Raise a glass to hydration – National Consumers League

By Courtney Brein, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Come rain, shine, snow, or sleet, the human body will require water. While it is important not to neglect one’s liquid diet throughout the year, during the summer months staying hydrated often requires additional effort. The body more easily becomes dehydrated – meaning it loses more fluids than it takes in – in warm weather, and, without adequate fluids, it cannot carry out its normal functions.

To complicate matters, by the time individuals feel “thirsty,” they are often already slightly dehydrated. This problem is exacerbated in older adults, whose bodies less readily sense dehydration.

How can one prevent dehydration? Drink up! All liquids “count” when it comes to hydrating the body, although – for health reasons – sugary drinks should only be consumed occasionally. Eating fruits and vegetables also helps provide the body with the liquid it needs.

Doctors generally recommend that individuals drink approximately eight or nine cups of fluid per day, but check with your physician or consult this calculator to more precisely determine your unique needs.

Exercise (or any other activity that causes sweating) requires additional consumption of liquids. Make an effort to hydrate before, during, and after exercise, in order to replace lost fluids.

Advocates hail passage of financial reform bill – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

President Obama is hailing the deal reached between Senate and House negotiators and passage of the regulatory reform bill. Mr. Obama called it the “toughest financial reform since the ones we created in the aftermath of the Great Depression.” And he plans to sign the bill before the Fourth of July recess. Our consumer colleagues were largely the driving force behind this legislation, though the financial industry won some important victories. Those groups include the Consumer Federation of America, National Consumer Law Center, U.S. PIRG, and several others. With Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren providing the inspiration for regulating the “gotchas” consumers face in fees and charges buried in the fine print of financial documents, our colleagues led the drive for a consumer protection agency to oversee the financial industry.

Under this bill, we will have a new regulator to oversee and enforce fair rules on checking accounts, mortgages, and payday loans, while preserving the power of state regulators to enforce their own consumer protection laws. That’s important because federal legislation too often preempts state consumer protection laws from being enforced in favor of a federal law – a loss of enforcement power that consumer advocates fight every time.

Lenders will have to make disclosures in complicated legal documents much easier to understand and cannot impose fees – late fees, prepayment fees, willy-nilly.

The bill also contains important protections for investors, calling on banks and others that issue securities to have limit their risks and to have some skin in the game themselves. I particularly liked that Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AK) tried hard to regulate the derivatives industry but was forced to scale back her original amendment; nevertheless, the industry will now be required to segregate their dealings only in the riskiest categories of derivatives, including the highly structured products like credit default swaps, which sound more complicated than they are (betting that people will default on loans or mortgages). People made millions betting the housing market would implode, and it was in their interest to see it implode.

This is a far-from-perfect bill, but we should take our hats off to all the consumer advocates that led the fight for the bill and Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) in the House and Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) in the Senate for getting the bill over the finish line.

Dangerous drywall demonstrates need for import safety regulation – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The verdict is in: a Miami court recently awarded $2.4 million in damages to a couple who had to flee their home because of corrosive Chinese drywall that disintegrated, giving off noxious fumes and turning pipes black in the process. This case is the first one where a jury found the drywall manufacturers liable for the defective, sulfur-emitting product. Previously, a federal judge awarded $2.6 million to seven Virginia families to compensate them for damages related to rotten drywall. The product is found most frequently in homes built in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and became a crisis after the housing boom.

The Florida couple who brought the case against Banner Supply, importers of the drywall, had to leave their home with their two young sons so it could be gutted and renovated. There are thousands of similar cases.

Documents uncovered at trial, including a secret memo between the manufacturers and importers, revealed that Banner was warned that the drywall was defective and shouldn’t have been used. Meanwhile, the Virginia families haven’t been able to collect because the Chinese drywall maker didn’t respond to the court papers. This is precisely the problem that new legislation NCL is backing will address, ensuring that any company that imports products into the United States has a representative to take service of process if the company is sued and that the company puts up a bond to ensure there are funds to compensate anyone who is hurt by a product imported. The problem the Virginia families face is increasingly common when imports contain harmful chemicals or prove dangerous and defective. There’s too often no one around to take responsibility.

NCL shares the concerns of those whose lives have been turned upside down by this Chinese drywall debacle. This is a product that should never have been brought into the United States, much less allowed to poison hundreds of thousands of homes. Adults and children have become ill, had their lives disrupted, and have had their life savings ruined. The fact that the importer and manufacturers both knew it was defective as they installed it proves that the regulatory – and liability – system need to do far better to protect American homeowners and consumers.

