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269 posts from November 2012

November 30, 2012

Artiles asks for top-to-bottom probe of Citizens Insurance

A Miami lawmaker is putting more pressure on Citizens Property Insurance, asking the state insurance regulator to conduct a top-to-bottom probe of the company’s business practices.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, wrote a letter to Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty on Friday, calling for a “Market Conduct Examination” on Citizens.

Such an examination would look at nearly every aspect of the company’s operations, including its personnel management, financial books, customer service and claims processing.

Artiles, who has been a constant critic of Citizens as the insurer has grown more independent from the Legislature that created it, said recent allegations of corporate misconduct make such a probe necessary. Corporate investigators at Citizens were recently fired after uncovering executive scandals.

“It is imperative that all Floridians and Citizens’ policyholders are protected, The Governor and Cabinet and entire Florida Legislature are responsible for what is happening at Citizens,” said Artiles. “Clearly, the Board of Citizens seems to be asleep at the switch, disinterested or indifferent to the daily operations of the organization. They have shirked their fiduciary responsibilities.”

Citizens has come under fire in recent months for reports of exorbitant spending by execs and various corporate allegations ranging from sexual harassment to altering incriminating documents to covering up scandals with big severance checks.

At a special hearing called to address some of the issues earlier this week, Citizens President Barry Gilway said the company was working to fix the problems. The board echoed those sentiments.

Artiles, who is also a public adjuster, is particularly concerned that Citizens is spending a large amount of money on hiring law firms to fight against homeowners’ insurance claims in court.

Artiles was not assigned to the Subcommittee on Banking and Insurance, which has no members from Miami-Dade County. On Tuesday, that committee will hear a presentation by Citizens on a plan to loan $350 million out of the company’s surplus to private insurers who agree to take over policies.

Continue reading "Artiles asks for top-to-bottom probe of Citizens Insurance" »

Christian Slater's provisional ballot rejected by Miami-Dade

Picture 2Actor Christian Slater waited hours in line to vote in Miami-Dade on Election Day -- only to learn his vote didn't count.

Slater on Friday posted a picture on Twitter of his Nov. 26 letter from Miami-Dade County's canvassing board, which addressed him as "Christina Slater," the website BuzzFeed first reported.

"After a thorough review, your provisional bllot was not counted because the signature on the provisional ballot certificate envelope did not match the signature on your voter registration record," according to the letter, which Slater later pulled from Twitter.

Slater had Tweeted about his Election Day-wait as well as his problems casting a ballot.

"Made it in the room only to find out the DMV didn't register me when I got my new license. They asked me if I wanted to reg and I said yes," Slater tweeted on Election Day. "So, now I'm standing by and waiting while this guy tries to get the State on the phone I guess. I really want to vote."

He did, by provisional ballot.

Get ready for more stories like this in Florida. Tens of thousands of provisional ballots were cast in Florida and many of them didn't count.

Provisional ballots are used when a person's voter registration or voting precinct are in doubt. In each of the 67 counties, the provisional ballots are then reviewed by a three-member canvassing board that tries to determine if the vote were legitimately cast before counting it.

Critics: Gov. Rick Scott's ALF task force lets industry off hook

 Gov. Rick Scott used tough language in the summer of 2011 when he created a panel to help fix the deadly abuse and neglect in Florida assisted living facilities.

He pledged to provide protections for elderly and disabled ALF residents, who in recent years saw sweeping breakdowns of care as lawmakers stripped regulations and failed to protect the state’s most vulnerable people from burns, beatings and death.

Then politics happened.

In a change of tide, Scott’s panel issued its final report this week, calling for diminished transparency, fewer regulations and more money for ALF operators. The panel calls for the state to better enforce existing rules rather than create new ones. And to reward ALFs when they do right rather than punish them when they do wrong.

Although some hailed the recommendations as a step forward, not everyone was cheering.

“[Providers] are probably doing cartwheels right now,” said Brian Lee, a resident advocate and director of Families for Better Care.

Read more here.

