Consumer eViews

Volume 3, Number 46, November 13, 2006

Eager to learn more about the job she will step into in January, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer-elect Alex Sink spent today meeting with me and several employees of the Department of Financial Services.

“I am grateful to everyone for so graciously welcoming me,” Sink said. “I am excited to serve the people the Florida and look forward to a seamless transition.”

A constitutional officer of Florida, the CFO serves as the state’s financial watchdog, monitors the state’s investments and spending and keeps track of the more than $70 billion that comes into and goes out of state government each year. The CFO is also a consumer advocate on insurance and financial matters.

As the incoming CFO, Sink will oversee an agency with nearly 2,800 employees and a $500 million budget. She was formerly the Florida president of Bank of America, where she managed more than $40 billion in assets while supervising more than 9,000 employees in 800 branches.


 -- Tom Gallagher


Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced that free home inspections will soon begin in Charlotte, Collier and Monroe counties for nearly 700 homeowners who applied through the My Safe Florida Home program. The program, funded with $250 million by the Florida Legislature, was created to better protect
Floridians by strengthening their homes against hurricanes and to reduce the state’s exposure to hurricane damage.

“Before this hurricane season ends, my goal is to provide 12,000 free home inspections across the state to help Floridians strengthen their homes and better protect their families against catastrophic storms,” said Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services which administers the My Safe Florida Home program.

Gallagher said that homeowners in Charlotte, Collier and Monroe counties who have already submitted completed applications will be contacted by a department-approved inspector to schedule an inspection. The department has already received 1,128 completed applications from homeowners in these three counties. Future applicants will be served with additional funding of the My Safe Florida Home program.

Following an inspection, homeowners will receive a report that outlines up to seven areas that could be improved to better protect the home against hurricanes, an estimate of how much improvements would cost, the expected insurance savings the homeowner would receive if improvements were made, and a rating of the home’s current ability to withstand hurricanes and its future ability to withstand hurricanes with improvements.

Gallagher said that the expansion into Charlotte, Collier and Monroe counties is possible thanks to a partnership with the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) to screen and train an additional 350 inspectors.

Applying and obtaining a free home inspection is just the first step of the program. Homeowners who undergo the My Safe Florida Home inspections may also qualify for matching grants of up to $5,000 to fortify their homes. As directed by the new law to reduce hurricane exposure and property losses in Florida, grants will be prioritized and awarded to homeowners who live in high-risk, hurricane-vulnerable areas of the state.

Since the My Safe Florida Home program launched in late August, approximately 5,300 inspections have been completed or scheduled in Broward, Miami-Dade and Lee counties. To ensure each county receives a fair share of free home inspections, the My Safe Florida Home program is limiting the number of inspections in each county based upon population. Applicants who do not receive a free home inspection before this limit is met will have their applications held for future phases of the program.

Eligible Floridians must live in a single-family, site-built home with an insured value of $500,000 or less and have a valid homestead exemption. Documents verifying this information must be submitted with a completed application. Floridians can apply on-line at or by calling 1-800-342-2762 to get an application packet.


Firefighters from throughout Florida gathered last week at the South Florida Community College for the Great Florida Fire School, where they received hands-on and classroom training in a variety of subjects.  More than 170 students attended 29 different classes for a total of 5,176 student contact hours.  

In its twelfth year, the fire school is a traveling training program intended to save firefighters from having to travel to other programs that often can be miles away. Courses included wildland firefighting operations, LP gas fires, firefighter safety, extrication, fire investigations, explosive device recognition and safety, emergency response to terrorism, rope rescue, emergency medical services, public education and stress management.

“We bring these professionals the same classroom and practical training that they would get at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala,” said State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher.  “By bringing the training to them, it saves their departments the expense of travel and lodging and keeps them near the communities they serve.”

The school is sponsored by the Division of State Fire Marshal, Florida State Fire College, Florida State Firefighters' Association, South Florida Community College, The Convention & Visitors Bureau of Highlands County and the Highlands County Board of County Com

t for more information on the Great Florida Fire School.

Those who couldn’t make it to the fire school can attend the first annual Northwest Florida Firefighter Volunteer Weekend to be held December 8-10 in Valparaiso.  This three-day training event is free and offers more than 20 classes to volunteer firefighters.   

The Florida State Fire College, Florida Fire & Emergency Services Foundation and several corporate companies are sponsoring this event.  Instructors will come from throughout Florida.

