Alcohol Facts – National Consumers League

By National Consumers League staff

What’s a dieter to do? A solid month into the new year, resolutions going strong: counting calories, exercising, avoiding late-night binges.

But the weekend’s just around the corner, and one can only avoid Friday happy hours for so long. Wouldn’t it be nice if somehow you could actually look at any bottle of beer or wine or tequila and find out how many calories or grams of fat are in it?

Have allergies? Wouldn’t it be nice to know the ingredients in what you’re drinking? Counting carbs? Watching your alcohol intake? What’s an info-seeking consumer to do?

Currently, the labeling on beverages containing alcohol is all across the board, with most drinks lacking easy-to-find information about calories, serving sizes, etc. For years, NCL has been asking the federal government to make a change for the positive and better regulate this stuff with a standardized, useful “Alcohol Facts” label. (Think “Nutrition Facts” for beer.)

Here’s our latest call for change.

Aspirin and coronary vascular disease – National Consumers League

Aspirin is a very common medication. It can be used to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation. Aspirin has another important benefit: it can reduce the risk of another heart attack or stroke in a person who has already had one. Studies are being conducted to see whether aspirin can prevent a first heart attack or stroke; some doctors recommend aspirin to certain patients who are at risk.

To be effective in helping prevent a heart attack or stroke, aspirin must be used properly. Using aspirin for the prevention of coronary vascular disease (CVD) is very different from using it to treat a headache or fever.

Like all medications, there are risks when taking aspirin—including stomach bleeding and kidney, heart, and liver problems—when taken daily for weeks, months, or years. This Web site will help answer some basic questions about aspirin use for CVD. Talk to your health professional before taking aspirin for CVD prevention. Follow all directions on the label before you take any over-the-counter medicine. If you are not sure, or have any questions about any medication, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or other health professional. 

Questions and answers

Aren’t all pain killers/analgesics the same?

No. There are many types of pain killers/analgesics. They work in different ways in the body, and some are more appropriate than others for certain types of conditions.

How do I know which analgesic is right for me?

You should talk with your health professional (doctor, nurse, pharmacist) about the most appropriate medicine for your situation.

I heard that aspirin is effective in helping to reduce my risk of heart attack or stroke. Are any other analgesics/pain killers also effective?

Only aspirin (salicylic acid) has been proven to effectively reduce the risk of CVD. Many common analgesics contain other ingredients such as ibuprofen (Advil‘, Motrin IB‘), acetaminophen (Tylenol‘), and naproxen (Aleve‘, Naprosyn‘) that have not been proven to reduce the risk of CVD. Read the labels to make sure you are taking aspirin. Many products have more than one active ingredient, including aspirin.

Can I just take the same aspirin that is in my medicine chest at home?

A. You should consult with your health professional before beginning an aspirin-therapy regimen. There are many different varieties of aspirin products to meet your needs. For example, if you have gastrointestinal (GI) problems or are already on medication for GI problems, you may want to take an “enteric coated” (Ecotrin‘, Ascriptin‘) or “buffered” (Bufferin‘) aspirin to reduce your chances of stomach upset. Enteric-coated aspirin is specially designed to dissolve more slowly to avoid stomach upset. Buffered aspirin contains antacids to neutralize the acid in your stomach that causes upset. Read the label to make sure you are taking the appropriate product.

How many aspirin should I take to get the benefit? What is the right dose?

A. Studies have shown that a low-dose (81 mg.) a day is effective in reducing the risk of CVD and stroke. Most aspirins come in doses of 325 mg. or extra strength doses of 500 mg. Look for the product with the dose recommended to you by your health professional

Are aspirin products available in a low-dose form?

Yes. There are a variety of low-dose aspirin products available. Your doctor can recommend one for you. Some common low-dose products include Ecotrin‘ and Bayer‘. If you have trouble finding them at the pharmacy, ask your pharmacist to help you.

What about side effects or interactions with other medicines?

