Volume 7 Number 30 July 23, 2010
This week, I witnessed the failure of the Florida Legislature to be in tune with the needs of Floridians. They opted to play political games rather than provide much needed leadership in a historically short special session. Even more disappointing than not giving you a voice on near-beach oil drilling, is the legislative leadership’s claim that they need more time to come up with relief proposals for our Gulf Coast communities and small businesses.
I have been working with the people of Northwest Florida throughout the more than 90 days of this disaster and know that our small business owners don’t have any time to spare -- every day that passes is one day they are closer to going out of business. It isn’t fair to them, and it isn’t good for Florida’s economy, to postpone the relief they so desperately need. I have outlined suggestions that I believe would offer real relief for impacted Floridians and I will continue to aggressively fight on their behalf until they receive the assistance they deserve.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink issued the following statement this week after House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater further delayed relief to small business owners and residents affected by the Gulf oil disaster, opting not to address relief measures during the special session on Tuesday.
“Today the Florida Legislature showed a stunning lack of leadership on an economic issue impacting hundreds of thousands of Floridians,” said CFO Alex Sink. “For over a month, I’ve been calling for incentives that only the Florida Legislature can enact and specific actions that put money directly into the pockets of those affected by this disaster. It’s clear proof of the failure of leadership in Tallahassee that these common-sense solutions fell on deaf ears. Floridians have already suffered for three months -- they should not have to wait two more months for relief that the legislature can provide now. Not only did the Florida Legislature tell business owners on the brink of bankruptcy to wait another two months for action, they showed no faith in the people of Florida to govern themselves.”
View CFO Alex Sink’s press conference from Tuesday morning demanding action from the Florida Legislature: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjxsr_GJFTQ&feature=player_embedded
For more than a month CFO Alex Sink has been calling for the special session to include relief for small business owners. Earlier this week, CFO Sink sent a letter to House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater outlining incentives, claims changes, and environmental initiatives necessary to protect Florida’s economy for inclusion in the July 20-23 special session. CFO Sink was the first statewide leader to call for a constitutional amendment to ban near shore oil drilling.
Florida CFO Alex Sink this week called on the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Dr. Ben Bernanke to host a town hall meeting in Pensacola with the Florida Bankers Association, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), local bankers and small business owners to promote an understanding of how regulators and banks can work together to handle the economic impact of the Gulf Oil Spill and improve access to credit to strengthen small businesses in Northwest Florida.
“Florida businesses and banks are hurting, and we need all of our regulators to understand the issues, to work together and to work with us,” wrote CFO Alex Sink. “I would be delighted to work with the Florida Bankers Association and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) to host a town hall meeting in Pensacola so that Gulf Coast businesses, bankers and their field regulators could understand what’s needed to work effectively to mitigate further damage to their economy.”
This week, Florida CFO Alex Sink announced a new tool created by her Division of Workers’ Compensation that allows injured employees to estimate their wage replacement benefits when injured on the job. The new calculators can be used by anyone, are highly interactive and will assist injured employees in understanding how temporary disability and impairment benefits are determined.
“I applaud the Division for creating a proactive tool and making it available to all Floridians through their website to assist injured employees in their time of need,” said CFO Sink. “I encourage all citizens to visit the website and learn more about the process.”
To access the calculators go to: http://www.myfloridacfo.com/wc/employee/calculator.html. The calculators also include links to relevant sections in Chapter 440, F.S., and Rule 69L, F.A.C. that further educate injured employees on wage replacement benefits.
CFO Sink’s Division of Workers’ Compensation has conducted nearly 30,000 onsite investigations into employer compliance this fiscal year. For additional information about the calculation of benefits, please contact the Bureau of Employee Assistance and Ombudsman Office at 1-800-342-1741 or email@example.com.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Wednesday asked the President & CEO of Enterprise Florida, Inc., requesting that Enterprise Florida, Inc. revise their Northwest Florida 2010-2015 Roadmap to Florida’s Future to address the economic effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“Enterprise Florida can, and I believe should, play a key role in helping reshape and rebuild the Northwest Florida economy,” wrote CFO Alex Sink. “I urge you to closely examine prospects for economic development along our Gulf Coast, as well as opportunities to attract new industries to the area to help our neighbors pick up the pieces and rebuild the Northwest Florida economy once again.”
This week, CFO Sink sent a letter to Kenneth Feinberg, the Independent Claims Facility Administrator for BP’s Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill, requesting that Feinberg clarify his position on whether individuals or business owners will be required to waive their legal right to additional compensation in order to receive payment of their claims.
“With millions of gallons of oil discharged in the Gulf of Mexico, the people who live and work along the Gulf Coast cannot know with any certainty today what the full extent of their damages may be in the future,” said CFO Alex Sink. “In order to ensure that the claims process is fair, the payment of any Floridian’s claim, including a final claim, should not be conditioned on the waiver of the claimant’s rights under state or federal law.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink issued the following statement following the results of an independent review she requested of WellCare’s accounting for medical expenses under the Healthy Kids contract. The independent review has revealed that an additional $2.1 million withheld by WellCare is owed to the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.
“The independent review that I called for clearly shows that WellCare manipulated Florida’s Healthy Kids program and overbilled the state by millions — money that was meant to help children in need,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I have asked that Healthy Kids bring these findings to the attention of the Department of Justice and the Monitor under the WellCare Deferred Prosecution Agreement, to make sure that Florida Healthy Kids receives the payments it deserves and the scope of the scheme is fully understood.”