For more information about course descriptions, class schedules, registration, and hotel/motel information, go to and click on the scrolling banner.


The open enrollment period for Medicare health and prescription drug coverage starts Wednesday and Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is encouraging consumers to take advantage of new resources available on-line, including a comparison of Medicare options and a Medicare prescription drug plan finder at

During the open enrollment period, seniors will have the opportunity to join the Medicare plan or make a change in their health and prescription drug plans. If an individual lacks coverage and doesn’t sign up during open enrollment, a penalty of as much as one-percent per month could be added to the monthly premium. Open enrollment ends December 31.

Gallagher reminds seniors to also keep these tips in mind:

  • Beware of door-to-door salesmen. Agents cannot solicit business at your home.
  • Seniors should never give personal information unless the person or the product is approved by Medicare.
  • Salesmen are not allowed to ask seniors for personal information when marketing products.
  • Questions about products being offered can be answered at 1-800-MEDICARE.
  • If fraud is suspected, seniors should call the U.S. Health and Human Services Inspector General at 1-800-HHS-TIPS.


A tornado skipped across the Orlando area and touched down in Seminole County causing significant damage to homes and vehicles. Officials say the tornado was selective, hitting one home and skipping another before jumping the road and causing damage in another neighborhood.

Homeowners were visited in person by Florida Department of Financial Services representatives to assess the damage and help contact insurance companies. Specialists delivered "Are you Prepared" brochures and consumer guides. Victims of the storm can get assistance from the department's consumer helpline at 800-342-2762.
National Weather Service meteorologists toured the damage zones and confirmed that an F-1 tornado was responsible for damage to homes in two subdivisions and a nearby farm. F-1 tornadoes pack winds of 73 to 112 mph and are capable of causing moderate damage, according to the Fujita scale.


As a business or an individual looking for health insurance, do your homework to protect yourself against potential scams.

Small businesses may be vulnerable to health-insurance scams because of increased health-care costs, difficulty finding coverage, and lack of knowledge about the subject.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, states are finding it difficult to regulate association health plans that reach across state lines. Some  scams have duped consumers and businesses into paying for insurance that doesn't exist.

Fake insurance brokers might mimic the names of legitimate companies, and licensed insurance agents have been tricked into selling fake plans. Scams ultimately affect everyone from unpaid hospitals and health-care providers to consumers who are left with unaffordable health-care bills.

The U.S. Department of Labor and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners recommend that you:

  • Make sure that the person selling insurance is licensed by the state by asking the Florida Department of Financial Services, 1-800-342-2762 or go online to and click on "Check out your insurance agent."
  • Confirm the insurance company is authorized to transact business in Florida by contacting the Florida Department of Financial Services, 1-800-342-2762 or go online to and click on "Look up your insurance company." 
  • Do not confuse discount health plans or cards with health insurance.
  • Take a look at coverage and costs offered by several insurers. Comparing plans will tell you what constitutes standard coverage or cost. If you see a plan that claims to offer the same coverage as other plans but at a dramatically lower cost, ask about it. What appears to be too good to be true usually is.
  • Read the details so you know the extent of the actual coverage and the limits of the policy.
  • Request references of employers enrolled with the provider and contact them to ask about benefit payment history and claim turn-around time.
  • Beware of applications with just a few questions, coverage amounts with few limits, too generous benefits or unusually low rates. Nonrefundable deposits or fees to be paid when you apply are not normal practice for the industry.

You may download or order a copy of our free "Health Insurance Guide," a helpful resource under Consumer Guides at

If you think you have been taken in by phony insurance, contact the Florida Department of Financial Services at 1-800-342-2762 and the U.S. Department of Labor's Employee Benefits Security Administration at 1-866-444-3272 or


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded $757,402 to the Florida Department of Health to continue development of a state-level, web-based, health tracking system. When complete, Florida's Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) Program will track environmental hazards, chronic diseases and adverse health risks to better understand the link between the environment and health. Public health surveillance or tracking systems are critical in preventing and controlling disease. This funding will be used to further develop a statewide network of health and environmental data that will drive actions to improve the health of our communities. Florida is one of sixteen states funded by the CDC to develop plans for the creation of the electronic computerized tracking network. The CDC is establishing the network by drawing on a wide range of expertise from federal agencies, state and local health and environmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, state public health and environmental laboratories, and schools of public health.

For more information on the Florida Department of Health, please visit

Consumer Services HelpLine (800) 342-2762

Consumer eViews