Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 31, August 2, 2004                            

As a result of the Florida Department of Financial Services’ annual Unclaimed Property Auction held in Miami on Saturday, more than $800,000 was raised to benefit public education.  More than 30,000 items were put on the auction block, including antique jewelry, sports memorabilia and Mayan artifacts.   Our most valuable item, a 6.9-carat diamond ring, set in platinum, fetched a record $25,000.  We saw a record crowd of participants in Miami.  More than 300 Floridians, a program record, attended a day-long preview of items last Friday and registered as bidders to participate in Saturday’s auction. 

The items come from abandoned safe deposit boxes in Florida banks and credit unions, which are turned over to the department’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property when the owners can’t be found.  The proceeds from auction are deposited in the State School Trust Fund, managed by the Department of Education, and held indefinitely until the rightful owner is found.   

In addition to safe deposit box items, we also receive funds from unclaimed bank accounts, utility deposits, insurance refunds and stock payments.   Currently, we’re holding more than $1.1 billion in unclaimed property just waiting to be returned to the rightful owners.  No fees are ever charged for this state service.   

To find out if cash or property is being held by the state for you, or if you are an heir to unclaimed property, log on to www.fltreasurehunt.org or call toll-free 1-88-VALUABLE.  You could be a mouse click or a phone call away from finding lost treasure.

                                                                    -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER APPOINTS STEVE BURGESS AS INSURANCE CONSUMER ADVOCATE 

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher announced today that he has re-appointed Steve Burgess as the state’s insurance consumer advocate.  Burgess, who served as the state’s first insurance consumer advocate in the early 1990s, replaces Elsie Crowell who recently retired.  In his new role, Burgess will represent Florida citizens on insurance matters before state lawmakers, regulators and other stakeholders.

“Steve’s return to this important post is a win-win for the department and Florida’s insurance consumers,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “He brings extensive on-the-job experience and a wealth of expertise on consumer and insurance issues.”

“I am honored to work again with CFO Gallagher to assist and protect Florida’s insurance consumers and help address some of the emerging issues in Florida’s insurance market, including the cost and availability of homeowners and health insurance,” said Burgess. 

The Florida Legislature created the insurance consumer advocate’s post in 1990 to represent the interests of the public, with the authority to appear before the Division of Administrative Hearings, the Department of Financial Services, and the Office of Insurance Regulation, including any forum in matters that arise under the Department’s jurisdiction.

In addition to participating in the legislative process and selected rate issues, Burgess will serve on various boards, including Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association, National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) Workers’ Compensation Appeals, and the Statewide Subscriber Assistance Panel.  For the past seven years, Burgess has been the Deputy Public Counsel with the Office of Public Counsel on consumer issues before the Florida Public Service Commission.

Burgess received his B.S. in Accounting from Florida State University and a J.D. degree from Florida State University Law School.  From 1979 to 1990, Burgess was employed by the Office of Public Counsel and represented consumers in public utility disputes.   During that time, Burgess represented consumer interests in cases before the Public Service Commission, Department of Administrative Hearings, the First District Court, the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS.


SELF-EMPLOYED FLORIDIANS QUALIFY FOR GUARANTEED-ISSUE HEALTH COVERAGE DURING AUGUST

Self-employed Floridians in need of health insurance can obtain it during an open enrollment period during the month of August, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher said today.

The open enrollment period requires insurance companies and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) to offer applications for coverage to the self-employed on a guaranteed-issue basis from August 1 to August 31 each year, with a plan start date of October 1.  The open enrollment period is also the time when the self-employed now covered by a small business plan may switch to another company’s plan.

“The opportunity comes only once a year for the self-employed seeking guaranteed-issue health coverage,” Gallagher said.   “It’s a good time to review current coverage and to consider new additional options, such as tax-advantaged health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements.”

The Small Group Market Carrier list is posted on the Department of Financial Services’ website at
http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/small_group_market_carrirers.htm

For available benefits, go to http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/companies/lh_fr/is_LHFR_Small_Emp_Benefit_Plan.htm.

Guaranteed-issue means insurers and HMOs must offer coverage without regard to health status.  While small businesses with only one employee, often referred to as “one-life groups,” cannot be refused coverage during the open enrollment period, companies that write coverage for these groups are required to offer only “basic” and “standard” plans.  Redesigned last year by a Small Employer Benefit Committee appointed by Gallagher, the plans feature adjustments to benefits intended to reduce premium costs, such as raising co-pays for emergency room admissions, physician office visits and prescription drugs, as well as allowing higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums.

HMOs are now also able to offer "co-insurance" type standard and basic plans as an alternative to traditional co-pay type plans.  In these insurance-like options, HMOs pay 60 to 80 percent of typical charges for services, depending on the plan, as opposed to charging co-pays.  Employers can choose different out-of-pocket maximums to further adjust premiums.

All basic plans are now required to provide prescription drug coverage, and lifetime maximums for basic insurance plans were raised from $500,000 to $2 million.  Standard insurance plan lifetime maximums were raised from $1 million to $5 million.  HMO standard and basic plans previously carried no lifetime limits but now have the same maximum limits as the insurance plans.

With the passage of the Affordable Healthcare for Floridians Act this year, new coverage options for employers include health savings accounts (HSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs) for employers.  HSAs, which operate like Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), allow people to save their own money in a tax-free account for use on health related expenses. If the money is not spent, it rolls over and continues to accumulate until age 65 at which time the money can be used for any purpose.