As with any medication, you should talk to your health provider about any and all medicines, including over-the-counter and prescription medicines and dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbals) you are currently taking. Certain medications and dietary supplements can interact with aspirin and cause serious problems. Aspirin is a blood thinner. If you are on a blood-thinning medicine such as coumadin/warfarin or heparin, taking high doses of vitamin E or certain other dietary supplements (gingko biloba, ginseng, garlic, willow bark), check with your health provider. Always read the labels of all your medicines to check for side effect and interaction warnings.

Child Labor Coalition Hosts Guests to Hear about Sweatshop, Child Labor in China – National Consumers League

by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Two activists from the China Labor Watch came to Washington DC January 15, 2008 to speak to the Child Labor Coalition, a national organization of child labor advocates and activists lead by the National Consumers League. Li Qiang, Executive Director of China Labor Watch, and David Shih, executive assistant and translator for Li Qiang, spent an hour with the CLC. Li Qiang described how he came from a union family and worked in factories until he went to law school. He was able to experience personally the exploitation of workers in Chinese factories.

Li began organizing and has been at the forefront of the workers rights movement in China, encouraging businesses to develop a legal framework for the enforcement of local and national labor law. CLW has produced more than 20 in-depth reports on a wide range of topics. One of the most controversial, released in August 2007, showed that between December 2006 and August 2007, toy factories in China had violated labor laws, including employing teenagers from rural areas in their factories. Toys associated with Disney, Gosh International and Hasbro, among others, were implicated.

Li Qiang noted that Mattel has a better record than most companies because in recent years its corporate leadership determined to make improving factory and worker conditions a priority.

The CLC also heard from Han Donfang, founder and director of the China Labour Bulletin, who spoke about his work defending and promoting workers rights in China. Based in Hong Kong, CLB has ties to labor organizations and finds that child labor is “widespread, systemic, and an increasingly serious problem in China.” CLB’s report, “Small Hands: a Survey Report on Child Labor in China,” is based on research carried out in 2005, and explores the demand for child labor and the causes, including serious failings in the rural school systems. Researchers for CLB talked with school teachers, labor officials, factory owners and administrators, child workers, and their parents to develop the profile of living and working conditions of child laborers. Han Donfang talked about the report, the research, and efforts to combat the exploitation of child labor in China.

Be on the lookout for phone fraud – National Consumers League

From slamming to cramming and everything in between, con artists and companies have tapped into telephone bills as a place to bilk consumers out of money they shouldn’t owe. Learn to spot the most common phone frauds.


  • You’ve been “slammed” when your phone service has been changed without your consent. It can happen with long distance service and, as competition increases for local and local toll, for those services as well.
  • Sometimes slamming results from company error; for example, the wrong number being typed into the system. But in many cases it’s a deliberate attempt by one company to “steal” the customer from another.
  • The slammer falsely claims that you have agreed to change your service provider and asks your local phone company, which performs the actual switch, to make the change.
  • If your telephone company is switched to another company without your consent (this could be your long distance company, local toll, or even local service if there is competition in your area), you have the right to be switched back without being charged any switching fees. Changing your service without your permission is called “slamming,” and it’s against the law.
  • If you were slammed on or after November 28, 2000, new rules from the Federal Communications Commission apply. To make the most of your rights, read your phone bill carefully as soon as you get it and act quickly if you discover you’ve been slammed.  You’re in the best position if you haven’t yet paid the slammer.
  • Call the company that “slammed” you and say you are disputing the switch.  Its number should appear on the same page as the charges on your bill.  If you haven’t paid the bill, demand that the charges be removed for up to the first 30 days of service.
  • Call the company you were switched from to arrange to switch back with no switching fee and re-enroll in any special program or calling plan you had.  If you haven’t paid the bill and received service from the slammer for more than 30 days, arrange to be rebilled by your original company for any calls from day 31 on.  If you have paid the bill, ask your original company to try to recover the refund to which you are entitled.
  • Call your local phone company if it provided the billing for the slammer to notify it about the problem and that you are disputing the charges.
  • Notify the appropriate agency. If you have resolved your slamming complaint, be sure to mention that when you report the problem to the agency. Your information is still useful for tracking patterns of slamming abuses. If you haven’t been able to resolve the complaint, the agency will try to help you.
  • Include your name and address, telephone number, email address, the name of the company that slammed you, the name of the company you were slammed from, a complete explanation of what happened and when, how much you have paid the slammer, if anything, and the solution you want if the problem hasn’t been resolved.  If you are mailing your complaint, enclose copies, not originals, of any bills you are disputing.
  • You should report slamming promptly, even if the slammer or your original company assures you that everything has been resolved.
  • You can report slamming to your state utility department.


