Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 34, August 24, 2007

Fellow Floridian:

Along with students from pre-kindergarten to college, my daughter headed off to school this week. As we prepare for her first semester in college, I was reminded of the many financial issues faced by college students and how, as Florida's Chief Financial Officer, I would like to help educate our youth about financial responsibility.

I felt it was important to share some advice to help ensure Florida’s college graduates have a clean financial start in life.

  • Avoid predatory lending – Predatory lenders offer easy access to money but often use high-pressure sales tactics, inflated interest rates, outrageous fees, unaffordable repayment terms and harassing collection tactics.

  • Update car insurance information – Make sure your insurance company has updated information about where your car will be driven if your college student is moving to another city or state.

  • Avoid credit card debt – College students are often targeted by credit card companies. Since many students seek loans for school, it is important to avoid incurring excessive credit card debt during college years.

  • Create a simple budget – Heading to college can often be an expensive undertaking for parents and students. To determine funds needed for school, it is best to set a budget by identifying costs for rent, food, gas, sundry items and books.

  • Warn students to never give anyone personal information, such as PINs, account numbers or social security numbers, especially over the Internet.

Our consumer specialists at the Department of Financial Services are ready to answer your financial questions. Our statewide toll-free helpline, 1-800-342-2762, is available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Visit MyFloridaMoney.com for more tips on financial responsibility.

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


CFO SINK ISSUES $6.5 MILLION CHECK TO MINOUCHE NOEL
Continues fight to protect additional $2 million appropriated by the Legislature

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced her office has issued a $6.5 million check to Minouche Noel, appropriated by the Florida Legislature during the 2007 Legislative Session, while vowing to continue to fight to protect the additional $2 million the Legislature appropriated to Minouche’s parents.

At six months of age, Minouche was left paralyzed after a medical malpractice incident at a public medical facility in 1989. Ten years later, a jury awarded her $8.5 million for injuries and damages, but under Florida law, any court judgment exceeding $200,000 in a negligent claims case against the government can be paid only by an act of the Legislature. The Legislature awarded Minouche Noel and her family the money this year.

“I am pleased to be able to announce that my office is issuing a check today to this young woman, who has been fighting for compensation for nearly twenty years,” said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “She needs this money to help her as she begins her life as a young adult, and we will continue to fight hard to make sure she and her family get all of the money the Legislature awarded them."

CFO Sink is withholding the $2 million in response to motions by Minouche’s former attorney to reopen her case and to file a lien against this amount. CFO Sink filed an amicus curiae motion, Latin for “friend of the court” brief, with the Broward County Circuit Court in support of Minouche Noel and her family, and the money being paid out today will be deposited into a special needs trust fund for Minouche.

During the 2007 Legislative Session, the Legislature passed a claims bill to compensate Minouche and her family for their losses, $6.5 million in a special needs trust fund for Minouche and $2 million for her parents. The Legislature specifically limited the payment of attorneys’ fees to $1,074,667 and lobbyists’ fees to $85,000. Recently, however, the Noels’ former attorney has taken legal action in an effort to increase the compensation from the $2 million for Minouche’s parents.

Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio sent CFO Sink a letter of legislative intent asking her to take legal action to protect the interests of the Noels.


Opinion-Editorial
CFO SINK: I WANT TO MAKE PIP WORK

Published in the St. Petersburg Times, Palm Beach Post, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Florida Times Union, Miami Herald, Tallahassee Democrat, Naples Daily News, Ft. Myers News-Press, Treasure Coast Palm, Pensacola News Journal

For 36 years, Floridians have taken for granted that if they suffer from injuries in a car accident, the first $10,000 in medical and related benefits are automatically covered by the No-Fault law, commonly referred to by the medical benefits portion called PIP, Personal Injury Protection.  In six weeks when the law is set to expire Florida will enter a new world.  

I support the intent of the No-Fault law, which is to ensure that Floridians receive medical treatment for injuries they suffer in an auto accident without delay and without the need to file a lawsuit to recover costs relating to these medical benefits. However, the law, and especially the PIP provision of the law, has major flaws.  A culture of fraud and abuse has grown around PIP, one that my fraud investigators fight every day.  Medical costs are not managed well in the PIP system.  Claims for PIP medical benefits should not be used to support unnecessary and costly lawsuits. 

