Consumer Health Digest #07-17
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 24, 2007
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
Device operators charged with insurance fraud. An orthopedic surgeon and four chiropractors in Georgia have been charged with miscoding insurance claims related to questionable devices.
- In one case, orthopedist Howard Berkowitz, M.D. and chiropractors Arthur Hargraves and Daniel Puffenberger allegedly miscoded VAX-D treatments administered at back-pain clinics that the trio owned and operated. VAX-D is an expensive high-tech form of mechanical traction that can provide relief in some cases of back pain but is widely promoted with unsubstantiated claims that it can correct degenerated and herniated discs without surgery. [Barrett S. Be wary of VAX-D Therapy. Chirobase, April 24, 2007] Some insurance companies consider it unproven and do not cover its use. Others cover it as a form of mechanical traction, for which they pay far less than the $150 to $300 per session typically charged by VAX-D providers. Berkowitz, Hargraves and Puffenberger are accused of improperly generating bills to BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia for more than $3 million for VAX-D treatments, for which they collected more than $2.4 million.
- In the other case, chiropractors William Stearns and Steven Levine allegedly used false codes to bill for more than $1.8 million for VAX-D, for which they received more than $1 million. They also billed improperly for more than $1.5 million and collected about $817,000 for use of a Hako-Med device. Hako-Med devices are claimed to provide pain relief by administering electrical impulses to the skin. The indictment states that after Stearns and Levine began using VAX-D, they typically applied Hako-Med after each VAX-D treatment. Levine is also charged with money laundering.
In March, Berkowitz pleaded guilty and agreed to pay $2,450,364 for restitution. The cases against the others remain pending. In 2006, two chiropractors received 34-month prison sentences for using CPT Code 64722 to improperly collect nearly $2 million from Georgia BlueCross BlueShield.
Spinal decompression device manufacturer raided. The Tampa Tribune has reported that FBI agents have raided Florida-based Axiom Worldwide and carried boxes and bags to a large van parked nearby. They said nothing about the investigation or what they were confiscating. [Morelli K. FBI raids medical supply business. Tampa Tribune, March 8, 2007] Axiom's flagship product is a back-pain traction device that is similar to VAX-D and promoted with nearly identical claims.
Chiropractic board member's credential use questioned. The Sacramento Bee has reported that chiropractor Franco Columbu was ordered in 2004 to stop marketing himself as a Ph.D. in nutrition because his "credential" did not come from an accredited school. Columbu, a former bodybuilding champion, was appointed to California's chiropractic licensing board in 2006 by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a long-time friend with whom he trained. The Bee also noted that Columbu was best man at Schwarzenegger's wedding. Columbu's "Ph.D." is from Donsbach University, a now-defunct school that was never accredited. [Barrett S. Stay away from Donsbach University graduates. Quackwatch, April 12, 2007] Two legislators have urged Columbu and three other Schwarzenegger appointees to resign. [Yamamura K. Board member still claims Ph.D.: Schwarzenegger friend on chiropractic panel got a cease-and-desist order. Sacramento Bee, April 12, 2007] Despite the board's warning, Columbu's Web site continued to mention his "Ph.D." on a page promoting his $200 "personalized nutrition program." However, his entire site was taken down shortly after the Bee article was published.
Acupuncture not proven effective for smoking cessation. The Cochrane Collaboration has updated its review of studies that tested whether acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy, or electrostimulation can help people stop smoking by reducing nicotine withdrawal symptoms. After evaluating 24 randomized trials, the researchers found "no consistent evidence that acupuncture is superior to no treatment, and no evidence that the effect of acupuncture was different from that of other anti-smoking interventions, or that any particular acupuncture technique is superior to other techniques." [White AR and others. Acupuncture and related interventions for smoking cessation. Art. No.: CD000009. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000009.pub2] The reviewers also stated that further research is justified because "there is not enough evidence to dismiss the possibility that acupuncture might have an effect greater than placebo." However, such research would be a poor investment of scarce research dollars because (a) the underlying theory is implausible and (b) more cost-effective smoking-cessation methods are available.
This page was posted on April 24, 2007.