Volume 7 Number 23 June 4, 2010
It has now been 46 days since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and I could not be more frustrated with BP’s response, including their inability to stop the oil that continues gushing into the Gulf. With oil approaching our state and tar balls on our beaches this week, I’ve asked that BP CEO Tony Hayward attend the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday, June 8, to explain what his company is going to do to protect the third largest coastline in America.
Just yesterday I went to Pensacola -- I met with small business owners and spoke to them about the economic hardships they are facing as a result of this spill. They deserve answers, as do all Floridians who are being adversely affected by this spill, and I will continue working hard to ensure that BP is held accountable and our small businesses and coastal communities receive the help they need.
State of Florida
This week, CFO Sink continued her commitment to assisting Florida’s small businesses and coastal communities who face environmental and economic damages as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On Thursday, she traveled to Pensacola to meet with area business owners and officials at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center. While there, CFO Sink heard from many of the area’s small businesses who said they are suffering lost business due to cancellations as a result of the oil spill, and she committed to keep urging state and federal officials to make access to credit immediately available and to demand answers from BP.
This morning, CFO Sink also received an emergency briefing on local response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill at the Florida Peninsula Incident Command Post in Miami.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday sent a letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward requesting his attendance at the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet on June 8 to provide an explanation of BP’s plans to protect Florida’s economy and environment, and an update on BP’s compensation requests from Florida businesses.
“I can understand your recent comments and that you “want your life back,” I assure you that all of us along the Gulf Coast who have had our livelihoods and our lives disrupted by this disaster want our lives back!” wrote CFO Alex Sink. “We want our marshes, our wetlands, our tourists, we want it all back.
“As a Trustee of our state’s submerged lands, and facing the very real possibility that the Loop Current will reconnect with the spill in less than a week, I am calling on you to appear before the Florida Cabinet’s next meeting on Tuesday, June 8, 2010, to explain your plan to protect Florida’s economy and environment, and provide an update on compensation for Florida businesses.”
CFO Sink spoke to more than 1,000 veterans, family and friends on Monday at the annual Memorial Day Ceremony at the Florida National Cemetery to honor our state and nation’s fallen heroes.
"Today, we honor our fallen soldiers and their families -- you have our eternal gratitude for your brave and enduring sacrifice to protect our nation," said CFO Sink. "We proudly pay tribute to the many who are interred here at the Florida National Cemetery by making sure that their stories of courageous service and sacrifice are passed along to future generations. I also want to take this day to thank all of the brave troops who give of themselves to keep our country safe and free. We are forever in your debt."
Other speakers included Nevin M. Weaver, director of the VA Sunshine Health Care Network, Veterans Integrated Service Networks 8, and Charlene D. Kee, president of the National AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary for 2008-09.
The event, sponsored by the Joint Veterans Committee (JVC), hosted over 1,000 guests who arrived along the Avenue of Flags. These flags were donated to the cemetery by the next of kin of deceased veterans and once draped the caskets or cremation urns of veterans. A gun salute was held along with the posting of colors and Ye Mystic Airkrewe conducted a flyover. The Hernando High School Band provided music.
Florida National Cemetery is located in the Withlacoochee State Forest, approximately 50 miles north of Tampa in Sumter County. The Florida National Cemetery JVC is made up of officially appointed delegates and alternate delegates from each recognized national or state veterans' organization and its auxiliaries, or an organization with a vested interest in the Florida National Cemetery.
The cemetery features a Memorial Pathway lined with a variety of memorials that honor America’s veterans. As of 2003, there were 47 such memorials at Florida National Cemetery, most commemorating soldiers and veterans of 20th-century conflicts.
CFO Sink is reminding Florida homeowners and small business owners to review their insurance policies and make sure they have their financial documents in order now that the 2010 Hurricane Season is here. CFO Sink is urging Floridians to visit the Department of Financial Services (DFS) website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or attend a free DFS Disaster Preparedness workshop to learn more about getting financially prepared.
