Volume 7 Number 40 October 1, 2010
For more than five months now, my Division of Consumer Services and Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate have been providing assistance to Floridians whose livelihoods have been damaged by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and are still having difficulty navigating the claims process to compensate their losses.
As we near the deadline to file for emergency payments, problems with the claims process administered now by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) persist. I say enough is enough. This week I announced Florida Claims Help, a series of open houses in Pensacola and Panama City, as well as an online portal to advocate for a faster response for Floridians who have filed oil-spill-related claims with the GCCF.
If you can’t make it to an open house this week, share your story online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaClaimsHelp and I will press Gulf Coast Claims Administrator Ken Feinberg for better and faster answers that are essential to keeping our small businesses solvent and protecting our economy.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink announced a new Florida Claims Help (FLCH) initiative this week to assist impacted Floridians in receiving a more timely response for claims filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) as a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. CFO Sink is encouraging Floridians to go online or submit information about their claim at a series of FLCH open houses scheduled in the Panhandle next week.
“It has been five months since the spill occurred, and it is staggering to me that affected small businesses are now facing bankruptcy because of a failed, non-responsive claims process,” said CFO Alex Sink. “The Florida Claims Help initiative will aim to help better document the failings of the process, and if you have filed claims, provided the documentation requested and have received no response or are getting the runaround, come to one of our open houses or go online and share your story. Enough is enough. BP and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility must be held accountable for giving these victims the answers they deserve.”
Floridians who have not been made whole and are having difficulty getting a response from the BP and GCCF claims process can visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/FloridaClaimsHelp to share their story. The CFO’s Department of Financial Services Consumer Outreach Division is also hosting a series of events in the Panhandle to reach out to oil spill victims and collect information, including how long they have waited for a response from BP and GCCF. Open houses are scheduled for Tuesday, October 5 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Pensacola Civic Center, located at 201 E. Gregory Street in Pensacola and Wednesday, October 6 at the Marina Civic Center, located at 8 Harrison Avenue in Panama City. For details, visit: www.myfloridacfo.com/oilspill/.
CFO Sink recently sent a letter to Gulf Coast Claims Administrator Ken Feinberg expressing her concern for the claims process and the Floridians still suffering economic damages as a result of the oil spill. For more information, visit www.myfloridacfo.com/oilspill/.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Florida Cabinet, CFO Alex Sink sponsored a resolution recognizing the efforts of Lieutenant General Ken Keen and the United States Southern Command. Lieutenant General Keen serves as Military Deputy Commander of the U.S. Southern Command and was on a pre-planned visit to Haiti when the earthquake struck on January 12; he quickly established Joint Task Force-Haiti (JTF), in support of Operation Unified Response, a key component of the U.S. military’s emergency response and disaster relief efforts for Haiti.
“It is an honor to recognize Lieutenant General Keen and the U.S. Southern Command for their quick response and relief work in Haiti,” said CFO Sink. “A tragedy of that magnitude must be dealt with swiftly and effectively, and I commend them for their efforts.”
The U.S. Military supported relief efforts in Haiti with a peak level of 22,268 military personnel. The U.S. military delivered nearly 150,000 pounds of medical supplies and treated more than 9,700 patients. Under Lieutenant General Keen’s leadership, Operation Unified Response distributed 2.6 million liters of water, 2.9 million humanitarian rations packages, and over 17 million pounds of food. The mission of Joint Task Force-Haiti officially ended on June 1, 2010, however, U.S. Southern Command is still actively involved in medical and construction missions in the area.
Florida CFO Alex Sink offered the following statement regarding the release of the Gulf Coast Recovery Plan:
“A long-term plan is critical to the recovery of the Gulf Coast, and I am pleased that Secretary Mabus has taken the first steps toward constructing this plan for our affected region. Directing BP’s Clean Water Act fines to directly assist Floridians, protecting and restoring our beautiful coast, and creating long-term tourism and seafood marketing are essential steps to restoring Florida’s economy. The commitment to helping affected Floridians and our environment must not end with this year’s summer season.
“It is especially important that Florida has access to these funds to help restore the vibrant natural resources which are integral to the economic, civic and emotional health of the people all along our Gulf Coast. Also, Florida’s taxpayers should not have to pay for impacts from the oil spill borne by our tourism-dependent small businesses and our overall economy. I applaud Secretary Mabus’ call for the immediate establishment of a federal task force that will begin coordinating efforts to ensure the recovery and protection of our region’s ecosystem. I also encourage our state’s congressional delegation to carefully review these recommendations and act on behalf of Floridians to ensure adequate financial resources are available to expedite and facilitate Florida’s recovery.”
