Dr. Ruiz Leads Effort to Combat Fraud in Health Insurance Exchanges – National Consumers League

October 31, 2013

Contact: Michael Ford, Michael.Ford@mail.house.gov

Washington, DC–Today, Dr. Raul Ruiz (D-Palm Desert) was joined by 32 Members of Congress in sending a letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, urging that they prioritize resources to combat fraud in the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges.

In the letter, Dr. Ruiz and his colleagues wrote: “Across the country, misinformation about the Affordable Care Act health insurance exchanges is creating opportunities for con artists to defraud families, seniors, and small businesses. Criminals who defraud consumers for financial gain must be brought to justice. We urge you to devote more resources towards educating consumers, investigating complaints, and taking swift legal action to crack down on fraud.”

“Experience has demonstrated that scam artists will attempt to capitalize on consumer confusion about new government programs to defraud consumers,” said Sally Greenberg, National Consumers League (NCL) executive director. “Expanding health care to millions of uninsured Americans has long been a goal of NCL. We must not allow fears of potential fraud to derail the success of the ACA.”

Currently, there are reports of criminals preying on consumers as they begin to shop for affordable health insurance on the state and federal exchanges.

Yesterday, at a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Committee HHS Secretary Sebelius acknowledged this issue and discussed the importance of addressing fraud in the exchanges.

Dr. Ruiz’s letter was signed by the following Members of Congress: Rep. Costa (CA), Rep. Cardenas (CA), Rep. Michaud (ME), Rep. Roybal-Allard (CA), Rep. Gabbard (HI), Rep. Peters (CA), Rep. Swalwell (CA), Rep. Lujan (NM), Rep. Sinema (AZ), Rep. Meng (NY), Rep. Negrete McLeod (CA), Rep. Sherman (CA), Rep. Enyart (IL), Rep. Honda (CA), Rep. Napolitano (CA), Rep. Cartwright (PA), Rep. Esty (CT), Rep. Hastings (FL), Rep. Vela (TX), Rep. Hinojosa (TX), Rep. Foster (IL), Rep. Barber (AZ), Rep. Garcia (FL), Rep. Brownley (CA),  Rep. Frankel (FL), Rep. Becerra (CA), Rep. Rangel (NY), Rep. Jeffries (NY), Rep. Capps (CA), Rep. Murphy (FL), Rep. Gallego (TX), Rep. Cuellar (TX).

Additionally, the letter is supported by the National Consumers League, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Click here for the full letter.


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 www.nclnet.org.

This Halloween, let the kids live a little – National Consumers League

kelsey By Kelsey Albright, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Halloween and candy are like two peas in a pod.  It wasn’t always this way though; before candy started dominating this spooky holiday, an assortment of goodies ranging from popcorn balls and cookies to fruit were commonplace treats for trick-or-treaters.  As the holiday progressed, it made more sense to hand out candy with its ease of preparation, pre-packaged safety, and long shelf life.

Candy embodies a kind of magic.  The forbidden fruit of our childhoods, candy represents a nostalgic reminder of something simple and so irresistibly sweet.  It was more than just the candy though; it was the costume and the trading and staying up a little later than usual.  Most children and adults can relate to these memories, we remember Halloween as one of those days that was bound to be great.  I worry that with childhood obesity on the rise and the ever growing vigilance of some parents, these memories could be forever altered.  To many, candy carries an inescapable black mark as a food to always avoid, but in my opinion, that shouldn’t be so. Candy is honest.  It doesn’t masquerade as something that’s healthy or has vitamins, it’s bad for you and everyone knows it. 