Risk vs. benefits – National Consumers League

By Mimi Johnson, Director, NCL Health Policy

In the world of health care – and more specifically treatments – there is a constant battle between risks and benefits.

This is a dilemma we’ve all faced as we’ve chosen treatments for ourselves or our loved ones. We want the best possible outcome. Policy makers, drug manufacturers, health practitioners, and every day consumers must decide what the best possible outcome is, in addition to determining how to weigh the risks and benefits in achieving the outcome.

The challenge of weighing risks versus benefits is one that sometimes divides the patient advocates from the consumer advocates. Some say that we are all “consumers” of health until we are diagnosed with or seek treatment for a problem … and then we are likely to identify as a “patient.” Traditionally, consumer advocates examine and push others to understand the risks associated with a treatment in an effort to have the safest possible treatments available. Alternatively, patient advocates tend to focus on the benefits of a treatment and the need to have greater and timelier access to treatments, sometimes overlooking risks.

Having battled against a historically bad allergy season, I faced firsthand the challenge of weighing risks and benefits. When treatments weren’t working, my doctor changed my inhaler. The new inhaler helped improve my ability to breathe, but it had a funny side effect … it altered my voice! This was not one of the top-line risks listed in the consumer medication information, and I was not warned about this side effect by my doctor. I did a little sleuthing of my own, and low-and-behold it is a very commonly reported upon side effect by users of this particular inhaler. Though I was feeling 100 percent better, everyone – particularly when talking on the phone – would ask if I was alright and often assumed I was upset by something. In this instance, I was happy to take the risk of changing my voice a bit, knowing that I would once again be able to breathe and resume my normal activities.

Many of the risk versus benefit discussions center on far more serious risks and benefits. For example, it was recently announced that a groundbreaking treatment is available for melanoma patients. The new treatment essentially melts the cancer away. While this has been deemed monumental by doctors and cancer researchers, it does not come without its pitfalls. Risk number one – there is a great chance that it won’t work on you, as it is believed to be effective in only about 20 percent of the population. Risk number two – a common side effect includes developing rheumatoid arthritis. These risks, among others, need to then be weighed against the benefit of extending one’s life.

This challenge of determining what the best outcome is and what we’re willing to face in order to achieve it is nothing new, and it will only intensify as we begin to implement health reform.

Wall Street taking 28 percent from your 401(k) pie – National Consumers League

By Amy Blume, NCL Public Policy Intern

At a press conference last Wednesday, we learned that many participants of 401(k) plans lose up to 28 percent of the retirement savings that they would have over their working life due to Wall Street’s high investment fees.  The worst part is that most people are entirely unaware of how much of their money goes to fees because the bulk of these fees, which go straight into Wall Street pockets, are hidden fees, invisible, and undisclosed.

Several members of the House of Representatives Education and Labor subcommittee are encouraging adoption of an amendment provision to H.R.4213: “American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act,” hoping to remedy the problem.  Chairman George Miller (D-CA) wrote the provision to make information about fees more accessible for consumers and their employers.  The provision requires investment companies to disclose all fees upfront and to help workers understand their investment options.  But the Senate has been resistant to the provision, likely due to pressure from Wall Street.

To get its point across and urge the Senate to adopt the provision in the bill, the House subcommittee leadership took an innovative approach in a June 16 press conference.  The committee designated an apple pie for each Finance Committee Senator, each pie marked with a specific Senator’s name.  In each one, a large piece was cut out – equaling roughly 28 percent of the pie – and replaced with a sign which read, “Wall Street’s cut of your 401(k) pie.”

The visual was humorous but also effective.  Participants in 401(k) funds deserve to know where their money is going and how much they’re paying in fees upfront.  401(k) plans and other investment options are complex enough without the side problems of hidden fees or penalties.  People rely on retirement plans for their future and use these funds to know when a family member can stop working.  It’s important for consumers to know how much they’re paying for their investments, with fair and accurate disclosure of all potential taxes and fees, and NCL supports the disclosure amendment.

Watch statements from the Press Conference here.

NY Times exposing child farmworker dangers – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

NCL staff woke up to find that Saturday’s New York Times had a front page above the fold story about one of NCL’s core issues: getting farmworker kids out of the field and into school. NCL’s roots, going back to 1899, were focused on eradicating child labor and sweatshop labor. Florence Kelley is largely responsible for advocating, legislating, and litigating most child labor out of existence in the United States.

