Consumer Health Digest #18-45
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 11, 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.
"pH miracle" promoter hit with huge damages award. A jury in a San Diego Superior Court civil trial has awarded $105 million to 45-year-old Dawn Kali, a cancer patient who alleged that Robert O. Young negligently and fraudulently held himself out as a doctor and counseled her to forego standard medical treatment including chemotherapy. According to Kali's attorney, her oncologist says she has stage four cancer and can expect to live three or four years. Young gained fame promoting dubious health notions such as his "pH miracle" claim that health depends primarily on proper balance between an alkaline and acid cellular environment that can be optimized by dietary modification and taking supplements. In 2016, Young was convicted on two counts of practicing medicine without a license and spent several months in prison. As part of that sentencing deal, Young declared in court that he is not a microbiologist, hematologist, medical or naturopathic doctor, or trained scientist. [Figueroa T. Jury awards $105M in suit against pH Miracle author. San Diego Union-Tribune. Nov 2, 2018] Young's disreputable credentials, misleading testimonials, legal difficulties, and irrational theories are discussed on Quackwatch. Commenting on the Kali case, David Gorski, M.D., Ph.D. wrote:
Whatever the reason, if there's one thing I can say about this case is that it couldn't have happened to a more appropriate guy. Robert O. Young was one of the first cancer quacks I took notice of back when I was first discovering how deep the rabbit hole of alternative medicine is. He's been one of the most egregious, preaching the most blatantly pseudoscientific nonsense and charging huge sums for it. So you'll pardon me if I'm feeling more than a bit of schadenfreude to see him not only having had to serve time in prison, but to be facing a judgment and selling his ranch, for which he's asking $3.2 million. [Gorski D. More please! A victim of Robert O. Young wins a $105 million settlement. Science-Based Medicine. Nov 5, 2018]
Seller of sham health insurance shut down. A federal judge has temporarily shut down a Florida-based operation, Simple Health Plans LLC, that allegedly collected more than $100 million by preying on Americans in search of health insurance, selling worthless plans that left tens of thousands of people uninsured. A federal court temporarily halted the operation with assets frozen pending resolution of the case. The court actions were in response to a complaint for permanent injunction and other equitable relief filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against the company's owner, Steven J. Doorman, Simple Health Plans LLC, Health Benefits One LLC, Health Center Management LLC, Innovative Customer Care LLC, Simple Insurance Leads LLC, and Senior Benefits One LLC. The defendants are charged with violating the FTC Act and the agency's Telemarketing Sales Rule. The FTC alleged:
- The defendants misled people to think they were buying comprehensive health insurance that would cover preexisting medical conditions; prescription drugs; primary and specialty care treatment; inpatient and emergency hospital care; surgical procedures; and medical and laboratory testing.
- Consumers who enrolled reported paying as much as $500 per month for what was actually a medical discount program or extremely limited benefit program that did not deliver the promised benefits and effectively left consumers uninsured.
- Defendants lured consumers through a network of deceptive lead generation websites such as www.trumpcarequotes.com which deceptively claimed to offer "Health Insurance for Smart People" from "the Nation's Leading Carriers" at "Low Affordable Premiums" with "Prescription Drug Coverage" and www.simplemedicareplans.com, which promoted "Medicare Health Plans for Your Needs and Budget."
- Consumers who submitted their contact information to one of the defendants' websites or called one of the toll-free phone numbers on the sites ended up on the phone with telemarketers working for the defendants.
- The defendants' telemarketers led consumers to believe that for a one-time enrollment fee, ranging from approximately $60 to $175, and a monthly payment, ranging from approximately $40 to $500, Simple Health could provide them with a "PPO" health insurance plan that was comprehensive, widely accepted by doctors in the consumers' geographical areas, and, in many cases, would have no copays or deductibles.
- A typical plan provides no coverage for preexisting medical conditions or prescription medications, pays only $50 toward physician visits—capped at three visits per year—and covers a maximum of $100 per day for hospitalization.
- The maximum benefit a consumer could realize from the plan is $3,200 per person, per year, and only if that person were hospitalized for 30 days.
- Tens of thousands of consumers who thought they had purchased comprehensive health insurance found themselves uninsured, some saddled with substantial medical expenses that they assumed would be covered.
- Because the defendants' limited benefit plans and discount memberships do not qualify as health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, some people who enrolled were subject to a fee imposed on those who can afford health insurance, but choose not to buy it.
[FTC halts purveyors of sham health insurance plans. FTC Press Release. Nov 2, 2018]
"Energy medicine" chiropractor's license suspended. A Shasta County Superior Court judge has suspended the chiropractic license of Steven C. Davis, D.C., of Palo Cedro, California, pending resolution of a felony charge of practicing medicine without a certificate and a misdemeanor charge of unlicensed naturopathic practice. The charges were based on an investigation by the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Press reports indicate that Davis told the investigator:
- We get energy from food, the cosmos, sun, earth, and certain things. These energies are ways of curing cancer.
- Conventional medicine is still trying to figure out where cancer comes from and what it is, but alternative medicine has known the answers since 1920.
- He could treat the undercover investigator's symptoms that she said she believed to be cancer.
- The investigator should not undergo a biopsy or treatment that she said were recommended by a medical doctor. [Schultz J. Chiropractor's license suspended amid criminal charges. Redding Record Searchlight. Nov 3, 2018]
Davis did business as Gesundheit Clinic and operated the Gesundheit Village Web site, which he represented as "the ultimate education hub teaching the benefits of energy medicine and methodologies of natural healing." The site also stated that he became a "certified traditional naturopath" in 1998, but this credential has no legal standing. (Note: His version of "energy medicine" should not be confused with energy as understood in modern physics.)
This page was posted on November 13, 2018.