  • You’ve been “crammed” when charges for miscellaneous services that you never agreed to buy have been added to your phone bill. Some examples are phone-related services such as voice mail, paging, or personal 800 numbers. But you might also find charges for other types of services on your bill, such as Internet access, club memberships, and even dating services!
  • The crammer arranges to bill you, usually through your local phone company, by falsely claiming that you authorized the new services.
  • These charges might appear on your bill just once, or they might recur on every bill – a good reason to look closely at each bill before you pay it.

Pay-per-call abuses

  • Information and entertainment provided by pay-per-call services are accessed through 900 numbers, some 800 numbers, and even some international phone numbers. They can be recorded weather reports, stock quotes, group chat lines, psychic services, reports about a company’s complaint record from a Better Business Bureau – just about anything.
  • When you call 900 numbers or 800 numbers that provide pay-per-call services, you pay a charge that is set by the service provider, not your phone company. Services provided through international phone numbers result in charges at whatever the rate would normally be for calling that country from your phone.
  • Dishonest pay-per-call service providers don’t disclose, or misrepresent, the cost of their services. They may also misrepresent the services that they offer. You may be tricked into dialing pay-per-call services by following instructions to punch in a “personal activation code” that actually connects you to a pay-per-call line, or you may be switched to a pay-per-call line without knowing it. Some consumers report being charged for pay-per-call services even when their phones were never used to dial them.

Collect call scams

  • Some fraudulent companies attempt to charge consumers for pay-per-call services by masquerading as collect calls. They use common names such as “Jennifer,” hoping that the person who answers will accept the call. Once the call is accepted the person typically hears a recorded message offering some type of service or soliciting for a so-called charity.
  • If you accept the call you will be billed for it even if you are not interested in the service or in making a donation.
  • Some consumers report that they have been billed for these types of collect calls even though they refused to accept them.
  • Consumers also complain about being charged excessive rates for making collect calls from some pay phones.

Calling card fraud

  • When you use a calling card in a public place – an airport, a train station, a pay-phone on the street – someone may be looking over your shoulder to see the account number and PIN number that you dial. They might even be far away, using binoculars or the telephoto lens of a camera to watch you.
  • Once they have your numbers, people can use them to make calls on your account or sell them to others for that purpose. It isn’t necessary for them to actually have your card.

How to avoid falling for phone fraud

  • To avoid slamming or cramming, look closely at contest entry forms or other forms you fill out. They may include an agreement to change service providers or add new services to your bill.
  • If you get a telemarketing call concerning phone service, don’t agree to anything on the spot. Ask the company to send you written information. This way you can evaluate the offer without pressure and to confirm the identity of any caller who claims to represent your regular local or long-distance company.
  • Use an answering machine, voice mail, and/or caller ID to screen calls so that you decide which callers that you want to talk to.
  • Don’t accept collect calls from people you don’t know.
  • Your local phone company can provide a free 900 number block to prevent anyone from dialing a 900 number from your phone. This can help you avoid some pay-per-call abuses.
  • Don’t make or return calls to numbers you don’t recognize. Some international numbers look just like domestic US numbers, but international calls can cost much more. If you are not sure whether a number is in the US or another country, dial 00 and ask the long-distance operator where you would be calling.
  • Consider getting a “PIC freeze” on your local toll and long distance service. This free service from your local phone company prevents any switching of your long distance or local toll company unless you tell your local phone company directly that it’s OK to make the change.
  • Be aware that the PIC freeze is not absolutely foolproof. Most major phone companies sell service at wholesale rates to other companies who resell it to consumers under their own brand names. If you are illegally switched to a company that is a “reseller” of service from your original company, the system may not recognize that there has been a switch. The telephone companies are trying to solve this technical problem.
  • Ask your local phone company about any blocking that may be available to prevent miscellaneous services from other companies from being crammed onto your phone bill without your consent.
  • Prevent calling card fraud by using your body to block the key pad when you are using your calling card at a public phone. If you are giving your account number and PIN to an operator, speak softly so no one around you will hear.

