FLORIDA CFO ALEX SINK'S CONSUMER EVIEWS NEWSLETTER

Volume 7 Number 39 September 24, 2010

HOME


Dear Floridian:

In this week’s eViews, I hope you take a moment to read about the brave public servants who work in our communities as volunteer firefighters. As Florida’s CFO I also serve as the State Fire Marshal, and in the past week our Division of State Fire Marshal teamed up with the Florida Fire and Emergency Services Foundation and fire departments throughout the state to offer free training to our state’s volunteer firefighters. The participants learned valuable skills like vehicle extrication, which could be life-saving in an emergency situation.

I extend my gratitude to all of the volunteer firefighter weekend participants, and to all of the law enforcement officials who put their lives on the line and learn valuable skills to keep our communities safe.

Sincerely,

Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Alex Sink Announces Arrest of Owner of Suncoast Physicians Health Plan, Inc.

Providing Fraudulent Documentation to State Sends S. Florida Man to Jail

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday announced the arrest of Kenneth Feldman, 62, founder of Suncoast Physicians Health Plan, Inc., on one first-degree felony charge for filing false financial statements with the Office of Insurance Regulation. As a result of the various transactions, over $600,000 listed as available cash or other liquid assets in the company’s financial statements were, in fact, unavailable. Feldman was arrested in Tallahassee and booked into the Leon County Jail; if convicted, he faces up to 30 years behind bars.

“When insurance companies become insolvent, their policyholders are at extreme risk of not having their claims paid,” said CFO Sink. “I commend the work of my Divisions of Insurance Fraud and Rehabilitation and Liquidation, as well as the Office of Insurance Regulation, and I hope this arrest serves as an example to all that we will not tolerate acts of insurance fraud in this state.”

The Divisions of Insurance Fraud (DIF) and Rehabilitation and Liquidation (DRL), along with assistance from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) partnered to secure Feldman's arrest after he allegedly provided false information to OIR about the company’s financial condition by shuffling money between his different companies to create the appearance of a cash infusion in Suncoast. The arrest occurred after the Division of Insurance Fraud’s Major Case Squad determined Feldman perpetrated the scam in an effort to keep his company from going into receivership.

In April 2007 an OIR financial specialist discovered the company had insufficient funds in its reserve as required by Florida law. One week later Feldman was notified that the company was required to deposit funds into its accounts in order to comply with the minimum amounts required by statute and avoid a receivership. In response to OIR’s demand, in May 2007 Feldman directed a “circular transaction” of funds - taking approximately $225,000 directly from Suncoast Physicians’ account(s), he funneled the money through the bank accounts of two other companies under his control, then had the same $225,000 amount redeposited into Suncoast Physicians’ accounts.

Suncoast Physicians Health Plan went into receivership for purposes of liquidation in August 2007. The Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) was appointed as Receiver of the company, thereby giving DFS full access to the company’s records. The discrepancies in the previously filed company paperwork were discovered when the company went into receivership. DIF’s Major Case Squad investigators followed the money trail which revealed the May 2007 transactions and also revealed that Feldman had performed the same “circular transaction” with regard to funds in March and April of 2007.

Feldman is currently being held at the Leon County Jail awaiting bond.


Fifth Annual Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend A Success!

Volunteer firefighters from across Florida came together at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida, for a weekend of training. Thanks to the support of the State Fire Marshal, the Florida Fire and Emergency Services Foundation, several vendors and local fire departments, the training was offered at no cost in an effort to assist the hundreds of volunteer firefighters learn up-to-date training and techniques. Instructors, volunteering their time, came from all areas of the state.

“We had over 230 registered students and instructors. There were classes as short as two hours and up to 40 hours. We certainly appreciate the continued support from State Fire Marshal Alex Sink,” said Charlie Frank, president of the event committee. “While firefighting can be a dangerous occupation, we strive to make it as safe as possible through our training efforts.”

Many volunteers shared their appreciation for the training. Scott Simmons with the Skyline Fire Department, pictured coming out of the burn building, described his experience, “It was awesome getting to see the fire behavior that we talk about in the classroom setting and still be in a safe surrounding.”