Scott says Citizens Property Insurance needs to shrink rolls, eliminate waste

Citizens Property Insurance is too often the "insurance company of first resort," Gov. Rick Scott said, when it was intended to be an insurer of last-resort. Because of this issue and the threat that a major storm will put both Citizens policyholders and all Floridians on the hook for covering claims, the company's size needs to be addressed, Scott said Friday morning during a speech at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's Annual Insurance Summit.

Scott said policyholders, when provided more information, may chose to leave Citizens for other insurance companies, even if not forced by de-population efforts or higher premiums. For example, many Citizens customers don't know about the "hurricane tax" they would be required to pay if a major storm creates more damages than the company can cover with existing surpluses. He said the average Citizens premium is $2,300 but the "hurricane tax" could add another $1,000 to that bill for several years.

"Shrinking Citizens is the first step toward increasing competition in the marketplace and driving down prices for homeowners," he said. "Shrinking Citizens will also protect Florida families from hurricane taxes.

The governor also addressed recent allegations of financial mismanagement and other improprities at Citizens, pointing out that he has asked the state's Inspector General to investigate.

"We must also ensure Citizens is not wasteful," he said. "So as you know I've directed the chief inspector general to investigate travel, expenses and firing at Citizens. This report will tell us what additional steps must be taken to enforce oversight and compliance within Citizens. A taxpayer-oriented entity has to be held to the highest standard of integrity and good stewardship."

During a Q&A session following his speech, Scott was asked about the status of his letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for a meeting to discuss health exchanges. He said he hadn't received a response and there was no timeline, seeing as the state's request to HHS to switch Medicaid receipients to managed care plans has been pending for a year.

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FEMA to Scott: Sorry, no aid money for Sandy

For the second time in recent months, the federal government has rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s request for aid after a major hurricane mostly bypassed the state.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator, Craig Fugate, sent Scott a letter this week saying that Hurricane Sandy’s impact on Florida was not large enough to require federal intervention.

“Based on our review of  all the information available, it has been determined that the damage to the infrastructure from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments,” wrote Fugate, who used to be Florida’s emergency management chief.

Hurricane Sandy thrashed the Northeast in late October, though parts of eastern Florida were brushed by the massive storm. It caused more than $50 billion in damage in the Northeast, but Florida was mostly spared from such destruction—as it has been for the past seven hurricane seasons, including the one that ends today.

In August, Hurricane Isaac threatened the Tampa Bay area, including the Republican National Convention taking place in Tampa. The hurricane veered west, sparing Tampa from the worst damage.

When Scott asked for  more than $20 million in federal aid for Isaac, he was initially rejected by FEMA. At the time—the middle of a tough presidential election--the rejection was cast in a political light, highlighting the frosty relationship between Scott and the federal government. 

Scott appealed and FEMA eventually agreed to provide aid for Florida. 

The request for Sandy aid--which came just five days before the presidential election--focuses on the following counties: Brevard, Broward, Indian River, Martin, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and St. Lucia.

Scott has 30 days to appeal.

See FEMA’s rejection letter here


PolitiFact Florida: Measuring Rick Scott's progress on campaign promises

PolitiFact Florida has returned to the work of analyzing the campaign promises of Gov. Rick Scott as he approaches his third year in office.

We're tracking 57 promises on the Scott-O-Meter, where each pledge receives a rating of Promise Kept, Promise Broken, Compromise, Stalled or In The Works. (We have also been updating our Carlos-O-Meter and Buck-O-Meter for the mayors of Miami-Dade and Tampa.)

Here are the ones we have recently updated:

Will fight to repeal health care law: Scott softened his hard rhetoric against the health care law in recent weeks, saying he wants to negotiate with the federal government to benefit Floridians. In many ways, his position shift is a sign of pragmatism: Voters rejected an amendment that would have aimed to prevent enforcement of the law in Florida and reelected President Barack Obama. We changed the rating of this pledge from Promise Kept to Compromise. Read more

Require drug screening for welfare recipients: The court battle wages on over this policy that Scott signed into law in 2011. Scott appealed a judge's temporary injunction against the law, and oral arguments for the appeal were heard earlier this month. This pledge remains In The Works. Read more.

