- Updating you on what's going on
As Sine Die arrives and the 2016 Legislative Session came to a close, CFO Jeff Atwater celebrated the Department of Financial Services’ collective legislative successes as a session for the consumers. In addition to championing public policy changes involving divestment, balance billing and life insurance, the Department also achieved legislative changes that update the state’s workers’ compensation system, protect the privacy of criminal investigators, and streamline the way the Department does business.
“This year, we brought forth several common sense solutions to help streamline the way the Department and the state conduct business, and I’m proud to say that we were successful on every front,” said CFO Atwater. “I greatly appreciate the dedicated legislators who sponsored our priorities that allow us to improve the Department and better serve Floridians and look forward to these bills becoming law”.
This year’s legislative package included:
• SB966/HB 1041 to hold insurance companies accountable for paying out life insurance – Sponsored by Representative Hager and Senator Benaquisto, this bill requires life insurance companies to consult the Social Security Death Master File, which would alert them to deceased policyholders to pay benefits to the beneficiary.
• SB1442/HB 221 to protect consumers from surprise medical bills – Sponsored by Representative Trujillo and Senator Garcia, this bill holds consumers harmless in times of emergency resulting in the consumers responsibility being comparable to what they would have paid had the provider been in their network
• SB 7028/ HB 4049 to prevent state dollars from being invested in Iran – Sponsored by Representative Combee and Senator Ring, in response to federal policy changes, this bill reaffirms Florida’s commitment to keep state dollars from funding state sponsors of terror in Iran.
• SB 908/HB 879 to improve Department efficiency – Sponsored by Representative Lee and Senator Renner, this bill establishes a Division of Unclaimed Property and grants the Department authority to make structural changes that will improve the way the Department provides services to the people of Florida.
• SB 970/HB 783 to update the Unclaimed Property Program – Sponsored by Representative Trumbull and Senator Richter, this bill simplifies the process for heirs to file claims on accounts belonging to deceased loved ones, enhances disclosure requirements to better enable consumers to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to use the services of a claimants representative when filing a claim, and limits the fees a claimants representative can charge when those services are used.
• SB 992/HB 651 to establish a firefighter grant program – Sponsored by Representative Beshears and Senator Brandes, this bill establishes a grant program to provide support and resources to volunteer and combination volunteer/career fire departments. Grant rewards will be based on the Florida Fire Service Needs Assessment Survey.
• SB 986/HB 613 and SB 1402/HB 7073 to update Florida’s workers’ compensation system – Individually, these two bills provide updates to the state’s workers’ compensation program. HB 613, sponsored by Representative Sullivan and Senator Simpson, reduces regulation and removes outdated and unnecessary fees. This bill will relieve small businesses from onerous provisions while ensuring that businesses remain compliant with coverage requirements. SB 1402, sponsored by Representative Ray and Senator Simmons, guarantees that injured workers continue to receive first-rate health care by ratifying the rules that ensure medical providers are properly reimbursed for their services.
• SB 592/HB 463 to protect non-sworn investigators – Sponsored by Representative DuBose and Senator Hutson, this bill exempts the personal information of non-sworn Department investigators from becoming a public record, protecting our employees from receiving threats.
Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin M. McCarty is alerting consumers to new changes taking effect this Friday, April 1st with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), while also encouraging consumers to consider purchasing flood insurance for the protection of their homes and businesses as they begin making preparations for the upcoming hurricane season. Every person living in Florida is at risk to experience the impacts of flooding.
“Although Florida’s hurricane season has been mild over the last 10 years, it is important that we not forget how easy it is for one storm to cause a great deal of damage and destruction from flooding. Tropical Storm Fay is a good example of a storm that made slow progress through the state leading to massive flooding problems for several Florida counties back in 2008, “ stated McCarty. “Consumers should carefully evaluate their insurance coverage now and have a plan in place for this year’s hurricane season.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced the arrest of two Orlando residents, Eurick Fenot Jr. and Quinteria Williams, for their roles in an extensive public assistance fraud scheme. By filing hundreds of online applications for public assistance benefits using stolen identities, the pair is accused of allegedly receiving nearly $200,000 in fraudulent Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamp benefits. During a law enforcement operation known as “Operation Cash for Cards,” investigators with the Department of Financial Services’ Divisions of Public Assistance Fraud and Insurance Fraud joined with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to execute search warrants at the pair’s Orlando-area residence yesterday.
“Today, two criminals found themselves exactly where they belong and that’s behind bars,” said CFO Jeff Atwater. “By stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in public assistance benefits, they’ve stolen from the state of Florida and from every Florida taxpayer whose tax dollars support critical safety net programs. With their arrests, I hope a message is sent to other criminals who may wish to engage in similar crimes—Florida will not tolerate fraud in any shape or form.”
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF) announced the arrest of Frank John Leli. The former Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida (BCBS) business analyst allegedly defrauded BCBS of nearly $40,000 by submitting more than 350 claims for medical services that never occurred.
