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7 posts from July 26, 2013

July 26, 2013

Harry Belafonte joins forces with the Dream Defenders


The young activists protesting outside Gov. Rick Scott's office got an unexpected boost of star power Friday when entertainer Harry Belafonte joined their ranks.

The students, who call themselves the Dream Defenders, have spent the past 11 days camped in the Florida Capitol. They have pledged not to leave until Scott calls a special session addressing the Stand Your Ground law, the number of young adults in prisons and racial profiling.

Scott has said he won't call the legislature to Tallahassee.

But Belafonte, himself a civil rights activist, urged the Dream Defenders to stay strong.

"If they reject you, then the world will pay attention to what's happening to you, and it is possible that Florida could become ungovernable," he said. "By ungovernable, I don't mean violent. But it could mean tens of thousand of people will join you. That's not good for tourism."

More than 250 people took part in the rally outside Scott's office on Friday afternoon. The group included Dream Defenders from across Florida, as well as students and young professionals from Chicago, New York CIty, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

About 100 of the participants were expected to spend the weekend in the Capitol.

Officials unravel Desai's downfall: extravagent spending, possible crimes

From @TBTimes

Six months after Universal Health Care Group declared bankruptcy, authorities are piecing together how extravagant spending and possible criminal conduct led to the demise of the once-thriving Medicare insurer.

A bankruptcy trustee alleges that Dr. Akshay "Doc" Desai, founder of the St. Petersburg company, and two of his top lieutenants took kickbacks from vendors seeking to do business with Universal.

A major bank alleges Desai might have had an insider stake in an Indian outsourcing company that collected millions of dollars from a Universal affiliate.

And the court official charged with liquidating Universal's assets and paying creditors has hired a top Miami law firm for a specific mission: to coordinate with federal prosecutors "in connection with any criminal related matters."

Desai and at least two of his former executives have hired well-known criminal defense attorneys, who insist their clients have done nothing wrong.

But interviews and recently filed court records show that even as Universal spiraled toward collapse, its leaders lived large at company expense. Desai and his wife, Seema, enjoyed weekends at a sumptuous corporate condo decorated with at least $115,000 in furnishings, including original artwork. Top executives drove luxury BMWs and joined dozens of other employees on a company-paid Mediterranean cruise. At the time, Medicare officials derided Universal for having among the worst customer service in the country with frequent complaints from members denied services and health care providers denied timely reimbursement. Story here. 



State opens door for higher health insurance rates, requires disclosure of cost of reforms

The next front in the national battle over health care reform: your mailbox.

A little noticed law passed by state legislators this year deregulates any new health insurance policies for the next two years and requires insurers to send customers a disclosure form spelling out how much of the cost of the policy is attributable to the Affordable Care Act.  Download Consumer Notice(PDF)

Proponents say it is a necessary component of enacting the federal health care reform and will shift regulation of new health care policies to the federal government, including policies emerging from the federal health care exchange.

But opponents say the federal government doesn’t have the resources nor the ability to regulate insurance rates in Florida and, without those protections, rates could soar. If rates rise, they said, the disclosure form will mislead the public into concluding that the increased costs are all associated with the health care reform while any reductions in costs won’t be recorded. 

“The sole purpose for the form is to present unfair ‘apples and oranges’ comparisons to the public that will ensure sticker shock,” said Greg Mellowe, policy director of the health insurance advocacy group, Florida CHAIN.

In a letter urging Gov. Rick Scott to veto the proposal, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the state’s former insurance commmissioner, called the attempt at deregulating the health insurers “unbelieveable and unconscionable” and could result in rate increases of between 10 percent and 70 percent.  Download 05.22.13 Letter to Rick Scott re Raising Health Care Rates FL Sen. Bill 1842

But the governor and other advocates of the new law disagree.

“Rates for new plans will be reviewed by the same federal government that will be enforcing and updating the new rules and regulations throughout this very fluid and uncertain transition period,’’ the governor wrote when he signed SB 1862 into law on May 31. Read more here


Miami mayor race divides county commission

RegaladoThe Miami-Dade county commission dais is an awkward place these days.

