Good news about heart disease – National Consumers League

NCL is the consumer organization behind the groundbreaking Script Your Future campaign, an initiative to get patients to take their medications as directed.  If they do take their prescription medications, they stay out of the hospital and end up healthier, which reduces costs dramatically.

Script Your Future focuses on three chronic diseases: diabetes, respiratory, and cardiovascular illness. In the latter category, we have recently learned of some very good news. Though heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States, hospital admissions for patients with heart disease has fallen 30 percent in the last decade, according to a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association. These impressively improved numbers have saved Medicare an estimated $4.1 billion.

The reasons behind these results are better prevention and early treatment of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Also contributing to these dramatic numbers are reductions in the number of smokers; in the last decade smoking levels have dropped from about 23 percent to 20 percent of Americans. Also, the use of statin drugs to lower cholesterol levels has gone up. This good news comes even amid increased levels of obesity among adults and children in the United States. Public awareness campaigns are not always effective, but in this case, the new data suggest that discouraging smoking and encouraging the use of statins for high cholesterol is having a positive impact.

CA making strides with new wage theft laws – National Consumers League

With the Congress tied up in partisan knots, some states have taken up the responsibility of protecting workers’ rights in the workplace. California recently passed two pieces of legislation that workers’ rights advocates are hoping will serve as a model for other states.

Recently California Governor Jerry Brown signed a pair of workers’ rights bills into law: the Wage Theft Prevention Act (AB 469) and the Employee Classification Act (SB 459). These new laws represent huge steps forward in the fight to protect workers’ rights in an otherwise pro-employer climate.

These new laws strive to prevent wage theft, strengthen existing laws, increase penalties on employers caught cheating their employees, and go after corporations cheating states out of much-needed tax revenue in the form of not paying payroll taxes on misclassified workers.

The Wage Theft Prevention Act (AB 469):

  • Requires employers to provide workers, at the time they’re hired, a written disclosure of the basic terms of employment (the pay rate, the payday, the name and address of the legal employer).
  • Requires employers to notify workers in writing when employment terms change.
  • Requires employers to keep paystub records for three years.
  • Strengthens misdemeanor criminal penalties for employers who willfully fail to pay wages due in 90 days after final judgment.
  • Allows a worker to recover attorney’s fees to enforce a court judgment for unpaid wages.
  • Strengthens existing wage bond requirements that apply to employers convicted of labor law and wage violations.

The Employee Misclassification Act (SB 459):

  • Makes it unlawful for any person or employer to engage in “willful” employee misclassification (classifying an individual as an independent contractor when he or she should really be classified as an “employee.”) This practice not cheats the state out of payroll taxes, and  robs workers of workers compensation benefits, unemployment insurance and  anti-discrimination protections and increases the likelihood that they will suffer minimum wage violations
  • Makes it unlawful to charge any fees or make any deductions in a worker’s paycheck for expenses such as space rental, services, repairs, goods, or materials, where such deductions would have been unlawful had the worker been classified as an employee.
  • Increases penalties that can be assessed against any employer for “willful” employee misclassification. Violation of the statute carries exposure for a “civil penalty” of between $5,000 and $15,000 for each violation; if the employer is found to have engaged “in a pattern or practice of (those) violations,” the civil penalty is increased to $10,000 to $25,000 per violation.
  • Requires public display of employee misclassification violation; employers, who have been found to have engaged in “willful” employee misclassification, must prominently display for one year on their Web site a notice to employees and the general public announcing that the employer “has committed a serious violation of law by engaging in willful misclassification of employees.” Employers that do not have a Web site must have the notice displayed prominently in an area that is “accessible to all employees and the general public at each location where a violation … occurred.”
  • Allows the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency and the California State Labor Commissioner to investigate and impose penalties on employers for employee misclassification violations.

Workers’ rights advocates see these new laws as good, practical examples of what can be done on the state level and would like to see them used as blueprints for other states interested in protecting their workers from the consequences of employee misclassification.

Politicians take note: Wall Street protests reflect popular sentiment – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director 

NCL has joined with consumer and labor groups over the last few years on measures to reign in the egregious executive compensation provided to heads of American corporations. Since the 1970’s, executive pay has more than quadrupled while the salaries earned by average workers has fallen by 10 percent. The Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010 included provisions requiring companies to report the spread between the highest and lowest paid employees.

I’ve often been surprised at the lack of public outrage when CEO pay hits these ridiculous levels – rising well beyond $10 million in many companies. But now we are finally seeing public outrage in the form of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests about the excesses of too many banks and corporations – including getting bailed out with taxpayer funds, as they were several years ago, and then distributing generous bonuses and benefit packages to executives.