“Preparing for a hurricane includes protecting your property and your family, but also your pocketbook,” said CFO Sink. “Floridians and small business owners should secure their finances for a hurricane the same way they would secure their homes, leaving no financial windows open to devastation.”
The Atlantic Hurricane Season begins today and continues through the end of November. Weather experts have forecasted an active season. In addition, a recent survey commissioned by the Department of Emergency Management finds that two-thirds of Floridians do not accurately understand their level of risk. Last month, to help Floridians prepare, CFO Sink’s outreach coordinators held or participated in more than 40 free disaster preparedness workshops for homeowners and business owners, and will continue to offer the free workshops through the end of the season.
Property owners need to understand that flood damage is not covered by standard insurance policies, even when the flood is caused by a hurricane. Flood policies are written by the National Flood Insurance Program exclusively. For more information about flood insurance, visit the NFIP Web site at www.floodsmart.gov.
The theme of the Department’s disaster preparedness workshops is “Insure, Secure, Recover,” and feature presentations that walk Floridians through the steps they should take and the questions they should ask their insurance agent to ensure their property and their families are protected. To request an event or to view the schedule of outreach events in your area, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236)
CFO Sink called State Board of Administration (SBA) reforms signed by the Governor on Wednesday long overdue, but also expressed concern that stronger oversight of Florida’s $112 billion pension fund was not included in the final bill.
“I commend the Governor for signing into law reforms that I have been advocating for the last two years, however, the Legislature failed to include what I have consistently said is the most meaningful reform – the expansion of the Board of Trustees to include people with financial experience and expertise,” said CFO Sink. “The buck stops with the Trustees. We do a disservice to our police officers, firefighters, teachers and other state employees who entrust their retirement to our pension fund if we do not have the strongest oversight possible.”
The SBA Reform Bill, House Bill 1307, includes many of the important recommendations that CFO Sink laid out more than two years ago at the start of the 2008 Legislative Session and entitled “Ten Proposals to Strengthen Safeguards over Florida investments.” CFO Sink previously worked to enact many of the reforms passed today, such as required Quarterly Board Meetings for the current SBA trustees, and now these changes will be cemented into law for future Boards.
Reforms passed this session from CFO Sink’s Ten Point Plan include: ethics reforms for investment advisors, managers and members of the Investment Advisory Council, the creation of an audit committee to ensure annual independent audits of FRS financial statements, enhanced reporting at quarterly SBA Board meetings, and strengthening qualifications and performance measures for the SBA executive director.
On Wednesday CFO Sink commended Governor Charlie Crist for signing her Safeguard Our Seniors protections into law, strengthening senior investor fraud laws. This bi-partisan achievement is the culmination of a three-year push by CFO Sink to finally put “alligator teeth” in Florida’s senior investor fraud laws to deter senior scammers. Read more at www.FLSeniors.net.
"Finally, the Legislature and the Governor did the right thing by enacting better protections and harsher penalties against senior scammers," said CFO Sink. "I fought for three years for the Safeguard Our Seniors legislation after meeting with hundreds of senior victims throughout Florida and hearing their heartbreaking stories. This legislation will have a real impact.
“I especially want to commend Senator Mike Bennett, who stood with me for years tirelessly pursuing tougher safeguards for our seniors and getting this bill unanimously passed through the Florida Senate. I also want to credit Representative Maria Sachs, who was able to lead this legislation to victory in the House, and all the members of our bipartisan Safeguard Our Seniors task force."
