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Canadian group wants answers to concerns

They call themselves the Canadian Snowbirds.

Each year, tens of thousands of them flock to Florida, many in travel trailers and motor homes. They fill local roads and beaches for months at a time but also add $600-million to the state's economy, the Canadian Snowbird Association estimates.

Many retailers and hoteliers depend on them. So do other businesses.

But rising health care costs, poor exchange rates and, in some cases, at least a perceived prejudice by local doctors could reduce the number of visitors from Canada, members of the association say.

"If circumstances continue unabated, the Florida tourism industry and the state economy could suffer a significant setback over the next few years," Don Slinger, the association's first vice president, warned in a recent news release that read a bit like a fire-and-brimstone sermon.

On Saturday, members of the Canadian Snowbird Association will convene at Florida Expo Hall in Tampa to discuss the deterrents to spending their winters in Florida. An estimated 15,000 association members are expected to attend.

Among other things, members of the group will begin planning meetings with local doctors, state legislators and other government officials to try and solve some of the growing problems, said spokesman Eric Izzard.

Sound like political posturing by the Snowbirds to get what they want?

It is.

"Snowbirds don't want any more than others . . . we just want our fair share," Izzard said. "And if you come back to how it impacts Florida _ and indeed, the entire USA _ you'll realize that if we're not successful in achieving our goals, it will have a significant impact."

Here are some of the group's biggest concerns, and how its members think they should be addressed:

Overcharging of Canadians by some Florida doctors for medical visits. The group said it might develop for members a list of doctors who have demonstrated equitable charging.

Limitations on medical payments by Canada's national health care system that sometimes make it tough to pay for care in Florida and other states. The group wants Canada's provinces to end limitations.

The dramatic fall of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar in recent months and Canada's lousy economy these days. The group doesn't have a suggestion for fixing those.

The traditional tourist season for Canadians in Florida is just wrapping up.

But how much impact will the problems have on next year's winter migration of visitors from Canada?

While the Snowbird Association thinks it could be significant, others think it won't.

"We're not talking about tourists here," said Walter Klages, whose company, Research Data Services, does research for local tourism boards. "These are people who stay in mobile home parks and a great many of them own property here.

"They'll come back year after year."