I present you with an age old concept that nutritionists come back to again and again: everything in moderation.  Yes, children need to eat fruits and vegetables; they need to drink milk for strong bones.  Many parents realize these things and it’s a constant struggle to inform those that don’t but that doesn’t mean that candy is out of the question. It’s important that children occasionally have access to treats; otherwise the concept that candy is a forbidden fruit, something they always want and can never have, may be taken to extremes later in life.  I look around me and I see how confused society is about food, frequently falling on one side of the healthy eating spectrum or the other, but it’s far simpler than we make it out to be.  Indulgence is a vital part of a balanced diet and it makes it far easier to choose nutrient dense food items the other 95% of the time.  So this Halloween let your kids have some candy, just don’t let them have the whole bag!

Across the Atlantic, finding common ground with consumer advocates – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
I’m spending the first part of this week in Brussels with colleagues from across the pond in a meeting with the Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD). The TACD is a forum of US and EU consumer organizations which develops and agrees on joint consumer policy recommendations to the US government and European Union to promote the consumer interest in EU and US policy making.

The TACD was launched in September 1998, at the end of the inaugural meeting which took place in Washington and gathered more than 60 consumer representatives from the US and the EU.TACD’s objectives are to provide a formal mechanism for EU and US consumer representatives to input to EU and US political negotiations and agreements as well as explore ways of strengthening the EU and US consumer view at the international level. TACD champions the consumer perspective in transatlantic decision making.

It is our mission to ensure that EU/US policy dialogue promotes consumer welfare on both sides of the Atlantic and is well informed about the implications of policy decisions on consumers. The TACD provides a common voice for EU and US consumer organizations ensuring that key consumer priorities are promoted and advocated within EU-US regulatory and governmental processes, helping to protect health and safety and assure truth and fairness in the marketplace. Through meetings and multi-stakeholder conferences TACD contributes to the exchange of information, dissemination of knowledge and sharing of expertise on key consumer issues in the EU and the US. 

TACD works with stakeholders such as the Transatlantic Legislators Dialogue (TLD) and the Transatlantic Business Council (TABC) through the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), of which TACD is a member of the advisory group, to find areas of commonality and to seek increased consensus. It was a pleasure to be a part of this conference.

Lots to talk about during Talk about Prescriptions Month – National Consumers League

By Rebecca Burkholder, NCL Vice President for Health Policy October is Talk about Prescriptions Month, and with 50 percent of Americans taking at least one or more prescription drugs, there are a lot of conversations that need to happen. If you are taking a prescription medication, always ask your doctor or pharmacist why you are taking the medication, its name, how to take it properly, and if there are any side effects. Taking medication as directed is important to obtain the full benefits of the medication; this is especially true if you are taking a medication for a chronic condition.

How you access your medications is also important. This month FDA reminds us that if you buy your medications on line, do so safely. Earlier this month a report released from the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) emphasized that with the increased number of Americans with chronic conditions, proper use of mediation is more important than ever.  Today, 27 percent of Americans are living with multiple chronic conditions, and 68 percent (21.4 million people) of Medicare beneficiaries are being treated for at least two concurrent chronic illnesses. Treating multiple chronic conditions accounts for 66 percent of the nation’s health expenditures.

Of the $300 billion Medicare spent in 2010 on health care, the price tag for treating the 14 percent of beneficiaries with six or more conditions was over $140 billion.  For these patients, poor medication adherence is commonplace and they are at higher risk for medication-related problems and the costly emergency room visits and hospitalizations that can result. The new report, Accelerating Progress in Prescription Medicine Adherence: The Adherence Action Agenda, which was based on input from 23 organizations, including NCL – underscores that as morbidity, mortality and health care costs rise action needs to be taken quickly to improve adherence among Americans living with multiple diseases.  The report outlines a 10-point action agenda that advocates for an increased focus on multiple chronic conditions and policy and programmatic solutions for improving adherence.