Choosing the right eye care provider – National Consumers League

Choosing an eye care provider can be confusing! Optometrists, optometrists, opthalmalogists. It is important to understand the differences in education, training, credentials, and experience levels that distinguish one type of eye care provider from another – and what kind of services each specializes in.

Keep this in mind when selecting an eye care provider:

  • Know what your needs are when going to an eye care provider. If you don’t know what you need to have done, ask your primary care doctor.
  • Look for diplomas, licenses, and other qualifications and certifications displayed publicly at the office.
  • Ask the provider is he/she has sufficient training and experience to perform the procedure you need, especially when the procedure is more invasive than a regular office visit.
  • If your eye care needs include surgery or treatment with medications, ask your provider if he or she is trained and licensed to perform these services.  Ask how many times he or she has performed the service, and what kind of side effects and recovery time you can expect.
  • If you do not have access to or are unsure about the eye care provider you need, ask your primary care doctor for a recommendation to properly address your needs. 

What to ask yourself as you consider which eye care provider is right for you

What services do I need my eye-care provider to perform?

You should distinguish between the need for primary care (fitting of glasses and lenses), and more advanced care (serious conditions and diseases, surgery).

State laws and regulations specify what services an eye care provider is permitted to provide. While ophthalmologists, as medical doctors, can perform eye treatments including surgeries and prescribe medications, state laws and regulations vary for optometrists, who are not medical doctors. You should be aware of which services optometrists are authorized to provide in your state, and whether an optometrist is able to provide all aspects of treatment that is needed.

Visit the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry for a link to state optometry boards and information on the services an optometrist can provide in your state:

What credentials and qualifications does my eye care provider have?

Check to see whether diplomas, licenses and training credentials are posted clearly in office/waiting room. If this information is not posted, ask the practitioner if he or she is an optometrist (attended optometry school) or an ophthalmologist (attended medical school).

Terms used for eye care professionals can be confusing. For example, some optometrists refer to themselves and other optometrists as “optometric physicians.” Traditionally, only medical doctors or MDs are referred to as physicians. While optometrists offer valuable services, they are not medical doctors, and you should be aware of the difference in training and education.

Does my eye care provider have sufficient training and experience to provide the care I need?

While each member of the eye health care team is a professional with extensive training, you should know whether a provider has adequate training for and experience with the specific procedure or care that you need.

Questions to pose to an eye care provider might include: Is he/she on call if I have a problem at night or on the weekends? If not, who is available to deal with potential problems you might develop? Can he/she provide treatment in a hospital should that be required?

Does my eye care provider have sufficient training and experience performing surgery or prescribing medications?

Ask providers about their surgical training and the number of similar surgeries they have performed before making decisions regarding surgery.  Some questions you should ask include:  Where did they learn the procedure? How many times have they performed the procedure? What is the complication rate (the chance that a problem may occur) for the procedure?  What are the odds of success/failure?

Treatment of eye conditions and diseases often involves using prescription medication. The more prescriptions you receive, the greater your risk of drug interactions. Before prescribing, providers should ask you about other medications you are taking and any other medical conditions you may have. You should keep a personal medication list that includes all prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs (such as aspirin), vitamins and herbal supplements you are taking. Check this list with your provider to make sure there are no complications.

Do I have easy access to the eye care provider I need?

When considering access issues, you need to make sure that, in striving for convenience, you do not sacrifice quality. If you are seeking primary eye care, such as a vision check for glasses or contacts, the nearby optometrists could satisfy your patient care needs. If you are seeking advanced care, such as treatment for serious conditions and diseases, the extra time to access an ophthalmologist is likely worth the assurance of seeing a trained medical doctor.

