Consumer Health Digest #08-51

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 16, 2008

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.

Fraud and abuse add billions to auto injury payouts. The Insurance Research Council has published a study which estimates that claim fraud and buildup added between $4.8 billion and $6.8 billion in excess payments to private passenger auto injury claims closed with payment in 2007. [Fraud and buildup add 13 to 18 percent in excess payments to auto injury claims. IRC news release, Nov 24, 2008] For bodily injury, the percentage of paid claims that appeared to involve fraud increased from 9% in 2002 to 11% in 2007 and the percentage that involved buildup rose from 18% in 2002 to 20% in 2007. For personal injury, the fraud percentage rose from 5% in 2002 to 6% in 2007 and the buildup percentage rose from 12% in 2002 to 14% in 2007. The study found that claimants in these cases were more likely than other claimants to receive treatment from physical therapists, chiropractors, and other alternative medical providers. Because these numbers do not include improper claims that were not paid or were not discovered, it can be assumed that the percentage of such claims submitted is significantly higher.

Damage from HIV/AIDS denial quantified. Harvard University researchers estimate that if South Africa's government had provided appropriate drugs to AIDS patients and to pregnant women who were at risk of infecting their babies, at least 330,000 premature deaths would have been prevented. [Chigwedere P and others. Estimating the lost benefits of antiretroviral drug use in South Africa. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, Oct 2008] The problem came about because former South African president Thabo Mbeki and his health minister refused to accept the simple truth that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of AIDS. Commenting on the Harvard team's report, Australian ethicist Peter Singer concluded:

The lessons of this story are applicable wherever science is ignored in the formulation of public policy. This does not mean that a majority of scientists is always right. The history of science clearly shows the contrary. Scientists are human and can be mistaken. They, like other humans, can be influenced by a herd mentality, and a fear of being marginalised. The culpable failure, especially when lives are at stake, is not to disagree with scientists, but to reject science as a method of inquiry.

Mbeki must have known that, if his unorthodox views about the cause of AIDS and the efficacy of anti-retrovirals were wrong, his policy would lead to a large number of unnecessary deaths. That knowledge put him under the strongest obligation to allow all the evidence to be fairly presented and examined without fear or favour. Because he did not do this, Mbeki cannot escape responsibility for hundreds of thousands of deaths. Singer P. [Mbeki ignored the science on HIV: Malicious or not, the former South African president's Aids policy is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. British Guardian, Dec 17, 2008]

Laws to ban drugstore cigarette sales survive initial challenges. A federal judge has ruled that San Francisco's ordinance banning tobacco sales in drugstores does not violate a cigarette company's constitutional right to advertise its products. Phillip Morris, which had challenged the new law has appealed this ruling. The ordinance—the first of its kind in the United States—prohibits the sale of tobacco products at the city's drugstores. It exempts supermarkets and large retail stores that also have pharmacies. Walgreens sought an injunction on grounds that this represented unconstitutional discrimination, but a San Francisco Superior Court judge denied the request. The law took effect October 1. The UCSF School of Pharmacy has issued a position statement supporting the ban. On December 11, the Boston Public Health Commission issued a regulation banning the sale of tobacco products at all educational institutions and at all facilities that provide health services and employ licensed providers.

Whistleblower suit for cancer fraud settled. Michael Rosin, M.D., a former dermatologist has agreed to pay the federal government $11 million to settle a whistleblower (qui tam) suit involving Medicare fraud. Doctor to pay millions for fraud. Herald Tribune (Sarasota, Florida), May 16, 2008] In 2006, he was convicted of 35 counts of health care fraud involving false cancer diagnoses and unnecessary surgery on elderly patients, some of whom became disfigured as a result. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $3,697,225.38. His also lost his medical license. Court documents state that from 1998 through 2005, Rosin performed 5,980 skin biopsies and reported that 99.43% revealed cancer. During the same period, he billed Medicare for 4,118 Mohs surgeries, 98.93% of which involved four stages. The whistleblower suit was initiated in 2004 by Rosin's long-time office manager.

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