Consumer Health Digest #09-33
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 13, 2009
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.
New Web site attacks leading insurance reform opponent. The Quackwatch network has added Insurance Reform Watch to deal with misinformation circulated by opponents of health care reform. The site's first investigative report examines the activities and history of Rick Scott and his organization, Conservatives for Patients' Rights (CPR). [Barrett S. A skeptical look at Rick Scott and his Conservatives for Patients' Rights propaganda machine. Insurance Reform Watch, Aug 13, 2009] The report concludes:
- CPR has been flooding the airwaves with 30-second television ads that claim that current efforts at reform will (a) drive up taxes, (b) stop people from being able to choose their doctors, (c) cause many people to lose their current insurance coverage, and (d) take medical decision-making out of the hands of doctors. All of these messages are misleading.
- In 1987, Scott founded and became chief operating officer of a hospital chain that grew into the $23 billion-a-year Columbia/HCA. In 1997, a few weeks after the FBI raided HCA hospitals in five states, Scott was ousted as CEO and three executives were indicted on charges of Medicare fraud. The FBI's investigation found that the hospital chain had been overbilling Medicare and giving kickbacks to doctors who steered patients to its hospitals. The situation, which the U.S. Department of Justice called "the largest health care fraud case in U.S. history," was settled with a set of guilty pleas and criminal and civil fines totaling $1.7 billion. Scott was not charged, but court records show that the illegal activities were so extensive that he knew or should have known about them.
- Scott is a significant investor in two highly questionable health-related ventures. One is a chain of "integrated pharmacies" that provide dubious advice to customers. The other is a dietary supplement company that makes illegal health claims for many products. [Barrett S. Viosan Health Generation making shady claims. Quackwatch, Aug 14, 2009]
Toxicologists blast provoked urine testing. The American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) has issued a position statement about provoked urinary metal testing. [Charlton N. Wallace, KL. Post-chelator challenge urinary metal testing. ACMT Web site, July 27, 2009] Such tests, which chelation therapists use to falsely diagnose heavy metal toxicity, are done on urine specimens obtained after the patient receives a chelating agent that temporarily increases metal excretion into the urine. [Barrett S. Baratz RS. How the "urine toxic metals" test is used to defraud patients. Quackwatch, August 13, 2009] The AMCT statement concludes: "Post-challenge urinary metal testing has not been scientifically validated, has no demonstrated benefit, and may be harmful when applied in the assessment and treatment of patients in whom there is concern for metal poisoning."
Chiropractic clinic charged with predatory lending. The Minnesota Attorney General and Minnesota Board of Chiropractic Examiners have filed a lawsuit accusing Express Health of Lakeville, Minnesota and its owner Cory Couillard, D.C. of engaging in predatory lending practices. [Swanson, board sue chiropractic clinic for predatory lending involving health care credit cards, Press release, Minnesota Attorney General, Aug 12, 2009] The suit alleges:
- Couillard and his clinic aggressively enrolled patients in the CareCredit Credit Card offered by GE Money Bank, convincing some patients to complete applications by telling them that they were not applying for a credit card but that the clinic simply wanted to check to see if they would qualify for credit.
- Unbeknownst to these patients, Express Health and Couillard then submitted the application to the Bank, which issued a CareCredit credit card in the patient’s name.
- In order to ensure that patients qualified for a credit card, the defendants sometimes submitted to the lender false annual income for patients, in some cases doubling or more patients’ actual income.
- Once patients were issued a credit card, the defendants placed lump-sum charges of up to $5,040 on the credit card, without patients' knowledge or consent.
- In the two-year, five-month period between December, 2006 and April, 2009, the clinic charged $560,850 to CareCredit credit cards issued to its patients. About one-half that amount was later refunded by the clinic to patients who complained.
A health care credit card is a credit card that patients can use to pay for certain expenses not covered by insurance. In recent years, many of the country’s largest financial institutions have begun to sell health care credit cards to patients, capitalizing on rising health care costs and gaps in insurance coverage. A report by McKinsey & Company states that consumers currently charge about $45 billion in out-of-pocket medical expenses on credit cards and that number is estimated to triple to $150 billion by 2015. The Attorney General's office, which is investigating complaints about other providers, has published a Consumer Alert cautioning patients to be wary of high-pressure sales pitches health care credit cards.
Balneotherapy evaluated. Medscape has published a comprehensive evaluation of the use of warm mineral baths and similar approaches. The researchers identified 29 randomized controlled trials, most of which dealt with rheumatologic or musculoskeletal diseases/diseases. The researchers concluded:
There is possibility that balneotherapy is associated with clinical improvement in rheumatological disease mainly such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis and in chronic low back pain. However, existing research is not sufficiently strong to draw firm conclusions. More RCTs are needed to help draw firm conclusions regarding the effectiveness of balneotherapy in various medical fields, especially on dermatological, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and allergic and gynecological skin diseases. [Falagas ME and others: The therapeutic effect of balneotherapy: Evaluation of the evidence from randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Clinical Practice, July 1, 2009]
To access the Medscape article, registration (which is free) is necessary.
This page was revised on August 14, 2009.