Do I know how to report problems with my eye care provider to the proper regulatory authorities?

For optometrists, visit the Association of Regulatory Boards of Optometry.

For ophthalmologists, visit the Federation of State Medical Boards.


Eye care 101 – National Consumers League

Consumers have many choices of eye care providers: opticians, optometrists, and ophthalmologists. How do you know which kind of provider is right for your needs?

Eye care providers serve a broad range of patient needs, from fitting eyeglasses to performing invasive surgery, and all have different levels of education and training. Depending on the services you need, one type of provider may be more appropriate than another. In addition to the usual considerations of convenience, cost and established relationship, you should make a point to learn about the credentials, education, training, and experience of all eye care providers.

Meet the members of your eye care team

Here is a listing of the various members of the eye care provider team, what they do and their credentials. Opticians provide the most limited amount of service while ophthalmologists provide all services within the eye care continuum.

Opticians fit eyeglasses and contact lenses, following prescriptions written by optometrists or ophthalmologists. They measure patients’ eyes, recommend eyeglass frames and lenses based on the patient’s needs and can reshape eyeglass frames to fit properly.  When licensed to do so, opticians also can fit contact lenses.


  • They are licensed (required in twenty-one states) after they have earned either an associate opticianry degree (one- to two-year program), or after they have apprenticed for at least two years.
  • They must pass a licensing examination and some apply to the American Board of Opticianry for certification.  Certification is awarded after passing an exam, and must be renewed every three years.
  • In some states, opticians must pass the National Contact Lens Examination to dispense contact lenses.

Optometrists provide routine, primary vision care.They examine eyes to detect vision problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, and diagnose eye diseases such as glaucoma. They also test patients’ depth and color perception, as well as their ability to focus and coordinate eye function.  Opticians prescribe eyeglasses and contact lenses, and in some states administer and prescribe medications to help diagnose vision problems and treat certain eye disease.


  • All states require optometrists to be licensed.
  • Optometrists must have a Doctor of Optometry degree that requires a minimum of three years of undergraduate studies at a college or university, followed by four years at an accredited optometry school.
  • They must pass both a written and clinical state optometric board exam in order to receive a license, required by all states.
  • They are regulated at the state level, and must report to a state board of optometry for their license renewal (usually every three years). 

Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who specialize in all aspects of eye health. They provide primary eye care services including eye exams and prescribe medications and perform surgical procedures, such as laser surgery and lens replacement. Using both surgical and non-invasive techniques, ophthalmologists diagnose and manage eye diseases, conditions, and disorders, and treat and repair eye injuries.


  • All states require ophthalmologists to be licensed.
  • Ophthalmologists must have a college degree (or minimum of three years of college), four years of medical school, a one-year internship, and at least three years of an ophthalmology residency (hospital-based training). They must then pass a licensing examination.
  • As medical doctors, ophthalmologists are regulated by state medical boards

Speak the language of your drug coverage plan – National Consumers League

If you’re facing the opportunity to choose a new drug coverage plan for you and your family, you need to speak the language in order to weigh the costs and benefits.

Brand name (drug): A one-of-a-kind drug that is still protected by a patent.

Co-pay (or co-payment): A fixed amount, for example $10, that an insured individual pays for health services, regardless of the actual cost of that service.

Co-insurance: A percentage of the cost of a health service, usually 20%, paid by the insured individual.

Deductible: An amount an insured individual must pay for health services before their insurance plan begins to pay any benefits. For example, the individual may be required to pay the first $500 before the insurance company will pay for subsequent services.

Formulary:A list established by a health plan or PBM to indicate which drugs they cover or which tier drugs are in.

Generic drug: A drug that is no longer patent protected, so that many companies can copy and manufacture the drug with the same active ingredient as the original inventor.

Mail Order: Prescriptions that are received in the mail.

Out-of-Pocket MaximumAn upper limit on how much an individual or family must pay in a year for health services. Once the limit is reached, co-insurance and sometimes co-payments do not have to be paid.

OTC Drugs: Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can be purchased without a prescription and are generally not covered by insurance.

Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM): A company that administers a pharmacy benefit plan. They aren’t insurance companies; but are often subcontracted by health insurers or employers to manage the prescription drug portion of the health plan.

Prior authorization:A requirement that a physician obtains approval from the health plan or PBM in order to get the medicine covered.

Step therapy: A requirement of the health plan or PBM to try a less expensive drug first. If that drug fails to work on the patient, the health plan or PBM will then approve the use of a more expensive drug.

Therapeutic substitution: The process of switching an existing prescription to one that is less expensive and chemically different, but has the same expected clinical effect.

Tiered co-pay (co-payments)A co-payment that is determined by which tier the drug is assigned to by the health plan or PBM. There may be a few tiers, each with a different co-payment amount. This design is intended to encourage the use of drugs that are in the less expensive tiers.

Questions for choosing an Rx drug plan – National Consumers League

Before you decide on a prescription drug benefit plan, get the facts you need.

1. Will I be able to get the medicine that my doctor and I think is best for me?

Find out if the health plan or PBM has a limited list of medicines it will cover (known as a formulary). If someone in your family takes medication for a chronic illness, such as high blood pressure, asthma, or high cholesterol, make sure that medicine is on the formulary before you select that plan. If it isn’t, and you choose that plan, you will be expected to switch to a different medication or pay for it out-of-pocket. This is a discussion you should have with your doctor — to make sure you are taking the drug that is best for you.

Find out if the health plan has to pre-approve certain medicines before you can fill the prescription. Many plans require your doctor to get “prior authorization” of high cost medications before you can get coverage for them. That means your doctor or pharmacist must call the health plan or PBM for permission to give you a prescription for these medications. Some plans also require you to try a less expensive medicine first — before they will cover the one your doctor recommends. Check with your plan to understand their authorization process and restrictions to avoid a surprise when you get to the pharmacy. And be sure to learn how to appeal these requirements and decisions if you feel it is important.

Find out how often your health plan or PBM changes its formulary. Be aware that, in most states, even though your medications may be covered at the time you choose your health plan, the health plan or PBM may change its list of approved medicines at any time throughout the year. If they choose to take your medication off the formulary, you will be expected to pay out-of-pocket or switch to a medication the health plan prefers. Check to see what sort of notification you will get so you can discuss changes with your doctor.

2. How much will I have to pay for my prescriptions?

Find out about the co-payments. Most plans require you to pay a co-payment for each prescription. Some plans have just one co-pay amount, for example $10.00, for any prescription. But many plans have different levels of co-payments (known as tiered co-pays) for different medicines. If the plan you are considering has tiers, you should find out what medicines are in each tier and what the co-pay amount is for each. Note that the health plans and PBMs can move your medication from one tier to another at any time. If the amount you will have to pay is more than you can afford because your medication is in the highest tier, you may want to ask your doctor if there are other drugs on a lower tier that is appropriate for you. Also ask about how you will be notified if your plan makes tier changes.

Find out if there is a limit on how much you have to pay each year. Many health plans try to protect individuals from catastrophic costs by having “out-of-pocket limits.” You don’t have to pay co-insurance on medical services once you reach that limit. But prescription medications are often not included in the protection. So you may still have to pay your co-payments for medicines even after you reach the out-of-pocket limit.

Find out if the health plan offers or requires you to get your medicines through a mail order service. Some plans offer a mail order service for medicines and offer incentives like lower co-payments to encourage you to use it. Other plans have mandatory mail order services and require you to order your long-term medications through the mail. The plan will not pay for them if you get them at a local pharmacy.

3. Does the health plan allow me to appeal for coverage of prescriptions they have denied?

Find out about any exceptions or appeal processes offered by the health plan or PBM. If you really need a medication because of a valid medical reason, you can often get it covered. But you must go through whatever exception or appeal process the plan may have, and they have to agree that you really need the medication you want, based on information your doctor will be expected to provide. If you can’t wait for the process to finish, you may need to pay for the drug yourself and then file an appeal to be reimbursed by the plan later.

You should be aware that you will not be notified of your right to appeal when you are denied coverage because your medication isn’t on the formulary. So you must become familiar with how to file an appeal on your own initiative.

