Jeanette Contreras portrait

2021 rings in new health care protections for consumers

By NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras

Surprise medical bills occur when patients unknowingly receive care from a provider who is not in their health insurance plan’s network. As the first COVID-19 vaccinations are administered, Congress has passed landmark legislation to ensure consumers needn’t worry about surprise medical bills from emergency medical services.

The passage of this legislation couldn’t come soon enough, as more than 476,000 Americans hospitalized with the coronavirus have already incurred exorbitant medical debt from COVID-19 treatment. Now, thankfully, 2020 will come to a close with renewed optimism in the American health care system.

This new law will also protect consumers from surprise billing from out-of-network ambulance and air ambulance trips, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Most patients are conscientious consumers, careful to find a doctor that accepts their insurance before making an appointment. However, in the case of an emergency, a patient faces the possibility of receiving care from an out-of-network doctor in an out-of-network hospital.

As Congress debated legislative fixes to surprise billing, the Administration showed political will toward finding a solution with the issuance of Executive Order 13877, Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First, which includes principles on surprise billing. In a July 2020 report addressing surprise billing, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) further urged Congress to act, recognizing that 41 percent of insured adults nationwide were surprised by a medical bill in the past two years.

Following Executive Order 13877, HHS finalized a set of regulations to address price transparency for consumers. The first rule set to take effect on January 1, 2021, requires hospitals to publicly list standard charges for the items and services that they provide. The second rule, set to take effect in 2022, demands similar transparency from most health plans and issuers of health insurance coverage. These regulations offer consumers more control over their health care spending and better information as they shop and compare health coverage options for themselves and their families.

The new HHS regulations, coupled with the surprise billing legislation, amount to the greatest consumer protections in America’s health care system since the Affordable Care Act. Consumers with health insurance should not have to worry about surprise medical bills—especially during a pandemic. The health care system will be a little more consumer-friendly in 2021, which is good news for all of us.

NCL testified before CDC committee on COVID-19 vaccine recommendations

For immediate release: December 22, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) testified before the Centers for Disease Control and Disease Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) this weekend on the equitable distribution of the Moderna vaccine and recommendations for consumer education on vaccine safety. In its testimony, NCL applauds the transparency and access afforded to the public throughout the COVID-19 vaccine approval process.

Equitable distribution:

NCL is encouraged that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the Moderna vaccine and that the U.S. government will lead distribution efforts. Due to its ease of transport and storage, the Moderna vaccine stands to readily ship to rural and hard to reach communities. NCL calls on federal health officials at the helm of distribution to facilitate access to the Moderna vaccine to medically underserved areas.

Safety and efficacy:

NCL expressed its trust in the FDA and CDC’s robust inter-agency collaboration to continue ongoing, post-market surveillance of adverse events among recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine and to inform consumers of any additional safety recommendations. NCL urged the CDC to educate consumers about potential reactions and side effects, as this transparency will further encourage the compliance necessary to achieve herd immunity. The vaccine is expected to induce flu-like symptoms after the initial dose and this may deter some patients from getting their second dose if they aren’t warned about what to anticipate.

Vaccine adherence:

NCL encouraged the CDC to conduct culturally competent and inclusive public messaging about vaccine safety to ensure that communities of color and persons with limited English proficiency are informed and feel empowered in their decisions to vaccinate. Adding to the complexity of administering the vaccine, public health officials will need to ensure the completion of two doses in a series. This stands to create additional challenges because evidence has shown that when a vaccine involves multiple doses, nearly 50 percent of patients fail to return for a second dose.

Equitable allocation:

NCL applauds ACIP’s recommendations to prioritize vaccinations for health care workers and long-term care facility residents in Phase 1a. Now that there are two approved vaccines, NCL calls on ACIP to prioritize recommendations to vaccinate the approximately 87 million non-healthcare essential workers unable to work from home—such as bus drivers and grocery workers—who are at higher risk of exposure. Racial and ethnic minorities make up more than 40 percent of the essential workforce and are the backbone of many essential industries. The pandemic has illustrated that low-income minority communities experience more severe COVID-related illness requiring hospitalization and are at higher risk for death.

Persons who recovered from COVID-19:

Lastly, over 18 million individuals in the U.S. have been infected with the coronavirus. It is expected that individuals who recover will acquire some natural immunity to COVID-19. Individuals who recover from the coronavirus want to know if they are protected from reinfection and for how long. We call on the CDC to expedite developing vaccine recommendations for persons who’ve recovered from COVID-19.

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.

Is your honey real?

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners. And I’m not alone. The global demand for honey is extremely high with the market size value in 2020 at 9.79 billion. But are we buying the authentic thing?