For practical tips on taking medications as directed, especially if you have a chronic condition, see NCL’s Script Your Future website.   In addition to being careful about taking our medications, Americans also need to continue to be mindful about where they purchase medications, especially if buying online. Buying medicines from fraudulent Web sites – which often look legitimate – puts your health at risk because the products may contain the wrong ingredients, too little or too much of the active ingredient, or they might be made with other harmful substances. As a result, consumers may not receive the therapy they need, or they may experience unexpected side effects and possibly get worse. The FDA campaign, BeSafeRx: Know Your Online Pharmacy Web site has a new video featuring FDA’s Health Fraud Coordinator Gary Coody, who explains how to avoid fake online pharmacies. In addition to the “how to” video, the BeSafeRx Web site provides an interactive map for checking a pharmacy’s license through states’ boards of pharmacy, fact sheets, and other materials. For more information about counterfeit drugs, check out our information at Fraud.org.

Senate briefing: How congressional mandates are thwarted by our broken regulatory process – National Consumers League

By Michell K. McIntyre, Outreach Director, Labor and Worker Rights From the safety of the food we eat to the air we breathe and the cars we drive—Congress has enacted landmark laws to tackle these threats to the public. Yet today, many of the rules required to execute these laws have been delayed and/or weakened as a result of a sluggish regulatory process.

Due to unnecessary delays, Congressional mandates and sensible safeguards are being held up, and the results can be catastrophic. While most people understand the basics of how a bill becomes a law, many don’t realize that federal laws that create new regulations must first clear the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) before going into effect. OIRA might be the most powerful federal agency consumers haven’t heard of. OIRA analyzes the costs and benefits of new rules passed by Congress and takes into consideration comments by the public and affected industries. Many significant rules have been trapped in OIRA purgatory. NCL and partnering organization will hold a Senate briefing tomorrow, October 25, to discuss our broken regulatory process. These common sense rules, passed by Congress, should not face years of unnecessary delays. Sign up for the event here.

A real-life example of how a government shutdown hurts food safety – National Consumers League

kelsey By Kelsey Albright, Linda Golodner Food Safety & Nutrition Fellow Early last week the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) put out a public health alert warning American consumers that Foster Farms chicken from three of the four processing plants it had been investigating since July could be unsafe to consume.  What is a public health alert, you may be asking, and why not issue a recall if the USDA knows where this salmonella-ridden chicken is coming from?

The government shutdown was a disconcerting affair for food safety advocates like myself. FSIS, a subdivision of the USDA, maintains that their choice to issue a public health alert instead of a recall had nothing to do with the shutdown.  I think otherwise.  Although food inspectors in plants were not furloughed, many other workers that are necessary to keep processes speedy (such as workers who monitor food borne illness outbreaks at the CDC, laboratory technicians that analyze their findings, and other employees that assist with food monitoring) were sent home to twiddle their thumbs while Congress duked out their budget battle.

A fully staffed USDA and CDC are more effective in detecting food borne illness and acting to prevent it than agencies that are “mostly open”. The lack of manpower behind these operations may have led to the issuance of a public health alert instead of a recall.  Finding the origin of an outbreak and proving that a person got sick from a specific product purchased from a specific store that came from a specific plant is a difficult endeavor. 

USDA cannot issue a recall if these strict, time intensive processes are not conducted. Instead of going through this lengthy process, FSIS used what information they had gathered and issued a public health alert notifying consumers to cook their chicken to 165⁰F to kill any Salmonella Heidelberg present.  In doing so they also allowed Foster Farms 72 hours to clean up their act or be shut down When 317 people from 20 states have been confirmed ill with an abnormally high hospitalization rate of 42%, is a public health alert alone enough to protect the public?  Stores like Krogers and Costco have taken matters into their own hands by issuing a recall of products they sold and paying out of pocket for a mistake that was not of their making.   Unsurprisingly, Foster Farms did clean up their act and were not shut down, but it doesn’t change the fact that Salmonella Heidelberg contaminated chicken is still on the shelves of many grocery stores.  Foster Farms has yet to own up to their egregious mistake by recalling their chicken and the USDA isn’t holding them to it either.

