Stop balance billing by ambulances, state board says

The message to legislators from a state health advisory board is simple: Stop ambulance services from billing consumers for whatever is left over after insurance pays, a practice known as “balance billing.”

That can leave consumers with surprise bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars after they call 911, The Palm Beach Post has reported.

Consumers in an emergency “are not able to make an informed decision or negotiate at arm’s length about the cost of the transport,” wrote Carol Ostapchuk, executive director of the Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board, in a letter to state insurance commissioner David Altmaier.

The letter, dated Oct. 20, summarizes the board’s findings. It was released Tuesday by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

Altmaier “generally supports a prohibition on balance billing because the practice can bring harm to consumers,” a spokeswoman said.

As chairman of the advisory board, the commissioner did not vote on the matter, she said.

The advisory board, whose function is to advise state officials on matters of public policy, recommended lawmakers adopt rules similar to those in a bill that passed a year ago to limit what providers can bill consumers in certain situations where they have no realistic choice of providers. Example: An out-of-network anesthesiologist at an in-network hospital.

The law limits consumer bills to the equivalent of “in-network” charges, though it excluded emergency medical transportation. A state working group has been meeting over the last year on ambulances and is expected to issue a “white paper” by December.

Most public and private ambulance services choose not to join insurer networks, because they say reimbursement is often too low. If they are effectively forced to join networks, representatives warned, it could mean higher taxes or cuts to service.

“If you don’t have balance billing, then you’re asking the taxpayers of Stuart to pick up the difference,” Stuart Fire Rescue Chief David Dyal told a state working group last month.

Ambulance officials say insufficient payment by insurers or rising deductibles in  health plans are often to blame, but insurers argue there has to be some incentive for ambulances to negotiate contracts, rather than bill consumers for whatever amount they choose.

As Post has reported since 2012, consumers like Penny Farrow of Boynton Beach feel frustrated they pay for insurance and taxes for county or city ambulance services, yet still get charged for amounts they don’t understand after they call 911.  She found found a $600 bill for a short ground ambulance trip “outrageous.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Irma: Damage high, likely below worst projections

Update: AIR lowered its projection for U.S. insured losses from Irma to  a range of $20 billion to $40 billion Monday.

Original post: The main concern now is the life and safety and people in its path, but a catastrophic modeling firm on Saturday projected Hurricane Irma’s insured losses in the U.S. alone could reach $50 billion, making it a contender for the most expensive storm on record.

Much depends on its path as Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, but AIR Worldwide projected that insured losses could range from $20 billion to $65 billion in the U.S. and Caribbean combined.

The estimate was based on the forecast track as of early Saturday, though a lot could change in the next 24 to 48 hours.

 

“As Hurricane Irma moves closer to Florida’s shores, we’re already taking steps and making plans to assist Floridians with post-storm recovery,” Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said Saturday. “We’re putting search and rescue assets in place, and readying our insurance experts to hit the ground running to help consumers with their post-storm claims. I urge all Floridians to finish their final preparations and prepare for Irma’s imminent landfall.”

For more Palm Beach Post coverage of the estimated impact, read this story.

Gasoline average down 4 cents from a week ago, further declines expected

Gasoline prices are trending downward.

Gasoline prices have declined for 10 straight days, and are expected to continue to drop this week.  The Palm Beach County average for regular fell to $2.49 a gallon Monday from $2.53 a week ago.

The Florida average also fell 4 cents  to $2.41 from a week ago, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

“Gas prices were knocked off their seasonal upward trend when new data revealed record-high refinery activity,” AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said.

“When refineries finished spring maintenance season, they accelerated production to levels that outpaced demand. Because of this unexpected shift in fundamentals, motorists have likely seen the highest prices for the foreseeable future and retail prices should fall a few more cents this week,” Jenkins said.

Gas prices reached their highest monthly average for April in two years.

Dan McTeague, GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst, agreed that prices appear poised to drop again this week.

“An oversupply of gasoline as refiners ramp up production will continue to exert downward pressure on prices at the pumps,” McTeague said. “The national average gasoline price of $2.35 per gallon is a mere 14 cents higher than a year ago, down from a gap of nearly 40 cents just months ago.”

“The expected bump in fuel demand doesn’t seem to be coming, leaving refineries with a lot of inventory that has yet to find a market,” McTeague said.

“100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers begin; texting linked to crashes

AAAteendrivers

What’s the biggest cause of vehicle crashes involving teen drivers? It’s distractions, finds an updated study released Wednesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

It’s pretty easy to guess what those distractions are. The top three are talking or attending to other passengers in the vehicle; talking, texting or operating a cell phone, and looking at something inside the vehicle.

Crashes for teen drivers increase significantly during the summer because teens are driving more.

Over the past five years, more than 5,000 people have been killed in crashes involving teen drivers during the “100 Deadliest Days,” the period starting at Memorial Day when teen crash deaths historically climb.

During the “100 Deadliest Days,” an average of 1,022 people died each year in crashes involving teen drivers. The average number of deaths from crashes involving teen drivers ages 16-19 increased by 16 percent per day compared to the other days of the year.

This year’s follow-up report from the foundation is part of the most comprehensive eight-year research project ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers.

To read the full report, go to aaafoundation.org/using-naturalistic-driving-data-examine-teen-driver-behaviors-present-motor-vehicle-crashes-2007

In collaboration with researchers at the University of Iowa, the foundation analyzed the moments leading p to a crash in more than 2,200 videos capture from in-car dash cameras.

The latest report compared new crash videos with those captured from 2007-2012.

The report uncovered a disturbing trend, In the moments leading up to a crash, teens were more likely to be texting or looking down at the phone than talking on it.

Texting creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted, research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found.

Boca helpline helps save investors $1.3 million, group says

A senior helpline based in Boca Raton has been one way officials have worked to address problems confronting older investors, said Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of regulatory operations for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. (Brianna Soukup/The Palm Beach Post)
A senior helpline based in Boca Raton has been one way officials have worked to address problems confronting older investors, said Susan Axelrod, executive vice president of regulatory operations for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. (Brianna Soukup/The Palm Beach Post)

A Boca Raton-based hotline has helped save investors $1.3 million after a year of operation, a securities industry oversight group that runs its says.

Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Securities Helpline for Seniors.

The helpline has fielded more than 4,200 calls and recovered more than $1.3 million in voluntary reimbursements from firms since its launch, officials said.

“Financial fraud is a problem, and seniors are the most vulnerable,” said Susan Axelrod, FINRA’s executive vice president for regulatory operations. “We are very pleased that investors are using our free helpline and encourage seniors, or those caring for seniors, with investment-related questions to give us a call.”

The number is 1-844-574-3577.

The Palm Beach Post wrote about the helpline here.

Callers ranged in age from 22 to 100, the group noted.