CFO Alex Sink's Consumer eViews NewsletterFLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
ALEX SINK'S NEWSLETTER

Volume 6 Number 29 July 17, 2009

HOME


In these tough economic times people are looking to stretch every dollar, and this week, CFO Sink and the Department of Financial Services found ways to help Floridians do just that.

DFS’ Division of Consumer Services reported that they helped Floridians recover more than $11.5 million in claims payments and premium refunds in the first six months of this year. And the Department’s Bureau of Unclaimed Property has returned more than $90 million to Floridians since January. If you haven’t already, check out www.FLTreasureHunt.org  to see if there’s money waiting for you!

Also, be sure to scan the summer savings challenge in this week’s My Family CFO column – whether your goal is to save $100 or more, the column offers creative ways to find real savings over a month’s time. As we all work to make our dollar go further, CFO Sink will continue to find ways to cut government waste and help Florida’s families save money.


CFO Sink's Consumer Service specialists recover $11.5 million in six months

Single case results in $1.2 million payment for unpaid hospital claims

 

Florida CFO Alex Sink announced on Wednesday that her Division of Consumer Services has helped Floridians recover more than $11.5 million in the first six months of this year in claim payments and premium refunds, including one case that resulted in a $1.2 million payment on a consumer’s unpaid hospital claims.

The recoveries were logged between January 1, 2009, and June 30, 2009. In 2008, CFO Sink’s Consumer Services Division helped recover more than $14 million. The Division of Consumer Services assists Floridians with financial and insurance-related matters including disaster preparation and insurance fraud as well as questions and complaints regarding auto, home, health, life, and small businesses.

“I consider it my responsibility to ensure that everyday Floridians have someone fighting for them and standing in their corner,” said CFO Sink. “Our staff is dedicated to protecting Floridians and their assets and I am very proud of what we have accomplished.”

In the case recovering the largest single sum -- $1.2 million -- Insurance Consumer Specialist Guy Thibaut, who works in the Division’s Largo Call Center, intervened on behalf of a consumer who requested help getting hospital claims paid. After Thibaut got involved on the consumer’s behalf, the insurance company determined that the claims were denied in error and made payment.

In a letter written in February 2009, another Floridian thanked CFO Sink for “prompt and thorough assistance” as he attempted to finalize a claim with his warranty company. In this case, Insurance Consumer Specialist Alejandro Alvarado helped to get payment on the claim, which had been outstanding since October 2008. “Thanks for such a positive outcome,” the consumer wrote.

CFO Sink’s Division of Consumer Services has also gone above and beyond to help Floridians in need. For instance, the Division received an e-mail from Leandra Allen of Orlando asking for help after her husband was told by his HMO that he would have to go to Gainesville or Tampa to seek treatment for advanced leukemia.  Mrs. Allen had minimal leave time at work and faced the possibility of losing her job and insurance if the treatment could not be provided locally. Insurance Consumer Specialist Greg Mauldin and Pamela White, a management analyst with the Bureau of Education, Advocacy and Research, convinced the HMO to review the case.  The HMO ultimately granted the request and approved the treatment of Mrs. Allen’s husband at an Orlando area hospital.

For more information or for assistance, log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call our consumer helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.


Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate hosts roundtable for advocate groups

Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Sean Shaw hosted a roundtable in Largo, Florida, late last week in order to establish a positive dialogue among advocacy groups and organizations that have an interest in Florida’s insurance issues. At Friday’s meeting, Shaw brought up a variety of different proposed insurance initiatives, in the hope of bringing together groups from across the state to better communicate on behalf of Florida’s insurance consumers.

“This meeting was the catalyst for us to form a coalition among the different advocacy groups and create a stronger, more unified voice when presenting the concerns of our citizens to the lawmakers of the state,” said Shaw.

Shaw, along with Terry Butler, a senior attorney for the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate, presented to the forum several proposed initiatives concerning health care insurance, property insurance, workers compensation insurance and title insurance.  The roundtable also included a presentation covering property insurance reforms by the advocate organization Fair Insurance Rates In Monroe (FIRM), of Key West, Florida.