Stacy Brown from the Valparaiso Volunteer Fire Department had a much cooler training experience. He took a step from the side of the pool and learned how to use his bunker gear and breathing apparatus as flotation devices. Brown stated, “I was amazed at how easy it was to float with the gear on once I learned to relax.”

Doug Harrell from the Westside Fire Department in Blountstown has been a volunteer firefighter for 18 years and said he was pleased to learn a number of new procedures for vehicle extrication. There were many positive comments about the weekend event. CFO Sink sent a letter of thanks to all the volunteer firefighters, telling each attendee, “You take on a large responsibility by volunteering your time and efforts in addition to your professional and personal lives and we salute and thank you for that.”

As the weekend came to a close, President Frank and the event staff were already starting to plan next year’s event.


Floridians Should Be Watchful of Tropical Storm Matthew

After making landfall around 11 a.m. Friday in Nicaragua, the new track from the National Weather Center took Tropical Storm Matthew inland, passing over the Yucatan mostly as a rain storm and never reaching hurricane strength. At this time the long-term forecast remains uncertain.

It is too early to tell if Matthew or any other developing system will have a direct impact on Florida.

For more information on steps you can take to be prepared for a disaster visit our website www.MyFloridaCFO.com/consumers/storm.


Florida Housing Help: Assistance for Families Facing Foreclosure

Florida Housing Help, a community outreach program, is designed to educate and assist families facing foreclosure. Workshops offered will include opportunities to meet with mortgage lenders and HUD-certified counselors.

Details on CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative and a calendar of upcoming Florida Housing Help events can be found at: http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaHousingHelp.


The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate Recognizes Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

In recognition of September as National Gynecologic Cancer Awareness month, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to provide consumers with information regarding gynecologic cancers and insurance coverage.

Gynecologic cancers are cancers that affect a woman’s reproductive system. There are five main gynecologic cancers: cervical, uterine, vaginal, ovarian, and vulvar. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2006, 76,515 women were told that they had a gynecologic cancer, and 27,848 died from a gynecologic cancer. Consumers should note that all women are at risk for these cancers and risk increases with age.

The CDC notes that, of all the gynecologic cancers, only cervical cancer has a screening test—the Pap test—that can find this cancer early when treatment can be most effective. The Pap test also helps prevent cervical cancer by finding precancerous cells. Cell changes on the cervix may become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. Because no other gynecologic cancers have a screening test, consumers should learn the symptoms and seek guidance from an OB/GYN.

The good news is that under provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, effective on September 23, 2010, women have the right to choose their OB/GYN and insurers are prohibited from requiring prior authorization or referral from the primary care provider for a female patient to receive care from an OB/GYN. Additionally, preventive care services, such as PAP tests, will no longer be subject to the policy’s copayment or deductible provisions (NOTE: this applies to new policies and previously issued group policies that lose their “grandfathered” status when the employer or other plan sponsor makes changes in the policy’s coverage.)

Consumers should contact their insurer or their employer’s insurance plan administrator to obtain any additional information regarding changes to their specific policy.

More information regarding PPACA is also available through the Department of Health and Human Services at www.healthcare.gov.

As more information is available and additional changes become effective, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate will generate advisories regarding their effect on consumers. More information regarding the PPACA can be found on the website of the Insurance Consumer Advocate at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/ica/federalhealthcare.asp.

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.


Hurricane Checklist: How Do You Define Disaster?

Planning you probably haven't considered

When most of us hear the term “natural disaster” we think of hurricanes, tornados or earthquakes. What we typically don’t think of is the flu or the H1N1 virus; however, we need to think of all these possibilities as we create disaster plans for our family and/or business.

What would you do if all of your employees contracted H1N1? How would you run your business? How will you care for and protect your family if you get the flu? How will you complete everyday tasks such as shopping for groceries or preparing meals? These are things we all need to consider.

Businesses, business owners, and household leaders can take steps to be proactive and help employees and families. Here are a few steps you can take:

For more information and tips on creating a disaster plan, visit www.ready.gov. For additional disaster tips, visit the DFS web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


Consumer Corner: The Savvy Student - Renters Insurance

You’ve gotten all your textbooks, started classes and settled into your new home away from home. But have you secured your belongings?

