Consumer Health Digest #10-40

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 7, 2010


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.


Omnibus Autism Proceeding winding down. The Special Masters in charge of the Omnibus Autism Proceeding (OAP) have indicated that the proceeding is winding down. The OAP was established in 2002 to enable the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to deal efficiently with claims that vaccination had caused thousands of children to become autistic. To proceed efficiently, the parties agreed to process "test cases" for each "general causation" theory presented by the Petitioners’ Steering Committee. Ultimately, two such theories were advanced—(1) MMR vaccines and thimerosal-containing vaccines can combine to cause autism, and (2) thimerosal-containing vaccines can cause autism—and three cases based on each theory were presented. Following lengthy hearings, the Special Masters ruled that neither of these theories were plausible and they sharply rebuked the doctors whose treatment has been based on these theories. Three families appealed, but the U.S. Federal Court of Claims upheld the Special Masters' decisions. About 4,700 cases remain, but in order for the OAP to proceed, the steering committee would have to substantiate another causational theory. The Special Masters have indicated that no additional causational theory is contemplated so the proceeding is likely to conclude after various administrative details (such as petitioners' attorney fees) are settled. [Autism update, September 19, 2010] Autism Watch has archived many of the OAP documents.


"Gifting" pyramid schemes multiplying. Internet-based technology is being used to promote "cash gifting programs" in which prospects are invited to pay a one-time amount for the privilege of entering the plan and receiving similar amounts from others. Prospective customers are falsely told that the payments are tax-free because they are gifts. Personal gifts of up to $13,000 are tax-free. However, the Internal Revenue Service is likely to either regard gifting programs as business opportunities or say that because the income is from an illegal activity, any proceeds are taxable income. (Gifting is illegal because it is a pyramid scheme in which the majority of people will lose money). The initial contacts are robocalls made through sites that broadcast lists compiled from the Internet or purchased from list vendors. Quackwatch has a detailed report on Internet-based robocalls, which could become a colossal nuisance on a par with spam.


Low-cost insurance marketer fined $500,000. Cinergy Health, Inc., a Florida-based insurance agent that advertised low-cost health insurance plans on late-night television, the Internet, and through telemarketers, has been fined $500,000 by New York State for misleading consumers into believing they were buying comprehensive health insurance. Instead, buyers received limited benefit health insurance plans also known as "mini-meds," which normally provide substantially less than comprehensive hospital/medical coverage. When injury or illness occurred and consumers filed claims, many found that their claims were not covered, and they were left with large unpaid medical bills. Cinergy and its sublicensee, Steven Trattner, signed a stipulation with the New York State Insurance Department, agreeing to the fine and to comply with a code of conduct setting strict standards for any future sales of limited medical benefit plans in New York. The Better Business Bureau, which has processed over 200 complaints against Cinergy during the past three years, has given it a D+ rating.


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This page was posted on October 6, 2010.