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

         Volume 5, Number 5, February 1, 2008
 

Fellow Floridians:

Today marks the beginning of Black History Month, an opportunity for us to remember the history of African-Americans and the many rich contributions those with African heritage have made to our nation. It is also a time for us to celebrate black role models throughout our country’s history.

Gov. Charlie Crist has created a Web site to celebrate Florida’s Black History Month at http://www.floridablackhistory.com/. This month’s theme is “Pioneering the Future,” and you can learn more about brave men and women who faced injustice and discrimination and fought for a better future right here in Florida. On the Web site you can also learn about an essay contest for Florida’s students, Florida’s leaders who broke barriers, and suggested reading for all ages wishing to celebrate Black History Month.

This month, let us reflect upon those who have helped to level inequalities in our society, and let us also build upon the foundation they have created all year long.


FLORIDA BAR BOARD OF GOVERNORS MEETING

Today, CFO Alex Sink spoke in Tallahassee at the meeting of the Board of Governors of the Florida Bar. Highlighting the growing number of Floridians falling prey to foreclosure schemes, CFO Sink called upon the board to provide legal assistance to homeowners who are being evicted from their homes.



CFO SINK HELPS OPEN THE TALLAHASSEE AUTOMOBILE MUSEUM

In the company of area dignitaries, CFO Alex Sink welcomed the Tallahassee Automobile Museum to its new 95,000 square-foot home. One of the finest car collections in the world, the museum holds more than 128 show cars - including three Batmobiles, the hearse that carried President Lincoln, and a 1931 Duesenberg Model J appraised at more than $1.2 million.

Located at 6800 Mahan Drive, the museum, expecting to attract more than 20,000 visitors annually, offers banquet and meeting facilities for groups in the Tallahassee area.

The museum houses the largest solar panel system in the state with green items from the carpet and flooring to the electrical fixtures.


CFO SINK ENCOURAGES FLORIDIANS TO BE MORE ENGAGED IN LOCAL DECISIONS ABOUT THEIR TAX DOLLARS
Announces new Web site to educate Floridians about local government finances
 
In an effort to educate Floridians about their own local government income and spending, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today announced the launch of “Your Local Government Dollars and Cents,” found on her Web site, www.MyFloridaCFO.com. “Your Local Government Dollars and Cents” is a new tool that provides Floridians easy access to their local government’s revenues and expenditures.

With greater information about the finances of Florida’s local governments and Tuesday’s passage of the property tax amendment, CFO Sink is encouraging Floridians to work with their local governments in determining local priorities and ways to streamline services.

“I’m launching ‘Your Local Government Dollars and Cents’ to help Floridians get educated and more engaged in local government spending,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services (DFS). “I encourage every Floridian to use this tool and get more involved in how their local tax dollars are spent. With governments actively cutting their budgets, it is essential that Floridians make it clear what their priorities are for their communities.”

At “Your Local Government Dollars and Cents,” Floridians can search by city, county or special district for a variety of revenue information, including: ad valorem taxes, grants, fees, fines and more. They can also look up their local government’s expenditure information, including amounts spent on schools, transportation, public safety, general government and more. Floridians can create reports comparing governments, revenues and expenditures, and electronic data is available by year from 1993 through 2007. Floridians may also be interested in revenue and expenditures data for local school districts, which can be found at Florida’s Department of Education.

Since 1973, Section 218.32, Florida Statutes has required DFS to collect this financial information from local governments. CFO Sink launched the site to make the information more easily available to the public and help educate Floridians local government spending.
 


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES FIRST MEETING OF MSFH ADVISORY COUNCIL MONDAY

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today announced the first meeting of the legislatively created My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) Advisory Council to be held on Monday, February 4, 2008, in Tallahassee at the Capitol, in the Senate Office Building, Room 401. CFO Sink will address the council at 8:30 a.m. prior to the commencement of Monday’s meeting.

The Council, authorized by Section 215.5586, Florida Statutes, was created to provide advice and assistance to the Department of Financial Services (DFS) regarding the administration of the MSFH program. CFO Sink will use the council’s findings to further improve the services provided to Floridians through the program.

