Consumer Health Digest #06-01
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 3, 2006
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. 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.
Top mail-order scammer settles FTC charges. A. Glen Braswell has signed a stipulation settling FTC charges filed in 2003 that he made false and misleading claims that various herbal and dietary supplement products were effective against Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, emphysema, and various other health problems. [Direct response marketer banned: FTC charged Braswell made false claims to sell dietary supplements. FTC news release, Jan 3, 2006] The agreement states that Braswell:
- Will pay $1 million and turn over assets worth $3.5 million to settle the FTC’s charges
- Cannot market or help others in the direct-response marketing of any food, dietary supplement, or drug, for which a health benefit is claimed directly or by implication (except for FDA-approved product claims)
- Is prohibited from making false or unsubstantiated claims for all health-related products and services .
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Braswell was the object of 140 federal enforcement actions and served a brief prison sentence for tax evasion and perjury charges developed during a mail-fraud investigation. But after his release he bounced back, grossed over $1 billion, and was even pardoned by President Clinton for his earlier crime. In the late 1990s, his formerly owned Gero Vita International distributed hundreds of millions of mail-order brochures and "journals" that generated more than $1 billion in product sales. Some of the products may have had some effectiveness (though they were overpriced), but most were promoted with misleading claims. [Barrett S. Be wary of Gero Vita, A. Glenn Braswell, and Braswell's 'Journal' of Longevity. Quackwatch, Jan 4, 2006] In 2001, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing that focused on Braswell and his misdeeds. In 2004, after having pleaded guilty to tax evasion and paid more than $10 million in back taxes, penalties, and interest, Braswell was sentenced to 18 months in prison. During 2005, Gero Vita, its “journal” editor, and a physician who had endorsed products settled FTC charges by agreeing to pay a total of $605,000 and to refrain from making more unsubstantiated claims. In addition, Hans Kugler, Ph.D., who endorsed two of the products, agreed to pay $15,000 and refrain from making future endorsements that are not based on competent evidence or within his represented areas of expertise.
Amway / Quixtar critique available. Eric Scheibeler, a former high-level distributor, is offering free electronic copies of his 296-page book Merchants of Deception: An Insider's Look at the Worldwide Conspiracy of Lies That Is Amway / Quixtar and Their Motivational Organizations. Scheibeler believes that nearly everyone who becomes a distributor loses money, in large part because they invest in expensive seminars and instructional materials. The author's Web site tells how to obtain the book.
British experts question ozone tooth-decay treatment. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), an independent British organization that reviews medical technology, has concluded that HealOzone therapy has not been proven effective or cost-effective for treating tooth decay. The HealOzone treatment system includes an ozone delivery device, a mineral-reducing agent used by the dentist and a ‘patient kit’ (fluoride-containing toothpaste, mouthwash and mouth spray) for home use. The device is certified (CE marked) in the United Kingdom as a medical device for managing certain types of caries, but it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The treatment is administered by placing a small cup over the affected tooth and pumping ozone gas into the area for up to 2 minutes to kill the bacteria. After that, a special liquid is dripped onto the tooth to remove any remaining ozone and acid and help the weakened enamel start to harden again through remineralization. The patient is given a kit containing fluoride toothpaste, mouthwash and mouth spray to use for several weeks to help the remineralization process. NICE has issued a detailed report which concluded that the procedure is unproven and should not be covered by the British National Service in the United Kingdom. HealOzone's marketers also sell a device (the DIAGNOdent) for assessing caries. The NICE report states that the validity of this device has yet to be demonstrated. [Barrett S, Baratz RS. British experts question value of HealOzone treatment. Dental Watch, Jan 1, 2006]
"Alternative" clinic operator convicted of health care fraud. A federal jury has found Russell W. Hunt, M.D., guilty of health care fraud and of making false statements relating to health care matters. [Nashville U.S. Attorney's Office convicts Old Hickory doctor of health care fraud. USDOJ press release, Dec 16, 2005] Hunt is a solo practitioner in Old Hickory, Tennessee, who specializes in "preventive medicine," pain management, and chelation therapy. The evidence at trial showed:
- Between about August 5, 1999 and about March 5, 2003, Hunt signed medical orders requesting that two companies owned by Mark Noble (Vascular Check, Inc. and Health Tech Screenings, Inc.) perform ultrasound carotid artery tests for individuals whom Hunt had never met. Medicare covers these tests only when they are medically necessary and are ordered by the patient's physician.
- Noble traveled to various sites, including senior citizens centers, offered the tests to individuals at no charge, billed Medicare for the tests, and paid Hunt $10 for each order he signed for a Medicare beneficiary.
- Hunt billed Blue Cross/Blue Shield for consultations with more than 50 of the people he had not seen.
- The reported losses from this scheme were about $91,000 for Medicare and $36,600 for Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
Sentencing is scheduled for March 13th.
This page was posted on January 4, 2005.