Consumer Health Digest #14-09

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 16, 2014

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.

FTC again finds widespread Funeral Rule violations. Undercover investigators found that 30 of the 122 funeral homes in 9 states that they visited during 2013 failed to disclose pricing information as required by the Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule. The Rule, issued in 1984, requires funeral homes to provide prospective customers with an itemized general price list at the start of an in-person discussion about funeral arrangements, a casket price list before caskets are viewed, and an outer burial container price list before grave liners or vaults are viewed. The Rule also prohibits requiring consumers to buy any item, such as a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service. The Rule's purpose is to enable consumers (who may be under duress that makes them vulnerable to financial exploitation) to compare prices and buy only the goods and services they want. Violative businesses can enter a 3-year Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP), which is designed to increase compliance with the Rule and avoid an FTC lawsuit that could lead to severe penalties. Since the FROP program began in 1996, the FTC has inspected over 2,800 funeral homes, 459 of which have agreed to enter the FROP program. [FTC undercover inspections of funeral homes in nine states test compliance with Funeral Rule disclosure requirements. FTC news release, March 11, 2014] Three FTC publications offer guidelines for consumers and funeral homes: Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods & Services, Shopping for Funeral Services and Complying with the Funeral Rule.

"Right to try" laws would unravel consumer protection. "Right to try" bills, now pending in four states, would allow makers of investigational drugs, biological products, or devices to make them available to eligible "terminal patients" without FDA oversight. The genesis of these bills can be traced to 21-year-old Abigail Burroughs, who led a campaign to urge greater access to investigational drugs after her cancer specialist recommended one. In 2001, a few months before her death, her father formed the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs, which petitioned and subsequently sued the FDA unsuccessfully. (JAMA has published a detailed account of the Abigail Alliance lawsuit suit and the need for current FDA regulation. [Jacobson PD, Parmet WE. The era of unapproved drugs: The case of Abigail Alliance v Von Eschenbach. JAMA 297:205-208, 2007]) The legislative drive has been given additional impetus by the "Dallas Buyer's Club" movie, which featured two actors who won Academy Awards. The movie, which is pure fiction, is about an HIV-infected cowboy who battles the FDA and skirts the law to bring life-saving drugs to AIDS patients at a time when the diagnosis was equivalent to a death sentence. Bloggers Jann Bellamy and David Gorski, M.D., Ph.D. have written eloquently about the dangers of the "right to try" bills and the flawed logic upon which they rest.

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This page was posted on March 16, 2014.