Volume 7 Number 36 September 3, 2010
Our Gulf businesses and communities had yet another scare on Thursday when another oil rig exploded in the Gulf. While I am relieved that all of the workers were rescued quickly, and although this incident appears to be different than the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, it is yet another reminder that drilling accidents can and do happen. Companies like Mariner and BP must have the equipment and plans in place to protect not only the Gulf, but also its residents and businesses who rely on the ocean and the beaches for their way of life.
I am also extremely disappointed that the Florida Legislature decided this week to yet again turn its back on Floridians still suffering economic losses from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The lingering consequences of Deepwater Horizon, coupled with this week’s oil rig explosion, make it clear that we must protect our state from risky near-beach drilling.
State of Florida
Urging Florida residents to remain vigilant as National Preparedness Month kicks off and two named storms, Earl and Fiona, threaten the southern United States, Florida CFO Alex Sink launched a new disaster preparedness video at www.MyFloridaCFO.com to provide timely information Floridians can use to protect their families and their homes.
Entitled “Insure, Secure, Recover,” the nine-minute video was produced entirely by CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services and is offered in addition to a host of free on-line information, including the Homeowner’s Financial Toolkit. In addition, the department’s outreach coordinators can provide free disaster preparation workshops and presentations for groups and organizations, and may already be offering free workshops in your region.
A Calendar of Events is also available online.
“As we have seen in the past few days with extensive activity in the Atlantic, storms can come quickly and every Floridian must take steps to be prepared should a storm impact our state,” said CFO Sink. “September historically has been a very active month for storms, and now is the time to make final preparations.”
The preparedness video provides key financial and insurance tips such as:
CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has provided more than 160 Disaster Preparedness workshops since hurricane season began on June 1, and the workshops will be offered through the end of hurricane season on November 30. 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).
Florida CFO Alex Sink announced on Monday that she has directed her Bureau of Auditing to perform a comprehensive audit of the Department of Management Services’ fixed capital outlay project for the construction of the new First District Court of Appeals courthouse.
Following a St. Petersburg Times investigative piece that dubbed the project Florida’s ‘Taj Mahal,’ CFO Sink ordered a preliminary review of documentation to support payments for the project, which found cause for an audit. CFO Sink detailed plans for the audit in a letter to DMS Secretary Linda South today.
“As CFO, I have worked on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers to reform state contracting procedures to increase transparency and accountability,” said CFO Sink. “If the Legislature approved the spending of scarce state funds on palatial accommodations at a single courthouse, the people of Florida have a right to know how this situation came about and just how much it’s costing them.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday sponsored a Cabinet resolution honoring Dr. William P. Foster, who served as Director of Bands at Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU) for more than 50 years and transformed the university’s “Marching 100” into one of the nation’s most iconic marching bands.
“All Floridians should honor and take pride in Dr. Foster’s contributions to FAMU and the world of music,” said CFO Sink. “His accomplished career as a musician and music educator will live on in his compositions and many accolades, and especially when the famous ‘Marching 100’ performs!”
In June 1946, with 16 members, Foster became Director of Bands at FAMU and created what is today known as “The Most Imitated Marching Band in America.” The Marching 100 has performed on some of the world’s biggest stages – for Super Bowls, Olympics and before foreign dignitaries – and has appeared in three United States presidential inaugural parades for Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
At the age of 12, Foster began learning to play the clarinet, and his music education continued as he earned a Bachelor of Music Education Degree from the University of Kansas in 1941 and his Master of Arts in Music Degree from Wayne State University in 1950. Foster was then a fellow of the Rosenwald General Education Board at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, earning a Doctor of Education Degree with a major in Music in 1955, and received the honorary Doctor of Human Letters Degree in 1998 from FAMU.
Foster authored the textbook Band Pageantry, which is considered to be “the bible” for marching bands, and is the composer of Marche Brillante, National Honor March, March Continental and Centennial Celebration. He has been inducted in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the National Association for Distinguished Band Conductors Hall of Fame, the Florida Music Educators Association Hall of Fame and the Afro-American Hall of Fame; and has also served as national president of the American Bandmasters Association and the College Band Directors National Association.
Foster passed away last week and is survived by his sons Anthony and William Jr. and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A memorial service is being held Friday evening at FAMU in his honor.
