Consumer, Latino rights groups urge opposition to pyramid scheme promotion bill – National Consumers League

September 22, 2016

Contact: NCL Communications, Cindy Hoang,, (202) 207-2832

Advocates urge Congress to reject legislation that promotes fraud in the direct selling industry.

Washington, DC—At a briefing held today for members and staff of the U.S. House of Representatives, a national consumer advocacy group, two Latino organizations, and a leading marketing industry expert urged opposition to H.R. 5230, the so-called “Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act of 2016,” which would significantly weaken federal protections against get-rich-quick scams known to target immigrant communities and minorities.

“The Federal Trade Commission is the critical cop on the beat, protecting consumers from pyramid schemes posing as legitimate multi-level marketing or business opportunity scams,” said John Breyault, National Consumers League (NCL) Vice President, Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “Were this bill to become law, it would decimate the FTC’s ability to take action against all but the most blatant pyramid schemes, leaving millions of consumers vulnerable to fraud.”

Leaders from NCL, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and MANA, a national Latina organization, joined marketing professor William “Bill” Keep, Dean of The College of New Jersey’s School of Business, to discuss how many direct-selling companies profit from the illegal and unethical recruitment of vulnerable consumers rather than selling products to actual retail customers.

“H.R. 5230 would allow product based pyramid schemes to count the financial losses of the people they trick into the scheme as retail sales,” stated Brent Wilkes, LULAC National Executive Director. “It essentially legalizes pyramid schemes in which the recruitment of victims is the ultimate objective.”  [See LULAC’s post on The Hill .]

As shown by its action to shut down energy drink seller Vemma in September 2015 and its settlement with nutrition company Herbalife, the FTC’s ability to bring effective enforcement actions against pyramid scheme behavior is critical for consumer protection. H.R. 5230, introduced in May 2016 by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), would create an impossible standard for the FTC to meet in order to stop unfair and deceptive acts and practices by companies like Vemma and Herbalife.

“Pyramid schemes do great financial and social harm, create hundreds of thousands of victims in the United States annually, and fraudulently obtain many millions of dollars,” added Bill Keep.  “This legislation reverses decades of regulatory action and codifies permission for purchase and recruiting behaviors the courts have already identified as endemic to illegal pyramid schemes.

[See Bill Keep’s open letter to Congress on H.R. 5230.]

Supporters of H.R. 5230 claim that it would strengthen consumer protections.  However, in June 2016, five national consumer organizations raised significant concerns about the bill. Writing to House Energy & Commerce Committee leadership, the groups stated that H.R. 5230 would “provide numerous carve outs and exemptions for all but the most blatant pyramid schemes.”

Amy Hinojosa, Executive Director of MANA, said: “Latina entrepreneurs should be supported and protected under the law, not exploited by legislation that gives a free pass to pyramid schemes.” [See MANA’s op-ed.]


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

Five commonly asked consumer health insurance questions – National Consumers League

doctor_patient_crop.jpgWith the Affordable Care Act (ACA) becoming law in 2010, more Americans now have access to health care coverage than ever before. However, many consumers are still puzzled about how to select a plan, what services are covered, or why they need health insurance altogether. If health insurance talk leaves you disillusioned or just plain confused, don’t give up. Below, we answer five of the most commonly asked consumer questions about health insurance. 

Why do I need health insurance?

It is in your best interest to have some form of health insurance. Why, you ask?

  • To protect your health
    While you may seem perfectly healthy now, sudden injuries or illnesses can occur in an instant. Without health insurance, you could be faced with thousands of dollars in medical costs, which could pose a significant financial burden well into the future. With health insurance, you also have access to preventive services such as physicals, immunizations, and other screenings that can help prevent diseases and identify problems earlier when they are easier to treat.
  • It’s required by law  
    Under the ACA, individuals are required to have health insurance (unless you qualify for an exemption). If you choose not to enroll, you will have to pay a tax penalty. 

How do I know what type of insurance plan is right for me and my family?