At the Cabinet meeting this past week, CFO Alex Sink recognized October 3 - 9 as Fire Prevention Week, paying special tribute to all fire safety professionals in Florida and extending thanks and appreciation to them for their fire safety efforts.
We would also like to encourage all Floridians to participate in this year’s National Fire Protection Association campaign titled, “Smoke Alarms: A Sound You Can Live With!”
This year's campaign is designed to educate people about the importance of smoke alarms and to encourage everyone to take the steps necessary to update and maintain their home and business smoke alarm protection systems.
Present at the meeting to receive the Proclamation recognizing Fire Prevention Week were:
Annually, Florida’s State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire Prevention participates in the event held around the state at various school campuses, local fire departments, and community centers.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced the arrests of seven people in South Florida on charges of insurance fraud after the suspects allegedly rented a U-Haul truck, intentionally crashed it into a passenger van, then billed their insurance companies for services at various medical clinics. The investigation and subsequent arrests were conducted by CFO Sink’s Division of Insurance Fraud, which began the arrests in August and made the last two arrests late last week.
“Staged accidents are dangerous crimes that put the lives of innocent people at risk, and also cost all of us in the form of higher premiums,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I am grateful for the work of my insurance fraud investigators for working to put these fraudsters behind bars. Would-be scammers out there need to know that this kind of action will not be tolerated.”
Insurance Fraud investigators were tipped off to the fraud by a referral from Republic Western Insurance Company, which indicated there was a crash involving seven people that appeared to be a staged accident. Their investigation revealed that one of the subjects rented a U-Haul truck and intentionally crashed it into the passenger van, which was confirmed by the participants in the investigation. The staged accident was organized by Charles Philome, who recruited the other participants. The subjects were subsequently treated at several clinics which billed insurance companies in excess of $80,000 in fraudulent charges.
The seven suspects each face up to five years in prison. They are listed below:
Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities provides services to more than 35,000 Floridians with developmental disabilities annually so they can live and work in their local communities. Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind Services programs within the Department of Education assist people with disabilities so they may become employed.
During the history of these programs, they have had an overwhelming impact on the lives of thousands of citizens in Florida with disabilities by offering services including job placement, job training, support services and job coaching.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities has assisted 4,839 Floridians with disabilities in maintaining gainful employment; Vocational Rehabilitation assisted 3,878 Floridians with disabilities and Blind Services helped 666 individuals with achieving their employment goals last year. Within the Vocational Rehabilitation program, the Bureau of Reemployment and Rehabilitation Services provides services to assist injured workers in returning to suitable employment, helping 1,236 injured workers return to jobs.
The Able Trust, also known as the Governor’s Alliance for the Employment of Citizens with Disabilities, provides Floridians with disabilities employment opportunities through fundraising, grant programs, public awareness and education; and the Trust has awarded over $27 million to individuals with disabilities and nonprofit agencies for employment-related purposes, enabling more than 2,000 Florida citizens with disabilities to enter the workforce each year.
Mentoring and job shadowing provide students and job seekers with disabilities opportunities on Florida Disability Mentoring Day on October 21. This year’s theme for Disability Employment Awareness Month is Reach! Hire! Florida joins the Nation in recognizing the contributions of the 3.5 million Floridians with disabilities by celebrating October 2010 as Disability Employment Awareness Month.
During this week's Cabinet meeting, CFO Sink surprised David Clark, who has been with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Office of Cabinet Affairs for the last six years, with recognition for his upcoming service. Recently David was accepted to the United States Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) and will begin his training in October. David was one of three men selected out of 47 applicants for OCS. Once he has completed OCS, he’d like to attend Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger Schools.
This has been a lifelong passion of David’s to join the military and serve his country. In preparation for his departure, he has been seen running around DEP’s parking lot with an army pack and in boots - an example of his commitment and discipline. CFO Sink thanked David, who was accompanied by his wife Ashley, on behalf of the citizens of Florida for his upcoming service to our country as an American soldier.
In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to provide consumers with information regarding coverage for Breast Cancer screenings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2006, 191,410 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,820 women died from the disease. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most prevalent type of cancer found in American women regardless of race or ethnicity.
While breast cancer is most prevalent in women, it is possible for men to get the disease. In men, breast cancer can happen at any age, but is most common in men who are between 60 and 70 years old.
Prevention is the key to lowering the risk of getting breast cancer. Consumers should consider the following suggestions from the CDC as a guide to lowering their risk. The CDC suggests:
Overall, the key to preventing breast cancer is preventive care. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, preventive care services are now more available to consumers. Plans that are subject to the new preventive services requirements can no longer require consumers to pay a co-payment, co-insurance, or any deductible to receive these services. This includes recommended screening, vaccinations, and counseling. Consumers should note the following related to the new preventive health rules under the PPACA:
For more information on the new rules regarding preventive care, consumers should visit www.healthcare.gov.
