Volume 8 Number 7 February 18, 2011

Dear Fellow Floridians:

Over the past two weeks, many of you who were impacted by the BP oil spill have shared with us your input on the Gulf Coast Claims Facility’s (GCCF) proposed methodology for calculating final and interim payments. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

This week, I sent a letter to Mr. Feinberg to share your thoughts and my own concerns about the methodology. It is my opinion that the proposed system lacks transparency, fails to provide clear guidelines, and continues to play with the emotions of victims who simply want to be compensated for their financial losses. Mr. Feinberg was chosen to administer this fund fairly and equitably, but his actions have complicated the process by creating countless additional rules and regulations that increase the complexity for those simply seeking rightful compensation.

Mr. Feinberg and the GCCF have asked for public comment. Unfortunately, the current timeframe for closing public comment ended on February 16 and they have proposed using the formula for issuing payments beginning on February 18. This timing begs the question of whether they intend to consider input from claimants. Floridians deserve real compensation, not a two-week public relations campaign.

Until a compensation model can be developed that will assist victims for the long term, I will continue to fight for Floridians who have been victimized and harmed through no fault of their own by this tragedy.

Sincerely,

Jeff





Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Read the letter to Mr. Feinberg with attachments.


Statement by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater Regarding Medicaid Reform Proposals Advocated by Senate

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who will chair the legislatively-created Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force, released the following statement regarding the Medicaid reform proposals announced by Senate leaders:

“The Medicaid program has overwhelmed Florida’s budget for far too long, I applaud Senator Joe Negron and Senate leaders for taking on the challenge of reforming this cumbersome program that handcuffs states with one-size-fits-all federal mandates. I also want to commend the bold reforms advanced last year by the Florida House under the leadership of Speaker Dean Cannon and Chairman Denise Grimsley which helped lay the groundwork for reforms this session. I look forward to assisting the Legislature through the work of the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force. We will be developing new, streamlined efforts for tackling the fraud, waste and abuse in our Medicaid system which is costing Floridians more than $2 billion a year.”


Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater Announces First Meeting of the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force

WHO: Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force

WHAT: First meeting of the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force

WHEN: Friday, Feb. 25, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

WHERE: The Capitol, Room 301C, 400 South Monroe St., Tallahassee, Fla. 32399

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Friday announced the first meeting of the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force. The Strike Force was created during the 2010 Legislative Session to increase the effectiveness of programs and initiatives that work to prevent, detect and prosecute Medicaid and public assistance fraud. CFO Atwater serves as Chair and Attorney General Bondi serves as Vice Chair of the 11-member Strike Force.

“Medicaid and public assistance fraud cost the state more than $2 billion a year and limit the resources that are available to citizens who are actually in need,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “I am eager to get our first meeting underway and start developing new solutions to the fraud in our Medicaid and public assistance programs that has been plaguing the state’s budget for years.”

“My office has been dedicated to fighting Medicaid fraud for years, recovering nearly $500 million since 2007, and we are committed to continuing these efforts,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “I look forward to working with the Medicaid and Public Assistance Strike Force to uphold the law and protect taxpayers.”

The state’s Medicaid program accounts for 25 percent of Florida's budget. The level of fraud is estimated to account for up to 10 percent of the Medicaid budget. State economists indicate that Medicaid is the state’s biggest cost driver, with projected increases in Medicaid possibly exceeding $400 million this year. From 2005 through 2010, the Public Assistance Fraud Unit referred $18 million in program benefits fraud for prosecution. So far this fiscal year, the unit has received approximately 24,000 referrals for suspected public assistance fraud.

The agenda for the first Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force meeting is attached. For more information about the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force or to report fraud, please visit www.myfloridacfo.com/StrikeForce.


CFO Atwater's Interview with Fraud News Weekly

This week CFO Atwater was featured in an interview with Fraud News Weekly. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

As the newly elected Chief Financial Officer, what do you see as your number one priority to target the PIP fraud that is occurring in Florida?

My number one priority is to ensure that the individuals who are committing insurance fraud end up behind bars. An extraordinary amount of time and manpower in our Division of Insurance Fraud, nearly 40 percent, is spent combating PIP fraud. The Division received more than 12,000 referrals last year, and more than 5,000 of them were related to PIP fraud, up nearly 2,000 from the previous year. It is unfair and unconscionable that every person who buys an auto insurance policy in the state of Florida is paying for the thieves who are gaming the system, and it won’t be tolerated. It is imperative that we aggressively tackle fraud to protect honest Floridians and legitimate businesses.

You are recommending the creation of what appears to be an authority to collect funds that could be used as grants to fight insurance fraud. What is the authorities purpose, where would the monies it receives come from, and would the funds be used to hire special prosecutors to focus on auto fraud?

I have proposed that, along with criminal penalties, the thieves who commit auto insurance fraud would also face civil penalties. These civil penalties, along with any other resources the industry or interested parties would like to contribute, will go into the “Fight Fraud Fund.”

This fund would be used to fight insurance fraud and an oversight board would determine how the money is allocated. I envision that the fund would help support additional dedicated prosecutors. These challenging economic times require that we are creative in finding ways to fund initiatives that are important to us. Floridians don’t have one more dime to send to government, but we can help improve our economy and put money back into their pockets by fighting the fraud that is costing them millions of dollars a year.