When shopping for a health insurance plan, here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Premiums: Each health insurance plan has a monthly premium that you must pay to maintain your coverage.  
  • Coverage/access to providers: Every plan has a different set of services, prescription drugs, and doctors that it agrees to cover. Every plan also uses a specific network of hospitals and health care providers to facilitate your care. Before choosing a plan, check that the services and prescription drugs you need are covered, and ensure that your current providers are within your plan’s network to avoid incurring additional costs down the line. 
  • Out-of-pocket costs: Out-of-pocket costs are health care expenses  you must pay yourself and that are not reimbursed by your insurance plan.

 Copayment, deductibles, coinsurance … What’s the difference?

  • A copayment or “copay” is a fixed amount ($10, for example) that you pay each time you visit a health care provider or fill a prescription.
  • A deductible is the amount you are responsible for paying for covered medical services before your health insurance plan starts to pay for covered medical expenses.
  • Coinsurance is usually a percentage of a total bill that you are responsible for paying after you’ve paid your deductible (for example, you pay 20 percent and your plan pays 80 percent). 

What is a health savings account, and what can I use those funds for?                                                                         

Health savings accounts (HSA) allow you to deposit pre-tax funds to pay for qualified medical expenses. They are typically combined with qualifying high-deductible health plans (HDHP). While HSA funds cannot be used to pay for monthly premiums, HSA-eligible HDHPs are attractive to many consumers because the premiums are generally lower. HSA funds can be used as needed to pay for prescription drug costs and fees such as copays, deductibles, and coinsurance. Learn more about health savings accounts here.

If my insurance company denies coverage for a service, is there anything I can do? 

If your insurance company does not authorize payment for a medical service, you have the right to appeal that decision. Before sending an appeal, carefully review your health coverage and the correspondence from your insurance company. Have copies of your medical records, letters from your providers, and any other pertinent information that supports your appeal. If your plan still denies payment of your claim after your initial appeal, you may opt for an external review conducted by an independent third party.

To answer questions like these, the National Consumers League (NCL) and America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) are teaming up to provide consumers with even more helpful information about how to choose and use health insurance benefits.



Illinois AG Madigan to receive highest honor from oldest consumer watchdog org – National Consumers League

September 19, 2016

CA State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, FCC’s Karen Peltz Strauss to receive Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership awards

National Consumers League: Cindy Hoang (202) 207-2832,   
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan Contact: Eileen Boyce (312) 814-3118,  
California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan Contact: Shannan Martinez, (916) 651-4006,
Federal Communications Commission Contact: Will Wiquist, (202) 418-0509,

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, will honor Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan with its highest honor, the Trumpeter Award, on Wednesday, September 21 in Washington, DC. The award has honored leaders in the fight for consumer and workers’ rights for more than 40 years, and past honorees include: Senator Ted Kennedy, the award’s inaugural recipient, as well as Labor Secretaries Hilda Solis, Robert Reich, and Alexis Herman, Senators Carl Levin and Paul Wellstone, Delores Huerta of the United Farm Workers, and other honored consumer and labor leaders. Last year’s recipients were Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.

“The Trumpeter Award is NCL’s highest honor, given to leaders who have dedicated their lives to improving the rights of consumers and workers. Attorney General Lisa Madigan embodies these values, and her impressive career has had a measurable impact on the marketplace for consumers, in Illinois and across the nation,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “With this year’s Trumpeter Award, we recognize Madigan’s active leadership on important consumer protection issues such as student loan debt, predatory lending, data security, and more. She is an exceptional attorney general, whose aggressive advocacy for the consumers and workers of Illinois has set a trail for others to follow.”

“I’m honored to receive this recognition from the National Consumers League, which has been a champion for our nation’s consumers and workers for more than a century,” Madigan said. “I’m proud to partner with NCL to protect and advocate for consumers in Illinois and throughout the country.”

Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award 

In addition to the Trumpeter Award, NCL will the honor two recipients of this year’s Florence Kelley Consumer Leadership Award, which was named after an early leader of NCL: Dr. Richard Pan, California State Senator, and Karen Peltz Strauss, Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission.

“Dr. Pan is a passionate advocate for his patients and constituents, a hero to those fighting misinformation about vaccination efficacy and risk, and an ally in our own work to ensure that consumers get access to safe, effective medicines,” said Karin Bolte, NCL health policy director. NCL has worked with Dr. Pan via its Script Your Future medication adherence program and are allies in the fight to promote vaccinations.