Florida’s CFO Alex Sink joined the forum via phone and praised all participants of the roundtable discussion.  “I would just like to thank you all for thinking that it was important to participate in this discussion.  Although I know we will not agree on everything, I think that this meeting is a big step in the right direction,” Sink told the group.

Participants expressed appreciation for the Insurance Consumer Advocate as well as the CFO in supporting the idea of an advocate coalition in the state of Florida.  “It is wonderful that we have the support of an aggressive consumer advocate who has the support of the Chief Financial Officer (Sink),” said Bill Newton, executive director of the advocacy group, Florida Consumer Action Network.

Participants at Friday’s roundtable included: Bill Newton, Florida Consumer Action Network; Brad Ashwell, Florida Public Interest Group; Heather Carruthers and Colleen Reppetto, Fair Insurance Rates of Monroe; Jan Bergemann, Cyber Citizens for Justice; and several others.

For further information about the roundtable and future meetings, please visit the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate online at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/ICA or contact Insurance Consumer Advocate Shaw at 850-413-5923 or insuranceconsumeradvocate@myfloridacfo.com.


CFO sink reminds Floridians to verify travel insurance in preparation for summer vacations

Floridians who have long-distance travel plans this summer are urged to beware of travel insurance scams that could leave them financially stranded. Such scams could range from unlicensed insurance products to deceptive sales practices.

Travel insurance can cover everything from trip cancellation to emergency medical care, so it is important to understand the type of coverage you are buying. Some insurers have different definitions for being “covered” and “protected.”

Consider these real-life stories from people who sought the department’s help:

Make sure you protect your vacation dreams by making sure the insurance company writing the policy is licensed in Florida and read the policy thoroughly before signing. To verify or to ask questions, visit www.myfloridacfo.com.


Newly elected Boys State CFO Ilvens Jean visits CFO's office

Boys State CFO Ilvens Jean, Fort Lauderdale High, visited the CFO's office on Monday and beamed at the privilege of sitting at her desk.

Congratulations, CFO Jean, and all Boys State delegates for your many accomplishments.

Boys State is a comprehensive one-week leadership course in state and local government, developed to offer high school juniors a better perspective of the practical operation of government and to show that the individual is responsible for the character and success of government. Delegates selected to attend will learn by doing. Each level of government is run by elected delegates to serve in each office of state government. Florida law and the court system, legislative procedure, and Florida political history are presented to develop a working knowledge of the structure of government.


Foreclosure help workshops coming up in Palatka, Naples

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is inviting the public to participate in Florida Housing Help, a community outreach program designed to educate and assist families facing foreclosure. Two workshops are scheduled next week: July 22 in Palatka and July 25 in Naples.

In a continued effort to assist in the foreclosure crisis that has hit so many Floridians, CFO Alex Sink and the Department of Financial Services, in partnership with Putnam County, will hold a Florida Housing Help foreclosure workshop in Palatka on July 22, 2009, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The event will take place at the Putnam County Emergency Operations Center located at 410 South Highway 19, Palatka, FL 32177. Mortgage lenders, HUD-certified housing counselors, legal services, and other foreclosure assistance programs will be available to assist consumers.

The Naples program will be held 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, July 25, at Edison State College, Collier County Campus, 7007 Lely Cultural Parkway, Naples. The program is sponsored by the Financial Action Team, the Collier County State Legislative Delegation and the Department of Financial Services.

The workshop will include opportunities to meet with HUD-certified housing counselors, local housing authorities, legal assistance, the Florida Career and Service Center and the Florida Gulf Coast University Small Business Development Center.

Pre-registration is recommended by calling 877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236).


Are You Properly Insured for Your Summer Fun?

The temperature is rising and the sun is shining, but before you put the boat on the lake or get the ATVs out of storage, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) urges you to review your insurance to make sure you are properly protected. Use these tips to review your coverage to make sure you and your family are insured for the increased risks that come with outdoor activities.

