My Florida C F O

Dear Fellow Floridians:

February has arrived, and we’re just about halfway through the 2016 Legislative Session. As is the setting each year, the issues facing Florida bring forward ardent advocates on all sides. Issues are vigorously debated, with each side making their best argument before the Legislative body that will ultimately decide.

As we move forward in this process, it’s important to me that I keep Floridians apprised on the progress of the priorities I’ve laid out.Speaking to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee

HB 4099 / SB 7028 - As I’ve expressed before and as current events continue to make clear, Florida long ago made the decision to not invest public funds in Iran, and I intend to keep it that way. We’re working to make sure that your tax dollars aren’t invested in companies that engage in business with state sponsors of terror and we’re well on our way. We’re taking steps closer to the goal each week, and I hope to update you on our success in the coming weeks.

HB 221 / SB 1442 - The concept of balance billing is complex and not a subject easily solved. Everyone can agree that in times of emergency, families don’t have time to question whether or not the hospital ER that’s closest to home—or the medical providers that ultimately take care of them—are within their insurance company’s network. The tough part is finding a solution for the unexpected and sometimes costly medical expenses that are associated with out-of-network care.

My goal remains to take consumers out of these medical billing equations, and I’ve been working hard, meeting with medical providers, insurance companies and hospitals alike to try to identify a solution that makes sense for Florida. The solution rests in finding a mechanism to ensure that medical providers and insurance companies are treated fairly when determining how these out-of-network costs should be settled. Those conversations are continuing, and we hope to find a fair and balanced solution this year.

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate, Sha’Ron James, has led the charge on this issue, hosting forums and workshops to help the industry and all Floridians learn more about this important consumer issue. ICA James continues to hear from people all across Florida who are managing the impacts of balance billing. If you’ve been impacted by this issue and would like for your story to be heard, please contact her by emailing InsuranceConsumerAdvocate@myfloridaCFO.com.

HB 1041 / SB 966 - Life insurance is one of the most important decisions a family can make and many see it as a one-time deal—you find the policy that’s right for your family, sign up, pay your premiums and that’s it—the company will be there when the time comes. The disheartening part of that scenario is that there’s so much more to the story that’s never discussed—so much more that many insurance companies don’t want you to know.

We’ve discovered that many insurance companies aren’t sharing with consumers at the time the family signs on that the company has no intention of trying to connect with your beneficiaries after you pass. We’ve learned that within the walls of many companies, the policy is that unless the beneficiaries knock on the right door, with policy paperwork and death certificate in hand, they may never get the money that was set aside for them years before.

Think about it—do you know where your original policy paperwork is right now—in the attic, in a filing cabinet, long since in the trash bin? You may have signed up for the policy years ago and in the new age of technology, think that surely all that’s necessary when the time comes is a simple phone call from the beneficiary—but that’s not the case. Billions of dollars—hundreds of thousands policies— were never paid to beneficiaries. Why? When we asked that question, we heard every story in the book from 'we didn’t know the policyholder had died' to 'the beneficiary was lost and we couldn’t find them’ to 'it’s not my problem if a beneficiary never finds me.'

And now we’re working to make sure that it never happens again in Florida. We’re taking steps to ensure that every legitimate policy is paid out to beneficiaries, and, if in fact the insurance company cannot locate the beneficiary, that the money gets turned over to my office where I will continue to look for the loved one for whom the money was intended.

The insurance industry feels differently and this one won’t be easy, but rest assured that I won’t stop until I’ve made the best case possible to the Legislature. What I’m asking for is a smart, reasonable change to public policy that will ensure each of you are able to fulfill the promises that were once made to you.

I’ll keep you up to date.

Sincerely,

Jeff
Jeff Atwater
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida

Black History MonthFebruary is Black History Month

Dr. Mary McLeod BethuneEach week this month, we are featuring one prominent African-American leader and highlighting his or her contributions to our country.

As one of 17 children, Mary McLeod Bethune’s family wasn’t the only aspect of her life that was big. Born in 1875 in South Carolina, so was her dream to educate young African American women. After moving to Florida in her adult years, she became an entrepreneur and opened a school for girls. In less than 30 years Bethune’s small school of merely six students transformed into a larger incorporated college, today known as Bethune-Cookman University, where she also served as president in the college’s earlier years. Serving as the college’s president was only the beginning of Dr. Bethune’s journey, as she later founded the National Council of Negro Women in New York in 1935, and was appointed Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This incredible woman was a trailblazer, and her story helped to advance the lives of many.

The Completion of the Panama Canal and Florida

Julio FuentesWhen the Panama Canal expansion project began in 2007, it had a major ripple effect on global trade around the world, especially in Florida. The Panama Canal links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and with the expansion, set to be completed in 2016, its capacity will be doubled. The Panama Canal will now be able to accommodate the New Panamax, which is one of the largest container ships moving cargo today. This is big news for Florida as our seaports are the closest to the Panama Canal, putting us in prime position to reap the benefits of increased cargo.

Since the announcement of the expansion, Florida has doubled down on efforts to strengthen our 15 seaports and prepare them for vast new business opportunities. During the past four years, the State of Florida, in combination with local port entities, has invested more than $1 billion to improve Florida’s seaports. In addition to the state’s $850 million investment, a multi-billion dollar capital campaign has addressed critical port infrastructure needs and now our ports are more competitive than ever in today’s global marketplace.

PortMiami, the first U.S. port of call from Panama, is a prime example of this. PortMiami recently completed a major harbor deepening project and it is now the only port south of Virginia at the required 50 feet depth to accommodate the larger cargo ships coming from the Panama Canal.

Read more from Julio Fuentes in Florida's Bottom Line. The accompanying website will keep you updated with the latest statistics on Florida's jobs and economy. Special reports, infographics and past editions are archived on the website for easy access.

The Florida Rundown - Helping Consumers

Talking to ConsumersThe Division of Consumer Services offers a variety of information and resources to educate consumers regarding numerous insurance and financial topics. Our mission is to proactively educate and assist Florida’s insurance and financial consumers through responsive, professional and innovative service.

The Division offers a toll-free Insurance Consumer Helpline to assist insurance consumers with insurance questions and inquiries or to file a complaint against your insurance company. Our dedicated and experienced staff stand ready to advocate on your behalf and assist you with resolving your insurance concerns. Please view our consumer guides, educational videos, insurance library and our online complaint portal for more information and resources.

If you need to file an insurance complaint, the Division of Consumer Services is happy to assist you with your insurance questions and concerns or open a formal complaint. Our dedicated and experienced helpline specialists are continuously trained and informed about any changes that occur to the 26 different categories of insurance they confront on a daily basis. We are ready to contact the insurance company on your behalf to assist you with your insurance complaint.

The Florida Rundown brings you highlights and accomplishments of the past year for the 14 divisions of the CFO's Department of Financial Services.

Florida Economic Briefs

Consumer Sentiment falls slightly in January
Consumer sentiment among Floridians decreased slightly in January. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next year and over the next five years decreased over the month.
Source: University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research

Advanced estimate shows U.S. GDP growth in fourth quarter
U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest sum of goods and services produced across the economy, grew at an annualized rate of 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to an advanced estimate released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP increased 2.0 percent. Real GDP is the value of goods and services produced by the nation’s economy less the value of the goods and services used up in production and adjusted for price changes.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis