Consumer Health Digest #06-03

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 17, 2006

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.

Huge insurance scam uncovered. In April 2005, the Illinois Attorney General intervened in a private lawsuit to stop a scheme to conduct worthless and unnecessary electrodiagnostic testing while billing private insurers for more than $234 million for the services. The attorney general's complaint, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, named as defendants VeridianHealth LLC (a/k/a ZT Technical Services, Inc.), Veridian’s CEO and founder Mitchell Rubin, Veridian’s Chief Compliance Officer Lawrence Rubin, and neurologist Edward J. Herba, as well as a complex web of affiliated and related companies. The suit was originally filed in 2004 by private attorney Tracy Netzel on behalf of a whistleblower (chiropractic neurologist Scott Schichtl) under the state’s Insurance Claims Fraud Prevention Act. VeridianHealth employed mobile technicians to travel to the offices of chiropractors and other doctors to perform nerve conduction tests. Such tests, when performed by trained technicians under the supervision of qualified physicians, can be legitimately used to detect pinched nerves, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other nerve-related conditions. But according to the lawsuit:

In July 2005, two neurologists (Nils Anderson and Harish Thaker) and two chiropractors (Josef Verhaerdt and Mark Sanna) were added as defendants. The amended complaint charges that VeridianHealth paid kickbacks to Verhaerdt and Sanna to recruit other doctors into the referral and testing scheme. Sanna, who heads a chiropractic practice building firm called Breakthrough Coaching, is alleged to have received nearly a half-million dollars in annual kickback payments. A few days after the amended complaint was filed, Veridian announced that it was discontinuing its business operations. In August, some of its creditors filed a bankruptcy petition. Casewatch has additional details.

Texas chelationist disciplined for false advertising. Pieter J. De Wet, M.D., agreed to pay an administrative penalty of $1,000 to settle charges by the Texas Medical Board that he had caused the dissemination of an advertisement which falsely stated that chelation therapy could unblock blood vessels and enable a patient to avoid coronary bypass surgery. De Wet runs the Quantum Healing Institute and Day Spa in Tyler Texas, which offers many types of dubious treatment. The full text of the Board's order is posted on Chelation Watch.

FTC curbs deceptive tooth-whitener and weight-loss-patch telemarketers. Adam Tyler MacDonald and Tyler Marketing have agreed to pay $463,000 in consumer redress and $11,000 in civil penalties to settle seven FTC charges. The FTC alleged that the defendants falsely represented that consumers would get free samples of the Fast White tooth whitening kit, but instead enrolled them in programs where consumers would continue to receive unauthorized monthly shipments. The FTC also charged the defendants with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their weight-loss patches, Pounds Off Patch and Carbs Off Patch, cause substantial weight loss (a) in all users, (b) when applied to skin, and (c) by blocking the absorption of carbohydrates. The FTC has also asked the Department of Justice to charge the defendants with violations of the "Do Not Call" rules. [Telemarketers settle FTC charges of costly “free” samples, Do Not Call violations, and worthless weight-loss patches. FTC news release, Jan 17, 2005]

MedlinePlus posts junk story promoting homeopathy. MedlinePlus has posted a misleading Reuters News Service report about a study of SinEcch, a homeopathic cream that is marketed for reducing bruising and swelling following plastic surgery. [Norton A. Herbal remedy may aid bruising after face-lift. Reuters Health Information, Jan 16, 2006] The study involved 29-face-lift patients who were randomly assigned to take either arnica pills or placebo pills, starting on the morning of their surgery. Photographs charted the changes in facial bruising, and patients also rated their own impressions of their outcome. Neither the patients nor the researchers reported any subjective differences between the treatment group and the control group, but the homeopathic group showed less bruising on 2 of the 4 postoperative days where the area of bruising was measured. [Seeley BM and others. Effect of homeopathic Arnica Montana on bruising in face-lifts. Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery 8:54-59, 2006] Taken together, the findings demonstrated no clinical benefit. But Reuters took the two "positive" data points out of context to give the story a positive spin. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, usually provides "Trusted Information for You." [Update: MedLine Plus, which normally keeps articles for 30 days, removed the Norton article shortly after Consumer Health Digest criticized it.]

Avatar investigation urged. Former Avatar members have posted a petition urging Florida Governor Jeb Bush to order an investigation into Star's Edge International of Orlando, Florida, which is selling "self-development" courses under the trademark "Avatar."

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This page was revised on January 27, 2006.