Spreading consumer awareness about dietary supplements around the globe – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

NCL was invited to present at a conference on health and nutrition at the charming seaside town of Dalian, a one and a half hour flight east of Beijing. Our past work surveying consumers on dietary supplements and NCL’s focus on the safe use of medication, no doubt, generated the invitation. The tour guide described China’s shape on a map as that of a rooster, with Beijing being the eye and Dalian being the beak. So there I was in the rooster’s beak, meeting academics, scientists, community workers, and doctors from around the world.

Much to my surprise, the hosts of the conference included NCL’s presentation entitled “Dietary Supplements: What Consumers Should Know,” as one of the conference’s keynote addresses. That put me at the podium with seven other presenters, all of them men who were either doctors or academics. This was an eminent group: for example, another keynoter, Sir Roy Calne, a doctor at Cambridge University in the UK, had performed the first liver, heart, and other organ transplants during the 1960s.

From the outset, the connection between the different presentations seemed to be a stretch. Many of us found ourselves at this conference asking each other, how is it you came to be invited? No one was quite sure. But looking back over the past several days, I don’t think I’ve ever been with a group of such accomplished, smart, thoughtful, and interesting people. One group of presentations focused on reports and research in pediatrics. That brought together an incredible group of mostly female pediatricians including surgeons, pediatric cardiologists, radiologists, and many more who discussed issues ranging from child abuse to ER and child trauma. These women were uniformly impressive, friendly, and approachable. The nice thing, too, is that because I was the only female in the opening session and talked about the importance of consumer awareness and a consumer voice on dietary supplements (based on a terrific presentation that our staff prepared for me about dietary supplements and how they can be beneficial or dangerous), these women doctors instantly knew who I was, were grateful a woman was represented as a keynoter, and came to know and like the work NCL is doing to reach out to consumers.

I also had the chance to meet Australian Paul Miller, who is with the Olive Council in his country. He is working to help expose and ferret out the problem of adulterated olive oil in markets around the world. This is a rampant problem that degrades the quality of olive oil world wide, creates a competitive disadvantage for those olive oil producers who play by the rules, and steals money from the wallets of consumers who pay far higher prices than they should for adulterated olive oil. This issue hits home for NCL, given our experience fighting food fraud, and testing products such as adulterated lemon juice. We hope to work with Miller and government regulators in the US and elsewhere to help expose this problem. NCL is grateful to the organizers of this BIT First Annual Conference on Food and Nutrition for including a consumer voice in the program. I found the gathering unusually rewarding, made many new friends and contacts for NCL, and learned a great deal from the many academics and doctors from around the world who are engaged in such noble and important work.

Consumer groups outline shutdown’s impact on consumer protection – National Consumers League

October 11, 2013

Washington, DC – A coalition of leading consumer groups today sent a letter to Members of Congress calling out the lapses in consumer protection caused by the ongoing government shutdown.

The letter highlights how the shutdown has hindered work across a wide array of issues, including airline and auto safety, food and product safety, financial services and investor protections, as well consumer protection efforts at the EPA, FCC, FDA and FTC. Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, Consumer Action, National Consumer Law Center on behalf of its low-income clients, Public Citizen, National Association of Consumer Advocates, and US PIRG signed on to the piece calling for an end to the impasse.

The groups write, “Consumers rely on the government to ensure the safety of the food they eat, the air they breathe, the products they use, the cars they drive, and the planes on which they fly.  Consumers also expect that the government will help to protect them from predatory financial schemes, fraud and scams.  Many of these consumer protections have been significantly curtailed as a result of the shutdown…We urge a speedy resolution of the shutdown so that the government can resume its critical role on behalf of all consumers.”

Rachel Weintraub, Legislative Director and Senior Counsel for Consumer Federation of America, will present these concerns in testimony at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing examining the impacts of the government shutdown on our economic security. The hearing is scheduled to take place Friday at 1 pm.