“It is an incredible honor to be recognized by the National Consumers League, which has advocated for American consumers since 1899,” said Dr. Richard Pan, California State Senator representing the Sacramento Region. “Consumers need accurate guidance on medications that can improve their health, especially vaccines which benefit both patients and the public. NCL has been a strong partner as we strive to combat misinformation about vaccines.”

NCL will honor Karen Peltz Strauss for her leadership on access for those with disabilities.

“As one of the country’s premier disability rights attorneys for more than three decades, Strauss has valiantly led efforts to ensure persons with disabilities have access to our country’s communications programming, services, and equipment,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president, public policy, telecommunications and fraud.

“The FCC is proud of the essential role we play – and our continued success – in addressing communications accessibility issues. Under Chairman Wheeler, we have made tremendous headway in such areas as closed captioning, video description, accessible broadband and wireless communications, and emergency access. And because today’s technology allows us to address so many of these issues in ways never before considered, for the first time we can take advantage of new innovations, such as real-time text, to fully integrate access by people with disabilities into our shared public communications systems.  I thank the League for its support on this important work,” said Peltz Strauss.

The event will feature a reception, dinner, and speaking appearances by NCL leadership and the honorees, as well as former Trumpeter recipient and Washington Post syndicated columnist Michelle Singletary, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray, and S. Floyd Mori, President and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.


What: National Consumers League’s 2016 Trumpeter Awards
When: Wednesday, September 21, 2016 – 7 pm Dinner and Presentation of Awards
Where: Omni Shoreham Hotel, 2500 Calvert Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008

Members of the media are welcome to attend this event but must RSVP. For questions or to RSVP: Call Cindy Hoang, (202) 207-2832 or Carol McKay, (724) 799-5392.


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 

Where are the headlines that matter most to Americans? – National Consumers League

SG-headshot.jpg“It’s the economy, stupid!” Those four words allegedly won Bill Clinton the Oval Office in 1992 when the U.S. was going through a recession and incumbent President George Bush was facing high unpopularity numbers. “It’s the economy, stupid” was coined by political guru James Carville and is echoing in my ears right now as we read the wildly encouraging headlines this morning showing that wages and living standards are increasing and hunger and poverty dropping in the United States. 

So why aren’t the newscasters talking about this wonderful news nonstop? Well, they aren’t. This morning the lead story on supposedly liberal NPR was “Bayer is buying chemical giant Monsanto.” I’ve been watching CNN headlines as I work at my desk and I haven’t seen a single discussion of this breaking economic news. Instead, there’s been nonstop coverage of whether Donald Trump will release his medical records to Dr. Oz, Hillary Clinton’s return to the campaign trail after her bout of pneumonia and her supposed “penchant for secrecy,”; they’ve covered Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, the agony of defeat of past presidents. Nada, rien, nothing on the economy.

Why? This economic news is really quite stunning. And according to The New York Times, these numbers represent:

  • The largest economic gains in a generation
  • Poverty fell, health insurance coverage spread (Thank you Obamacare) and  incomes rose “sharply” and for households on every rung of the economic ladder, ending years of stagnation

So where are the headlines, the panels, the discussions of what really matters for average Americans?

The only conclusion I can reach is that the media is conflicted. They are not in the business of reporting important news because that doesn’t get them headlines. Instead, the incessant discussion about Trump’s latest outrage and Clinton’s emails and illness. Sadly, they have a profit motive in drawing more viewers so they talk about stuff that isn’t nearly as important as these stunning economic gains. But NCL calls on Americans to celebrate this most welcome progress–the middle class needs to grow for this nation to thrive. And our newspapers, radio stations, TV, and cable need to give this the attention it rightly deserves.

