process earlier this year, CFO Sink brought together Florida’s Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith, representatives from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Florida School Boards Association and Florida’s teachers to encourage collaboration prior to the application deadline. Unfortunately, the Department of Education was not willing to incorporate expressed concerns of all three parties as the initial grant process moved forward.
“The best decisions for our students and schools should be made at a local level, which is why I was disappointed that the important stakeholders were not allowed to be as involved in the process as they should have been during the development of the initial grant application,” said CFO Sink. "I urge Governor Crist and the Department of Education to demonstrate a real commitment to working with our local school officials and teachers to find solutions that will have a significant positive impact on Florida’s students. Florida has a second opportunity to secure these important resources for our students and they have to do a better job to improve our chances and look out for the best interests of our children.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday issued the following statement urging the Florida Legislature to pass Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) legislation. Utilizing local government bonding capacity, this innovative approach lends money to residential and commercial property owners who are seeking financing for more efficient, clean-energy property retrofits and wind-resistant improvements.
“This problem-solving legislation will allow businesses and homeowners to increase energy efficiency and decrease energy dependence,” said CFO Sink. “Most importantly, we can spur economic growth and create homegrown private sector jobs in the emerging clean energy marketplace. Florida should be a world leader in solar technology, and this will help us begin laying that foundation.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday activated her Department of Financial Services’ Storm Line, 1-800-22-STORM, to assist homeowners and business owners whose property may have suffered damage as a result of strong winds and possible tornadoes that struck Broward County's Oakland Park area. Insurance specialists are available from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and property owners can also find general insurance information online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
CFO Sink offered the following advice to Floridians who may have suffered property or vehicle damage:
More information regarding disaster-related insurance topics is available on the Department’s Disaster Response page at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/Storm. Consumers looking for tips on the rebuilding process, including storm-resistant construction and materials, should visit www.MySafeFloridaHome.com.
There’s still time to fill out and mail back the 2010 U.S. Census form! It takes just a few minutes to fill out the 10-question form, which provides important information about the population and assists the federal government with providing services to communities. Also, census data is used to ensure that the proper number of constituents are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives.
And, because the Census is constitutionally mandated, every household that fails to send back a census form by mail must be visited by a census taker starting in May – which costs taxpayers a whopping $57 per household! Instead, opt for the easier method and fill out and mail your census form today.
Florida CFO Alex Sink today announced that Ponzi schemer Richard Taft Johnson, 67, will serve eight years in federal prison and three years of supervised probation for defrauding $13.2 million from more than fifty people, including $4 million from Florida investors. Johnson will also have to pay $13.2 million in restitution. CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud and the Manatee County Sherriff’s Office opened the initial investigation.
“This fraudster is getting exactly what he deserves— serious jail time,” said CFO Sink. “I am grateful for the work of my investigators, local law enforcement, the US Attorney’s Office, and the FBI for working together to put him away and letting all the other would be scammers out there know that this kind of action will not be tolerated.”
Johnson worked out of his condominium in Manatee, Florida, without a license to sell insurance in the state. Presenting himself as the president of an investment company, Johnson received more than $4 million from five different Florida victims, four over the age of 65, between 2003 and 2009, under the guise that the money was being invested in a low-risk fund. Further investigation revealed additional victims located outside of Florida. CFO Sink’s investigators turned the case over to the FBI at the end of May 2009 in an effort to pursue federal charges. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross I. MacKenzie.
For the third year in a row, CFO Sink has proposed Safeguard Our Seniors legislation to strengthen senior investor fraud laws. Senator Mike Bennett and Representative Maria Sachs have sponsored the 2010 legislation (SB 844), which comes after another 277 complaints from seniors just about annuity fraud in the last year. During the 2009 session, CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors legislation passed the Florida Senate unanimously, but was not heard in a House Committee. This year’s legislation is ready for a floor vote in the Senate, and has stalled once again in the House.
CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held nearly 400 ‘Safeguard Our Seniors’ workshops throughout the state during the last two years. At the workshops, seniors are informed about how to protect themselves from financial fraud. The programs have helped Florida seniors recover nearly $9 million, and helped put some senior scammers behind bars.
To learn more about CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force, learn what to consider when purchasing annuities, or read the stories of senior victims, please visit www.flseniors.net. Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236) or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.
CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud made more than 830 insurance fraud-related arrests in the last fiscal year, and investigates various forms of insurance fraud relating to health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance policies.
Travel insurance is becoming increasingly popular as it can offer insurance coverage in the event you need to cancel a planned trip due to medical reasons, in the event you may need medical attention while traveling or if you lose your baggage.
But beware – every offer you get for travel “protection” may not be travel insurance coverage. In a bad economy, insurance fraud can be costly to uninformed consumers looking for a good deal and hoping to protect their investment.
What Are the Major Types of Travel Insurance?
There are four main types of travel insurance: Trip Cancellation, Medical and Accidental Death, Baggage Loss and Rental Car insurance.
Trip Cancellation/Delay/Interruption Insurance
Trip cancellation insurance, protects against the loss of non-refundable travel costs – like airfare, hotel or tour expenses. So if you’re making a deposit on a cruise or have non-refundable airline tickets, this would be the type of coverage you’d consider.
Travel insurance generally covers a very specific list of reasons for cancellation, delay or interruption. Before you buy a policy make sure you’ve reviewed these situations carefully.
Medical/Accidental Death Insurance
When considering a medical or accidental death travel policy, ask about pre-existing conditions and age limits. How companies deal with pre-existing conditions can vary widely. Read the terms of coverage carefully if you have a pre-existing condition and be prepared to pay a higher premium to cover them. Some insurers also charge more for older travelers.
American health insurance is generally not accepted outside of the United States. To find out more about the extent of your coverage, speak with your insurance agent or company before you leave home.
Baggage/Rental Car Damage Insurance
Homeowners or renter’s insurance may cover baggage or personal property damage when you’re traveling and your auto insurance may extend to a rental car, but you should always check the terms of your current policy or ask your insurance agent or company.
If you are encouraged to purchase travel insurance from your travel agent proceed with caution. The following tips are offered to help ensure you get what you are paying for:
If you have any questions about travel insurance, contact the Department of Financial Services Division of Consumer Services Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or 1-877- MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236). You can also visit our Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
In recognition of National Kidney Awareness Month, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to provide consumers with information about End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) and dialysis treatment coverage.
ESRD requires an extensive amount of time and care and usually includes dialysis treatment in order to sustain life. According to The National Kidney Foundation, 26 million American adults have chronic kidney disease and millions of others are at increased risk. ESRD can be caused by various factors such as diabetes, hypertension and genetic history. In addition, African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by the disease.
Though kidney failure can be fatal, dialysis treatment helps patients sustain a better quality of life. There are two types of dialysis available, hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis requires that the individual with ESRD attend a facility three times a week for several hours of dialysis treatment. Peritoneal dialysis can be performed in an individual’s home, but may place greater responsibility on the patient.
In 1972, Congress passed legislation making people with permanent kidney failure, or ESRD eligible for Medicare. Medicare will pay for 80% of the associated costs of dialysis treatments after the part B deductible has been satisfied. However, many people with ESRD need assistance in paying the 20% coinsurance required under the Medicare End Stage Renal Disease Program. Prior to last year in Florida, as in many states, the only way to get assistance in paying the 20% coinsurance was to qualify for Medicaid. This caused many consumers suffering from ERSD to dispose of assets in order to qualify for Medicaid.
In 2009, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 675, also known as the Alonzo Mourning Access to Care Act, requiring that Medigap policy issuers include people with ESRD who are under the age of 65 in their supplemental coverage plan.
Florida is now among 22 other states who require that Medigap issuers also include those under 65 with ESRD. The combination of these measures provides those consumers who are afflicted with ERSD the ability to receive the treatment that can extend and improve the quality of their lives.
Consumers who have further questions regarding renal insurance coverage should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.
The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida CFO Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.
Florida CFO Alex Sink this week announced the arrest of Daniel Madeus, 32, owner of the Health and Wellness Rehabilitation Center, Inc. located in Lake Worth, for operating a clinic using a stolen identity and submission of more than $1.5 million in unlawful insurance bills.
Madeus has been charged with criminal use of personal identification information in the use of a physician’s name without permission or knowledge by the physician, as well as grand theft. Both charges are first-degree felonies and he was arrested by Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud detectives Tuesday morning outside of his West Palm Beach residence.
Madeus was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail and is being held on $30,000 bond; if convicted, he could face up to 60 years behind bars.