WellCare has entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement which requires their consent to a civil forfeiture of $40 million and the payment of an additional $40 million to the Florida Medicaid and Healthy Kids program.
Gulf Coast residents are the latest targets of a malicious email phishing scam. Targets have received emails that claim to have originated from BP headquarters in London and are signed by someone purporting to be BP CEO Tony Hayward. The email promises the recipient a grant of $500,000 if they respond to the email and provide personal information.
These emails are the latest in a series of attempts to take advantage of residents affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Floridians are advised to take precautions when receiving emails as well as other requests for personal information. If you receive something that you believe is questionable contact the Department’s Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).
Navigating the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is difficult for individual consumers and can be just as difficult for small business owners. In previous installments of this series the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate has addressed the various benefits and tools that will become available to consumers. In this edition, we focus on small businesses and the benefits those small business owners and employees can expect in the coming years.
Under the PPACA, nearly four million small businesses could qualify for a small business tax credit this year. That equates to $40 billion in relief for small businesses over the next 10 years. The following are some of the requirements small businesses must meet to receive the tax credit.
In addition to the tax credit, small businesses will benefit from administrative simplification. This simplification ensures that all small businesses, health plans, physicians, hospitals, and patients are using the same terminology. This simplification is expected to save businesses many employee hours, which are currently lost to an inefficient system. The PPACA requires that the standard operating rules for eligibility and claims status be adopted and fully implemented by July 1, 2011. These benefits include:
Beginning in 2014, small businesses with up to 100 employees will have access to the state-based Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Exchanges, which will increase the purchasing power of small businesses. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Exchanges will reduce costs and increase competitive pressure on insurers and drive down premiums by up to four percent for small businesses. The following are some of the accompanying changes that small businesses can expect:
For more information regarding the impact of the PPACA on small businesses, consumers should visit http://www.sba.gov/healthcarereform/index.html.
As more information becomes available and additional changes become effective, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will generate advisories regarding their effect on consumers and small businesses. More information regarding the PPACA can be found on the Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate’s website at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ica/federalhealthcare.asp.
Florida consumers with claims against Smart Data Solutions (SDS), American Trade Association (ATA), and Serve America Assurance (SAA) must submit proof of claims by August 31, 2010. These entities sold unauthorized, or unlicensed, health insurance in numerous states and are now in liquidation in Tennessee.
Consumers should file a completed Proof of Claim prior to 4:30 p.m., Central Time, August 31, 2010. A completed Proof of Claim must be received by August 31, 2010, for a claim to be considered. A completed Proof of Claim must include a Completed Proof of Claim form, a W-9 form and documentation to substantiate the claim.
Inquiries concerning the status of liquidation may be directed to:
1. Mail to ATA/SDS/SAA in Liquidation, P.O. Box 282189, Nashville, TN 37228.
2. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Call 1-800-591-6764.
For more information, go to www.americantradeliquidation.com or contact the Florida Department of Financial Services Consumer Helpline at (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) or visit our website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Mobile homes are vulnerable to wind-storm related damage, so securing your home from the bottom up can greatly increase your chances of mitigating damage. Take time now to strengthen any weak areas. Hurricane damage and destruction can be caused by various structural problems, but here are a few tips to consider:
For more information on specific retrofitting measures/products, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/understandCoverage.htm.
Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness Event will be in your area on our calendar linked here. Check back with us next week for more ideas.
If you’re looking for a job, you may see ads for firms that promise results. Many of these firms may be legitimate and helpful, but others may misrepresent their services, promote out-dated or fictitious job offerings, or charge high fees in advance for services that may not lead to a job.
Be aware that some listing services and “consultants” write their ads to sound like they are jobs when they’re selling general information about getting a job. Be skeptical of any employment-service firm that charges you a fee first, even if it guarantees refunds. Reject any company that promises to get you a job.
Get a copy of the firm’s contract and read it carefully before you pay any money. Understand the terms and conditions of the firm’s refund policy. Make sure you understand what services the firm will provide and what you’ll be responsible for doing. If verbal promises are made, but don’t appear in the contract, think twice about doing business with the firm.
Take your time reading the contract. Don’t be caught up in a rush to pay for services. Stay away from high-pressure sales pitches that require you to pay now or risk losing out on an opportunity. Be cautious about purchasing services or products from a firm that’s reluctant to answer your questions.
Follow up with a company or organization mentioned in an ad or an interview by an employment service to find out if the company is really hiring. Be wary of firms promoting “previously undisclosed” federal government jobs. All federal positions are announced to the public on www.usajobs.gov.
Check with your local consumer protection agency and Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed about a company with which you intend to do business. You also may contact these organizations if you have a problem with an employment-service firm.
The Florida Housing Help website can help connect struggling Floridians who may be at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or may be facing mortgage fraud issues with assistance. For a schedule of workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, read the Florida Housing Help Calendar.
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.
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services hosted Safeguard Our Seniors workshops in Fort Walton Beach and Destin this past week as part of CFO Sink’s ongoing statewide initiative to protect seniors from financial fraud through education and increased awareness.
The Department of Financial Services was joined by a local victim of financial fraud who told her story, along with representatives from the department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services, the Division of Insurance Fraud and the Division of Consumer Services.
Over the last two years, CFO Sink’s Department ofFinancial Services has held more than 400 Safeguard Our Seniors events throughout the state to teach how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.