You should also know that most plans do not allow you to appeal for a lower co-pay level, even if the only medication that works for you is in the most expensive tier.

Get the answers!

The following resources can help you get answers to these questions:

  • Materials that the health plans or PBMs give you
  • The Web site for the health plan or PBM (look for general benefit information and plan requirements, as well as information on their current formulary)
  • A sales representative from the plan (they are often available at your worksite during the time of year when you must make decisions about your plan for the coming year)
  • The benefits department in your employer’s human resources division
  • The state Department of Insurance or, if your state has one, the Managed Care Ombudsman

Choosing a prescription drug coverage plan – National Consumers League

When choosing a health plan, making sure the medicines you take regularly are covered is just as important as knowing that your doctor is in the network.

Most health plans cover prescription medicines, but the rules may be different than those for other medical services. In addition, pharmacy benefits may not be administered by the same company as the physician and hospital benefits, but rather by a separate company, called a PBM.

Before you decide on a prescription drug benefit plan, get the facts you need:

Find out if the health plan or PBM has a limited list of drugs it will cover. This is known as a formulary. If someone in your family takes medications for a chronic illness, such as high blood pressure, asthma, or diabetes, be sure those medicines are on the formulary before you select that plan. If they aren’t, you will be expected to switch to different medications or pay for them without insurance.

Find out how to file an appeal if the medicine you need is not covered by your insurance. If the medicine you need is not on the formulary, you usually can file an appeal with the health plan to request that they cover it anyway. You will not be notified of your right to appeal when you are denied coverage, so it is important to find how to file an appeal on your own. Your doctor will need to provide the information to explain why you need that specific medicine.

Find out how much you have to pay when you fill a prescription. Most plans require a co-payment for each prescription. Many plans have three or even four levels, or tiers, of co-payments that apply to different medicines. Find out what co-payment level applies to the medications you are taking. If it is more than you can afford, you may want to ask your doctor if there are other medicines on a lower tier that would be appropriate for you.

Find out if the health plan has to pre-approve certain drugs before you can fill the prescription. Many plans require your doctor to have “prior authorization” for some medicines before it will pay for them. That means your physician or pharmacist must call for permission to prescribe these medications. Some plans also require you to try a less expensive medicine before it will pay for the one your doctor might otherwise recommend. If you need a certain medication for a valid medical reason, you can often get it covered by filing an appeal. If you can’t wait for the appeal process to finish, you may need to pay for the medicine yourself and then file an appeal to be reimbursed by the plan.

Find out if the health plan offers a mail order option. Some plans offer a mail order service for medicines and offer incentives like lower co-payments to encourage you to use it. Other plans have mandatory mail order services and require you to order your long-term medications through the mail. The plan will not pay for them if you try to obtain them at a local pharmacy.

When choosing a health plan, making sure the medicines you take regularly are covered is just as important as knowing that your doctor is in the network. Knowing how to select the right prescription drug coverage for you and your family is important to maintaining and restoring your health.

While most insurance includes coverage for prescription medicines, the rules for pharmacy benefits are often different than for medical. For example, your prescription claims may be handled by a pharmacy benefit manager, or PBM (a company that administers a health plan or employer’s drug benefits).

Asking the right questions is key to getting the most appropriate medicines for you and your family and in limiting your costs. When making decisions, always look at the potential impact of your health plan choice on the medicines that members of your family are currently taking for a serious condition or chronic illness.

Before you decide on a prescription drug benefit plan, get the facts you need.

Six tips for beefing up your computer’s security – National Consumers League

Computers have revolutionized how we learn, work, shop, pay bills, keep track of our accounts, and communicate with others. Your computer is like your home – it contains sensitive and valuable information, so it’s a good idea to keep it locked and be careful about who you let in.

Intruders lurking in cyberspace or those who have physical access to your computer may try to steal financial information stored in your computer, or use it to attack other computer systems.

Some individuals simply enjoy sending out viruses that can destroy your files and require expensive computer repairs. By taking some basic security steps, you can use your computer with confidence and protect yourself and your personal information from abuse.