The full text of the letter is below:

October 11, 2013

Dear Member of Congress:

As the government shutdown continues, a coalition of consumer organizations has compiled information about how the shutdown is affecting the safety and wellbeing of millions of American consumers.  We are sharing this document with you today.

Consumers rely on the government to ensure the safety of the food they eat, the air they breathe, the products they use, the cars they drive, and the planes on which they fly.  Consumers also expect that the government will help to protect them from predatory financial schemes, fraud and scams.  Many of these consumer protections have been significantly curtailed as a result of the shutdown. 

Airline Safety

At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), 15,514 of 46,070 employees (34%) have been furloughed.  Air traffic controllers and baggage screeners are considered essential and are on the job so air travel continues.  However, most of the staff that supports the air traffic controllers are on furlough.  Virtually the entire safety inspection force has been sent home, with only one manager at every office across the country left to answer the phones.  This is unprecedented in U.S. aviation history; even during the 1996 government shutdown, most safety inspectors remained on the job.  Earlier this week, FAA announced plans to bring back 800 inspectors, oversight staff, and others. But that is only about 15% of the FAA’s furloughed airline safety personnel.

Food Safety

During the shutdown, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has retained about 55% of its staff.  According to the Health and Human Services’ shutdown plan: “FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities.”  This means that FDA will not conduct routine food safety inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities and will not be monitoring imports.  Much of the laboratory and scientific research necessary to inform public health decision-making also will not be conducted.   

Most Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors of meat and poultry continue to work.  The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service will continue manning every meat production facility with full-time inspectors.  However, a meat and poultry hot line consumers can call for information about food safety or to report problems is closed.  The agency has said that “A lengthy hiatus would affect the safety of human life and have serious adverse effects on the industry, the consumer and the Agency.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has 68% of its staff furloughed, which means that CDC is at significantly reduced capacity to identify and respond to foodborne illness outbreaks, and is unable to support state and local partners in disease surveillance. PulseNet, CDC’s national network of public health laboratories that detects multi-state food-borne illness outbreaks was non-functioning as a result of the shutdown.  This hampered CDC’s capacity to track the recent Salmonella outbreak linked to poultry that sickened close to 300 people.  The employees who run PulseNet are now back to work since the CDC determined that PulseNet was vital to protecting the public from “imminent threats.”  Still, consultation with states and laboratory work to link outbreaks that might cross state borders will remain at reduced capacity during the shutdown.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) furloughed 96% or 16,205 employees, leaving 613 workers on the job.  Most EPA operations have come to a halt.  EPA programs to protect public health, air quality, and safe drinking water and to regulate pesticides and pollution are mainly longer-term in nature and therefore are not considered essential to prevent imminent risk to human health.  Clean up at 505 Superfund sites (property contaminated by toxic chemicals) in 47 states has been suspended. Some laboratory staff continues to work as are emergency responders (responding to environmental emergencies). Some limited enforcement activities continue, but with skeletal staff.  

EPA’s Energy Star program for certifying energy efficient appliances and electronics is currently closed.  EPA also will not be updating its fuel economy website with new vehicle fuel-economy ratings.  The consequence is that there will be no EPA oversight of the accuracy of new fuel economy ratings until the government reopens.  

Financial Services/Investor Protections

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) are both funded through the appropriations process and thus, are directly affected by the shutdown.  The CFTC, which oversees the commodities market and the bulk of the derivatives market, was immediately forced to furlough the vast majority of its 700 employees, leaving only 28 employees working at the agency.  This comes at a time when both agencies are struggling under enormous workloads to implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and, in the case of the SEC, the JOBS Act.  That process has virtually ground to a halt at the CFTC, where key rules to protect against risks in the derivatives market were just beginning to take effect.  The shutdown also leaves the CFTC with only a handful of people to police the markets for fraud and manipulation, less than 5 of the 50 individuals who normally perform this function.  The SEC has reported that it has enough carry-over funding to allow it to operate essentially normally for “a few weeks.”  But that funding will run out if the shutdown continues for an extended period of time. 

The Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) are self-funded and not subject to the appropriations process.  All will remain open and operational.  Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is funded through the Federal Reserve, it will also remain open and operational. 

In addition, education loan borrowers who have a dispute with their loan servicer (or debt collector) will have a hard time resolving the dispute because the Department of Education’s ombudsman’s office is mostly shutdown.  

Product Safety

Four percent of the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) total workforce remains on the job – that translates into 23 employees (including 5 commissioners) out of 540 full-time employees.  None of the employees currently working are field investigators or port inspectors.  The CPSC is conducting only business that “protects against imminent threats to human safety, and protect government property” and rulemakings, recalls, and civil penalty negotiations are suspended unless they rise to this level of threat.  Saferproducts.gov, CPSC’s consumer incident data base, is receiving reports but will not be publishing them thereby denying consumers the opportunity to learn about potentially dangerous products.

Two terrible examples bring home the impact of the shutdown on the CPSC’s ability to do its critical safety work.  Last Monday, a two year old girl in San Diego, California was killed when a chest of drawers with a television on top of it tipped over and fell on her, crushing her to death.  A one-year-old boy from Hitterdal, Minnesota, swallowed part of a laundry pod last week and has been hospitalized due to his injuries.  He was just moved out of intensive care and is breathing on his own.  However, CPSC is unable to investigate these serious incidents and is unable to work to educate consumers about how to avoid these serious and preventable safety hazards.

Auto Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) furloughed 333 workers out of a total of 597.  As a result, NHTSA is not able to alert consumers about recalls.  Rulemakings, defect investigations, research, and testing is also on hold. NHTSA’s web site states that “Due to a lapse of Federal Government funding, NHTSA is unable process safety defect complaints after close of business September 30, 2013.  Consumers can continue to file complaints via this website, but they will not be evaluated by NHTSA staff until funding and services are restored.” Activities funded by the Highway Trust Fund will continue.  These activities include occupant protection and distracted driving research and development under the office of Traffic Injury Control. Any auto safety defects that emerge during the shutdown will not be investigated properly, leaving consumers and our highways at risk.

Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice

Less than 20% of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) employees (approximately 241 of its 1,178 workers) are exempt from furloughs.   Employees responsible for protecting life and property through the prosecution of enforcement actions are working. Most legal actions have been stayed; for those few cases where the court has not granted stays, agency work continues.  However, the agency expects no rulemakings during the shutdown, and staffers overseeing the Do Not Call registry, Consumer Response Center, and spam database have suspended work.  Consumers who are identity theft victims cannot access information that the FTC provides about the steps they should take or how to report the problem.

The FTC’s website is not functional—on the FTC’s home page, it states, “Unfortunately, the Federal Trade Commission is closed due to the government shutdown: the FTC Premerger Notification Office will be open to accept HSR filings; consumers may file FOlA requests, but they will not be processed; consumers cannot file complaints or register for Do Not Call; all public workshops, roundtables, hearings and conferences are postponed until further notice.” 

The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division is similarly affected.  Sixty-three percent of its workforce has been furloughed.  That could significantly impair its merger enforcement activities, including its pending challenge to the American Airlines/US Airways merger, and other important enforcement activities that protect consumers against harm from anticompetitive business conduct.

Housing Finance

The mortgage market is operated primarily by nongovernmental entities in the private sector, but the shutdown is having an impact in this area.  Mortgage loans may be delayed because the Internal Revenue Service (impacted by the shutdown) is not in a position to verify income for borrowers.  In addition, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) is operating with only a skeleton staff and is unable to do full quality control reviews of loans receiving FHA mortgage insurance through delegated underwriters.  Over time, this could reduce the quality of the FHA portfolio and lead to higher losses for the insurance fund.

