Consumer Health Digest #11-05
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 17, 2011
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.
Second "MCS" guru disciplined. Alfred R. Johnson, D.O., who operates Johnson Medical Associates in Richardson, Texas, has signed a mediated agreed order under which he was reprimanded, fined $4,500, and ordered to take 32 hours of continuing medical education courses related to allergy and immunology. He must also:
- Provide the Texas Medical Board with a list of the substances he utilizes for antigen/desensitization therapy, indicating which are commercial (FDA-approved) and which are not.
- Provide informed consent using the forms attached to the agreed order.
- Separately track or segregate charts involving his use of the therapy, so as to be able to track outcome trends, identify recurrent side effects and complications, and provide ready access to these charts in the event of a future related investigation by the Medical Board.
The agreed order settles a 2007 complaint in which the board called Johnson's treatment "nonsensical" and charged that his interpretation of tests and diagnostic conclusions related to a patient demonstrated "an obvious lack of understanding of basic immunology."
Johnson served on the Medical Board of Texas for for six years. His Web site says that he has a special interest in "allergy and environmental medicine" and is a fellow, former board member, and course director of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. This group promotes the offbeat theories and practices associated with "multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS)," a diagnosis not recognized by the scientific community. Quackwatch has a detailed discussion of "MCS."
Last year the Texas Medical Board disciplined the leading "MCS" promoter, William J. Rea, M.D., with whom Johnson was closely associated for many years.
Diploma mills on the rise. Accredibase, which tracks diploma mills, has noted that the number has been rising sharply. The report notes:
- Increases have occurred in all regions, but North America and Europe continue to be the most popular for diploma mill owners, with 1,095 operating or claiming to operate in North America (up from 892, an increase of 23%).
- The U.S. had 1,008, an increase of 198 (20%).
- Europe had 603 (a 31% increase).
- The number of mills operating from unknown locations has risen 170% from last year's total. Many of these use domain privacy companies to register their Web sites and proxy servers to hide true IP locations.
The full report, Diploma and accreditation mills: New trends in credential abuse is available on the Accredibase Web site.
GAO restates its advice on Medicare/Medicaid fraud. The Government Accountability Office has designated Medicare and Medicaid as high-risk programs because they are particularly vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and improper payments (payments that should not have been made or were made in an incorrect amount). Medicare is considered high-risk in part because of its complexity and susceptibility to improper payments, and Medicaid because of inadequacy of its fiscal oversight to prevent inappropriate spending. In fiscal year 2010, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)—the agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid—estimated that these programs made a total of over $70 billion in improper payments. The latest GAO report repeats five key strategies that it recommended within 16 reports issued from April 2004 through February 2011:
- Strengthening provider enrollment standards and procedures
- Improving prepayment review of claims
- Focusing postpayment claims review on most vulnerable areas
- Improving oversight of contractors
- Developing a robust process for addressing identified vulnerabilities
Anti-fraud efforts helped lower Florida workers compensation rates. Seven years ago, Florida employers paid the highest workers' compensation premiums in the nation. Today, the state's workers' compensation premiums are among the lowest. The dramatic drop was primarily the result of a 2003 law that was designed to reduce litigation, strengthen the Department of Financial Services' ability to combat fraud, revise certain indemnity benefits for injured workers, increase reimbursements for physicians and for surgical procedures, and increase availability and affordability of coverage. [Maida T, Schulte L. What's Ahead for Workers' Comp? Florida Underwriter, Oct 2010]
This page was posted on March 16, 2011.