But the idea behind the law – the protection of Floridians and their assets – is the centerpiece of my role as your Chief Financial Officer. Although I want to make the No-Fault law and PIP work, there is no indication that the legislature will address this issue in the upcoming special legislative session. Therefore, with the impending sunset of the law, I have been working to increase Floridians’ awareness about life after No-Fault.   

Several important aspects of auto insurance will be different when the law goes away.  I have established an informative Web site as an educational resource at www.myfloridacfo.com/nofault/. On the Web page, you will find answers to questions about how drivers can protect themselves in a fault-based system and more. 

Much has been reported about changes in auto insurance rates when No-Fault expires.  However I encourage you to look beyond the cost savings and consider what you and your family need. In particular, you may decide to buy medical payments coverage or increase your existing Uninsured Motorist or other coverage to better protect you, which will add some cost to your auto insurance premium, even if PIP costs are reduced.   

I understand that the Legislature has been studying this issue for years, and well-intentioned members in the Senate and House of Representatives have proposed various No-Fault reform ideas.  The issue is complicated and the parties – hospitals, doctors, attorneys and insurance companies - rarely agree on reforms that Floridians need.  The reality is that all interested parties will have to change the way they do business in order to fix PIP.

Whether or not we reform No-Fault or PIP, I believe the following components should be included in any system of medical benefits for Floridians: 

·        Florida should require mandatory medical benefits insurance for owners and operators of motor vehicles regardless of who is at fault in the accident. This would particularly help the 20% of Floridians that currently lack health insurance.

·        Medical benefits insurance should include mandatory cost containment provisions. For example, fee schedules, which set reimbursement rates for services and are common in Medicare, Medicaid and workers’ compensation, and have proven successful for containing costs.

·        Florida must continue to combat all forms of insurance fraud and any insurance program must include aggressive anti-fraud measures. Critics of the No-Fault system point to fraud as a reason to allow it to sunset. Experience in other states has shown us that fraud happens in any system and we must remain vigilant against it. 

One thing is clear - before No-Fault sunsets on October 1, all Floridians should examine their automobile insurance policies to ensure they have adequate coverage to protect themselves and their assets. I encourage Floridians to contact their insurance agents or companies in the next six weeks to discuss what changes will best suit their needs.  

I call on the Governor and Legislature to expand the call for the upcoming Special Legislative Session to include No-Fault and urge the parties to work together with the best interests of Floridians in mind.  PIP can work. Compromise is needed. A reformed No-Fault law or a suitable replacement will benefit Floridians directly by protecting families.  Who can argue with that?


DON'T LET YOUR HURRICANE GUARD DOWN

The images of the damage that Hurricane Dean wrought in the Caribbean and in Mexico serves as a strong reminder that Floridians must remain on guard.

Make sure your family has adequate homeowners insurance, including flood insurance that takes 30 days to activate. 

Then focus on stocking up on storm supplies such as bottled water, canned food, batteries, tarps and other necessary items, and make or review your hurricane escape plan for every member of the family, including pets. 

Finally, make sure you have copies of important documents, including insurance policies and financial records, in a waterproof container that you can take with you if you have to evacuate.

For more information to help you prepare, visit Hurricane Season 2007 on the department’s Web pages. 

To learn ways you can harden your home against hurricanes, please visit My Safe Florida Home.


SUMMER 2007 – SPECIAL EDITION: 51 WAYS TO SAVE HUNDREDS ON LOANS AND CREDIT CARDS

A Message to Readers from FDIC Consumer News

You probably think of loans and credit cards as services — as ways to borrow money and buy things. And of course, you're right about that. But given the astounding array of credit-related services available today, with their varying degrees of complexity and costs, it's smart to think of mortgages, credit cards and auto loans as products — tangible items that you should research and compare before you buy, and then use with care.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation wants to help you reap the benefits of loans and credit cards at the lowest possible costs. That's why this special edition of our quarterly FDIC Consumer News is a collection of 51 simple, practical tips and other guidance that can help you save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.

In this special edition you'll find ideas and information on topics such as how to: get the best possible interest rates on loans and credit cards; avoid paying unnecessary fees; find "emergency" loans at affordable prices; and steer clear of credit-related rip-offs and scams.

The FDIC wants not only help keep your money safe in insured bank accounts, but also wants to help you keep more of your money.

Simple strategies for cutting costs any time


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