Boats

The personal property coverage of your homeowners policy might cover a small boat for $1,500 or less in physical damage. However, coverage for your liability risk is limited. Insurers generally provide liability insurance on small sailboats (26 feet or less) and powerboats with small motors (50 hp for inboard and inboard/outboard and 25 HP for outboard motors). However, a boat of any significant size will be excluded from your homeowners policy for both property and liability coverage. If you own a larger boat, ask your insurance agent or company about a separate policy that covers physical damage to the boat and any liability that might result from its use.

Personal watercrafts, such as Jet Skis, will also likely require a separate boat insurance policy. Again, you might be able to purchase this policy from your homeowners insurer or you might wish to use an insurer that specializes in boat insurance. Talk with your insurance agent or company about your options.

Some other questions to ask your agent before putting your boat in the water:

Motorcycles and Scooters

Motorcycles are not covered by your standard auto insurance policy. You must have a separate policy that covers liability, no-fault personal injury protection (if required) and depending on the value of the motorcycle, comprehensive and collision coverage. If your motorcycle is financed, your lender will likely require you carry physical damage coverage.

The premium for your policy will partially depend on the motorcycle’s engine size, its age and how often you ride. When you're getting a quote, be sure to ask your insurance agent or company if they offer discounts to members of associations or for taking safety courses.

Insurance companies have separate requirements for helmets. Be sure you understand your state law and that you have read your policy to see what it requires when it comes to wearing a helmet. If you have specific questions, contact your state insurance department ot the department of the state you are visiting. For a link to the state insurance department's Web site, go to www.naic.org/state_web_map.htm.

If you carry seasonal coverage on your motorcycle, which allows you to eliminate liability and perhaps collision coverage in the winter months if you do not ride, check to make sure your policy is up to date and that you have a current insurance card before riding this summer.

Scooters for yourself or your teenager also must have insurance. Talk with your insurance agent or company about who will be operating the scooter. Some insurance companies might offer a discount for safety courses.

ATVs

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are also not covered by standard automobile insurance policies; however, your homeowners policy might partially cover your liability on an ATV. Ask your insurance agent or company if this coverage is enough to protect you and your family. You might want to consider a separate ATV policy to make sure you are properly insured.

Other questions to ask your insurance agent or company:

Backyard Fun – Pools and Trampolines

Pools and trampolines, while fun for the family, are also dangerous and will increase your insurance risk. It is important to check with your insurance agent or company to make sure you are properly insured for this risk. You might want to consider purchasing an umbrella policy to provide liability coverage above what your homeowners policy offers. Be sure to ask if your homeowners policy specifies any safety measures you are required to install, such as a certain height fence or locked gate.

Some companies might not insure your property if you have a trampoline, or they might have policy exclusions for any liability related to trampoline injuries. Be sure to understand exactly what damages and injuries your homeowners policy covers before you allow anyone on the trampoline.

An insurance company can deny coverage or cancel your policy if you do not follow the policy safety guidelines or do not inform the company when you install a pool or purchase a trampoline. Check with your insurance agent or company for rates and safety guidelines before making your purchase.

More Information

Nearly all summertime, outdoor activities come with increased risks. A call to your insurance agent is always a good first step in making sure you are protecting yourself and your family.

For more information about health, home, life and auto insurance options, and tips for choosing the coverage that is right for you and your family, go to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Consumers/.


Hurricane Checklist: Understand Your Health Insurance Coverage

If you needed to evacuate because of a storm and needed medical treatment outside of your area, do you know what your plan would cover and how much your deductible may be? Floridians need to review their health plans now to make sure their coverage needs would be met.

Consumers should know the answers to the following questions:

Get prepared with the following checklist:

If you do not currently have health coverage for your children, visit the Florida Kid Care Web site at www.floridakidcare.org or contact the Department of Consumer Services Helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236) for information about health insurance coverage for the entire family.

Uninsured Floridians can also obtain health coverage through Cover Florida by visiting www.coverfloridahealthcare.com.

For more information on health insurance in Florida, read our Health Insurance Guide.

Find out when a Hurricane Preparedness Event will be in your area on our calendar linked here. Check back with us next week for more ideas.


