Consumer Health Digest #18-03

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 21, 2018

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.

Medically unnecessary pediatric dental services case settled. The U.S. Department of Justice has settled False Claims Act allegations against dental management company Benevis LLC (formerly known as NCDR LLC) and more than 130 Kool Smiles dental clinics operating in 17 states for which Benevis provides business management and administrative services. The allegations included:

Under the agreement, Benevis and the Kool Smiles clinics will pay the United States and participating states a total of $23.9 million, plus interest, to resolve allegations that they knowingly submitted false claims for payment to state Medicaid programs for performing unnecessary pulpotomies (baby root canals), tooth extractions, and stainless steel crowns, in addition to seeking payment for pulpotomies that were never performed. [Dental management company Benevis and its affiliated Kool Smiles dental clinics to pay $23.9 million to settle False Claims Act allegations relating to medically unnecessary pediatric dental services. USDOJ press release. Jan 10, 2018] 
A two-year old boy, reportedly taken to a Kool Smiles in Yuma, Arizona last December for a crown and filling, stopped breathing during or after treatment, was hospitalized, and died several days later. [Pelton M. Family: Yuma 2-year-old dies after dental appointment. ABC15 Arizona, Jan 4, 2018] In 2016, a 4-year-old girl, reportedly came to the same Kool Smiles clinic to deal with an abscess, had a tooth pulled, was taken back to the clinic the next day by her family after she developed a fever, was sent home after being told she'd be fine, and then died a few days later. ABC15 reported that Lizette's, mother Francisca Lares, has filed a wrongful death complaint against the clinic "to prevent what just happened again."  [Wasu S. Family: Child dies days after appointment at Yuma dental office. ABC15 Arizona, Jan 9, 2018]

HHS "Religious Freedom" division criticized. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) has objected to the pending creation of a "Conscience and Religious Freedom Division" within the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. CFI says the division places religious dogma over evidence-based health care and compassion. It states:

This new division with the OCR will be tasked with asserting a religious privilege for health care providers whose beliefs conflict with certain areas of care or particular procedures, including but not limited to abortions and sex-reassignment surgery. The Center for Inquiry maintains that the Trump administration created this division to attack, rather than defend, civil rights.

CFI believes the Trump Administration should: (a) protect abortion rights, (b) protect the lives of women with life-threatening pregnancies from being turned away by church-owned hospitals, (b) ensure that those seeking birth control can't be turned away by religious pharmacists, and (c) ensure that all employers follow the mandate in the Affordable Care Act to provide contraceptive services without co-pays. [HHS 'Religious Freedom' division robs Americans of their right to safe and secular health care. CFI press release, Jan 18, 2018]

LGBT groups have criticized the division for being a tool for enabling ongoing discriminatory denial of medical services. [Johnson C. New HHS division slammed as tool for anti-LGBT discrimination. Washington Blade, Jan 18, 2018]

"CAM" in academic medical institutions blasted. Three scholars from Toronto General Hospital's Division of Vascular Surgery have authored a commentary paper in which they describe approaches labeled "complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)," "functional medicine," and "integrative medicine" as developed outside of evidence-based medicine and object to the increasing trend of "integrating" such approaches in academic medical institutions. [Li B and others. Integrative medicine or infiltrative pseudoscience? The Surgeon, Journal of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of Edinburgh and Ireland (Epub ahead of press), 2017] The authors:

A detailed discussion of the paper includes this observation:

This is the sort of thing we need from physicians: Actual pushback in the peer-reviewed medical literature against the integration of pseudoscience and quackery with medicine. [Integrative medicine as infiltrative pseudoscience: Pushback against quackery. Respectful Insolence, Jan 16, 2018.]

Fact sheet compiled on "alternative" cancer therapies. The Good Thinking Society with help from cancer researcher Alice Howarth, Ph.D. has posted a consumer-friendly list of 50 "alternative" cancer treatments with one-paragraph descriptions and one-paragraph assessments of evidence and/or danger for each. Sixteen of the summaries link to comprehensive critiques on the Cancer Research UK Web site, which dissects 43 approaches that it classifies as "CAM."

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This page was posted on January 21, 2018.