“These accounts will help Floridians pay for out-of-pocket health costs with pre-tax dollars and empower them to make wise financial decisions about their medical care,” said Gallagher, who co-chaired the Governor’s Task Force that suggested many of the new choices.  “In addition to offering another option for Floridians seeking health care coverage, these accounts will be attractive to young, healthy individuals who so often choose to go without insurance and will help lower overall costs in the market.” Self-employed Floridians who apply for coverage must show certain documentation verifying that they are operating an active business.  For assistance, they should contact the department’s toll-free consumer helpline at 1-800-342-2762 or visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com .

Consumers may also contact our helpline to request a free copy of our health insurance consumer guide.  Previous releases and a copy of the Small Employer Benefit Committee’s report are also available on the department’s website.


WHAT EXACTLY IS SERVICE POINT? 

Your point for informed financial decisions – and the website of the Consumer Services Division of the Florida Department of Financial Services. Geared to help consumers get answers to specific questions, the site has seven entry points on its main page. To link to any of the information below, click on the Service Point logo in the left column of the newsletter. Our specialists are available to help you by email or by phone from 8 a.m. EDT to 7 p.m. EDT, in English and en Espanol.  

Our Smart Answer system responds in detail to the question asked through our catalog of major insurance issues by topic, such as property & casualty, life, health, etc., with links to applicable statutes and websites of further interest.

Ask a Question:
Ask your general insurance question here. For the best response, use short sentences and common words. Example: I need flood insurance.

Self Service:
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Find answers to frequently asked questions.
Publications
Use Adobe Acrobat to download or order FREE guides.
Calendar of Events
Browse our statewide list of free seminars and educational programs.
 

Consumer Assistance Links:
Civil Remedy Form
Form required by F.S. 624.155  
Closed Claims
A listing of professional liability insurance claims in which an insurer made a payment to a claimant to satisfy a judgment or reach a settlement.
Company Search
Provides full names, business addresses, and identifying information for companies/entities doing business in the State of Florida.
Consumer Guides
To order our FREE consumer guides, click here.
Individual Policies (HIPAA)
A list of companies that have advised us that they are marketing guaranteed issue health insurance policies for eligible individuals as defined by Section 627.6487(3), Florida Statutes.
Insurance Rates and Requirements
Factors that determine insurance premium rates and those items that are required for auto and homeowners coverage in Florida.
Medicare Supplement Insurance Sample Rates

Many companies sell Medicare supplement insurance in Florida. The sample premiums in this list show company rates available as of December 2002.

Small Group Market Carriers
A list of companies offering health insurance to Small Business Owners in Florida.
 

Consumer News:
Consumer Alerts
Get the latest updates from CFO Tom Gallagher on insurance, financial services and banking advisories.
Financial News
Alerts about scams, arrests and investigations to help you make sound financial decisions.
Identity Theft
Identity thieves adopt your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information. Learn how you can help guard against identity theft.
Insurance Alerts
News alerts and information from the Office of Insurance Regulation.
Medicare News
Get answers to your questions about updates to Medicare from the offical US governnment site. Or call 1-800-633-4227 or MEDICAR.
Unlicensed Insurance Entities
Verify before you Buy! Click here to report unlicensed activity and to avoid buying products that are not guaranteed in the state of Florida
 

Top FAQs:
Are Medical Discount Plans regulated by the State of Florida?
Medical Discount Plans, Prescription Discount Plans, Dental Discount Plans, and Vision Discount Plans are not insurance. These plans do not pay for a...
What is the difference between fully-regulated Florida medical coverage and medical coverage provided through an out-of-state association group or trust plan?
Medical insurance plans issued through out-of-state group plans are primarily governed by the laws of another state, so there can be significant diffe...
Can an insurance company non-renew for a sinkhole claim?
Florida law prohibits an insurance company from non-renewing any property insurance policy for filing a claim on a partial loss caused by sinkhole dam...
 

Other Government Links:
Citizens Property Insurance Corporation

Citizens was created to serve property insurance policyholders in the State of Florida who are unable to obtain coverage in the private marketplace.

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes

FLASH, Inc. is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization dedicated to promoting disaster safety and property loss mitigation. Our Mission: To help reduce the number of deaths, injuries, suffering, property damage and economic losses caused by disasters.

Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR)

Primary responsibility for regulation, compliance and enforcement of statutes related to the business of insurance and the monitoring of industry markets.

The Office of Financial Regulation (OFR)

Dedicated to safeguarding the private financial interests of the public by licensing, chartering, examining and regulating financial institutions and financial service companies in Florida.
 

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INVESTIGATORS SEEK PUBLIC’S HELP IN SOLVING CHURCH FIRE

Investigators with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and Jefferson County Fire Department are asking for the public’s help to find who is responsible for destroying Lamont Baptist Church in April. A $2,500 reward is being offered.

The April 27 fire at the church, located at 121 River Road, was determined to have been the result of arson. The fire destroyed the church sanctuary, built in 1937, and adjoining fellowship hall.

“It is unconscionable that anyone would destroy a house of worship,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher. “We encourage anyone with any information that may help us arrest and convict whoever is responsible for this crime to come forward.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office at 850-997-2023 or the state arson hotline, toll free 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON). Callers providing information can remain anonymous. The Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention is offering a $2,500 reward for anyone providing information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for this fire.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.


Florida Department of Financial Services
Consumer Services HelpLine
(800)342-2762.