In recognition of September as National Sickle Cell awareness month, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to advise consumers on health insurance coverage options for consumers with pre-existing conditions.
Sickle cell anemia is a complex genetic disorder that affects 1 in 5,000 Americans in the U.S., typically of African American decent. The disease is characterized by red blood cells that assume an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. The abnormalities found in the red blood cells can cause numerous chronic and potentially lethal complications in individuals suffering from the disease. This is also known as a sickle cell crisis. In most patients, a crisis can last five to seven days.
Sickle cell anemia is often diagnosed during early childhood, in some cases as early as six months. Studies have shown that patients with sickle cell anemia have a much lower life expectancy than average for Americans: 42 years for men and 48 years for women. Having sickle cell anemia can cause problems for consumers attempting to obtain adequate health insurance coverage, given that it may be deemed a pre-existing condition by some insurance companies. Sickle cell anemia requires comprehensive care that could become costly over time. Consumers with the disease should be aware of their current coverage options and new options that will be made available to them. Consumers that have sickle cell anemia or any other pre-existing condition should make note of the following:
PCIP will cover a broad range of health benefits, including primary and specialty care, hospital care, and prescription drugs. All covered benefits are available, even if it’s to treat a pre-existing condition.
For more information regarding pre-existing health care coverage options consumers should visit www.healthcare.gov, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Consumers that have any additional questions regarding health care coverage for sickle cell anemia or any other pre-existing condition 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 and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink’s Bureau of Forensic Fire & Explosives Analysis (BFFEA) Investigations has received the prestigious honor of full international accreditation status from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board International (ASCLD/LAB-International). The Bureau qualified for the highly prized recognition of law enforcement excellence after meeting 380 standards and criteria applicable for a forensic laboratory seeking accreditation.
“This honor demonstrates the hard work and professionalism of our Forensic Fire & Explosives Analysis Bureau, as they join the ranks of top forensic labs across the nation,” said CFO Sink. “I commend our State Fire Marshal lab members who worked diligently to obtain this greatly deserved and prestigious honor.”
“With guidance from Deputy CFO Brian London, SFM Director Julius Halas and Bureau Chief Carl Chasteen, the members of the lab should be very proud of this accomplishment because they are an integral part of being accredited,” said ASCLAD/Lab-International Executive Director Ralph Keaton, who presented the Bureau with the official accreditation certificate yesterday morning. “The superb processes they follow is the ultimate goal. You have well trained and tested staff.”
“There are many people to thank for reaching this milestone. I am very proud of our lab members who work so diligently and assist our Bureau of Fire & Arson, along with local fire departments in processing evidence from arson cases and determining what caused the arson,” said SFM Division Director Julius Halas. “Not only did they meet the goal of gaining this accreditation, but they completed it ahead of their desired time frame.”
The accreditation lasts five years, with annual site visits.
A growing number of the unemployed are exhausting their extended Cobra health-insurance subsidies, eligibility for which expired at the end of May. There's a slim chance that Congress could extend the 65%, 15-month subsidy again this fall, but most experts think it's unlikely due to mounting concerns about federal spending.
As a result, more unemployed, and workers facing reduced hours and wages, are contacting online providers of health-insurance information about less-costly alternatives.
The subsidy, through a temporary payroll-tax credit for employers, helped make coverage affordable for many involuntarily terminated workers to continue under their former employers' group health-insurance plans. Without it, continuing insurance under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act generally requires the dismissed worker to pick up the total cost of their premium plus a 2% fee.
Group health-insurance premiums under Cobra average $1,100 per month for family coverage without the subsidy, but $385 with it, says the U.S. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality. The average enrollment rate in Cobra rose to 37% between March 2009 and May 2010, the period when people were eligible for the subsidy. (Workers who lost their jobs starting June 1, 2010, aren't eligible to receive the subsidy, though they still can enroll in Cobra.) In May, Cobra enrollment stood at 33%, says Hewitt Associates, a human-resources consultant.
Cobra-eligible workers can continue to participate in their employers' plans up to the usual 18 months, or longer in some circumstances, once the subsidy ends. But many say they can't afford the full premiums.