Okay, more details on the good economic news:

  • The number of Americans without health care insurance fell to lowest point since the U.S. has been keeping data
  • 3 ½ million were lifted out of poverty
  • Pay gap between men and women shrank to its lowest level in history (women now make 80 percent of what men make)
  • Employers added 3 million jobs and unemployment fell to 5%
  • Hourly pay increased by 2 percent adjusted for inflation
  • Real household incomes rose 7.9 percent
  • Poverty rates fell most sharply for African American and Hispanic households

NCL applauds Congressional action to crack down on ticket bots – National Consumers League

September 13, 2016

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, today applauded recent Congressional action to fix the rigged live event ticketing industry.  Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 5104, the Better On-line Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act of 2016. Today, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee held a hearing to consider a similar bill, S. 3183.  

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, the Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud:

“Bipartisan support for the BOTS Act in both houses of Congress shows that Washington is serious about promoting a fair ticketing marketplace for all consumers.  Although a comprehensive solution to fixing the rigged live event ticketing industry will only come with increased transparency — such as Congressman Bill Pascrell’s BOSS Act —  the BOTS Act is an important first step. This bill would empower the Federal Trade Commission or state attorneys general to crack down on ticket-buying “bot” operators that jump the line and scoop up thousands of tickets for resale to the highest bidder. Such activity is blatantly anti-fan and we are proud to support a solution that puts a halt to it.”


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


National student financial literacy competition opens 2016-17 season – National Consumers League

September 12, 2016

Contact: NCL Communications, Cindy Hoang,, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC–Today marks the official launch of the 23rd season of LifeSmarts, with a new competition going live at the online home of the program, LifeSmarts, a program of the National Consumers League (NCL), is a national scholarship competition and educational program for middle-school and high-school students that tests knowledge of real-life consumer issues and aims to create a future generation of savvy-consumer adults.

“We are very excited to launch our 23rd season of LifeSmarts,” said national Program Director Lisa Hertzberg. “LifeSmarts gives students the skills they need to succeed as adults. We see students gain knowledge, confidence, leadership skills, and teamwork. The competition is a lot of fun, and the impact of LifeSmarts is lifelong.”

LifeSmarts focuses on five main content areas: consumer rights and responsibilities, personal finance, technology, health and safety, and the environment. Students are quizzed on their knowledge of these subject areas during online competition. Top-performing teams then advance to statewide competitions, and state champion teams advance to the national championship held each year in a different American city. The 2017 National LifeSmarts Championship will take place April 21-24, in Pittsburgh, PA. Winning teams receive scholarships and other prizes.

Last year, students answered more than 3 million consumer questions about credit reports, recycling, nutrition, social media, state lemon laws, and everything in between. By being consumer savvy and quick on the buzzers, the LifeSmarts team from Dallas High School in Dallas, PA took home top honors last April at the 22nd national event in Denver.

In addition to state and national competitions, LifeSmarts recognition and awards occur throughout the program year:

  • Teams of students vie for cash prizes in the online TeamSmarts quiz, which focuses on a specific LifeSmarts content area each month.
  • Six $1,000 scholarships will be awarded this winter to winning LifeSmarts students who become Safety Smart Ambassadors, using the joint UL and LifeSmarts program to present safety messages to younger children in their communities.
  • Partnering with FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America), LifeSmarts offers special competitive events for student members of both student leadership organizations.

“We are excited to continue to grow the LifeSmarts program into new states and regions, to continue to educate students about financial literacy and being responsible consumers, and to create a new generation of savvy, market-ready consumers and workers,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “Too often traditional high school curriculum fails to teach students vital information that will be crucial once students go to college, get their first job, or move out of their parents’ house.”

In addition to hosting the official LifeSmarts competition, provides resources for teachers to supplement existing lesson plans. These include daily quizzes, educational videos, social media competitions, focused study guides, and scholarship opportunities. LifeSmarts lessons closely align with courses taught in family and consumer sciences, business, technology, health, and vocational education. Math and English teachers have also had success with LifeSmarts, as have homeschool and community educators.

Major LifeSmarts contributors include: Experian, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Underwriters Laboratories, Western Union, LifeLock, Comcast NBC Universal, Intuit, American Express Company, and others. Visit for more information. LifeSmarts: Learn it. Live it.


About the National Consumers League and LifeSmarts

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

LifeSmarts is a program of the National Consumers League. State coordinators run the programs on a volunteer basis. For more information, visit:, email, or call the National Consumers League’s communications department at 202-835-3323.