Date:              Monday, February 4, 2008
Time:              8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Location:        The Capitol Building
                       Room 401 of the Senate Office Building

The following twelve individuals have been appointed by CFO Sink to the MSFH Advisory Council:
  • Miriam Lopez, Trans Atlantic Bank, Florida Bankers Association appointee
  • J. Otis Black, State Farm Insurance Company, Florida Insurance Council appointee
  • Robert “Bob” Farr, Can Do Service Corp., Florida Home Builders Association appointee
  • Kurtis “Kurt” Gurley, Civil and Coastal Engineering at the University of Florida, State University Faculty member appointee
  • Rep. Alan D. Hays, Florida House of Representatives, House Speaker Marco Rubio appointee
  • Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Florida House of Representatives, House Speaker Marco Rubio appointee
  • Sen. Michael S. Bennett, Florida Senate, Senate President Ken Pruitt Appointee
  • Sen. Paula Dockery, Florida Senate, Senate President Ken Pruitt Appointee
  • Leslie Chapman-Henderson, Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes appointee
  • Jack Nicholson, Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, Senior Officer of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund appointee
  • Scott Wallace, Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, Executive Director of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation appointee
  • William “Craig” Fugate, Division of Emergency Management with the Department of Community Affairs, Director of the Division of Emergency Management appointee

The MSFH program resumed offering wind inspections and expanded statewide in April 2007 after conducting a pilot program during the previous year.  To date, the MSFH program has received applications from approximately 166,000 homeowners for free wind inspections and has conducted over 160,000 inspections.  Approximately 17,683 homeowners have been approved to receive matching grants and are working with the MSFH program to harden their homes.  Statewide, the program has issued a grand total of more than 3,196 grants to homeowners for more than $10 million.

For more information on the MSFH program or the council visit www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or call the program’s toll-free number at 1-866-513-6734. On the Web site, Floridians can link to information on the council, its agenda and upcoming meetings.


SINK, McCOLLUM  AND McCARTY ANNOUNCE $12.5 MILLION AIG INSURANCE SETTLEMENT

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty today announced that Florida has reached a settlement with a large insurance carrier involved in a “pay-to-play” tactic used by Marsh & McLennan and other insurance brokers. American International Group Inc. (AIG) will pay $12.5 million to Florida and eight other states as well as the District of Columbia to resolve allegations that some of its insurance subsidiaries engaged in bid-rigging and price-fixing in the commercial insurance market. These actions purportedly caused Florida public entities and private organizations to pay higher premiums.

“It’s wrong that governments and businesses paid inflated insurance rates because they were led to believe there was competition when there wasn’t,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services which served a lead role in the multi-state investigation along with the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of Insurance Regulation. “I applaud today’s settlement, because policyholders deserve to know exactly what they are paying for and that they are paying a fair price for it.”

“We will continue to hold insurance companies accountable for the manner in which they treat their customers,” said Attorney General McCollum. “I am pleased that we have been able to reach resolution for the affected policyholders in this set of circumstances, and I look forward to continuing this accountability for our state in the insurance industry.”

AIG and several of its insurance subsidiaries allegedly conspired with Marsh and other brokers by submitting fake bids to create the illusion of a competitive bidding process in the excess casualty commercial insurance market. Investigators determined that despite the appearance of a fair bidding process, the broker had already decided which insurer would receive a particular policyholder’s business. As part of the scheme, AIG paid the brokers “contingent commissions” which were not disclosed to policyholders and in return received other lucrative business.

The Florida Attorney General’s Office, Department of Financial Services and Office of Insurance Regulation will receive approximately $3 million of the settlement which will fund a reimbursement pool for affected policyholders. The settlement funds will also repay the state agencies’ investigative costs.

"Full disclosure in all insurance transactions is a must, and Florida consumers deserve nothing less," said Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty. "My office is committed to protecting Floridians, and this settlement further demonstrates the progress Florida is making toward establishing a national standard for transparency in insurance transactions."

AIG has agreed to a consent decree and final judgment pending approval in Leon County Circuit Court which will provide comprehensive injunctive relief, including enhanced disclosure to consumers of the compensation AIG pays to insurance brokers. AIG will also be required to abide by those reforms and to fully disclose the nature and range of payments made to insurance brokers on specific lines of coverage in the prior year. Prior to the settlement, AIG provided reimbursement to a nationwide group of policyholders and adopted significant business reforms that govern its bidding and underwriting practices.

This settlement marks the fourth agreement Florida has reached with insurance carriers that were involved with Marsh’s “pay-to-play” tactics. AIG has cooperated with the multi-state task force and will provide assistance to the states as they continue their investigation of insurance brokers and other insurers.

In addition to Florida and the District of Columbia, the following states participated in the investigation and settlement: Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia.

A copy of the complaint is available online at: http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/KGRG-7BBNM2/$file/AIG-Complaint.pdf.

A copy of the consent decree and final judgment is available online at: http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/KGRG-7BBNLL/$file/AIG-Consent-Decree.pdf.


CITIZENS TASK FORCE MET FEBRUARY 1

The Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution held a public meeting on Friday, February 1, 2008, in Jacksonville, Florida. The agenda and presentation materials are posted on the Web at http://taskforceoncitizensclaimshandling.org.

The next Task Force meeting is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, February 26, 2008, in Tallahassee. The February 1 meeting will be video-recorded and posted on the website.