In August 2014, Blue Cross Blue Shield became suspicious of Leli’s activities after recognizing a pattern in which he submitted multiple medical claims on his own behalf during a short period of time. At first glance, 27 claims were found to have been filed related to alleged treatments by a Jacksonville-based marriage and family therapist. BCBS contacted the therapist who verified only 12 of the 27 claims. The remaining claims were for medical treatments that never took place.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater applauded Governor Rick Scott for signing into law Senate Bill 908, a bill that allows the Department of Financial Services to streamline the way it conducts business. This legislation will enable the Department to improve its operations and continue to realize efficiencies in how it serves Floridians.
CFO Atwater said, “Governor Scott signed legislation that grants the Department authority to implement necessary changes that will promote the most efficient and effective operation possible."
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) has approved the removal of up to 80,000 personal residential policies and 1,500 commercial residential polices from Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens). The following three companies have been approved to participate:
· Anchor Property & Casualty Insurance Company – approved to remove up to 10,000 personal residential policies (8,164 Personal Lines Account and 1,836 Coastal Account)
· Heritage Property & Casualty Insurance Company – approved to remove up to 55,000 personal residential policies (35,000 Personal Lines Account and 20,000 Coastal Account) and up to 1,500 commercial residential policies (1,300 Commercial Lines Account and 200 Coastal Account)
· Southern Oak Insurance Company – approved to remove up to 15,000 personal residential policies (10,000 Personal Lines Account and 5,000 Coastal Account)
Citizen’s Personal Lines and Commercial Lines Accounts are primarily non-coastal properties and the Coastal Account consists of properties designated as coastal. The take-out periods are May 24, 2016 for personal residential impacting both the Personal Lines/Coastal Account policies and May 17, 2016 for commercial residential impacting both the Commercial Lines/Coastal Account policies. These take-outs are part of the state’s ongoing depopulation effort to reduce the number of policies in state-created Citizens and transfer them to the private insurance market.
As part of National Consumer Protection Week, observed each year during the second week of March, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater as head of Florida’s Department of Financial Services, has once again reaffirmed his commitment to safeguarding the hard-earned money of Florida’s consumers. During the five years CFO Atwater has led the Department, its Division of Consumer Services has returned more than $138.5 million to Florida’s consumers who requested assistance on insurance-related matters.
“Florida’s tourism attractions, pleasant climate, favorable tax structure and booming economy have created an influx of consumers who choose to call Florida home,” said CFO Atwater. “Unfortunately, this influx of residents has also led to an increase of dishonest scammers who look to defraud the financial assets of hard-working Floridians, but Consumer Protection Week offers an opportunity to remind all consumers to remain on guard.”
In a ruling March 30th at the 2nd Judicial Circuit, the court agreed with State Farm Florida Insurance Company’s claim of trade secret protection for its Quarterly and Supplemental Reporting System (QUASR) data that is submitted to the Office pursuant to Florida law.The QUASR data includes the number of policies written by company by county. State Farm Florida has asserted that the policy distribution by county is trade secret.
“I am disappointed in the outcome of today’s ruling and believe this weakens the ability for consumers to access information in this state,” said Florida Insurance Commissioner, Kevin M. McCarty. “However, the Office respects the court’s decision and will evaluate its available options to determine any further action.”
The Office is awaiting a written order from the circuit court judge memorializing his ruling.
Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty submitted the “2016 Report on Life Insurance Limitations Based on Foreign Travel Experiences” to the Florida Legislature on March 1, 2016. The report details how life and health insurance companies are complying with the “Freedom to Travel Act” law, which instituted restrictions on an insurance company’s ability to deny coverage or increase premiums for life insurance based on past or future foreign lawful travel.
Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has issued two separate Initial Orders of Suspension for Westport Holdings Tampa, Limited Partnership, d/b/a University Village, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).
The first Initial Order of Suspension relates to the unlawful acquisition of University Village by new ownership. IMH Healthcare, LLC, the general partner of the new ownership, does not have the approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) to operate as a licensed CCRC provider in this state. IMH Healthcare, LLC is exercising control over this CCRC, providing continuing care to existing residents, and entering into contracts with new residents. This is a violation of Florida’s Insurance Code.
We highly recommend that licensees routinely check their MyProfile accounts for messages from the Department. We send an email notification when a message has been sent to remind you to check your MyProfile account but on rare occasions you may not receive that email. For that reason, we suggest you add our domains dfs.state.fl.us and MyFloridaCFO.com to your email software's Trusted or Safe Senders List to ensure you are able to receive email notifications from us. Licensees who have a valid email address on file with the Department, as required by law, are sent important email notifications when something that affects their application, license, continuing education, or appointment(s) occurs. Additionally, we will keep you informed with warnings regarding new schemes and scams being marketed to licensees. You can update your contact information through your MyProfile account. We want to keep you informed in a timely manner of pertinent information. You are still required to abide by the Florida Insurance Code regardless of whether you read the information we provide or attempt to provide.