However, a loophole in landmark worker protections the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibited most child labor in the United States, had an exception for agricultural workers. Farmworker kids are often victims of a cycle of poverty – they are pulled out of school while their family migrates for work and end up working 10-hour days in stifling heat exposed to pesticides, sun stroke, lack of water and toilets, and other hardships that come with working in the fields. Many have such a spotty academic record they can’t graduate from high school, thus perpetuating the burden of low-wage jobs and no chance of advancement through education.

Some of the parents quoted in the article feel ambivalent about the law. They want their kids with them – or working – because they need their pay, but they also know the best place for them is school. But that was true 100 years ago when Florence Kelley ran the League. If you look at the problem of child labor from that prism, keeping children out of the fields is ultimate the best solution.

Internet safety should be top priority of FCC – National Consumers League

By Debra Berlyn

Debra Berlyn is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Consumers League. She maintains a Web site and blog at consumerawarenessproject.org. You can also follow her on twitter at @dberlyn.

June is Internet Safety Month and a great time to reflect on the shared responsibility of consumers and their network providers. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have an important role in both protecting their customers and managing the network. While many consumers have seen how malicious users on the network can infiltrate their computers through viruses and spam, there is more that needs to be done to inform all users about how their actions can affect the network.

The safety and security of the network and the protection of users should be a top priority of the Federal Communications Commission. Consumers increasingly rely, both knowingly and unknowingly, on their network providers to reduce the threat of malicious attacks.  It is important that we consider both the interests of consumers and the network providers that protect their users, as the Commission considers the best way to approach the issue of network management.

While telecommunications consumers have experienced the benefits of a dynamic industry, the evolution of broadband has presented a series of difficult policy matters. One such issue is the Commission’s proposed reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service. As the FCC and the legislators that oversee it move forward on this important issue, it will be critically important that the safety and security needs of consumers and the ISPs that serve them are taken into account.  While there are a variety of opinions on the efficacy of reclassification itself, there should be no disagreement that consumers need to be protected from the ever-evolving threat of malicious online actors.

New legislation seeks to HELP protect immigrant kids’ interests – National Consumers League

By Elizabeth Gardner, NCL public policy intern

Elizabeth Gardner, an intern assisting NCL’s coordination of the Child Labor Coalition, is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland studying rhetoric. She says she spent most of the past semester shuffling through papers and articles about the child labor movement in the early 1900s. “So much was going on at that time—the National Child Labor Committee was formed, reformers were pushing through legislation to curb child labor, and the NCL’s first general secretary Florence Kelley was at the forefront of the fight. We’ve made great strides on child labor, but there’s still much to be done. I’m excited to be working with the NCL on child labor policy and advocacy this summer,” said Elizabeth.

Immigration is a contentious topic—always has been…likely always will be. A few recent immigration raids have highlighted another side to this issue, though: the children. When parents get arrested, detained, and deported, children are often caught up in the mess. After a Minnesota case in 2006, a 2nd grader was responsible for looking after his little brother for a week after coming home to find both his parents missing—both having been taken away by authorities. Currently, there is no legislation in place to protect immigrant children, many of whom are U.S. citizens.

The Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections (HELP) Separated Children Act (H.R. 3531), which Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) has introduced, looks to ensure that these children are properly cared for, and the National Consumers League has just recently signed on in support of this legislation.

HELP provides some straightforward guidelines that will help protect children. It makes sure that after parents are arrested they can make arrangements for their kids to be taken care of. It ensures that children aren’t forced to translate and/or aren’t present to witness their parents’ interrogation. It requires officials to keep state and local authorities in the loop. And it allows parents to continue to have a say in the care of their children.

The enforcement of immigration laws is still clearly important. Passing HELP will just ensure that, where relevant, immigration policy on the matter is geared toward representing the best interests of the children involved.

Los consumidores no se fían de los cambios de prescripciones – National Consumers League

June 24, 2010

Contact: media@nclnet.org
Washington, DC — Según una encuesta publicada por National Consumers League (NCL), a alrededor de tres cuartas partes de las personas que toman medicamentos con prescripción les preocuparía mucho si se les cambiara el medicamento que se les recetó por otro elaborado para tratar el mismo padecimiento, sin el conocimiento de su médico. Incluso si el médico estuviera al tanto, uno de cada cinco individuos entrevistados indicó sentirse preocupado por la práctica, conocida como sustitución terapéutica: el cambio a una alternativa del medicamento prescrito, que no es química o genéricamente equivalente, sino en la misma clase terapéutica, y que se usa para tratar el mismo padecimiento.