In the affordable rental housing field, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has funded current contracts with public housing agencies to provide rental subsidies for very low income renters.  But very shortly current funding will expire, and agencies responsible for paying landlords on behalf of very low income tenants or for directly operating housing for such tenants may be unable to meet their obligations.  Assistance for homeless families and single individuals, typically provided by private, nonprofit operators using federal funds, is also at risk if the shutdown extends further.  Similarly, affordable housing developers are reporting that projects in their pipeline are on hold because officials at HUD and USDA’s Rural Housing Service are unable to respond to questions, process applications for assistance, or sign off on proposed or final development deals. 

Drug Safety and Medical Devices

The FDA is partly funded by user fees, which are paid by pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers.  Some activities related to the user-fee funded programs, such as product approvals and safety communications for drugs and devices, will continue.  About 75% of the FDA staffers who have been retained have jobs that are funded by user fees.  Nevertheless, FDA’s own website acknowledges that the agency “cannot predict whether we will experience delays in (the programs under the law overseeing drug testing and safety) in the event of a protracted lapse in appropriations.”  The website goes on to say that with regard to medical devices, “certain review activities…may be suspended during the lapse period.”


The Department of Energy (DOE) has furloughed approximately 69% of its personnel (9,595 furloughs out of 13,814.)  DOE has some multi-year appropriations that will continue to be spent until they run out, but most DOE programs, including research and renewable energy projects, will not be able to operate for very long.  Important efficiency rules related to televisions, furnace fans, and other appliances, which will save consumers millions of dollars, could be delayed because they cannot be published in the Federal Register until the government reopens.

Health/Social Security

The health insurance exchanges are open, and implementation of the American Affordable Care Act proceeds.  Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits are being paid, but new applications may not be processed until the government reopens.  Depending on the length of the shutdown, payments to Medicare providers may be affected.


According to the FCC’s shutdown plan, approximately 30 FCC employees – or less than 2% of its approximately 1750+ employees – have been deemed essential and exempt from the furlough.  Among those deemed essential are the three Commissioners (though not their legal advisors), the inspector general, and a small number of employees who are tasked with critical functions such as the protection of life and property, disaster response operations, and integral national security functions.  However, some of the FCC activities that will cease under the shutdown include: merger reviews, responses to consumer complaints, consumer protection, local competition enforcement, licensing of broadcast, wireless, and management of radio spectrum, and equipment authorizations (which bring new electronic devices to the American public).  Work has been delayed on the highly anticipated spectrum auctions and could affect the timing of the first of these auctions, which were supposed to take place in January.  Finally, the FCC has ceased maintaining its online systems, leaving the public unable to access the resources, public comments, and consumer education materials available on its website.

We urge a speedy resolution of the shutdown so that the government can resume its critical role on behalf of all consumers.

Feel free to contact Rachel Weintraub with Consumer Federation of America at rweintraub@consumerfed.org or (202) 387-6121 or Ellen Bloom with Consumers Union at ebloom@consumer.org or (202) 462-6262 for further information.

Consumers Union
Consumer Federation of America
National Consumers League
Consumer Action
National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients
Public Citizen
National Association of Consumer Advocates


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 www.nclnet.org.

To have power means to have responsibility – National Consumers League

This post originally appeared on SOCAP International’s Web site Guest blog by Matt D’Uva, President of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals I had the absolute privilege to attend the Trumpeter Award Dinner on Tuesday night hosted by the National Consumers League.  NCL, founded in 1899, is an inspiring organization.  They have been fighting the good fight for important causes such as workers’ rights, consumers’ rights, and equal pay for equal work.  Although the organization is well over 100 years old, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Trumpeter Awards Dinner which, of course, made me think about the interesting connection between this celebration and SOCAP’s own 40th anniversary.

