Consumer Health Digest #09-40

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 1, 2009

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.

Misguided senators pushing for quackery coverage. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), with support from Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), have sponsored a Health Care Reform Bill amendment that would prohibit insurance policies from "discriminating" against any state-licensed or certified health care provider. The measure, contained in Section 2713 (p. 30), would prevent insurance programs from excluding acupuncturists, chiropractors, homeopaths, massage therapists, and naturopaths, but the extent to which they would have to be covered is unclear. In July, the Boston Globe reported that the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions agreed to the measure, but the Senate Finance Committee would have to draft language about potential reimbursement, the matter would then be debated on the Senate floor, and a similar amendment might be offered in the House. [Kranish M. Senators seek coverage for alternative therapies. Boston Globe, July 24, 2009] Harkin, who seems hopelessly confused about the boundary between science-based care and quackery, keeps claiming that "alternative," "complementary," and/or "integrative" practices are more focused than mainstream medicine on preventive care and can save money, when just the opposite is true. [Statement by Senator Tom Harkin. Senate heating on integrative care: A pathway to a healthier nation, Feb 26, 2009]

The Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy, which lobbies for scientifically sound government policies, has criticized Harkin's efforts to enact legislation to cover unsubstantiated and implausible treatments.  Instead, CFI recommends that any health care reform bill should prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars to cover non-evidence-based medicine. CFI further recommends that Congress greatly reduce or eliminate funding for the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, because a decade of study has shown that most alternative "cures" work no better than placebos. [Mielczarek EV. A Fracture in Our Health Care: Paying for Non-Evidence Based Medicine. CFI Office of Public Policy, Washington, DC, Sept 22, 2009]

British homeopaths making outrageous vaccine claims. The Alliance for Registered Homeopaths, which represents over 700 homeopaths who practice in the United Kingdom, is warning that swine flu vaccine is dangerous and claiming that homeopathic products are both "highly effective" and "entirely safe." [The swine flu vaccine—more dangerous than the disease? Alliance of Registered Homeopaths press release, Sept 21, 2009] The simple fact is that homeopathic products are worthless. [Barrett S. Homeopathy: The ultimate fake. Quackwatch, Aug 23, 2009]

Australian homeopath sentenced to prison. Thomas Sam, 42, and his wife Manju Sam, 37, have been sentenced to prison for fatally neglecting their 9-month-old infant daughter Gloria, who died in 2002. Thomas received a 6-8 years sentence, and Manju was sentenced to a maximum of 5 years and 4 months. [Arlington K. Parents failed Gloria, jailed for 'cruelty'. Sydney Morning Herald, Sept 29, 2009] In June, the couple were convicted of manslaughter by criminal negligence by failing to get appropriate treatment, instead mainly relying on homeopathic remedies. At their trial, the prosecution successfully argued the couple were criminally negligent by persisting with homeopathic remedies instead of seeking conventional medical help in the last two weeks of her life. The jury was also told that the daughter's rash was so bad at age six months that her skin would weep and tear when her parents changed her clothing and diapers. As her health deteriorated, the parents continued to administer homeopathic drops and ointments recommended by Thomas's professional peers. Doctors who reviewed Gloria's case said that she had been malnourished for months and in severe pain for weeks before her death.

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This page was revised on October 1, 2009.