This high demand has resulted in market fraud and adulteration. Insider has stated that honey is the third-most-faked food in the world behind milk and olive oil. Assessing the quality of honey can be difficult because of the production process or adulteration with cane sugar or other ingredients.

In the United States, 400 million pounds of honey ends up in our food every year. Most of it is adulterated product from China. Manufacturers either dilute real honey by adding syrups derived from plants or they chemically modify the sugars in those syrups so they look like real honey. Honey consumers in the U.S., and across the globe, are being duped and need to be made more aware of how to tell if the honey they purchased is real or fake.

Here are several ways to spot fakes:

  1. Crystallization – real honey crystallizes over a period of time once kept in a cool dark place. Adulterated honey will always retain the same consistency.
  2. Water test – drop a teaspoon of honey in water. If the honey is pure, it will not easily mix with water but will become slightly thicker in texture.
  3. Microwave test/heat test – place a bowl of honey in the microwave and heat it for a minute. If it caramelizes, then it is real honey. If it bubbles, it is not.
  4. Paper test – put 2 teaspoons of honey on a plate and put paper on it. If the paper soaks the honey, then it is adulterated.

As the demand for honey increases, one would expect that the price of honey would increase. However, the opposite has occurred since the supply of adulterated honey has increased and driven global honey prices down. This has resulted in beekeepers barely being able to sell their honey for a profit.

Another major issue that adulterated honey causes is the threat to pollination and our food systems. Vice highlights that bees help produce 90 commercially-grown crops in the U.S. and have brought in over $24 billion to the economy. Without beekeepers, we would have a failed food system.

Consumers should seek out raw, organic, unadulterated honey that will not have negative impacts on our beekeepers, our crop, and our economy. If you buy a plant-based burger, you would like to know the nutritional value and ingredients of the product and it should be the same for honey or any product that we consume.

I would recommend that each consumer watch the Netflix documentary Rotten. The episode called “Lawyers, Guns and Honey” shows the reasons behind low production of authentic honey and the impact of the dwindling bee population on our environment.

NCL statement on White House pressure to approve COVID-19 vaccine

For immediate release: December 11, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – In just a matter of days, we could potentially have an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine ready for rollout. Now more than ever, the public needs to see the evidence of a transparent and deliberate process to ensure the safety of a vaccine. NCL has actively participated in the vaccine approval process, testifying before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) vaccine advisory committees to ensure that the nation’s most vulnerable consumers are considered at each step of the approval process. The race to a vaccine is a critical one, consumers should not be discouraged by the careful deliberation of the States’ vaccine approval process, but should instead be encouraged that the U.S. is following deliberate, well-established protocol to vet and review the data. 

NCL is amongst the stakeholder groups advocating for increased scrutiny of the data, particularly citing reports from the U.K. about adverse reactions to the Pfizer vaccine among people with severe allergies. We expect that the FDA will be aware of these concerns and call on the agency to perform ongoing post-market surveillance to ensure public safety. Consumers should rely on continuous guidance regarding potential adverse events, as this will be critical to ensuring vaccine confidence. 

NCL has continually recognized the integrity of the career-scientists at the FDA who are entrusted with ensuring the safety of the U.S. drug supply and applaud their demonstrated commitment to fostering public trust throughout the COVID-19 vaccine development, evaluation, and approval processWe have great confidence in the FDA’s rigorous approval methods and trust that the agency will issue an Emergency Use Authorization only after careful consideration of the available safety and efficacy data.

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.

NCL testified before FDA committee meeting on Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

For immediate release: December 11, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) testified before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) this week regarding the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.

“As the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, NCL has been encouraged by the honesty, transparency, and access afforded to the public during this critical time.” NCL commended the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other public health entities for their commitment to fostering public trust throughout the COVID-19 vaccine development and approval process and thanked the committee for the opportunity to speak.

In its testimony, NCL noted that there has never been a more critical time for consumers to have confidence in the FDA.

Emergency Use Authorization (EUA):

The FDA has undergone scrutiny from the scientific community for prematurely issuing EUAs for COVID-19 therapeutics. NCL is aware that developing a vaccine for COVID-19 is a time-sensitive priority and appreciates that the FDA recognizes that an EUA is not intended to replace long-term randomized clinical trials data associated with full FDA approval. We are encouraged by data reporting a consistent vaccine efficacy rate of 95 percent across age, gender, race, and ethnicity demographics and look forward to seeing more guidance around the vaccine, as the trial continues to collect safety and efficacy data.

Safety and Effectiveness:

NCL noted the public’s growing trust in the FDA’s rigorous vaccine approval process and called on the agency to perform ongoing post-market surveillance. Such surveillance performed in the United Kingdom found that the vaccine may be unsafe for individuals with severe allergies. Consumers will rely on ongoing guidance from public health agencies regarding any potential adverse events from the vaccine and expect that the FDA will be aware of these concerns.