Create over 700,000 jobs: Scott's most famous promise was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years (through a seven-step plan that has not gone into effect). Of course, he said multiple times that these jobs would come on top of jobs economists expected the state would create regardless of a chance in policy. Florida had a positive October jobs picture, but Scott is still far short of where he would need to be to create 1.7 million jobs. The promise is Stalled. Read more

Reform Medicaid with a federal waiver: Scott and the Legislature submitted a plan to put more Floridians in private, managed-care plans to save money to the feds, but they have not yet received a ruling on their request for a waiver. Scott this month wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting a meeting to discuss the waiver and other health issues. This promise remains In The Works. Read more.

Eliminate Florida's corporate income tax over seven years: Scott will seek to spare more businesses from paying the corporate income tax in the upcoming legislative session. This promise is In The Works. Read more.

Veto pork-barrel spending: Scott continued to rid the budget of special member projects known as "turkeys" in his second year. But he did it on a far smaller scale than his first, record-breaking use of veto power. We downgraded this pledge from Promise Kept to Compromise. Read more. 

Reduce school property tax by an additional mill over seven years: This pledge remains Stalled, especially since voters did not appear to share the Republican-backed major property tax cuts proposed on the ballot as constitutional amendments. Read more.

Court blocks release of 'salacious' report in Jim Greer case

Floridians will have to wait a little longer for details of that golf cart full of prostitutes.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal on Friday ruled in favor of anonymous petitioners who want to block the release of investigative reports about a gathering in the Bahamas sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida when Jim Greer was chairman.

Greer faces trial in February for allegedly defrauding the party of about $200,000. Reports of the party and prostitutes surfaced during a pretrial hearing in the summer.

Story here.

November 29, 2012

Democrats bring fiscal cliff debate to Miami

Looks like campaign season isn't really over, even after Election Day.

Democrats, trying to put pressure on Congressional Republicans over a year-end deadline to decide on higher taxes and spending cuts, held a news conference in Miami on Thursday supporting President Obama's position to raise taxes on the wealthy.

From a press release:

Continue reading "Democrats bring fiscal cliff debate to Miami" »

CFO Jeff Atwater tells insurers to stop whining, reduce PIP premiums

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Thursday that it’s time for insurance companies to stop complaining and to lower premiums to reflect changes to the no-fault car insurance laws.

“I am comfortable that if assaults on the courts are unsuccessful and the bill can stand there will be more than 25 percent savings,” Atwater said. “We don’t have to gnash about it, argue about it, whine about it or cry about it.”

Under the old system, the average personal injury protection insurance claim is $12,900, Atwater said during a presentation at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Insurance Summit. That included $4,400 in acupuncture, $3,700 for massage therapy, $3,200 to chiropractors and $1,600 for emergency room costs.

The new law, HB 119, restricts acupuncturists and massage therapists from participating in PIP and requires people injured in a car accident to be diagnosed with an emergency medical condition before they are eligible for the full $10,000 benefit.

“We just eliminated 68 percent of that cost,” Atwater told the group.

Read more here.

Citizens president floats more ideas to shrink company

Barry Gilway, president of Citizens Property Insurance Corp., continued to defend the beleaguered state-run insurer Thursday, while preparing to chart a path forward.

Speaking at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Insurance Summit, Gilway defended the company’s employees and set out some ideas for improving--and shrinking--the state-run insurer in the coming year.

“One of the biggest surprises that I found when I joined Citizens is the quality of the staff,” said Gilway, who became president in June. “They don’t do it because they are the highest paid people in the marketplace.”

Gilway spent time praising the work of Citizens’ leaders in recent years and laying out plans for shrinking the size of the state-run company in the future.

He said that while some of the decisions made at Citizens have been “unpopular” and “controversial”—including reducing coverage and approving a generous $350 million loan program for private insurers—they will help improve the company.

“We tried to makes ourselves as unattractive as we possibly can,” he said, commenting on the company’s awkward business strategy.

Gov. Rick Scott has called on Citizens to significantly reduce its size and risk, leading to several unpopular changes for its policyholders. Premium hikes, coverage denials and unpopular reinspections are among the changes that have taken place this year alone.

Gilway indicated that more changes may be on the way to help shrink the insurer of 1.5 million.

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