The Safeguard Our Seniors Act, originally sponsored by Senator Mike Bennett and Representative Maria Sachs enacts the following safeguards:
CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held nearly 400 Safeguard Our Seniors workshops throughout the state during the last two years to help seniors become better informed about how to protect themselves from financial fraud. The programs have helped Florida seniors recover nearly $11.2 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 commended Governor Crist for signing her contracting reform bill, Senate Bill 2386. The contract reform and efficiency bill will implement several of CFO Sink’s recommendations to improve the state’s contracting procedures, increase efficiency, and make sure Floridians’ tax dollars are used more wisely. CFO Sink’s recommendations were based on contracting initiatives within her Department of Financial Services and better efficiencies suggested by her Division of Accounting and Auditing.
“These common-sense reforms will provide for more accountability and transparency in state contracting and I am pleased Governor Crist signed these important reforms into law,” said CFO Sink. “Floridians deserve to get the best deal possible for our tax dollars in the most efficient way possible. That’s no different than how it works in the private sector— these reforms help push our state in a more businesslike direction.”
CFO Sink’s recommendations included in the bill:
CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has already implemented a number of contracting improvements including:
After Governor Crist vetoed HB 5603, which implemented recommendations made by CFO Sink to strengthen the state’s risk management program and reduce workers’ compensation costs to the state, CFO Sink released the following statement:
“This legislation was an important step in holding state agencies accountable and reducing workers’ compensation costs, and I am very disappointed that Governor Crist chose today to favor special interests instead of Florida taxpayers,” said CFO Sink. “In the business world, it’s only practical that you inspect what you expect and do what’s necessary to rein in costs, and these program modifications would have allowed us to do just that.”
Based on CFO Sink’s recommendations, key elements of the legislation (HB 5603) included establishing return-to-work programs for certain state agencies, basing premiums on actual loss experience, and enabling the Division of Risk Management with the responsibility to evaluate state agencies’ risk management programs as well as recommend corrective authority. HB 5603 also contained a provision to curtail the increasing costs of prescription drugs in the workers’ compensation program.
Risk management is responsible for identifying and controlling exposure to loss or injury resulting from the daily operation of Florida’s government. Through the Florida Department of Financial Services, the Division of Risk Management delivers sound, professional guidance to Florida’s 48 state agencies and universities to help control loss and mitigate risk.
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) on Friday announced the arrest of six PIP fraud scammers in Hillsborough County on chargers of insurance fraud after being caught bilking insurance companies out of thousands of dollars and recruiting participants to play a part in a staged accident. Yesterday, DIF detectives arrested John Figuereo, 26, Adriana Casanas, 40, Cindy Greer, 22, Noah Adams, 22, and Damian Sweet, 21, each charged with one count of insurance fraud. Today, detectives made their sixth arrest on Shaun Padgett, 27, for two counts of insurance fraud. “Staged accidents put every Floridian at risk, both physically and financially, and insurance fraud costs us all in the form of higher premiums,” said CFO Sink. “I am taking aggressive action every day to get these scammers off our streets and behind bars where they belong.”
In May 2009, DIF Detective Gloria Fribley-Lykes began investigating Shaun Padgett after receiving a tip from an insurance company. An investigation revealed Padgett knowingly prepared and signed fraudulent health insurance claim forms and received over $15,000 for massage therapy services that were never rendered. Padgett, currently the owner of Padgett Medical Center LLC, turned himself in to the Hillsborough County Jail today and faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
In December 2009, Detective Fribley-Lykes and the Tampa PIP squad also began investigating a staged accident scam. Detectives were able to gain confessions from Casanas, Figuereo, Greer and Adams, who admitted they participated in an intentional vehicle crash. Figuereo, who played the role of a “recruiter” and participant, offered the others “quick cash” to play a part in a staged accident, and following the accident, Geico Insurance paid $12,000 in fraudulent insurance claims. All participants were booked into the Hillsborough County Jail; if convicted, each could face up to two years in prison.
The investigation is ongoing and more arrests are pending.
In the past eleven months, CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud has made 310 PIP fraud-related arrests. The division investigates various forms of insurance fraud relating to health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance policies. Depending on the estimated loss amount, the Department of Financial Services 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 www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.