Innovative Vaccine Delivery Systems:

Additionally, ensuring innovative vaccine delivery methods, such as including oral or nasal options, could address geographical access issues, diverse health needs, and increase uptake overall.

Diversity in Clinical Trials:

We applaud Pfizer’s efforts to ensure diversity in their COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. NCL requests that the FDA continue to prioritize vaccine clinical trial data that reflects diversity, as people of color will need to have confidence in the vaccine’s efficacy. This will affect the overall uptake of the vaccine.

The development of a COVID-19 vaccine in such a short time frame is a huge scientific feat, made possible through robust collaboration between private and public entities. NCL will continue to support the FDA and CDC in efforts to release a COVID-19 vaccine safely and expeditiously.

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.

Giving Tuesday is Dec. 1

#GivingTuesday 2020

Giving Tuesday is Dec. 1

Happy #GivingTuesday

Giving Tuesday is taking place on December 1, 2020. NCL is participating in this global movement of generosity, designed to unleash the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world. #GivingTuesday is an opportunity for us to stand together in unity.

With the election behind us, and a new administration on the way, we have an opportunity to reflect upon priorities and set new goals.

NCL continues to collaborate with our fellow advocates to update our regulators on consumer and worker priorities. Have you thought about your priorities and how you will give back? Everyone can have an impact on #GivingTuesday! Join NCL on December 1 by pledging your time, skills, voice, and dollars to support our work.

When we join forces, we can make our voices heard and rise to the challenge of Giving Tuesday!

Help us finish 2020 strong

2020 has been an exceptionally challenging year and, as a result, our fundraising efforts have taken a hit. Our goal is to finish strong in 2020 by closing this gap. Every contribution makes it possible for NCL to educate more consumers, and make our case to changemakers who can implement critical consumer protections.

We are grateful to our committed supporters and partners who stand with us for fairness and safety in the marketplace and workplace.

Together we can stand up for fairness and safety in the marketplace and workplace and make this #GivingTuesday the most successful ever.

National Consumers League statement on DOT’s Unfair and Deceptive Practices Rule

For immediate release: November 30, 2020

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC –The National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, is deeply disappointed at the Department of Transportation’s decision late Friday to finalize its Rule on Defining Unfair or Deceptive Practices. The rulemaking, begun at the behest of the airlines’ biggest lobbying group, was opposed by NCL and a coalition of eight other consumer groups, five members of Congress, two FTC commissioners, and nearly 200 individual consumers.

The following statement is attributable to John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud:

“The DOT’s decision, at the height of a pandemic, to kneecap its ability to protect millions of travelers from airline industry abuses is deeply disappointing. That the Department decided to do so on the Friday after Thanksgiving highlights that they hope this terrible decision will be forgotten by Monday. It should be clear to every member of the flying public that current DOT leadership is focused squarely on doing the airline industry’s bidding between now and January 20. It will be incumbent on the next Administration to undo this Rule, along with so many other anti-consumer actions taken over the past four years.”

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.

Happy #NationalRecyclingDay!

November 15, 2020 is National Recycling Day. Did you know Americans send 64 tons of waste to landfills during their lifetime? That’s 246 million tons of waste each year. National Recycling Day aims to encourage Americans to purchase recycled products and recycle more, and we are doing our part to educate consumers about how they can get involved. Check out our new infographic!

5 tips to make you a savvy recycler and sustainable shopper

Earlier this fall NCL released a report on the rampant confusion among consumers about food and beverage packaging recyclability, and is today calling for changes to sustainability in food and beverage packaging for brands, retailers, and policymakers. The report explores the recycling enterprise in the United States, marketing and labeling practices, and packaging options that contribute to sustainability—and finds that most consumers are in the dark when it comes to the reality of the state of recycling in the United States.

“Consumers have no idea what is recyclable and what isn’t,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of NCL. “More effective and transparent labeling is necessary to advance sustainability goals for the benefit of consumers and the environment.”

Read the report (PDF): Examining Sustainability, Consumer Choice, and Confusion in Food and Beverage Packaging

For patients’ safety, it’s time Congress updated rules governing the $10 billion contact lens industry

Contact lenses have come a long way since they were first introduced around 70 years ago.  Today, roughly 45 million Americans rely on them for safe, affordable vision correction each year.  But along the way, federal regulation of the contact lens market has not kept pace with the changing way Americans purchase and rely on these medical devices.  The result is that thousands of American consumers are at risk each year of adverse eye health outcomes including keratitis, corneal scarring, corneal ulcers, and infection.

