Consumer Health Digest #06-27

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 4, 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.

Dangerous accident/insurance fraud ring busted. Ramon Alfonzo Zanoletti, his wife Magdalena Zanoletti, chiropractor Clarence E. Franklin, Jr., and 20 others have been arrested in connection with a staged-accident ring that jeopardized drivers on Southern California freeways. The California Department of Insurance has reported:

New Medicare scams reported. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is warning Medicare recipients to be wary of schemes being played off the new Medicare prescription drug program. In one scheme, people shopping for a Medicare prescription drug plan are asked to withdraw $299 from their checking account to pay for a plan that does not exist. A more recent scam involves a new Medicare card instead of a prescription drug plan. The dollar amount requested by phone callers is usually $350, $365, or $379. As part of the new scams, callers are now asking for bank information or telling beneficiaries they can provide a new Medicare card for a fee. The new Medicare card or prescription drug plan they claim to be selling is not legitimate. Callers may use the name of a fictitious company such as Pharma Corp., National Medical Office, Medicare National Office, and National Medicare.

It is against Medicare’s rules to telephone and ask for a bank account number, other personal information, or a cash payment over the telephone. No beneficiary should ever provide that kind of information to someone who calls. Such calls must be initiated by the beneficiaries themselves or handled by a follow-up letter to which the beneficiary may choose to reply. Legitimate Medicare drug plans will not ask for payment over the telephone or the Internet. They must send a bill to the beneficiary for the monthly premium. If someone calls asking for personal information, or the call doesn’t seem right for some other reason, a beneficiary should hang up and contact Medicare at (877) 772-3379 or a local law enforcement or consumer protection agency.

New Zealand court fines "anti-cellulite" product marketers. A New Zealand court has ordered Dennis O’Neill and Martini Limited (formerly called Marketing Direct Limited) to pay a total of NZ$256,000 in fines, costs, and refunds in connection with fraudulent marketing of Celluslim, which they claimed would "melt away fat and cellulite in just three weeks: without diet or exercise." They also claimed that Celluslim had been scientifically developed and tested by "Doctor Malissi" at the "Saint Alto Research Centre, Switzerland," neither of which existed. In July 2003, the Government’s Medsafe agency warned Martini and O’Neill that they were breaching the Medicines Act and should stop promoting and distributing Celluslim. Despite this warning, they mailed out brochures and continued to distribute the product. At one stage, they ran out of Celluslim tablets and relabeled a honey, garlic and apple cider vinegar tablet as Celluslim so they could continue to fill orders. O'Neill and the company have stated that they will appeal to a higher court. [Celluslim pill promoters ordered to pay $256,000 in fines and refunds. New Zealand Commerce Commission media release, Nov 9, 2005]

Should "junk foods" be regulated like tobacco products? The New England Journal of Medicine has published an article about whether litigation, legislation, or regulatory enforcement should be used to attack the problem of obesity in ways that have been used to combat tobacco usage. The authors note that most Americans believe that the government should be involved, particularly by regulating the marketing of "junk foods" to children, but many people feel that legislative approaches would constitute paternalistic intervention into lifestyle choices and enfeeble the notion of personal responsibility. Similar arguments were made in the early days of tobacco regulation, but there are important differences between foods and tobacco. People cannot abstain from eating; high-calorie foods may benefit some people and harm others; and there is no food-related equivalent to harm from secondhand smoke. However, the problems are similar in that both products are used by children, who are highly vulnerable to advertising and marketing and whose eating habits tend to persist over the life span. The authors conclude that "Crafting a regulatory strategy that within the strictures of the Constitution responds to evolving knowledge about obesity and its prevention may be the single most important challenge for public health law in the 21st century." [Mello MM. Obesity: The new frontier of public health law. New England Journal of Medicine 354:2601-2610, 2006]

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This page was revised on July 6, 2006.