Consumer Health Digest #19-43
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 27, 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.
35 people charged in huge cancer-testing scheme. Thirty-five individuals associated with dozens of telemedicine companies and laboratories have been charged with fraudulently billing Medicare more than $2.1 billion for expensive cancer genetic (CGx) tests. Nine of the defendants are medical doctors. The various indictments include charges of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, conspiracy to pay and receive kickbacks, and substantive counts of health care fraud and receiving kickbacks. [Federal law enforcement action involving fraudulent genetic testing results in charges against 35 individuals responsible for over $2.1 billion in losses in one of the largest health care fraud schemes ever charged. U.S. Department of Justice news release, Sept 27, 2019] Various defendants allegedly:
- duped Medicare recipients into signing up for unnecessary or non-existent cancer screening tests through telemarketing and "health fairs"
- failed to provide test results to beneficiaries or provided worthless results to their doctors
- used telemarketing to lure hundreds of thousands of elderly and/or disabled patients into the scheme
- paid doctors to prescribe CGx testing, either without any patient interaction or with only a brief telephone conversation with patients they had never met
One of the defendants, Khalid Satary, is an entrepreneur connected with diagnostic labs in four states who was supposed to have been deported more than a decade ago. [Joyner C. Gwinett man defrauded $500 million in bogus lab tests, U.S. alleges. Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct 19, 2019]
Genetic testing fraud alert issued. The U.S. Office of Inspector General (OIG) has warned the public about scammers who offer Medicare beneficiaries "free" screenings or cheek swabs for genetic testing in order to obtain their Medicare information for identity theft or fraudulent billing purposes. Beneficiaries could be responsible for the thousands of dollars charged for the testing if Medicare denies the claims. [Fraud Alert: Genetic Testing Scam. OIG, updated Sept 27. 2019] OIG advises consumers:
- If a genetic testing kit is mailed to you, don't accept it unless it was ordered by your physician. Refuse the delivery or return it to the sender. Keep a record of the sender's name and the date you returned the items.
- Be suspicious of anyone who offers you "free" genetic testing and then requests your Medicare number. If your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes.
- A physician that you know and trust should assess your condition and approve any request for genetic testing.
- If anyone other than your physician's office requests your Medicare information, do not provide it.
- If you suspect Medicare fraud, contact the OIG Hotline.
More companies warned about illegal CBD advertising. In September, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned three unnamed companies marketing cannabidiol (CBD)-containing products that it is illegal to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease without competent and reliable scientific evidence to support such claims. CBD is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant. [FTC sends warning letters to companies advertising their CBD-infused products as treatments for serious diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, and multiple sclerosis. FTC press release, Sept 10, 2019] According to the FTC:
- One company's website claimed that CBD "works like magic" to relieve "even the most agonizing pain" better than prescription opioid painkillers. To bolster its claims that CBD has been "clinically proven" to treat cancer, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), fibromyalgia, cigarette addiction, and colitis, the company states it has participated in "thousands of hours of research" with Harvard researchers.
- Another company's website claimed that CBD products have been proven to treat autism, anorexia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer's disease, Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS), stroke, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, traumatic brain injuries, diabetes, Crohn's disease, psoriasis, MS, fibromyalgia, cancer, and AIDS. The company also advertised CBD as a "miracle pain remedy" for both acute and chronic pain, including pain from cancer treatment and arthritis.
- The third company's website promoted CBD gummies as highly effective at treating "the root cause of most major degenerative diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, cancer, asthma, and a wide spectrum of autoimmune disorders." The company also claimed that its CBD cream relieves arthritis pain and that its CBD oil may effectively treat depression, PTSD, epilepsy, heart disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and asthma.
This month, the FTC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a joint warning letter to Rooted Apothecary, LLC for selling CBD products online with unsubstantiated claims that the products can treat autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, among other conditions. [FTC and FDA warn Florida company marketing CBD products about claims related to treating autism, ADHD, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other medical conditions. FTC press release, Oct 22, 2019] As described in the letter, the Florida-based company used its online store and social media sites to make health and efficacy claims that included:
- "Increasing evidence suggests that CBD oil is a powerful option for pain . . . anxiety . . . and autism . . . It seems like an attractive and safe option for children."
- "CBD oil may have neuroprotective properties and may protect against neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease."
- "Possible uses for CBD include helping with skin problems such as acne, autism, ADHD, and even cancer. It's often used in conjunction with traditional treatments to provide extra help. Children can use high amounts of CBD safely and without any risk."
Earlier this year, the FTC and FDA issued similar joint warning letters to three other CBD sellers.
Podcast features Dr. Barrett's anti-quackery activities. The House of Pod has broadcast a 20-minute interview in which Dr. Stephen Barrett shares some things he has learned during his 50-year battle with quackery. Dr. Barrett's portion begins at minute 19.
This page was posted on October 24 , 2019.