Consumers who have additional questions regarding breast cancer coverage or preventive care coverage may 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 Chief Financial Officer 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.
All Floridians should prepare for a disaster by having their disaster kit and important documents protected and ready to transport in case of an evacuation. But what do you do after the disaster? What should you do if you return home to find your property has been flooded?
Properly preparing for your return home after an evacuation will make it safer to inspect and clean up your property if damages have occurred. Before you travel home, make sure local officials have declared it is safe to return and that you have the supplies you will need.
Cleaning Your Home
Remember to verify a contractor’s license before you hire him or her to make repairs. Contact your insurance company before making repairs and take pictures of your property before clean up begins.
For more information, visit the Department’s web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Over the past two years, homeowners have contacted the Department of Financial Services and attended CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help (FHH) events in an effort to save their homes.
One such consumer was Tony Quattrone. Mr. Quattrone had a significant reduction in his income at the beginning of this year. Terry Cerullo, outreach coordinator in the Ft. Myers area, worked with Mr. Quattrone and contacted his mortgage company on his behalf. After Terry got involved and communicated with his lender, Mr. Quattrone received notice of a loan modification and is in the process of reaching an agreement with his mortgage company.
Mr. Quattrone offered the following advice to homeowners: “Be very organized. Make a good, concise presentation to your lender and put a plan together all while contacting as many people as you can that can help you.”
As part of CFO Sink’s FHH initiative, the Department has held nearly 150 events across Florida and has assisted thousands of struggling homeowners by providing resources and information to help families stay in their homes.
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.
Saturday, October 2 - Florida Housing Help at the Imagine School of Palmer Ranch, 6220 McIntosh Road, Sarasota, from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.
Several major lenders will be on hand to offer loan modification reviews, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo/Wachovia, JP Morgan/Chase, EMC, Ally Financial Inc. (formerly GMAC), SunTrust, Sun Coast FTCU and M & I bank.
Monday, October 4 - Florida Housing Help at The Children’s Board, 1002 E. Palm Avenue, Tampa from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 9 - Florida Housing Help at Viera Regional Center, 2300 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera from 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.
Sometimes homeowners just don't take the time to check out the credentials of the repair person, service company or handyman hired for work on their home. This is an oversight that could potentially have severe ramifications. Make sure licenses are current, permits are secured and workers' compensation insurance is in place.
In certain instances, a worker injured at a house may sue the owner if the worker is not covered by workers' compensation insurance. If the homeowners insurance coverage is not enough to pay off the amount of damages, the homeowner may be liable for the rest. Check with your insurance agent to determine if liability coverage is in place for workers on your property.
A homeowner may be facing other issues if an uninsured company damages someone else's property. For example a tree trimming company hired to work might cut a huge branch in such a way as to damage the neighbor's camper parked in the yard next door. If the company does not have liability insurance or proper resources to pay for this error, then the homeowner may be held responsible.
Sometimes people misunderstand an insurance deductible and think it can be reduced to save money by using a handyman friend or an unlicensed and/or uninsured contractor who may "waive" the amount of the deductible. Your regular deductible is usually a stated amount that you have chosen, say $500, $1,000 or $2,500. When you file an insurance claim, the deductible is paid first by the insured out of pocket. The amount of the deductible cannot be reduced by choosing a cheaper price or friendly contractor to repair your damages.
Here is an additional consideration. When a home is being underwritten for insurance or when a home is sold, records are usually reviewed to document that work was performed by qualified contractors as well as having the proper permitting in place. When applying for new homeowners insurance, the insurance agent can check the history of claims made on the home, and will ask to verify the repairs were made as required by local laws. Lack of these documents could jeopardize the ability to get insurance coverage for the home in the future.
You can verify a contractor's license at Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Verify a License page.
You can verify information about a company or individual’s compliance with workers' compensation coverage or workers' compensation exemptions by searching the Division of Workers' Compensation Compliance Database.
The Department of Financial Services offers a variety of free outreach programs and workshops that can help consumers make better insurance and financial decisions. Looking for ways to lower your home or auto insurance premiums? We can help. Want to help fight financial fraud and avoid becoming a victim? We’ve got the resources you need. Having trouble keeping up with your mortgage? Let us and our community partners go to work for you.
Outreach coordinators are available throughout the state to speak to your club, group or organization on these topics and more. To request an outreach coordinator as a speaker, call 850-413-3089 or toll-free 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/consumers.
The Department of Financial Services also regularly offers Safeguard Our Seniors workshops to help seniors guard against financial fraud and scams. Read the Safeguard Our Seniors Calendar of Events to find a program near you.