Step One: Pick an Effective Password

Passwords are the keys that unlock access to your email, accounts, and other computer activities. They must be chosen to prevent intruders from correctly guessing them based on knowledge about you or cracking them with software programs that try every word in the dictionary until they get a match.

  • Use a combination of letter and numbers.
  • Avoid obvious things such as your birth date.
  • Pick passwords that you can remember.
  • Don’t write passwords down where others may find them.
  • Keep your passwords private and be suspicious of people who ask for them claiming to be from companies that should already have them.

Step Two: Build a Firm Firewall

A firewall is like the fence around a fort – it makes it harder for intruders to get into your computer from cyberspace. This is especially important if you have a high-speed Internet connection through your cable provider or DSL (digital subscriber line), because the doorway from your computer to the Internet is open whenever your computer is on, even if you aren’t doing anything online at that moment.

  • Check to see if your computer hardware or software already has a built-in firewall.
  • If it does, it may be necessary to turn the firewall feature on.
  • If you don’t already have one, you can find free firewall software on the Internet or purchase software.
  • Another option is using an external firewall device that connects to your computer.
  • Firewalls differ, and some can be customized to suit your particular needs, so read the descriptions carefully.

Step Three: Avoid Catching a Computer Virus

Your computer can become infected and infect other computers with viruses that may be planted in emails or attachments to emails, in programs or files that you download, in floppy disks, and even in Web sites that you visit. The first line of defense is an anti-virus program. This is not the same as a firewall – both are needed since they protect you from different types of attacks. You can buy anti-virus software online or in retail stores.

  • Get an anti-virus program that updates itself automatically.
  • Look for programs that can also repair damage caused by a virus.
  • Don’t open email or email attachments unless you expected the message and know who it’s from.
  • Only download files and programs and use disks from sources you know and trust.
  • Don’t forward email warnings about new viruses to your friends – they could be hoaxes designed to spread a virus instead of warn against them.

Step Four: Back It Up

Just as you might use a safe-deposit box to guard valuables, consider safeguarding important items that are in your computer so they won’t be lost if a virus strikes, your computer crashes, or there is some other kind of disaster. Financial records, research, writing, original artwork, and work files that would be difficult to reconstruct or replace should be backed up regularly.

  • Don’t rely on paper copies for things that would require inputting the data all over again, such as computerized check registers.
  • Use floppy disks to back up small files, CDs or removable disk drives for larger files.
  • Some items, such as bank records, should be backed up every time a change is made, while others might require less frequent back-ups.
  • Set schedules for backing up files and stick to them.
  • Store back-ups in a locked, fireproof container.

Step Five: Keep Up to Date

“Hackers” (outsiders who try to get into computers through the Internet) and virus creators are constantly looking for new ways to get around the protections that are put in place to thwart them. To keep your computer secure, you need to keep one step ahead of them.

  • Take advantage of “patches” that your software manufacturers may offer when they discover flaws in their programs that can make them vulnerable to hackers, viruses, and other problems. These can often be downloaded at no charge from the manufacturers’ Web sites.
  • If your anti-virus software doesn’t automatically update itself to detect and stop new viruses, get updated software at least once a year.
  • Update your firewall regularly.

Step Six: Control the Use of Your Computer

If you share your computer with roommates, children, or other users, it’s crucial for everyone to follow the same security rules.

  • Make sure that all users understand the dangers of security breaches and how to avoid them.
  • Turn the computer off when no one is using it.
  • Don’t share passwords that would enable others to get into personal accounts that you may have set up in your computer.
  • Keep the computer in a common area where you can see who is using it and what they’re doing.
  • Instruct all users to tell you immediately if they suspect there is a security problem.

Don’t panic if a security breach occurs. Report viruses and hackers to your Internet service provider (ISP). If you have high-speed Internet access through cable or DSL, unplug the phone or cable line from your computer. Your ISP and software and hardware vendors may offer advice about how to remedy the problem. If you believe that someone has obtained your financial information, contact the financial institution immediately. Try to determine how the security breach occurred so you can strengthen your protection in the future.