Under federal law, online contact lens retailers do not require patients to provide their prescriptions before ordering contact lenses.  Patients can simply tell the retailer the lenses the doctor prescribed for them and the retailer then must verify the prescription with the prescribing doctor.  As required by the Federal Trade Commission’s Contact Lens Rule (“Rule”), contact lens-prescribing doctors have eight hours to respond to an online sellers’ verification communication before the contact lenses are sent to patients. If they don’t respond, the online contact lens seller can ship the products, regardless of the fact that prescription accuracy hasn’t yet been verified. Since the Rule was implemented in the mid-1990s, before the adoption of email, many sellers used automated telephone calls, or so-called “robocalls,” to fulfill the verification requirement of the Rule.

These automated robocalls use computer-generated voices.  They are often inaudible.  They frequently contain incomplete patient information, and, in practice, these robocalls are sent via computer at all hours of the day and night without noting any call back number to correct errors. This cumbersome process makes it nearly impossible for eye doctors to properly verify contact lens prescriptions.  In fact, this prescription verification system can lead to the shipment of incorrect contact lenses to patients with potentially dangerous consequences for patient vision health and safety.

As many consumers can attest from being bombarded with marketing robocalls, making sense of them is a nightmare. Using robocalls to verify important patient information, for the reasons previously outlined, is unsafe.

Current technology is capable of far better than this robocall system, especially due to the various forms of electronic communication we use today. These technologies can produce receipts, notify consumers of product shipments, and share product alerts and updates. Electronic communication is far more reliable and effective because it’s inexpensive, easy to understand, accessible.  It also creates a verifiable paper trail.  Therefore, we believe sellers of contact lenses should be required to use email or other forms of electronic communication, not automated robocalls, to keep consumers safe.

The FTC’s revised Contact Lens Rule also adds a cumbersome paperwork requirement that consumers and eye doctors need to complete at the end of a contact lens exam and fitting. Under this rule, prescribers must collect and store a so-called signed acknowledgment form in which a patient verifies that they received a copy of their prescription, as is already required under federal law.

That’s all well and good, but we believe a far better system to inform contact lens patients of their rights would be to require prescribers to post a sign in their offices, which is clear and conspicuous, noting that patients have a right to a copy of their contact lens prescription at the completion of their contact lens fitting. This type of posted signage is already mandatory in California, seems to be working well there, and we think it should be emulated on the federal level.

That’s a better solution because like many other forms consumers and patients are asked to sign, consumers probably won’t take time to read the form and thus won’t understand what they are signing; this is an ineffective exercise, in our view, and will result in more paperwork without necessarily ensuring patients have access to their prescriptions as the law intends.

In short, it’s time for Congress to update the rules governing this important, $10 billion industry.  It should start by requiring the use of the latest technologies—not robocalls—to get consumers the information they need about their eye prescriptions and that those prescriptions are verified as accurate by their eye professionals.

Protecting Nevadans from COVID-19 Scams: A Virtual Panel Event with NV Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and Fraud Experts

Media contact: National Consumers League – Carol McKay, carolm@nclnet.org, (412) 945-3242 or Taun Sterling, tauns@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC – This Thursday, October 22, the National Consumers League (NCL), America’s pioneering consumer and worker advocacy organization, will host a virtual fireside chat with Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford and a panel of consumer protection experts on the growing threat of scams linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. The consumer watchdog organization aims to raise awareness in Nevada about the risk of COVID-19 related fraud and arm consumers with information they can use to spot and avoid these scams.

Since the pandemic began, NCL, which operates the website Fraud.org, has seen an uptick in complaints about a variety of scams preying on increasingly vulnerable, financially strapped, and fearful consumers. Scammers running phishing schemes, stimulus check fraud, unemployment benefits scams, and immigration scams have all been working overtime to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to defraud consumers. The experts at NCL have watched these scams emerge, forecast they will continue to increase, and are eager to work with AG Ford to get the word out about how Nevadans can protect themselves.

WHAT

Virtual “fireside chat” featuring Nevada AG Aaron D. Ford and NCL, followed by a panel discussion on resources and tips to avoid COVID-19 fraud and scams.

WHEN

Thursday, October 22, 2020
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time

WHO

Nevada Attorney General Aaron D. Ford
John Breyault, Vice President, National Consumers League

State Senator Dallas Harris, Consumer Rights Attorney, Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada
Maria Moore, State Director, AARP Nevada
Assemblyman Edgar Flores, Immigration, Family, and Personal Injury, Gonzalez & Flores Law

HOW TO WATCH

YouTube Live link will be provided following registration via Eventbrite.

*** Members of the media are welcome to attend but must RSVP to Carol McKay, National Consumers League, carolm@nclnet.org. If you are unable to attend, a recording of the interview and panel can be provided upon request after the event concludes ***

###

About the National Consumers League (NCL)

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.