To their credit, the anti-Wall Street protests are going far beyond executive compensation and bailouts. They are tapping into what the Washington Post’s polling shows is widespread anger and mistrust of Wall Street: 68 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of big financial institutions. Polls also show that 65 percent or so of Americans believe that millionaires should pay higher taxes – and the same number supports the President’s jobs plan.

I don’t know whether these anti-Wall Street demonstrators have begun a movement that will last – I hope they have – but I think the leadership in the House and the minority in the Senate, which has blocked the higher tax on millionaires and the Obama jobs plan, should take notice of this movement that is spreading to cities, not only in America, but across the globe. They ignore these protests at their peril.

NCL statement in support of the Wireless Tax Fairness Act – National Consumers League

November 4, 2011

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

Washington, DC-Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, issued this statement in support of the Wireless Tax Fairness Act HR 1002, which will be voted on by the US House of Representatives this evening.

“The National Consumers League supports HR 1002, the Wireless Tax Fairness Action of 2011, because it will slow the exploding number of taxes imposed on consumers and users of wireless phones and other services. Consumers in 46 states now pay wireless taxes, fees, and government charges that exceed the retail sales tax rate.

For millions of Americans, cell phones have replaced landlines in providing phone services. The millions of consumers who receive a cell phone bill each month- and many of these customers are middle and lower middle income Americans- with taxes imposed that they don’t understand – in some states a gross receipts tax is imposed on top of a sales tax –are paying taxes that add significantly to their overall bill. Unfortunately, without this legislation, there appears to be no end in sight; state and local governments will continue treat consumers who use wireless devices as a “cash cow” for local projects.

The NCL understands that state and local governments need to raise revenues to pay for essential services – fire and ambulance, schools and hospitals, roads and infrastructure -and we support their right to do so through a democratic process, which includes the passage of tax laws that are supported by the citizens. The ever-increasing taxes imposed on consumers who use wireless services are the wrong approach, however, and have reached unacceptable levels. This bill’s moratorium will give state and local governments the opportunity to join with consumers and others in an effort to reform communications taxes, an effort that is long overdue.”


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

Lessons from the Listeria outbreak – National Consumers League

By Teresa Green, NCL’s Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

The recent outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes in Jensen Farms cantaloupes has sickened 139 and claimed at least 29 lives. Because of its long incubation period, these numbers may continue to rise for the next several weeks. Here are some things this outbreak has reinforced and taught us.

  • Like all foodborne illnesses, Listeria is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations. This includes the elderly, young children, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women. In this outbreak, the median age of those who have passed away is 84 and four pregnant women have been affected.
  • The most unique feature of this outbreak is that it is the first time there has been an outbreak of Listeria in cantaloupe. This reiterates that while some bacteria are more common in some types of food, no food can be said to be completely safe from a given pathogen. This only makes robust safety practices that much more important.
  • While only one brand of cantaloupe has been implicated in the recent outbreak, the recall has nonetheless impacted the entire industry. This is due to the fact that in many cases, consumers do not differentiate between brands and are avoiding cantaloupe altogether. At the moment, cantaloupe growers in Arizona and California are losing millions of dollars and in some cases not even bothering to harvest their produce. The devastating impact of an outbreak and subsequent recall emphasizes the need for a focus on preventative safety measures as part of good business.
  • One of the most startling aspects of the Jensen Farm outbreak is that it received high marks in an independent audit less than a month before the start of the outbreak. Jensen Farms’ 96 out of 100 rating highlights the variability possible in third party audits and the fact that a good “grade” does not necessarily mean a firm has achieved the highest level of safety.
  • The FDA report on the cause of the outbreak cited several unsanitary conditions at the packing plant as likely causes of the Listeria outbreak. These included pooling water on the floor of the plant and machinery that was difficult to clean. The root cause investigation revealed that simple changes to the sanitary practices at the plant could have gone a long way towards preventing an outbreak.
  • The biggest takeaway from this tragic outbreak is that the produce industry needs clear regulations regarding safety practices. As part of the recently passed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the FDA will have to establish “mandatory, science-based, minimum standards” for the production of fruits and vegetables. These standards will clarify expectations around safety practices and ensure a safer supply for consumers. For those impacted by this outbreak, these standards will come too late. For the rest of us, they can’t come soon enough.

This outbreak of Listeria has taught us many things about foodborne illness, but the most important takeaway is that good food safety practices play a vital role in preventing contamination. Only when we make food safety a priority can we hope to avoid future outbreaks.

Surgeon General joins Baltimore launch of national Script Your Future campaign to highlight importance of taking medication as directed – National Consumers League

November 2, 2011

Contact: Kerry O’Neill, (410) 902-5035,

Baltimore, MD—While most Americans recognize the importance of taking prescribed medication as directed, people who skip or forget doses are less likely to understand the health consequences of medication non-adherence, according to a new survey released this morning by the National Consumers League (NCL) as part of its national Script Your Future campaign. At today’s Baltimore launch of the multi-year national Script Your Future campaign, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin encouraged patients with chronic conditions to speak with their health care professionals about their medication.

