Consumer Health Digest #19-47

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 1, 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.

Impact of unaffordable medical treatment estimated. Based on a survey of 1,099 U.S. adults conducted in September 2019, Gallup and West Health have estimated that 34 million American adults (more than 13%) know someone who died after not getting treatment and 58 million adults report being unable to pay for needed drugs in the previous year. The percentage of adults who reported not having had enough money in the previous 12 months to "pay for needed medicine or drugs that a doctor prescribed" has increased significantly, from 18.9% in January 2019 to 22.9% in September. Only 7% reported that the Trump administration has accomplished "a great deal" on the issue of drug prices, while 66% said the administration has accomplished "Not very much" or "None at all." [Witters D. Millions in U.S. lost someone who couldn't afford treatment. Gallup, Nov 12, 2019]

Warning issued against unregulated traditional Chinese medicine. The European Academies' Science Advisory Council (EASAC) and the Federation of European Academies of Medicine (FEAM) have issued a joint statement calling the recent proposed addition of a chapter on traditional Chinese medicine to the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases coding tool (ICD-11) a "major problem." Calling for the requirement of rigorous evidence of quality, efficacy, and safety, the statement warns:

EASAC and FEAM add our voices to those who have expressed concern about this ICD-11 reclassification to include diagnostic approaches that are not yet, and may never be, adequately validated according to established scientific and regulatory criteria. There is risk in misleading patients and doctors and in increasing pressures for reimbursement by public health systems at a time of limited resources. [Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Statement by EAASAC and FEAM. Nov 2019]

"Health care sharing ministry" called a sham. After receiving more than 20 complaints from consumers, the Washington State Insurance Commissioner has ordered Aliera Healthcare, Inc. and Trinity Healthshare, Inc., both of Delaware, to stop selling health insurance illegally in Washington state and engaging in deceptive business practices. [Consumer complaints lead Kreidler to halt sham health care sharing ministry. Office of the Insurance Commissioner Washington State, May 13, 2019] Aliera, an unlicensed insurance producer in Washington, has been administering and marketing health coverage on behalf of Trinity Healthshare. Trinity represents itself as a health care sharing ministry, which would be exempt from state insurance regulation. However, it did not meet several key federal and state requirements to operate as a health ministry. The Insurance Commissioner's investigation also found that Aliera:

Insurance regulators in TexasColorado, and New Hampshire have also accused the companies of violations of state and federal requirements, which include failing to make its religious affiliations clear and selling plans outside the markets allowed by statute. [Regulators allege Christian-based health care provider broke state, federal rules. WBUR, Nov 25, 2019]

Recommendations offered for dealing with anti-vaxx propaganda. Science communicator Lucky Tran believes that many anti-vaxx activists are engaging in "firehosing," a propaganda technique that innvolves pushing out as many lies as possible as often as possible. [Tran L. Firehosing: the systemic strategy that anti-vaxxers are using to spread misinformation. The Guardian, Nov 7, 2019] The term is based on a previous description of Russian authorities' propaganda model as the "firehose of falsehood." [Paul C. Matthews M. The Russian "firehose of falsehood" propaganda model. Rand Corporation, 2016] The goal of the lies is not to persuade but to rob facts of their power. Rand researchers have concluded that pointing out falsehoods and inconsistencies in messages is not likely to be effective against firehosing. Instead it is better to: (a) forewarn audiences about methods propagandists use to manipulate public opinion, and (b) disrupt the flow of disinformation by pressuring media to block or remove false content. Dr. Steven Novella has made additional suggestions:

[We also] need to control the venue, meaning that the information ecosystem needs to account for firehosing as a common abuse and take steps to prevent it. Journalists and editors are probably the first line of defense here. They need to understand this strategy so that they don't get exploited to further it. They should shut it down, and not give it the attention it seeks. Don't fall for the "false balance" fallacy, which is used as an opening for firehosing. Don't get distracted by the mountain of information, which does not mean that you don't fact-check and correct misinformation. Rather, don't just fact-check. Try to automate the fact-checking as much as possible so it is available as a reference, but don't waste your headlines and news space playing the firehosing game. That is what they want. [Novella S. How to combat firehosing. Neurologica blog, Nov 8, 2019]

ADA updates fluoridation booklet. The 2018 edition of the American Dental Association's  booklet Fluoridation Facts is available for free download. The 110-page booklet (a) provides answers to frequently asked questions about community water fluoridation's effectiveness, safety, practice, and cost-effectiveness, and (b) cites the latest scientific research, with over 400 references.

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This page was posted on November 30, 2019.