News from Tallahassee for 9/19/14

Inspector General: former Citizens executives did not violate ethics rules posted on 9/12/14

by News Service of Florida

The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. inspector general found no improprieties in how three former executives left for employment with private firms that have ties to the state-backed insurer.

However, Inspector General Bruce Meeks’ findings note the state code of ethics applies to fewer managers at Citizens than at other state agencies. And Meeks recommended the insurer should consider clarifying parts of its ethics code, expand post-employment restrictions at the management level and include post-employment rules as part of ethics training for leadership.

“Post-employment restrictions are equally stringent and, in fact, are one and the same for Citizens senior managers and others subject to the state ethics code,” Meeks wrote in his report dated Aug. 31 and released Thursday. “The significant difference is that only Citizens senior managers are subject to the restrictions while a far larger number of public employees are subject to the post-employment restrictions in the state ethics code.”

Citizens President and CEO Barry Gilway said in a release he will review the recommendations. If changes are needed, Gilway will present them to the agency’s Board of Governors in December.

“The bottom line is that we expect all our employees, especially our senior executives, to uphold the highest ethical standards and I’m pleased that the inspector general’s report concludes we are doing just that,” Gilway said.

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427,584 of Citizens' policies to be in latest take-out round posted on 9/5/14

by Donna Gehrke-White | Sun Sentinel

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has received approval to shift almost half of its policies to fourteen private insurers, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation announced Thursday.

The office approved the removal of up to 427,584 residential policies from the state-run insurer, including 2,227 policies for rental units, condominiums and homeowners associations, spokesman Harvey Bennett said.

Property owners can opt out of the switch, but they must send in a form, which will be included in the letters from the 14 state-approved insurance companies. Last month, Florida Insurance Consumer Advocate Steve Burgess voiced his concern that some homeowners might not open a letter announcing a proposed policy transfer.

The latest move accounts for nearly 46 percent of Citizens' policies and represents the largest single reduction since 2011, said Office of Insurance Regulation spokesman Bennett.

But not all of the policies will leave the public insurer, Citizens' spokesman Michael Peltier predicted.

» Read more

Crist blasts Scott for catering to insurer ‘greed’ posted on 9/5/14

by charles elmore | Palm beach Post

Gov. Rick Scott is “catering to the greed” of property insurance companies whose donations he takes, opponent Charlie Crist said Thursday, promising to work to roll back rates and rules he calls friendly to the industry if elected.

Crist, a former GOP governor turned Democratic candidate, said property insurance rates went down 10 percent in his tenure but climbed 14 percent under Scott to the nation’s highest.

It is an issue that “really gets to the choice facing voters in this election,” Crist said. “It’s about protecting your paycheck.”

Scott campaign spokesman Matt Moon fired back in a statement.

“Charlie Crist has already tried the Obama playbook of bigger government and skyrocketing debt to deal with property insurance rates,” Moon said. “Unsurprisingly, Florida taxpayers were left on the hook for billions and homeowners were left with fewer options to protect their property. Under Gov. Scott, Florida has done the exact opposite, reforming and shrinking Citizens Insurance while giving consumers more choice and competition to protect their home.”

If elected, Crist said, he would use a “bully pulpit” to urge a GOP-controlled legislature to repeal legislation such as that limiting coverage to customers of state-run insurer Citizens, require transparency for insurer data and increase back-up coverage from the state’s hurricane fund.

Crist’s critics say his previous policies artificially lowered rates and ran off private insurers like State Farm.

State Farm was the loudest voice talking about leaving Florida but “they’re still here,” Crist said. “It’s such a big market. They want to make money.”

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Florida HCA hospital charged exorbitant fees for scans, X-rays, lawsuit claims posted on 9/4/14

by Keith Morelli | Tampa Bay Tribune

TAMPA — A pair of unrelated car wrecks in South Florida last year has resulted in what may be a far-reaching lawsuit filed in Tampa. The suit accuses a holding company that owns 80 hospitals across the state, including several in the Tampa area, of grossly overcharging for medical services.

According to the suit, JFK Medical Center and its owner, HCA Holdings, charged exorbitant fees for emergency room radiological services. The overcharges sapped the Personal Injury Protection coverage limits of the patients and left them with thousands of dollars of uncovered bills they had to pay out of their pockets, the suit says.

The four-count, 38-page lawsuit was filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court and seeks class-action certification.

Theodore J. Leopold, a lawyer with the Palm Beach Gardens-based law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll that filed the lawsuit, said HCA hospitals gouged patients with PIP coverage and the insurance companies that offer it.

“We estimate overcharges or up-charges can be from 400 to 700 percent,” he said. “And the patient has no money left over for the rest of their care.”

HCA’s local list of hospitals include Brandon Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital and Town & Country Hospital, St. Petersburg General Hospital and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.

The lawsuit does not mention any medical facility except the JFK Medical Center in Atlantis, a few miles south of West Palm Beach. Attorneys filing the action say their clients, two women who were in unrelated traffic accidents in April and May 2013, were victims of “unreasonable, unconscionable and unlawful pricing and billing practices.”

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Renewing a Citizens policy? Computer intervenes starting this week posted on 9/3/14

by charles elmore | Palm beach Post

Tuesday marked the dawn of a new era for more than 900,000 customers of state-run insurer Citizens. Their decision to renew their policy could be taken out of their hands by a computer, thanks to a law passed by state legislators to help shrink Citizens last year.

A clearinghouse used by agents is supposed to make current customers ineligible for Citizens if a private company is offering coverage priced the same or less. The system has been in action since January to help keep some would-be customers out of Citizens, but technical challenges have delayed its use with current Citizens customers who want to renew policies.

The first policies affected are standard HO-3 homeowner policies with renewal dates on or after Nov. 1.

Customers can remain with Citizens if no private insurer in the clearinghouse is offering coverage priced the same or lower. Six private insurers are in the clearinghouse now for renewal business, with others expected to be added over time.

“Making the clearinghouse available for renewal customers is the latest step in Citizens’ effort to help our customers enjoy the benefits of private-market coverage and return Citizens to its role as the state’s insurer of last resort,” Citizens president Barry Gilway said in a statement. “Many customers will benefit from more-comprehensive coverage, lower pricing and vastly reduced assessment risk in the event of a major storm.”

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