Poor medication adherence is a growing public health concern, and addressing the problem is especially critical as the number of Americans affected by at least one chronic condition requiring medication therapy is expected to grow from 133 to 157 million by 2020.  Nearly three out of four Americans report that they do not always take their medication as directed, a problem that causes more than one-third of medicine-related hospitalizations, nearly 125,000 deaths in the United States each year, and adds $290 billion in avoidable costs to the health care system annually.

“Our national challenge is to prevent poor health outcomes and to become a healthy and fit nation.  One way is for the health care community and patients to come together to address medication non-adherence, which is a major public health problem,” said Dr. Benjamin.  “Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals can help prevent many serious health complications by initiating conversations with their patients about the importance of taking medication as directed.  This is especially important for people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure, who may have a number of medicines to take each day.”

Script Your Future brings together Baltimore area stakeholders in health care, business and government to offer practical tools for patients to help them better adhere to their medication, and to help health care professionals  better communicate with patients.  Baltimore is one of six regional target markets in which the campaign will pilot interventions, outreach activities, research and advertising.  The local coalition includes more than a dozen Baltimore-based health care stakeholders including University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, the Maryland Pharmacists Association, and Pfizer.  Today’s event is also an official stop on the AARP/Walgreens Wellness Tour, which provides mobile health tests to communities across the country.

The consumer survey results released today show that nationally and in Baltimore, those patients who do not always take their medication as directed are less likely to have received a full explanation of the consequences of their condition, and are less convinced of the importance of adherence. Communication between patients and their health care professionals is one key factor. More than three quarters (79 percent) of patients in Baltimore say they are very willing to raise questions or concerns about prescribed medicines with their health care professional, but only 55 percent say their doctor routinely asks about problems taking medication.  Among less adherent patients, communication with health care professionals is even less frequent.

“There are many reasons why people don’t take their medicine as directed, from concerns about side effects to the out-of-pocket costs of prescriptions, but the more a patient understands the impact medication has on their health, the more likely they are to keep up with their medication.  Script Your Future is working in Baltimore and communities across the country to encourage more conversations about the health consequences of non-adherence and to provide patients and their health care professionals with a range of online tools and resources to help improve adherence among patients with chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma,” said Rebecca Burkholder, Vice President of Health Policy for the NCL.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, also found that patients view automatic refills, reduced co-pays and pill boxes as useful tools for improving adherence.  In particular, three quarters of Baltimore patients find a list of questions for their healthcare professional to be a helpful tool.

“As we launch the campaign locally, the research reinforces the need to make medication adherence a priority in Baltimore, where 14 percent of residents are living with diabetes and 1 in 3 with high blood pressure,” said Cherokee Layson-Wolf, PharmD., CGP, Associate Professor, University of Maryland, School of Pharmacy. “Our local efforts are aimed at raising awareness and making tools for adherence more accessible to consumers.”

Script Your Future tools include free text message reminders, sample questions for patients to ask health care practitioners, medication lists, condition management sheets, and fact sheets on common chronic conditions.  All of these materials can be found on the campaign website,


Script Your Future is a campaign of the National Consumers League (NCL), a private, non-profit membership organization founded in 1899. For more information about the Script Your Future campaign, visit  For more information on NCL, please visit

Another attempt by the House Majority to slash workers rights – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Project Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft 

Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Jobs Agenda, which he designed to end numerous regulations he termed “job killing,” pushed H.R. 3094, or the “Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act,” which passed the House Committee on Education and Workforce by a party line vote of 23 for the majority and 16 for the minority. Rep. John Kline admittedly designed H.R. 3094 to roll back decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after they ruled against Boeing for its unfair treatment of union workers in Washington State.

H.R. 3094 would be better named the ‘Union Election Prevention Act’ as it seeks to delay and ultimately prevent union representation elections from happening, thus denying workers the opportunity to have a voice at work. The bill would interfere with the elections process and flood the NLRB with hundreds of appeals from companies designed to hold up elections.

In the mark-up session this week, the House majority continuously batted down any and all amendments offered by the minority, including a plan to create employment opportunities for Americans by investing in the crumbling infrastructure of America’s schools. This amendment, offered by Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA), would have meant immediate jobs for teachers, construction workers, electricians, and countless others across the country.

In a toxic environment, with one side not even willing to listen to the other, partisan rhetoric was deeply troubling. At this point, there is no way that this current committee will come together to create a bipartisan and meaningful jobs bill. H.R. 3094 will surely pass the House of Representatives with a party line vote and move on to the Senate. With any hope, the Senate will simply sit on this terrible bill and never let it become law.