In Florida, uninsured children may be eligible for coverage through the Healthy Kids Program. The program serves as a source of funds by collecting local, state, federal, and family money to pay premiums to commercial health insurers who underwrite the risk. Families who would otherwise be unable to afford the desired coverage can obtain it while paying only a portion of the premium. Coverage can insure services ranging from preventive care to major surgery. You may apply online at www.healthykids.org or call them toll free at 1-888-540-5437.
Another helpful source for uninsured individuals is the Agency for Health Care Administrations website, FloridaHealthFinder.gov. The Agency for Health Care Administration compiled an extensive list and their related web links to resources for medical help.
For additional questions about health insurance you may call our Consumer Helpline at 1-877-693-5236.
In July, the federal government launched its own health-insurance information portal at HealthCare.gov, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The website, which has had more than one million visitors, offers information about public and private insurance providers in all states, including Medicaid, Medicare and veterans' programs. But pricing and benefit data are sketchy. More detailed information will be added in October, according to HHS officials, as well as more information about state and federal high-risk pools for those with pre-existing conditions.
For more information on Cobra go to www.dol.gov, the website of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Money’s tight and nearly everyone uses coupons these days. According to one survey, buyers redeemed 3.3 billion coupons in 2009. That's up from 2.6 billion in 2008. The use of online coupons has increased and in some stores digital coupons can now be scanned at checkout from a smart phone.
September is National Coupon Month. One place to find coupons is still the local newspaper, but online sources make the search easy and can be targeted directly to your needs. Signing up for email notification from a retailer is an efficient way to get your discounts – a favorite bookstore sends a 33 percent off coupon every week – enough savings to entice the buyer back to the store often.
Today´s shopper has a keen eye on value. The average family can save at least $1,000 per year by spending just 20 minutes a week seeking coupons, savings and deals from a variety of sources. Consider these practical tips to spend less and get more:
1. Share savings with a friend: People are passionate about scoring great deals and word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to find deals. What better source than a trusted friend!
2. Seek savings in print and online: The greatest savings are by clipping print coupons and clicking and printing online coupons. Search for coupon codes or free shipping offers for all of your online purchases.
3. Organize your coupons: Sort coupons the way you walk through the store - putting those expiring first in front. The average expiration of a coupon in the first half of 2010 was 9.5 weeks.
4. Stock up on sale items: When you see an item on special that you use regularly, or a savings is featured with your loyalty card and you have a coupon, stock up.
5. Easy access: Create a coupon envelope that lives in — and is always returned to — the car of the family´s main shopper so you can always be ready to save.
6. Plan meals around savings: Plan your meals at the same time as reviewing coupon offers. Many savvy cooks create meal plans based on what the stores advertise that week.
7. Double your savings: If your favorite retailer offers double coupon values, shop those days.
8. Do your savings homework: Consumer research indicates big ticket purchases require research.
9. Call manufacturer 800 numbers: 35 percent of manufacturers send coupons only upon request.
10. Eat for free: Full service chain restaurants continue to offer some pretty sweet deals in the form of kids-eat-free promotions.
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.
Florida CFO Alex Sink urges Floridians to recognize "National Preparedness Month" throughout September by making sure families, households and businesses have plans in place in the event of an emergency or disaster. Consumer guides, planning materials, and resources are available at www.MyFloridaCFO.com in both English and Spanish.
Citizens should be informed about emergency plans where family spends time: work, daycare and school. If no plan exists, consider volunteering to help create one. Prepare your children by talking to them about what they would need to do in an emergency.
For the business community, business continuity planning should account for all hazards (both natural and man-made disasters). Businesses should be planning in advance to manage any emergency situation. Owners should have steps in place to safeguard their assets and property, and be aware of available resources to care for co-workers and employees and the recovery of the business. This means knowing what resources are available in your local community ahead of time.
The Florida Department of Financial Services offers consumer guides, planning materials and resources at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Groups and organizations can arrange for a disaster preparedness presentation by contacting the Division of Consumer Outreach at (850) 413-3089. Information on National Preparedness Month can be found at www.ready.gov. Floridians may also reach the department at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO which provides service in Spanish as well as English.
Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness event will be in your area on our Calendar of Events. Check back with us next week for more ideas.
Every day, hundreds of Floridians fall victim to financial fraud. Many of these victims are trusting seniors who were misled by unscrupulous agents and scam artists into making risky or inappropriate financial investments, including annuities and reverse mortgages. 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.