When couples pledge to remain with each other for better or worse, very few of them actually plan for the worse. Although it is an unpleasant thought, couples should have a plan should a serious, non-lethal injury befall either of the spouses during their lives. In the final installment of this series we will discuss two types of insurance that are useful for protecting income, or assisting in paying assisted living expenses.
Disability Income Insurance – is designed to pay a weekly or monthly income for a specific period of time if a consumer suffers a disability and cannot continue or obtain work. The disability may involve sickness, injury or a combination of the two. The chances of a disability occurring are even greater than death and can affect the income of a married couple for an extended period of time. Disabilities occur every second of every day – over 85,000 disabilities occur each day.
When buying a disability policy, consumers should research the company’s definition of disability and the requirements that must be met, especially whether the company requires “own occupation” (the inability to perform the material and substantial duties of your regular occupation) or any occupation (because of sickness or injury you are unable to perform the material and substantial duties of your occupation, and are not engaged in any other occupation). This affects the circumstances under which benefits will be paid. Individual and group disability income policies must provide coverage for a policyholder or eligible dependent who becomes disabled. Disability income information is discussed in the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Consumer Services Health Insurance brochure, http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/Health/docs/health_2008.pdf.
Disability income insurance generally consists of two types; short term (a year or less) and long term (usually to age 65 or life). Most plans have an exclusion or waiting period. The longer the exclusion period, the lower the premiums can be. Most plans coordinate with Social Security in the event Social Security Disability is applied for and approved. If a consumer is applying for Social Security Disability, the consumer may wish to have the estimated amount withheld from the monthly benefit. If Social Security is approved and no deductions were withheld, the consumer may have to repay a substantial sum to the disability carrier.
Additionally, consumers should research the company from which they are considering purchasing coverage to make sure that they have a strong record of paying disability claims.
Long Term Care Insurance (LTC) – is a type of insurance developed specifically to cover the costs of long-term care services, most of which are not covered by traditional health insurance or Medicare. These include services in the home such as assistance with activities of daily living as well as care in a variety of facility and community settings.
There is a great deal of choice and flexibility in long-term care insurance policies. Long-term care insurance policies have a specific benefit period or benefit amount such as a daily benefit amount, as well as a lifetime benefit maximum, which is the total amount of time or total amount of dollars up to which benefits will be paid. Common benefit periods for long-term care policies are two, three, four, and five years, and lifetime or unlimited coverage. Most policies translate these time periods into dollar amounts and do not actually limit the number of days for which they will pay for care – just the overall dollar amount that the policy will pay.
Consumers who choose a daily benefit amounts (generally from $50 to $500/day) receive that daily amount for LTC expenses. Often you can choose whether you want the policy to pay the same daily benefit amount for care in all settings, or whether you want the policy to pay less for care in less costly settings, such as home care. Consumers who select a Maximum Lifetime Benefit, (i.e. $100,000 or $300,000) which is the total amount of money that may be paid for allowed charges for covered services and may correspond to a period of time such as 2, 3, 5 years, or an unlimited period of time, will receive a lump sum amount. DFS Division of Consumer Services has a brochure at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/Guides/Health/docs/LongTermCare2009.pdf.
It may be worthwhile to note that Long Term Care Insurance is not appropriate for everyone and that a new Federal option may also be in the future.
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 announced on Friday the emergency suspension of a North Miami Beach public adjuster’s license after he allegedly misappropriated over $34,000 of homeowners’ claims payments.
Abraham Blumberg, 34, president of National Loss Consultants, Inc., repeatedly misappropriated homeowners’ claims payments in the past year from six different Florida insurance consumers. Blumberg withheld in total over $34,000 of Florida consumers’ funds after receiving payment from various companies including Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (“Citizens”).
“Mr. Blumberg’s actions have deprived these homeowners of the necessary funds to perform repairs on their homes,” said CFO Sink. “I will not allow a public adjuster to conduct business in the state of Florida without the highest standards of honesty and integrity.”