En épocas en las que los costos de los servicios médicos siguen subiendo de manera exorbitante, las compañías de seguro pueden recurrir a la práctica de sustituir medicamentos similares (pero químicamente distintos) y menos caros de la misma clase. NCL trabaja para educar a los consumidores acerca de la práctica de sustitución terapéutica en su sitio web: www.nclnet.org. Los nuevos recursos en inglés y español ayudan a explicar esa práctica y animan a los consumidores a que hagan preguntas necesarias para sentirse bien y en control de la atención médica que reciben. Para un resumen ejecutivo en inglés y una copia completa de la encuesta, haga clic aquí.

“Los consumidores tienen razón en sentir inquietud sobre la práctica de la sustitución terapéutica, cómo se realiza y quién participa —dice Sally Greenberg, directora ejecutiva de National Consumers League (NCL)—. Para algunos padecimientos y tratamientos, puede tener sentido económico o médico cambiar una prescripción por otra. Pero, como indican los consumidores en la encuesta, es esencial que ellos mismos formen parte de ese proceso, que su médico esté al tanto y de acuerdo con el cambio, y que se sientan seguros de que su salud y el tratamiento —no los incentivos económicos— son la más alta prioridad”.

El debate sobre la sustitución terapéutica

A los defensores les preocupa esta práctica principalmente cuando ocurre sin el conocimiento del paciente o sin hablarlo o recibir el consentimiento del médico. Sin embargo, hay opiniones de ambos lados del debate: algunos grupos de médicos expresan preocupación por la seguridad de los pacientes, y algunos grupos de farmacéuticos apoyan más la práctica a raíz de las medidas de ahorros de costos y una forma de optimizar la atención médica del paciente. En algunos casos, la sustitución puede ser beneficiosa o inconsecuente, pero en otros —especialmente en el tratamiento de casos de epilepsia, salud mental y problemas cardiovasculares— puede ser menos eficaz o presentar riesgos, sobre todo si se hace sin el conocimiento del consumidor o el médico que prescribe.

“Sin transparencia, la sustitución terapéutica puede conllevar a problemas de eficacia y seguridad, que incluyen las interacciones desconocidas de ciertos fármacos y consecuencias graves para la salud. Puede además causar confusión o miedo en los pacientes, que de por sí ya se sienten descontentos con un sistema de atención médica defectuoso”, dice Greenberg.

La encuesta en línea de 1,387 adultos mayores de 18 años que obtuvieron alguna prescripción durante el transcurso del año anterior, que llevó a cabo Harris Interactive® en nombre de NCL, del 25 de agosto al 2 de septiembre de 2008, reveló que la mayoría de los consumidores no tienen conocimiento directo de la sustitución terapéutica, pero tienen reparos e inquietudes sobre cómo y cuándo se debe cambiar un medicamento con prescripción por otro.

Puntos importantes de la encuesta

A los consumidores les preocupa la sustitución terapéutica en las que no participa un médico

• En general, a las personas que toman medicamentos por prescripción (Rx) les preocuparía mucho si se les cambiara el medicamento que se les recetó por otro fármaco designado para tratar el mismo padecimiento, sin que su médico se enterara o lo consintiera.

• Alrededor de tres cuartas partes (70%) se sentiría muy o extremadamente preocupado si se les cambiara la prescripción sin el conocimiento o consentimiento de su médico por un medicamento diferente indicado para tratar el mismo padecimiento. El 77% se opone rotundamente a la práctica sin el consentimiento del paciente o el médico que prescribe el medicamento.

Los consumidores están abiertos a la sustitución terapéutica, pero ciertos factores determinan el nivel de seguridad que sienten

• Es más factible que las personas que toman medicamentos por prescripción consideren cambiarse a un medicamento diferente si el médico determina que ambos son intercambiables (57%).

• Una carta de la aseguradora quizá no tranquilice a los consumidores, pero estimularía la comunicación: sólo un 19% de las personas que toman medicamentos por prescripción dicen que considerarían cambiar a un medicamento diferente para tratar la misma enfermedad si su compañía de seguro enviara una carta recomendando el cambio, pero recibir una carta así inspiraría a un 71% de los usuarios a hablar con el médico sobre un medicamento más económico como alternativa.

