Consumer Health Digest #18-26
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 1, 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.
Vaccine scaremonger "Dr. Bob" Sears placed on probation. Robert William Sears, M.D., who practices pediatrics in Capistrano Beach, California, has signed a stipulated order of the Medical Board of California under which he was placed on probation for 35 months for his unprofessional conduct related to his management of a 2-year-old patient. The Board accused him of violating the standard of care by:
- Writing a letter to excuse the boy from "all future vaccinations"
- Failing to obtain the basic information necessary to make such a decision
- Failing to retain a copy of the letter in the boy's chart
- Failing to include neurological testing when evaluating the boy for headaches following a blow to head with a hammer.
The stipulated order requires Sears to take at least 40 hours per year of continuing education courses "aimed at correcting any areas of deficient practice or knowledge" plus an additional ethics course. He is also required to have his practice monitored by a physician approved by the board. He recently reported on his Facebook page that the board is investigating four more of his cases. The Los Angeles Times reported that he intended to fight until there are no more mandatory vaccination laws. [Karlamangla S. California doctor critical of vaccines is punished for exempting 2-year-old boy from all childhood immunizations. Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2018]
Beginning with the 2016 school year, California law barred religious and other personal-belief exemptions for school immunization requirements for children. Public health advocates have been concerned that some doctors, including Sears, have been writing improper medical exemptions that can result in lower community immunity to preventable diseases. Although the statewide kindergarten vaccination rate increased from 90% in 2013-14 to 96% in 2016-17, medical exemptions increased from 991 to 2,850 and some schools have had more than 20% of kindergartners with medical exemptions.
Sears wrote The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (first published in 2007 and revised in 2011), in which he advocated spacing out vaccine administration to children more than in the approved schedule. Critics have noted that his "alternate" vaccination schedule poses risks to children and is based on unwarranted safety concerns and unsound evaluation of evidence:
- Offit P, Moser CA. The problem with Dr Bob's alternative vaccine schedule. Pediatrics, Jan 2009
- Snyder J. Cashing in on fear: The danger of Dr. Sears. Science-Based Medicine Blog, July 30, 2009
- Parikh RK. Face-off with the bestselling vaccine guru. Salon, Oct 13, 2010
Hundreds charged in health care fraud takedown. The U.S. Department of Justice has announced the largest health care fraud enforcement action in its history. Across 58 federal districts, 601 individuals have been charged for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving more than $2 billion in false billings. They include 162 defendants, including 76 doctors, who were charged with improperly prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous drugs. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that since July 2017, it has excluded 2,700 individuals from participation in Medicare, Medicaid, and all other Federal health care programs, with 587 providers excluded for conduct related to opioid diversion and abuse. [National health care fraud takedown results in charges against 601 individuals responsible for over $2 billion in fraud losses. Department of Justice press release 18-866, June 28, 2018]
Theranos founder indicted. A federal grand jury has indicted two leaders of Palo Alto, California-based Theranos, a company that claimed to have developed technologies that revolutionized blood testing, requiring only a finger stick to draw blood. Founder Elizabeth A. Holmes and former chief operating officer Ramesh "Sunny" Balwan have been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud stemming from allegations that they engaged in a multi-million-dollar scheme to defraud investors and a separate scheme to defraud doctors and patients. [Theranos founder and former chief operating officer charged in alleged wire fraud schemes. Department of Justice press release, June 15, 2018] The pair allegedly:
- Defrauded doctors and patients by knowingly making false claims concerning Theranos's ability to provide accurate, fast, reliable, and cheap blood tests and test results, and through omissions concerning the limits of and problems with Theranos's technologies
- Used interstate electronic wires to purchase advertisements intended to induce individuals to purchase Theranos blood tests at Walgreens stores in California and Arizona
- Made misrepresentations and omissions that led many hundreds of patients or their medical insurance companies to pay Theranos, or Walgreens acting on behalf of Theranos, for blood tests and test results—sometimes following referrals from their defrauded doctors
- Delivered to doctors and patients blood test results from which critical results were improperly removed.
An illuminating 31-minute ReasonTV interview with John Carryou, who reported on Holmes' deceptions in The Wall Street Journal and in his book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, is available online.
Supreme Court rules for faith-based crisis pregnancy centers. By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of a California law passed three years ago that requires faith-based "crisis pregnancy centers" to disclose the availability of state subsidized medical services including abortion. The more than 200 such centers have used deceptive advertising and counseling services to discourage women from getting abortions. [Savage DG. Supreme Court rules for faith-based pregnancy centers, blocks California disclosure law. Los Angeles Times, Jun 26, 2018]
This page was posted on July 1, 2018