Consumer Health Digest #19-25

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 23, 2019

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.

"Fountain of youth" promoter convicted of health care fraud. Samirkumar J. Shah, a practicing cardiologist, has been found guilty in the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on two counts of health care fraud regarding his billing of insurers for medically unnecessary External Counter Pulsation (ECP) outpatient treatments and other procedures. ECP—also referred to as Enhanced External Counter Pulsation (EECP)—involves a specialized bed equipped with pressure cuffs, which exert pressure upon patients' lower extremities as a means to increase blood flow to the heart. The indictment notes that whereas insurers cover physician-supervised ECP for treating disabling chest pain (angina) caused by decreased blood flow to the heart, S"hah offered it for other reasons. Various case documents indicate that Shah:

Evidence at trial also showed that Shah: (a) offered free screenings, (b) routinely submitted fabricated patient files, (c) routinely made false statements concerning his practice, patient population, record keeping, and compliance with applicable coverage guidelines and (d) submitted ECP-related claims totaling more than $13 million and received reimbursement payments in excess of $3.5 million. Shah is scheduled to be sentenced in November to potentially up to 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. [Fox Chapel cardiologist convicted at trial of health care fraud involving more than $13 million of insurance billings. USAO Western District of Pennsylvania news release. Jun 14, 2019]

ALCAT testing blasted. Dr. Stephen Barrett has written an investigative report about the Antigen Leukocyte Antibody Test (ALCAT or Alcat), which is used to analyze responses of white blood cells (leukocytes) when incubated with extracts of foods and other test substances. Proponents claim that the test can detect otherwise hidden allergies and "intolerances" and that avoiding the alleged offenders can lead to improved health. The article notes that the tests are promoted with a combination of scare tactics and glowing promises but are of unproven value and not covered by most insurance programs including Medicare. ALCAT is a computerized version of cytotoxic testing, which the FDA banned in the 1980s because it was promoted with wild diagnostic claims. Many ALCAT promoters make similar claims, but Dr. Barrett has seen no evidence that the FDA is paying attention to them. [Barrett S. A skeptical look at ALCAT testing. Quackwatch. Jun 9, 2019]

New York eliminates religious exemptions to mandatory vaccinations. New York has become the sixth U.S. state, joining California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Maine, to eliminate exemptions on religious grounds to mandatory vaccines for children. [McKinley J. Measles outbreak: N.Y. eliminates religious exemptions for vaccinations. The New York Times. Jun 13, 2019] Opponents of ending religious exemptions have included many Orthodox Jewish parents and parents of children attending Waldorf schools, despite recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County and at some Waldorf schools.

"Alternative medicine" critic Wim Betz dead at 76. Willem "Wim" Betz, the honorary chairman and cofounder in 1990 of the Belgian skeptic organization SKEPP, died on June 8th at age 76 following a long period of illness. After 20 years of medical practice, he headed the center for general practitioner training at the Free University of Brussels (VUB) until 2007. He received the Outstanding Skeptics Award from the European Council of Skeptic Organizations in 2012 in recognition of his dedication to promoting good science and medical practice. The fact that homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, and chiropractic have not achieved government recognition in Belgium is largely due to Betz's critical voice. [Van Nuffel P. Doctor and skeptic Wim Betz passed away. Knack, Jun 12, 2019]

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This page was posted on June 24, 2019