• Alrededor de una tercera parte (31%) de las personas que toman medicamentos por prescripción dicen que considerarían un cambio de medicamentos si sus farmacéuticos los llamaran para discutir una alternativa del medicamento.

• El 68% de las personas que toman medicamentos por prescripción se opondrían a que las compañías de seguro ofrecieran incentivos a los médicos para que los pacientes cambien a alternativas de menor costo.

• El 73% de las personas que toman medicamentos por prescripción se opondrían a que las compañías de seguro ofrecieran incentivos a los farmacéuticos para que los pacientes cambien a alternativas de menor costo.

Acerca de la encuesta

NCL comisionó esta encuesta con una donación educativa sin restricciones de Pfizer.

La encuesta “Opiniones de los consumidores sobre la sustitución terapéutica” (Consumers’ Views on Therapeutic Substitution Survey) se llevó a cabo en línea en los Estados Unidos a través de Harris Interactive en nombre de National Consumers League, del 25 de agosto al 2 de septiembre de 2008, con 1,035 usuarios de medicamentos con prescripción mayores de 18 años en los Estados Unidos, que obtuvieron alguna prescripción durante el transcurso del año anterior, y 352 muestras adicionales de usuarios de estatinas mayores de 18 años en los Estados Unidos, que toman ese fármaco en el presente. No se pueden hacer cálculos de error de muestra teórico; la metodología completa está disponible.

Los resultados completos de la encuesta, hojas de datos para el consumidor y otros recursos están disponibles en www.nclnet.org.


Acerca de National Consumers League

National Consumers League, fundada en 1899, es la organización pionera del consumidor en los Estados Unidos. Nuestra misión es proteger y fomentar la justicia social y económica de los consumidores y trabajadores en los Estados Unidos y el extranjero. Para mayor información, visite www.nclnet.org.

Acerca de Harris Interactive®

Harris Interactive es un líder mundial en investigación de mercado adaptada a la medida. Con un largo y rico historial en investigación en varios tipos de medios, con la potencia de nuestras ciencias y tecnología, asistimos a los clientes a lograr sus resultados de negocios. Harris Interactive sirve a clientes mundialmente a través de nuestras oficinas en América del Norte, Europa y Asia, y una red de empresas independientes de investigación de mercado. Para más información, sírvase visitar www.harrisinteractive.com.

Chinese worker strikes reveal disturbing conditions – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

While American workers struggle to organize and form unions, and the number of unionized workers in the United States grows smaller, there’s some exciting news from the other side of the world. In the past two weeks, Chinese workers have held strikes against Honda, the automaker, at three different plants. The Chinese government, normally intolerant of workers protesting working conditions, is allowing these Honda workers to express their discontent. This may be because Honda is a Japanese company, and anti-Japanese sentiment lingers in China even decades after World War II.

At one of the auto parts plants in southeastern China, 1,700 workers are hoping to see their wages doubled. What is particularly interesting is that the strikers are apparently engaged in sophisticated and democratic union organizing, electing shop stewards, and are demanding the right to form trade unions to be separate from Chinese government-controlled national federation of trade unions.

Two of the plants targeted by strikers have opened back up, with workers winning significant wage increases. Workers at the third plant are demanding the same wage hikes, and labor shortages are giving strikers stronger bargaining power.

But it is really disturbing to learn about the conditions under which they work for Honda, which has a pretty good reputation in the United States as a forward-looking company. These conditions harken back to America’s sweatshops of a century ago – workplaces that NCL’s Florence Kelley fought so hard to reform. The Honda plants require employees, most of whom are in their 20s and more than half of whom are women, to stand for 8 hours at a time; pregnant women are allowed to sit only in their last trimester. Salaries are about $132 for a 42-hour-week, which is minimum wage in Zhongshan, where the current strike is taking place. Workers are forbidden from speaking when they work – which is apparently common in Chinese workplaces – and they have to obtain passes before using the restrooms. And this strike began because a female worker appeared at the factory wearing her badge incorrectly and when she talked back to the guard for turning her away he shoved her to the ground. Workers live near the factories in tiny, 100-square-foot apartments, for which they pay more than 25 percent of their salary – or $44 a month.

Reforms in both salary and working conditions are clearly long overdue for these Chinese workers, and it is their good fortune that labor shortages will give them stronger bargaining power.

American consumers should be far better informed about the conditions under which the products we buy are made. The Honda plant in Zhongshan is a case in point; Honda needs to abide by an international standard of treatment for workers – and negotiate fairly in responding to the modest demands of the Chinese auto parts makers.