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Tom Lee files bill to protect Florida seniors in retirement communities

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Tom Lee announced Wednesday he filed the “Protecting Florida Seniors from Financial Fraud Act,” seeking to safeguard Floridians in Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs).

“Unfortunately, the conduct of a few bad actors, specifically the management of one CCRC in my community, has highlighted the need to increase oversight of these organizations,” the eastern Hillsborough County state senator said in a statement from his office. “Current statute does not adequately protect residents and employees against facility insolvency, loss of provider assets, and loss of resident investments. It’s essential to address these issues to ensure CCRCs can fulfill their obligations to one of the most vulnerable segments of our population.”

There are 71 licensed CCRCs in Florida serving more than 31,000 residents. The Office of Insurance Regulation (Office) is responsible for regulating a CCRC’s financial solvency, residency contracts, and the disclosures made to prospective residents.

“The decision to join a CCRC represents a substantial investment of assets, time and trust for a resident and their family. I applaud Senator Lee and Representative Stevenson’s sponsorship of this important legislation to further strengthen protections for these residents by increasing financial safeguards and fixing provisions under current law that act as a deterrent to regulatory oversight for those with bad intentions,” said Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

The legislation, sponsored by St. Augustine Republican Cyndi Stevenson in the House, requires CCRCs to retain reserves to protect residents and their families, increases the Office’s authority to prohibit hazardous practices and transactions, streamlines the acquisition process to reduce the burdens on applicants, and creates an “impairment” framework to allow for earlier intervention to prevent harm to Florida consumers and their investments.

“Recent events have brought to light weaknesses in the CCRC industry and its regulation,” said Representative Stevenson. “I am introducing this legislation to strengthen the industry and protect residents. I’ve worked closely with the Office of Insurance Regulation, the CFO, and Senator Lee to craft a bill that balances the interests of residents and the needs of the industry, and that provides new authority to protect the substantial investments made and the long-term promises exchanged. The bill streamlines regulation while enhancing protections where they matter most.”

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater says he supports the bill.

“So many seniors pour their life savings into the promise of one-stop care during their retirement years—care that CCRCs promise to them,” he said “It’s shameful to see a few bad players misuse and abuse that money and promise, stealing their life savings and leaving them without a viable, long-term alternative.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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