Consumer Health Digest #05-01

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 4, 2005

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.

Discount health plan may be scam. The Kansas Attorney General is suing HealthCare Advantage, L.L.C. of Plantation, Florida, which offers what it describes as a nationwide discount health care plan. The suit alleges that the company made misleading, deceptive, or fraudulent representations about the discounts available through the use of its card and that consumers received no material benefit because no local health care providers accepted the card. The company is also alleged to have taken unauthorized payments from consumers, told consumers that its program was insurance when it was not, and failed to register an in-state resident agent with the Secretary of State’s Office and and maintain a surety bond or account of $50,000. The lawsuit is seeking seeking civil penalties of $10,000 for each violation involving approximately 280 customers in Kansas, and an additional $10,000 for each violation involving elder or disabled Kansans. [Attorney General Kline files suit against seller of health-related discount cards. News release, July 1, 2004] The Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida states:

This company has an unsatisfactory rating due to a pattern of complaints concerning misrepresentation in marketing practices and refund issues. Consumer complaints allege they were led to believe this company offers a PPO Health Insurance instead of a Discount Health Program. Customer complaints allege they are experiencing delays in getting refunds for the 30-day money back guarantee. Other complaints allege difficulty in finding Health Care Providers and Pharmacies in their local area that accepts the Discount Program. The company has resolved some complaints presented by the Bureau. However, the Bureau did not receive a response to other customer complaints. The company has failed to correct the underlying reason for the complaints.

HealthCare Advantage's Web site now states that "the company is not an insurance company, HMO, or PPO."

Little evidence supports organized weight-loss programs. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have evaluated the offerings of ten of the nation's most popular weight-loss programs. After inspecting Web sites, speaking with representatives, and searching the MEDLINE database, the researchers concluded: "With the exception of 1 trial of Weight Watchers, the evidence to support the use of the major commercial and self-help weight loss programs is suboptimal. Controlled trials are needed to assess the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of these interventions." [Tsai AG, Wadden T. Systematic review: An evaluation of major commercial weight loss programs in the United States. Annals of Internal Medicine 142:56-66, 2005]

Mayo study analyzes autism increase. Mayo Clinic researchers have analyzed 21 years' worth of data on autism in their surrounding community to determine whether reported increases in incidence were due to actual increases or to other factors. Their study concluded: "Although it is possible that unidentified environmental factors have contributed to an increase in autism, the timing of the increase suggests that it may be due to improved awareness, changes in diagnostic criteria, and availability of services, leading to identification of previously unrecognized young children with autism." The researchers also considered whether the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine was a causative factor and concluded that it was not. [Barbaresi WJ and others. The incidence of autism in Olmsted County, Minnesota, 1976-1997. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 159:37-44, 2005]

Casewatch archives FDA warning letters. Casewatch is gradually archiving the quackery-related warning letters posted on the FDA site plus others dating back as far back as the 1980s in the Quackwatch library. During 2004, the FDA sent more than 90 warning letters to marketers who made illegal claims about of dietary supplements, herbs, homeopathic products, and devices. Casewatch has posted most of these in text form and linked to the PDFs on the FDA site for the rest. Quackwatch would appreciate donations to help fund further research and speed up development of the archive.

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This page was posted on January 4, 2005.