The Division of Insurance Fraud made over 830 insurance fraud-related arrests in the last fiscal year, and investigates various forms of insurance fraud, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance. Depending on the estimated loss amount, DIF will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about this or any other suspected insurance fraud is asked to call CFO Sink’s Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or visit to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.
Florida Housing Help, a community outreach program, is designed to educate and assist families facing foreclosure. Workshops listed below will include opportunities to meet with mortgage lenders and HUD-certified counselors. For more information on housing help visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp.
Saturday, April 10, 2010 The Center for Civic Engagement, 740 International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach, 32114 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall) 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Monday, April 19, 2010 The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa 33613 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 Joseph P. D’Alessandro Office Complex, 2295 Victoria Avenue, Fort Myers, Florida 33901 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
For more workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.
Take a look online to see what jobs may be available in your community.
Employ Florida Marketplace is Florida's official online portal to virtual job-matching services and many other workforce resources. You can search for a job, build a resume, find an assistance center near you and view location and dates for upcoming job fairs. Employ Florida links all of Florida's state and local workforce services and resources. The partners are Workforce Florida, the state policy and oversight board, and the Agency for Workforce Innovation, the state agency which administers workforce funds. At the local level, there are 24 regional workforce boards that administer more than 80 "one-stop centers." The Employ Florida toll free number is 1-866-FLA-2345.
Career Services View a guide to follow the steps to take to select an ideal career or occupation. If you do not have a specific career in mind, learn what career or type of job best suits you. With a career in mind, you can check out information on wages, employers and jobs that are available as well as the details of available education and training, job requirements and nature of the work involved. Explore a career or occupation by analyzing the current labor market trends where you want to work, including wages, employment projections and educational requirements.
The Employ Florida Marketplace Silver Edition Web site is for Florida residents over 50 who are seeking employment or volunteer opportunities. You can create a resume and apply for a position online or access a variety of websites that have job postings and helpful information specifically geared to workers 40 years or older. Find information about services and benefits for people who have retired or are looking ahead to their retirement years, their families and caregivers.
The Veterans' Program promotes and maximizes the employment of Florida's veterans, especially veterans with barriers to employment, by utilizing a complete menu of One-Stop Career Center resources.
Did you know that almost 500 colleges serve Fair Trade certified coffee? This helps the agricultural regions of Asia, Africa and South America conserve their fragile and important ecosystems such as tropical rain forests and Andean mountainsides. In these equatorial regions, people are relatively poor; so supporting the small-scale farmers who use ecologically-sensitive agriculture is important to the global environment that affects all of us.
Here is how Fair Trade works: American and European markets purchase Fair Trade coffee, sugar, rice and other goods for a premium price. These higher prices are guaranteed to go back to the small-business farmers who in turn promise to uphold high environmental standards for their crops. The farmers refrain from using pesticides, prioritize soil conservation, and maximize biodiversity through techniques such as shade-grown coffee - grown under the canopy of a natural rain forest instead of clear-cutting the forest first.
What can the average Florida consumer do to promote ecological agriculture?
1. Look for the Fair Trade Certified label when you buy chocolate, sugar, vanilla, bananas, rice, coffee, and tea. http://www.FairTradeCertified.org
2. Adopt a supermarket in your neighborhood, and work to educate the store owners as well as your neighbors, church congregation and schools.
3. Buy Fair Trade Certified goods for gifts to educate others about he label.
4. The power of changing the world is promoted through the pocketbook. Be conscious that what you buy can support sound environmental practices.
Every day, hundreds of Floridians fall victim to financial fraud. Many of these victims are trusting seniors who were misled into making risky or inappropriate financial investments including annuities and reverse mortgages by unscrupulous agents and scam artists, In response, CFO Alex Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force to develop solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud.
The Department of Financial Services offers these Safeguard Our Seniors events to learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.
Monday, April 5, 2010 Senior Health Fair with Congressman Klein, Florida Atlantic University Majestic Palm Room, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL 33432 10:00 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 Psychology of Senior Scammers - SOS presentation at Horizon Bay, Horizon Bay, 7650 University Drive, Tamarac, FL 33321 2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 8, 2010 Safeguard Our Seniors, Victoria Gardens, 1001 Garden Club Drive, Deland, FL 32724 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.