Organizations like NCL have been a critical player in important movements in the history of our country, such as the consumer movement which helped create new legislation, practices and accountability which ultimately led to the creation of SOCAP and literally the customer care profession.  I believe that leaders like Florence Kelly, the first general secretary of the NCL (and the namesake of one of the Trumpeter Awards), would be thrilled to see the power of consumers today.  I believe she would be challenging organizations like SOCAP and our members to ensure that the Voice of the Consumer is alive, strong and elevated within companies on every issue.  Ms. Kelly once famously said, “To buy means to have power, to have power means to have responsibility”. This responsibility is born by consumers, by customer care executives and by organizations like SOCAP and NCL.  To that end, SOCAP has worked hard to build a partnership with the National Consumers League to ensure that we are living up to Ms. Kelly’s challenge of taking our responsibility seriously to consumers.  For example, SOCAP—working through our local chapters and our national members—actively supports NCL’s LifeSmarts program which works with young people in grades 6 – 12 to help them learn important skills to better and more educated consumers.

Our members help write questions, volunteer their time, and donate funds to help the LifeSmarts program grow.  As SOCAP’s President and CEO, I also serve as a member of the Advisory Board. We have also been working with NCL on other programs such as their Fraud.org project protecting consumers from bad players who mean to do them harm, the very opposite of customer care.  Additionally, we have started important dialogue with NCL about the issue of consumer privacy.  Privacy is an important topic for customer care and business, especially as we see the great opportunities to use Big Data to build meaningful, authentic relationships with consumers.  It is through these important partnerships like this that SOCAP can contribute to your internal conversations.   To that end, I invite you to participate with us at our 2013 Annual Conference (October 27-30 in Scottsdale, AZ) where we will convene a panel session with NCL leaders as well as industry representatives from Microsoft and Publishers Clearinghouse to discuss issues around consumer privacy and what we can learn from consumer organizations and industry working together.  This will be the first of many discussions on this important topic and we hope you will join us. I am proud of SOCAP’s history of supporting customer care experts who are the heart and soul of industry and who bring the voice of the consumer to decision makers.  I am also proud to share a bit of our history with the consumer groups like NCL who have fought to push for the transparency and openness that customer care provides.  As we look to the future, our partnership will ensure that SOCAP members remain at the forefront of pushing our profession and service to customers through listening and engagement.

NCL commends UMWA for historic settlement – National Consumers League

October 11, 2013

Contact: Ben Klein, NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323  benk@nclnet.org

Washington, DC — The National Consumers League, the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, congratulates its allies at the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), who have reached a global settlement with Peabody Energy and Patriot Coal. This hard-fought settlement will provide funding of more than $400 million to cover future health care benefits for retirees affected by the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal.

NCL has long been allied with the cause of American workers and has a close and abiding relationship with the UMWA. In 2012, NCL honored UMWA President Cecil Roberts with the Trumpeter Award, NCL’s highest honor.

The following statement can be attributed to NCL’s Sally Greenberg:

We are pleased for our UMWA brothers and sisters, as well as for all active American workers and retirees and are grateful for the indefatigable work of the UMWA to reach this global settlement with Peabody and Patriot,” said Sally Greenberg, the League’s Executive Director. “For months, UMWA has fought long and hard to find compromise, keep Patriot Coal operating, save jobs, and ensure the well-earned security of its retirees. We commend them for their success.

In April of this year, NCL joined one of many protests in St. Louis aimed at Patriot Coal’s bankruptcy that placed in jeopardy the pension and heath care benefits of UMWA retirees. NCL believes that Patriot was set up to fail when it was formed by Peabody with more liabilities than assets in 2007 and we have stood with our brothers and sisters at the UMWA to pressure legislators, Peabody, and Arch, to live up to the agreements they made with workers.

There’s no harder or more arduous job than going down into the mines for 12 hours a day. The work results in ailments from breathing in coal dust and Black Lung disease to injuries caused by the hard labor involved in mining. It’s only fair that these miners and their families get good lifetime health care and a decent retirement plan.


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 www.nclnet.org.