Small Business: CFO Atwater Visits Field of Greens in West Palm Beach

Field of Greens restaurantIn an effort to eat healthier, I stopped into Field of Greens in West Palm Beach and had the pleasure of meeting longtime manager, Sue. Her love of the company and the fresh foods they serve are some of the reasons she has operated this location for several years now. Field of Greens opened in 2003 as a small business with only one location. Currently, they have three locations all around Palm Beach County.

They have provided South Floridians with a healthy alternative to lunch where you can create your own salads and wraps. Field of Greens captures the entrepreneurial dream of creating your own success and prosperity!  I am a champion of small businesses, and know places like Field of Greens will help get our state back on track. Whenever you are in town, make sure to stop by Field of Greens and say hello to Sue!


Enforcement Roundup37 Disciplinary Actions Taken Against Insurance Professionals & Entities in January

This column will regularly highlight the work of the Department’s enforcement divisions. This week features recent activity by the Division of Agent and Agency Services, which licenses and regulates over 500,000 insurance agents, adjusters, and agencies, and the Division of Legal Services, which provides legal counsel, advice and representation to the regulatory, administrative, and support offices of the Chief Financial Officer and the State Fire Marshal.

The divisions of Agent and Agency Services and Legal Services took 37 disciplinary actions against insurance professionals and entities in January: 10 revocations, 10 license denials, one emergency order to cease and desist, 11 suspensions, and fines totaling $22,250. January actions included:

The division’s actions in 2010 generated $5.4 million in restitution for Floridians. In conjunction with the Division of Legal Services, the 818 actions taken against insurance professionals and entities last year included 150 license revocations, 243 license suspensions, 143 license denials, 19 cease and desist orders, and four licensees permanently barred from the insurance industry in Florida. Details can be found at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Agents.


Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater Rounds Out Leadership Team with the Appointment of Three Division Directors and Inspector General

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who oversees the Department of Financial Services, on Monday announced the appointment of an Inspector General as well as the directors for the divisions of Treasury, Consumer Services, and Agent and Agency Services. These talented individuals represent internal promotions as well as outside experience that will assist CFO Atwater in achieving his mission to keep hardworking Floridians’ money in their pockets where it belongs.

“I believe it is important to recognize the talent that already exists within an organization and to promote those individuals into responsible positions along with bringing in new talent with fresh ideas,” said CFO Atwater. “I am pleased that these accomplished professionals have agreed to take on the challenges of their new roles and help us protect Florida’s assets, advocate for consumers and reduce regulatory burdens on businesses.”

Ned Luczynski will be the department’s new Inspector General. Mr. Luczynski most recently was the Inspector General at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, where he previously served as the General Counsel. Prior to working in state government, Mr. Luczynski worked in the private sector as managing director of businesses operations for MESA Solutions/Telcordia Technologies and as a senior manager for Deloitte & Touche. He holds a Masters degree in Corporate Accounting from the University of Rochester and a Juris Doctorate from Florida State University.

Bert Wilkerson will serve as the Director of the Division of Treasury. Mr. Wilkerson has worked in the Division of Treasury since October 2008, as the Bureau Chief of Funds Management and as Interim Director since February 2010. Prior to joining the division, Mr. Wilkerson served 10 years as a manager in the Department of Transportation’s Comptroller’s Office and four years as an auditor for the State Auditor General’s Office. Mr. Wilkerson earned a B.S/B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Florida in 1992 and is a licensed Certified Public Accountant.

Tasha Carter will lead the Division of Consumer Services. Ms. Carter previously served the department as the Bureau Chief of Compliance for the Division of Workers’ Compensation. Prior to her service with the department, she held customer service and management analyst positions at the Department of Children and Families as well as the Department of Juvenile Justice. Ms. Carter has a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology from Florida State University.

Gregory Thomas will serve Florida’s insurance professionals as the Director of Agent and Agency Services. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Thomas served as the Bureau Chief of Education, Advocacy and Research in the Division of Consumer Services where he has led efforts to advocate for consumers of financial products and monitored trends in the marketplace. Mr. Thomas has nearly 25 years of experience in the insurance industry and six professional designations in insurance, including Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU).

To learn more about the department’s divisions and the CFO’s priorities, log on to www.myfloridacfo.com.


Financial Literacy Tips

Tax Tips

Income tax season has begun and important documents should, if they have not already, begin arriving in the mail. Although the tax deadline is not until April; getting a head start will make filing a little easier. Below are a few tips that will help you ease through the tax season.

1. Gather information: Gather up all documentation you will need for filing your taxes: receipts, canceled checks and other documents that support the income or deductions being claimed on your return.

2. Check your mail: W-2s and 1099s should have been mailed out. You will need them to file your tax return.

3. Get free help: Make use of the free tax preparation sites that are available, such as the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TEC) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). Both programs are sponsored by the IRS.

4. Get your money back faster: Consider e-filing or direct deposit. If you e-file or use direct deposit you will receive your refund quicker than waiting for a paper check.

5. Review: Take your time and go over your calculations and all pertinent information. Mistakes will slow down the processing of your tax return.

For more information about the free tax services offered, please visit the IRS website at ww.irs.gov.