Consumer Health Digest #06-22

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 30, 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.

Cavitat/Aetna suit settled. Apparently pressured by the judge, Aetna has settled its suit with Cavitat Technologies. Cavitat had charged Aetna with acting improperly by issuing a Clinical Policy Bulletin that criticized Cavitat's ultrasound device and the associated diagnosis and treatment of neuralgia-inducing cavitational osteonecrosis (NICO). "NICO," a condition said to involve "cavities" or cysts within the jaw, is not a legitimate diagnosis. [Dodes JE, Barrett S. A critical look at cavitational osteopathosis, NICO, and "biological dentistry." Quackwatch, May 27, 2006.]

The settlement terms are confidential, but the suit appears to have failed to achieve its purposes. The suit included a bogus "racketeering" charge that the judge dismissed last year. The suit's backers hoped that the prospect of facing racketeering charges would intimidate dental licensing boards as well as other insurance companies, but no such effect is apparent. Although Cavitat's name has been replaced by a more general statement in Aetna's Clinical Policy Bulletin, its device and NICO-associated practices still remain ineligible for insurance coverage and are unlikely to be covered by other companies.

The latest (May 5) version of Aetna's policy states:

  1. Aetna considers surgery (including scraping of “infected cavities” and removal of root-canal-treated teeth) and/or any other therapies (e.g., rinsing the “cavity” with colloidal silver and administering chelation therapy and intravenous vitamin C) and bone graft replacement for the treatment of neuralgia inducing cavitational osteonecrosis (NICO) related diagnoses to be experimental and investigational because the clinical significance of this syndrome is in question.
  2. Aetna considers the use of devices to image the jawbones to diagnose NICO or NICO-type conditions experimental and investigational because there is no adequate scientific evidence to support their clinical value.

During the proceedings, Aetna charged that many practitioners had received payment by submitting misleading claim forms to Aetna. [Barrett S. Aetna rips the lid off the Cavitat conspiracy. Dental Watch, Nov 23, 2005] It remains to be seen whether Aetna will seek recovery of this money. Meanwhile, other insurance companies have been alerted to look more closely at claims submitted for NICO-related procedures, Business Week published a very critical article, and several victims of NICO surgery have filed lawsuits against its practitioners.

WebMD fostering vitamin scam. WebMD, one of the Internet's most comprehensive consumer health sites, is encouraging people who enroll in WebMD's fee-based "Weight Loss Clinic" to buy dietary supplements that are overpriced and unnecessary. After completing WebMD's detailed dietary questionnaire, enrollees land on a page titled "Special Offers from Our Sponsors," which offers a FREE TRIAL of "personalized vitamins. . . . a convenient way to help ensure you're getting the vitamins and minerals you need with a personal vitamin program customized for you." The "free" program costs $6.95 for shipping and handling and, if not cancelled, continues with monthly shipments that cost $53.30. The supplements, sold by LifeScript, of Mission Viejo, California., are offered regardless of whether or not the answers to the questionnaire indicate that the person's diet is nutritionally adequate. In addition, many of the routinely offered products include questionable herbal ingredients. [Barrett S. LifeScript customized vitamins are a ripoff. Quackwatch May 13, 2006] WebMD states that it "does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment." However, the placement of the ad and its characterization as a "special offer" could easily be interpreted as an endorsement.

British professors oppose CAM coverage. Thirteen prominent British professors have urged Britain's National Health Service to stop promoting and paying for homeopathy and other implausible "complementary and alternative" treatments for which no benefit has been demonstrated. The letter was organized by Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London. [Baum M. Full letter: doctors' campaign against alternative therapies. Times Online, May 23, 2006] In 2004, in a letter published in the British Medical Journal, Baum rebuked Prince Charles for promoting unproven coffee enemas and carrot juice for cancer. [Baum M. An open letter to the Prince of Wales: with respect, your highness, you've got it wrong. British Medical Journal 329:118, 2004]

Chiropractic group endorses prepaid contracts. The World Chiropractic Alliance (WCA), which is dedicated to "preserving and strengthening subluxation-based chiropractic around the world," has endorsed the practice of offering a discount to patients who contract for fixed periods of treatment such as one year. [Position paper on pre-payment of chiropractic services. World Chiropractic Alliance, Feb 2006] Most chiropractors who offer such contracts recommend periodic detection and correction of"subluxations" for virtually everyone who consults them. Such contracts are usually part of a strategy intended to keep patients who feel well coming back. Other WCA policy statements include:

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This page was posted on May 30, 2006.