Consumer Health Digest #02-40

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 1, 2002

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.

California AG sues magnetic mattress pad sellers. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has charged Florida-based European Health Concepts, Inc. (EHC) with making false and misleading claims about its magnetic mattress pads and seat cushions. The complaint, filed in Sacramento Superior Court, also named EHC president Kevin Todd and several sales managers and agents as defendants. The suit seeks more than $1 million in civil penalties for engaging in unfair business practices and making false claims; $500,000 in civil penalties for transactions involving senior citizens; and full restitution for purchasers of the products. The complaint alleged that prospective customers, primarily senior citizens, were invited to attend a free dinner seminar at which they were told that EHC's products could help people suffering from fibromyalgia, lupus, sciatica, herniated discs, asthma, bronchitis, cataracts, chronic fatigue syndrome, colitis, diverticulitis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and more than 50 other health conditions. The sales agents also offered phony price discounts for immediate purchases that actually were the company's regular prices. See Quackwatch for further information.

Bio Lab charged with false advertising of diet and "cellulite" pills. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has charged Canada-based Bio Lab and its president, Jean-Francois Brochu, with falsely advertising two products through mainstream U.S. media. The FTC's complaint states that (a) Quick Slim, which contains apple pectin, was falsely claimed to be a "fat blocker" that could produce rapid, substantial, permanent weight loss without dieting or exercise and that (b) "Cellu-Fight" was falsely claimed to eliminate cellulite without any effort by the user. [FTC charges Canadian-based company with making false weight-loss and cellulite-treatment claims. FTC news release, Sept 17, 2002]

UK withdraws licenses for evening primrose products. The Medicines Control Agency (MCA), which oversees the marketing of drug products in the United Kingdom, has withdrawn the licenses for products marketed under the brand names of Epogam and Efomax. The products contain gamolenic acid (GLA) derived from evening primrose oil. In May 2001, Epogam was authorized for the symptomatic relief of atopic eczema in children and adults and Efamast was licensed to treat mastalgia (breast pain). The licenses were withdrawn because the agency concluded that there is not enough evidence that they are effective. Products containing GLA will still be available from health food shops and pharmacies but will not be licensed medicines and therefore not allowed to make medicinal claims.. [What's new: Epogam and Efamast (gamolenic acid) - withdrawal of marketing authorisations, MCA Web site, Sept 13, 2002]

OIG limits gifts to patients. The HHS Office of the Inspector General has issued a warning to health-care providers about giving gifts to induce Medicare patients to use their services. Basically, gifts worth no more than $10 in any one instance or $50 over the course of a year, can place the provider at risk for civil monetary penalties. However, providers can give beneficiaries more expensive items or services that fall into one of five exceptions:

  1. Waivers of copays based on financial need,
  2. Copay differentials in health plans
  3. Incentives designed to promote the delivery of certain preventive services
  4. Waivers of hospital outpatient copays that exceed minimum copayment amounts in the Medicare hospital outpatient fee schedule
  5. Practices protected by one of the safe harbors to the anti-kickback statute.

The bulletin also reveals that the OIG is contemplating two new exceptions to the general rule: one for free local transportation and another for free goods offered to beneficiaries who participate in certain clinical studies. [Offering gifts and other inducements to beneficiaries. OIG Special Advisory Bulletin, Aug 29, 2002]

Chiropractors top OIG exclusion list. The percentage of chiropractors excluded from participation in federal health-care programs is significantly higher than the percentages of physicians and dentists. As of August 31, the Office of Inspector General's List of Excluded Individuals/Entities database listed 1,735 chiropractors (about 2.6% of those in practice), 1,249 dentists (about 1% of those in practice), 313 osteopathic physicians (about 0.8% of those in practice) and approximately 3,800 medical doctors (about 0.5% of those in practice). The reasons for exclusion include a convictions related to the Medicare or Medicaid program, convictions related to patient abuse, or actions taken by a State licensing authority.

Investigators get faulty advice in health food stores. Investigators in New Zealand have assessed the advice provided by 26 health food stores (HFS) and 26 pharmacies to an individual presenting with symptoms suggestive of moderate to severe asthma who had not seen a physician. The advice provided by the two stores differed markedly.

[Healy B and others. Do natural health food stores require regulation? Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association 115(1161), 2002]

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This page was posted on October 1, 2002.