Volume 2, Number 39, September 26, 2005
Last year, we spoke with and assisted more than 585,000 Floridians with questions, concerns and requests for help with their insurance or financial issues. Some might think that all of the calls were related to the 2004 hurricanes.
Interestingly, about half of the calls we received dealt with annuities, health insurance and other issues important to Floridians, including an air force base chief who was worried about a financial planner offering an investment in an annuity.
We checked out the agent and found he was licensed but that several complaints had been lodged against him related to annuities. Wisely, the base chief decided to shop around before investing.
Another example is a Pensacola resident who saw a newspaper advertisement offering affordable health care. Thankfully, she contacted us and learned that United Family Health Care Group was not licensed.
I'm proud of the work we've accomplished on behalf of Floridians and look forward to helping another half a million residents or more in the coming year.
-- Tom Gallagher
Our Consumer Helpline is 1-800-342-2762.
GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES $2.2 MILLION IN REFUNDS TO TITLE CUSTOMERS IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that approximately 10,000 Central Florida residents will soon benefit under a $2.2 million refund program agreed to by Fidelity National Title Insurance Company. The refund program was the result of the Department of Financial Services’ investigation of illegal referrals to title agencies for business.
“The recent housing boom in Florida is a big component of our state’s recent economic success,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. “This office will continue to do everything it can to keep our economy growing, and protect Florida homeowners during the process of purchasing a home.”
Title insurance is required by mortgage lenders to protect themselves and the homebuyer from property ownership disputes.
Under the refund program, Fidelity National title customers who paid for title insurance provided by one of 60 title agencies in Central Florida will receive 30 percent of the title insurance premium paid at the time of closing within the next 120 days. A list of the 60 title agencies is attached.
Gallagher said that Fidelity National Title Insurance Company cooperated with the department to establish the refund program. The company also paid a $1 million fine and agreed to terminate its relationships with title insurance agencies that received illegal payments for referrals of title insurance business. Bogus affiliated business arrangements were set up to funnel the improper payments.
Simultaneously, Gallagher is taking action to revoke the licenses of the 60 title agencies involved in these illegal arrangements. Investigators with the department’s Division of Agent and Agency Services said the sham entities did not have separate telephone lines or offices, did not have full-time employees, and business operations were in name only.
“We will continue to aggressively investigate and take severe action against title agents and agencies involved in these unethical and illegal arrangements,” said Gallagher.
Title insurance companies and agents are barred under state and federal laws from entering into illegal affiliated business arrangements in an attempt to funnel improper payments to builders, real estate agents or mortgage brokers. They are also barred from providing payments and providing other things of value to real estate agents, mortgage lenders and builders in exchange for business referrals. Illegal inducements include direct payments, free advertising, paying for office equipment, and gift certificates.
Last year, Gallagher issued a warning to the industry against engaging in illegal kickback arrangements. Gallagher said that his office is currently investigating all title agencies for similar practices. Fidelity National Insurance Company is the first to reach a settlement with the department.
To file a complaint, visit the Department of Financial Services web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the toll-free consumer helpline at 1-800-342-2762.
LIST OF TITLE AGENCIES
CONCERN FOR MOTORCYCLE SAFETY
In the three years following Florida's 2000 repeal of its mandatory helmet law for riders over 21, the number of motorcyclists killed in Florida went up 81 percent over the number killed from 1997 to 1999, according to a study released in August by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) would like all motorcyclists to take a safety course in an effort to reduce deaths.
During the recent Cabinet meeting, there was agreement that the agency -- which is overseen by the governor and Cabinet -- should push next year to change state law to require riders to take the safety course. Currently, people under 21 have to take it to get a motorcycle license, but no one else is required.
Highway Safety Executive Director Fred Dickinson told the Cabinet that in the last two years, not one of the 150,000 people who have taken the course, which includes riders over the age of 21, has died in a crash. The people who have taken the classes are the only ones on the positive side of statistics in motorcycle deaths in Florida.
In the last three years there were 933 bikers killed versus 515 in the three years before the repeal. Some studies have suggested the repeal of the helmet law is to blame for the increase, but Dickinson said it may have more to do with an increase in motorcycle riders in the past few years.
The DHSMV would like to ask lawmakers to increase the minimum requirement for medical insurance carried by motorcycle riders. Medical benefits of $10,000 are required now; the agency is considering an increase to $50,000.
The increase has been asked for by hospitals and state health officials, since $10,000 doesn't cover the medical care for most serious motorcycle crashes. Hospitals end up with the bill when the patients can’t pay.
Gov. Bush and Cabinet members questioned moving ahead with the plan that would force motorcyclists to carry more health insurance if they ride without helmets.
State Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher expressed concern that it would be hard to find insurance companies who would write a $50,000 motorcycle insurance policy.
Dickinson said the agency would continue to work on the issue.
GOVERNOR AND CABINET PROCLAIM ‘FLORIDA ON THE MOVE’ DAY
At the September 22 meeting, the governor and Cabinet proclaimed September 28, 2005, as Florida on the Move Day. Presented by CFO Tom Gallagher, the Cabinet resolution set goals for Floridians to follow to become healthier through simple changes in their daily lives.
According to a recent survey, Americans spend 7.7 hours per day sitting and four hours per day watching television and playing computer games. We are the most overweight nation in the world. Our eating and physical activity patterns do not give us enough exercise and we tend to eat too many calories. The recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day are not accomplished by more than 60% of American adults, while 25% are not physically active at all.
More than 120 million Americans — 64.5% of the adult population — are overweight; nearly 59 million, or 31%, are obese. The average American adult is gaining 1-3 pounds each year, and some people gain even more.
Florida on the Move, an affiliate of the national initiative America on the Move, is a grassroots network that is building communities to support individual behavior change by setting a personal goal for each participant to move more and eat less.
It’s all about energy balance. Weight gain can stop by creating a balance between the amount of energy burned and the amount of food consumed throughout a normal day.
The message is simple: move more and eat less. Making these 2 small changes daily is all it takes. By walking an extra 2000 steps, which is the equivalent of about 1 mile, and eating only 100 fewer calories each day, individuals can prevent weight gain and begin to see big results.
For success in creating sustainable individual behavior change, AOM focuses to create communities that support healthy eating and active living. By reaching individuals where they live, work, learn, and play, communities can make a difference. AOM encourages both the public and private sectors to be part of this effort.
America On the Move is an initiative of the nonprofit organization, The Partnership to Promote Healthy Eating and Active Living (The Partnership). To find out more about the Partnership, please visit www.ppheal.org.
Remind your friends to make two simple changes, move more by taking an extra 2,000 steps and consume 100 fewer calories each day for a healthier lifestyle.