My Family CFO

Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Idea: A money-saving challenge

Recently, Californians were challenged by the Sacramento Bee to “Save $1,000 in 30 Days” by following tips from personal finance blogger and author Ramit Sethi. While the bottom line varies on what people can realistically save, the challenge brought up some excellent tips on how to cut costs and have more money in your pocket. While most people have already cut back on spending in these tough economic times, here are some of our favorite pointers inspired by the challenge:

Set a goal. While this challenge aimed high at $1,000 in a month, if you manage to set a goal to save even $150 in a month, you can establish habits that will end up saving $1,800 annually.

Try going cash-only. Spending only cash is not a good long-term financial plan in terms of building credit, but in the short-term, like just 30 days, using only cash can make you more conscious of your spending and thus, you will spend less.

Put on your host/hostess hat instead of going out. If you love to socialize but realize the dent it’s making in your pocketbook, have your friends over instead – it’s cheaper and has a more personal touch. Also, consider starting a dinner club – get a group of friends together and agree on one night each month that you will take turns hosting a dinner for fun, savings, and good eats!

Start thinking about the holidays. July is a great time for bargains as retailers need to make room for fall and winter merchandise; in Florida, this is especially convenient since a lot of summer merchandise can make great gifts year-round. Also, now is a good time to take advantage of still-low airfare and hotel rates if you already know where you’ll be traveling this holiday season.

Do-It-Yourself. From dog grooming to lawn care to changing the oil in your car, a lot of monthly expenses can be narrowed down if you learn to do what you pay someone else to do now.

 

Slim down Subscriptions. Oftentimes out of habit we pay for magazine subscriptions, cable channels or gym memberships that are rarely if ever utilized. If you are paying a monthly fee for a service that you rarely use, consider cancelling it.

Save Energy and Money. It’s tempting to turn the A/C to very cool temps to battle the summer heat, but raising it just a few degrees, especially during the day if you work outside the home, can save a lot of money on your monthly utilities bill.


SAVING ENERGY, SAVING MONEY
Energy tips for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother Earth, AND save money as well as energy. These tips are presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert on the rainforests of the world.

Florida to Receive up to $17,585,000 for Rebate Program to Encourage Purchases of Energy Efficient Appliances

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced this week that Florida will receive up to $17,585,000 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for its state-run rebate program for consumer purchases of new ENERGY STAR qualified home appliances. The new program underscores the Obama Administration’s commitment to make American homes more energy efficient, while helping to support the nation’s economic recovery.

“Appliances consume a huge amount of our electricity, so there’s enormous potential to both save energy and save families money every month,” said Secretary Chu. “These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy and create jobs.”

The new funding will be awarded to states and territories, through their energy offices, using a formula set forth in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Each state or territory is required to submit a plan that specifies which ENERGY STAR appliance categories will be included in their rebate program, the rebate level for each product type, how the rebates will be processed, and their plan for recycling old appliances. States and territories must first file an initial application expressing their intent to participate by August 15, 2009, followed by a full application by October 15, 2009. Approximately 10-25 percent of each award will be spent on administrative costs.

States and territories will receive 10 percent of the funds after submitting the initial application with the balance awarded after their program plans are approved. DOE anticipates that a vast majority of funding will be awarded by November 30, 2009. The complete Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) number DE-FOA-0000119 can be viewed at www.grants.gov.

Eligible Appliances

States have the flexibility to select which residential ENERGY STAR qualified appliances to include in their programs and the individual rebate amount for each appliance. DOE recommends that states and territories focus their program efforts on heating and cooling equipment, appliances, and water heaters as these products offer the greatest energy savings potential. ENERGY STAR qualified appliance categories eligible for rebates include: central air conditioners, heat pumps (air source and geothermal), boilers, furnaces (oil and gas), room air conditioners, clothes washers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators, and water heaters.

The Recovery Act appropriated funds for the program to help achieve the national goals of spurring economic growth, creating jobs, saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. States and territories can use these funds to leverage the utility companies and energy efficiency program sponsors in their area.

For more information on these and other Recovery Act related funding opportunities, visit www.energy.gov/recovery.