Something that lots of students (and parents) forget in the excitement of starting college life is insurance. As a tenant, your personal property is not covered by the landlord’s policy. Getting renters insurance can not only protect you financially if your home is broken into and personal property is stolen, but also if your property is damaged by water from a burst pipe or by an accidental fire from that candle that you lit. Who will pay for the damages to the building or your roommate’s personal property? The simple answer to these questions is insurance! Think of these options when considering renters insurance:

Check with the parents! You may be able to get coverage for your personal property under your parents' homeowners policy but there could be limitations. In order to know the details they need to check with their agent and remember to ask about liability coverage, too.

Bundle up! Go to the insurance company where you already pay for car insurance to see if they also offer a renters policy. That way, it’s a name you trust and you could get a multi-policy discount that will help lower your premiums.

Compare quotes! When calling for a quote, be prepared to provide your address, if it is on or off campus, and if you will have roommates. You also need to give them an estimate of the amount of coverage you need. Take an inventory of everything you brought with you and what it cost. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of this list and also ask your parents to keep one just in case you have to file a claim later on.

Ask! Ask! Ask! You never know how many discounts you may qualify for, such as being a student or a non-smoker. Don’t forget to discuss any special needs you might have. For example, if you have a wheelchair make sure it’s covered. Other examples might be an expensive musical instrument or costly art supplies.

What if? Remember to stay in touch with your agent about any changes that might affect your coverage once it’s in place. What happens if you decide to study abroad for the summer or get a great internship that requires you to use your personal laptop for work? These are both scenarios that can affect the coverage under your policy so ask questions!

Consider leaving any truly irreplaceable items at home. Theft is a common occurrence in college dorms and other student housing areas, impacting on average 1 in 10 students. Consider engraving your name on any electronics or keeping copies of serial numbers to be more easily identifiable as your property if stolen.

To find out more about renters insurance, please visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.


My Family CFO: Is It More Environmentally Friendly to Hand-Wash Dishes or to Use A Dishwasher?

This environmental question is often asked. Dishwashers win the argument if you comply with two simple criteria: Run a dishwasher only when it is full but not overloaded, and don’t rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. So says the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, who also advises not using the dry cycle. The water used in most dishwashers is hot enough to evaporate quickly if the door is left open after the wash and rinse cycles are complete. Scrape the dishes before loading, but do not rinse as many gallons of water are wasted in pre-wash rinsing.

In agreement, the EPA recommends running your dishwasher with a full load and avoiding the inefficient heat-dry, rinse-hold and pre-rinse features. Most of the appliance’s energy used goes to heat the water, and most models use just as much water for smaller loads as for larger ones.

A study by scientists at the University of Bonn found that the dishwasher uses only half the energy, one-sixth of the water, and less soap than hand-washing an identical set of dirty dishes. Even the most sparing and careful washers could not beat the modern dishwasher. The study also found that dishwashers cleaned better with more hygienic results.

One common dishwasher mistake is using too much soap, according to repair and appliance experts. Since dishwashers today are made to use less water, less soap is needed. This would be true of models made since 1994. Most households use many times the amount of dishwasher soap needed, wasting money and adding stress to the machines.

Following the instructions on the soap container is a good first step. Then use less. Experts say half of what is recommended is probably plenty. Don’t expect to see a lot of suds. Soaps today clean efficiently and suds are not indicative of a good job of cleaning.

Another tip for cleaning efficiency is to load the dishwasher properly. Load large items at the sides and back of the dishwasher so that they don’t block water and detergent from reaching other dishes. Place the dirtier side of the dish toward the center of the machine for more exposure to spray. Load silverware by mixing forks, spoons and knives in the basket to prevent them from sticking or nesting together.

Check and clean the sprayer arm nozzles regularly, clean the drain and place a cup of vinegar on the top rack of the dishwasher then run it through a complete cycle. These regular maintenance steps will help your dishwasher run like new.


Safeguard Our Seniors Helps Protect Floridians

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 Safeguard Our Seniors workshops to help seniors guard against financial fraud and scams. Read the Safeguard Our Seniors Calendar of Events.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's Consumer eViews 1-877-MY-FL-CFO