STATEMENT BY CFO SINK ON THE GOVERNOR’S RECOMMENDED BUDGET FOR 2008-2009 FISCAL YEAR

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink issued the following statement in response to Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget recommendations for the 2008-2009 Fiscal Year:

“I applaud the Governor for his dedication to recommending a budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year that includes increased funding for essential services, such as education, health care and public safety.  As the Chair of the Healthy Kids Corporation, I am particularly encouraged that the Governor recommended a $60.6 million increase for Florida’s KidCare program that will allow more than 46,000 children access to affordable health care.  I am also pleased to see his continued commitment to environmental programs and an invigorated effort to advance a clean energy economy.”

“While I understand the current challenge to find resources in this year’s budget, I am concerned about the recommendation to sweep $129.5 million from the Workers’ Compensation Administration Trust Fund.  Through efficient management and reform of the Workers’ Compensation system, our state has been able to reduce Workers’ Compensation Administrative Trust Fund assessments from 2.75 percent to 0.25 percent, which is a 91 percent reduction over an eight-year period.  A trust fund sweep of this magnitude will require the state to raise Workers’ Compensation assessments—taxes—on Florida businesses as early as January 2009.  I look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to prevent assessment increases on Florida’s business owners, many of whom are struggling to balance their own budgets.”


REPRESENTATIVES FROM CFO SINK’S OFFICE TO HELP KICK-OFF REALSENSE PROSPERITY CAMPAIGN

In an ongoing effort to increase financial literacy and help Floridians make better financial decisions, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s office has partnered with the Realsense Prosperity Campaign to promote awareness about free tax preparation services available for low-to-moderate income families.

The kickoff event seeks to encourage residents to take advantage of free tax preparation services provided by IRS-certified volunteers. Volunteers and representatives at over 20 sites throughout Northeast Florida will work to ensure low to moderate income families who qualify for the Earned Income Credit (EITC) file. Additionally, the campaign will promote free financial literacy classes to help individuals and families set healthy financial goals and keep more of their money in their pockets.


MAKING THE CLAIMS PROCESS EASIER
What Consumers Should Know When Faced with A Loss

Important, but sometimes difficult, filing a claim can be one of the most frustrating processes during a crisis or following a major disaster. Delays in the claims process was the No. 1 complaint of insurance consumers in 2007, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). It is critical that at these times, you are prepared with the information your insurance company needs. To help you avoid problems getting your claims paid, the NAIC offers these tips:

Know Your Policy

Understand what your policy says. The policy is a contract between you and your insurance company. Know what’s covered, what’s excluded and what the deductibles are.

File Claims as Soon as Possible

Don’t let the bills or receipts pile up. Call your agent or your company’s claims hotline as soon as possible. Your policy might require that you make the notification within a certain time frame.

Provide Complete, Correct Information

Be certain to give your insurance company all the information they need. Incorrect or incomplete information will only cause a delay in processing your claim.

Keep Copies of all Correspondence

Whenever you communicate with your insurance company, be sure to keep copies and records of all correspondence. Write down information about your telephone and in-person contacts, including the date, name and title of the person you spoke with and what was said. Also, keep a record of your time and expenses.

Ask Questions

If there is a disagreement about the claim settlement, ask the company for the specific language in the policy that is in the question. Find out if the disagreement is because you and the insurance company interpret your policy differently. If this disagreement results in a claim denial, make sure you obtain a written letter explaining the reason for the denial and the specific policy language under which the claim is being denied.

Don’t Rush into a Settlement

If the first offer made by an insurance company does not meet your expectations, be prepared to negotiate to get a fair settlement. If you have any questions regarding the fairness of your settlement, seek professional advice.

Auto and Homeowners Claims

Auto and homeowners policies might require you to make temporary repairs to protect your property from further damage. Your policy should cover the cost of these temporary repairs, so keep all receipts. Also, maintain any damaged personal property for the adjuster to inspect. If possible, take photographs or video of the damage before making temporary repairs.

Other Tips for Filing Auto or Homeowners Claims:

Don’t make permanent repairs. An insurance company may deny a claim if you make permanent repairs before the damage is inspected.
If possible, determine what it will cost to repair your property before you meet with the claims adjuster.

Provide the claims adjuster with records of any improvements you made to your property.
A
sk the claims adjuster for an itemized explanation of the claim settlement offer.

Accident and Health Claims

Ask your physician to provide your insurance company with details about your treatment, medical conditions and prognosis.

If you suspect a provider is overcharging, ask the insurance company to audit the bill and verify whether the provider used the proper billing procedure.

Contact the Florida Department of Financial Services

If you have a dispute with your insurer about the amount or terms of the claim settlement, you should contact the Florida Department of Financial Services for assistance. Go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call 1-877-My-FL-CFO toll-free in Florida.

For more information about auto, home and health insurance options, and tips for choosing the coverage that is right for you and your family, go to www.insureUonline.org.


Consumer Services Helpline 1-877-My-FL-CFO
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