County Commissioner Xavier Suarez supports his son, Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, in his bid to unseat Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez also backs the youngest Suarez.

Now Regalado is fighting back with some county political muscle of his own. He just announced an Aug. 6 fundraiser headlined by County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, Perla Tabares-Hantman, Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Javier D. Souto, Juan C. Zapata.

Get out your popcorn, folks

Interim DCF Secretary calls for detailed examination of children's deaths

Esther Jacobo, the interim director of the state Department of Children and Families, has directed Pete Digre, assistant deputy secretary of operations,  to conduct a "thorough review of all child fatalities due to abuse and neglect in 2013 where there was prior involvement by the department," a measure she calls the agency's "Number One Priority."

Two-year-old Jayden Antonio Villegas-Morales became the fifth Florida youngster to die since May after having already come to the attention of state child-protection administrators.

"I am deeply disturbed by the recent child deaths that have occured around the state due to abuse and neglect," Jacobo said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

She was appointed to the DCF position after former Secretary David Wilkins abruptly resigned amid a growing scandal over the children's deaths.

Continue reading "Interim DCF Secretary calls for detailed examination of children's deaths" »

Reps. Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart join chorus of critics over Steve King's DREAMer-drug-mule comments


Miami’s three Cuban-American members of Congress have a message for fellow U.S. Rep. Steve King, who said more DREAMer immigrants are drug mules than valedictorians: Be quiet.

King’s statements, which drew swift rebukes from Republican congressional leaders earlier in the week, have become the latest flash-point in the immigration debate in the conservative House, which is divided over whether and how to reform the system.

“These comments are outrageous and reflect only this particular member’s views,” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican House member like King, said in a statement. “Such statements are factually untrue, hurtful and seem designed to divide rather than to bring our nation together.”

Continue reading "Reps. Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart join chorus of critics over Steve King's DREAMer-drug-mule comments " »

Lots of advice for Scott on vacant Pasco tax collector's post

Dozens of people are trying to influence Gov. Rick Scott's upcoming appointment of a new tax collector in Pasco County, as it appears another week will end Friday without a decision. Scott must choose a replacement to serve through November 2014, when the post will be up for election.

At the Times/Herald's request, the governor's office released a stack of letters promoting various candidates, especially Eileen Ferdinand, a top deputy to Mike Olson, the long-time tax collector who died June 26 at the age of 68. Ferdinand's fans include Pasco Clerk & Comptroller Paula O'Neil; Hernando County Tax Collector Sally Daniel; Louis Hollander Jr. of New Port Richey, a long-time employee of state driver license bureaus; Christine Hollander, a teacher; Charles Hirth, the tax collector's human resources manager; Joan Brannick, a human resources consultant to the tax collector's office; and Pasco residents Paul Fricchione, Annette Fricchione and Kimberly Gorman.

Scott also got a letter from Frederick Mack, a retired New York City police detective from New Port Richey, calling Ferdinand "organized, motivated and enthusiastic," and who showed strong leadership as the former mayor of Port Richey. "She took a city council that was a joke in the Pasco Times and turned it into a respected board of government," Mack wrote. "Mrs. Ferdinand's record speaks for itself."

Ferdinand switched her political party affiliation from Democrat to Republican on June 27, the day after Olson died.

Another candidate for the post, Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, received endorsements from Pasco Commissioner Ted Schrader; Hugh Townsend, a civic activist and former county Republican Party chairman; and former Republican state Sen. Curt Kiser of Dunedin. "No legislator has a better reputation for being sensitive to consumer interests," Kiser wrote of Fasano.

Others have different opinions. Pinellas-Pasco Senior Assistant Public Defender Thomas Hanlon urged Scott to pick Ed Blommel, the Republican who lost to Olson in 2012. Also in Blommel's corner is Randall Evans, a retired law enforcement officer who ran for a Pasco County Commission seat last year.

Scott also received an anonymous letter asking that he not "reward" Fasano "due to his lack of respect for the governor's office." The lawmaker has on numerous occasions been publicly critical of Scott. The brief, typewritten letter was signed, "Concerned Citizens of Pasco County."

-- Steve Bousquet