On February 2, 2010, Citizens contacted the Florida Department of Financial Services indicating that they were receiving telephone calls from insureds where they had issued claim settlement checks, which had been cashed, but the insureds were not receiving their portion of the claim settlement. CFO Sink’s Division of Agent and Agency Services immediately investigated the allegations. Visits to National Loss Consultants revealed it was closed, telephone numbers disconnected, and nobody could be found nor the consumers’ funds.
While the majority of insurance professionals licensed in the state of Florida adhere to a strict code of professional conduct, it is important to verify the licensure of all insurance agents and adjusters before retaining them to perform financial services on your behalf. It is also important to keep accurate records of your insurance claims information and when you suspect deceptive practices by an agent or adjuster do not hesitate to call the Florida Department of Financial Services for assistance.
CFO Alex Sink encourages all Florida insurance consumers to “Verify Before You Buy” by visiting www.MyFloridaCFO.com. Consumers who have questions about public adjusters can call CFO Sink’s Consumer Helpline at 1-850-413-3089 or 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (877-693-5236).
For the past several weeks, Floridians have been holding their breath and hoping upon hope that the disaster in the Gulf would not have a disastrous impact on Florida. With each day that passes, it appears our luck literally depends on the winds and the waves.
Now more than ever, Floridians need to come together and support one another. We need to support Florida businesses, big and small. We need to spend a little extra time in the grocery store and find the foods and produce that comes from Florida farmers.
Support small businesses by taking your family on a mini one-tank vacation and explore some of the small towns and cities in our great state. Start your Christmas shopping early and help your budget by spending a little at a time on gifts, while helping support small businesses at the same time.
For ideas on where to go and things to see, go to VISIT Florida’s website at http://www.visitflorida.com.
Florida Housing Help assists homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or may be facing mortgage fraud issues.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010 Florida Housing Help - Free Legal Clinic, War on Poverty-Florida (inside Gateway Mall), Gateway Mall, 5196-A Norwood Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32208 from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 19, 2010 Englewood Neighborhood Center, 6123 La Costa Drive, Orlando, FL 32807 from 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 19, 2010 Glasser Schoenbaum Center, 1750 17th Street Building J, Sarasota FL 34234 from 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Monday, June 21, 2010 The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 N. 22nd Street, Tampa Florida 33613 from 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, June 26, 2010 Beaver Street Enterprise, 1225 W. Beaver Street, Jacksonville, FL 32204 8:00 a.m. - Noon
For more workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.
Many people could improve their personal finances if they simply viewed their family money issues like a business would.
Get a version of personal finance software costing anywhere from free to about $40 online and start plugging in your numbers. View your income and expenses in an organized manner. Effective money management helps you control and have a plan for your money. On the computer, the numbers will start to look like an official financial statement.
Track your spending habits to see where the money goes. Generate reports by category or payers/payees, and you can show the results as pie charts. Create and manage budgets and set budget limits for each category to track the difference between actual and budgeted values. Access your bank and consumer accounts online and track the performance of your investments.
Thinking about your finances in the terms of a business makes sense. Putting together a report each month like a business is an important part of being the CFO of your family. Preparing the report helps you consider your progress and publishing the reports helps you stay accountable for your expenses.
The National Park Service is offering free admission to over 100 parks this weekend, June 5-6. Florida options include Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Canaveral National Seashore, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and Gulf Islands National Seashore.
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 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 so that you can learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.
Friday, June 11, 2010 Englewood Elks Lodge # 2378, 401 N. Indiana Ave. Englewood 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Thursday June 17, 2010 Wakulla County Senior Center, 33 Michael Drive, Crawfordville from 10:45 a.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Friday, July 23, 2010 Suncoast Hospice, 5771 Roosevelt Boulevard, Clearwater Florida 33760, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.