Antimicrobial Resistance is a major looming threat to global health systems

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that threats to our health care system can change lives, both in our communities and around the world. We have learned the value of preparedness and that the ability to respond to massive, impactful events is not easy or without compromise. Thankfully, as summer nears, we see that gradually, countries around the world are in a much better place, thanks to access to vaccines and greater knowledge of how to diagnose and care for patients.

Certainly, we can hope that lessons learned from our recent experience with the COVID-19 pandemic will put us in a better position to identify and address a health issue before it develops to pandemic proportions. But I would urge us to remain vigilant. There are other threats to our health care system that exist and deserve attention…now. One major threat to world health delivery systems is about to have its moment: Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR).

Antimicrobials, which include antibiotics, are critical to maintaining our health. Chances are, in the course of the year, someone in your family will take an antibiotic for an ear infection, an abscessed tooth, a hip replacement, organ transplant, or cancer treatment. In recent years, we have learned that taking too many antibiotics can lead to resistance and therefore a loss of effectiveness. This is true, but it’s important to note that the antimicrobials used to treat resistant infections are much more intense and used in more extreme circumstances than the antibiotics most of us are familiar with.

Antimicrobials fight bacteria and other causes of serious infection and are often the last line of defense against fatal infection. Antimicrobial resistance needs to be taken seriously. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately three million Americans suffer from AMR infections each year with close to 50,000 deaths annually. Other estimates have placed annual deaths from AMR at 162,000, which makes AMR the third leading cause of death in the U.S. today. Surprised?

Here’s what surprised me: there has only been one new class of antibiotics approved in OVER 30 YEARS. Think about that. We have seen game-changing progress in medicine and treatments for countless diseases and conditions, but not AMR. And then think about how many causes of infection have become resistant to the tools we have to fight them.

AMR is a complex problem that’s not going to be easily solved. It takes years and years and billions of dollars to develop a molecule to fight AMR. Today we are faced with a slim menu of therapeutic options now and we find ourselves years away from expanding those options. I fear that AMR may be our next worldwide health emergency and I am not alone: The World Health Organization (WHO) lists AMR as one of the top ten health threats today. Sadly, it’s not a matter of “if”…but rather “when”.

Medicines don’t work forever. With the limited number of effective antimicrobials, we are looking straight down the barrel of the next health emergency. It’s difficult to even contemplate pivoting from all that we have been through with COVID to a new focus on something else equally frightening, but history tells us that being unprepared comes at a heavy cost. And being prepared is exactly what we need to do.

Consumers face an unfair disadvantage at the pharmacy counter

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Everywhere we turn these days, we find ourselves wondering if we are getting a fair deal. Americans continue to suffer the economic consequences of a year-long global health pandemic, and many of us are trying to stick to the essentials and stretch our dollars where we can. As COVID-19 has reminded us, there aren’t many issues families face that are more significant than access to health care.

Families can’t go without essential prescriptions and often wonder why the price seems to go up each time they go for a refill. In fact, we are likely paying more than necessary at the pharmacy counter, but we don’t often know — or even think to ask — why.

A variety of factors drive drug costs, some of which are obvious: the cost of research and development, distributing the product, the pharmacies’ profits – but there is one far less known cause of price increases: PBMs, short for pharmacy benefit managers.

Most people have never heard of PBMs, and PBMs like it that way. They are billion-dollar companies that control more than 80 percent of the prescription drug formularies, (formularies are the lists of drugs that a health plan allows its members to access) — in the United States.

Because of their outsized role, too often PBMs determine how much consumers, businesses, government agencies, and others pay for medicines. As originally conceived, PBMs were meant to help ensure that patients get a fair deal by:

  • working with manufacturers to ensure rebates (or savings) for medications
  • working with insurance companies to determine which medications are covered
  • working with pharmacies to set the price points and help reimburse pharmacies for dispensing prescriptions.

In theory, PBMs should be lowering costs for everyone. However, as they have evolved and grown, they’ve become greedy and self-serving entities, scooping up discounts for themselves and throwing consumers under the bus. All the while, their profits continue to soar as they are all among the top Fortune 500 companies.

Sadly, PBMs have also found ways to manipulate the system and put their own profits first.

Insulin is a prime example. Diabetes patients who need their medication to survive are increasingly left with fewer options for treatment. When PBMs get involved, consumer costs increase.

One recent analysis found that the total value of rebates and discounts for insulin on an annual basis amounts to more than $5,000 per patient. Another report explained that the net price on one insulin product — what the company earns as revenue — declined by 53 percent since 2012, while the list price increased 141 percent. As the WSJ story explains, this is in part due to PBM middlemen meddling. In order to ensure formulary positions (which PBMs control), companies are paying more and more each year.

Consumers don’t know where high drug prices come from and they shouldn’t have to — the system needs to deliver affordable, accessible, safe and effective medications without any entities taking an unfair or hidden profit. The stakes are too high as we look ahead to the health challenges that millions face with the Covid pandemic.

NCL joins with many other groups, including America’s Agenda, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, HMC Healthworks, Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, National Community Pharmacists Association, National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, Diabetes Leadership Council, and Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition in helping to expose hidden, and frankly, indefensible profits being directed to the coffers of PBMs — money that should be redirected to bring drug prices down for patients and consumers.

Let’s all ask hard questions about PBMs’ role in our healthcare system and whether we can’t be using the profits they are taking to lower drug costs. Share this story with others. Talk with your friends and family. Ask your local pharmacist questions.

Consumers – not PBMs — should come first at the pharmacy counter. Stay tuned for more from us on this, and let’s continue the conversation.

Days before crucial deadline, NCL joins 300+ groups call for Congress to rescind ‘Fake Lender’ rule that facilitates predatory loan schemes

Only a majority vote in Congress would be needed to overturn rule that helps triple-digit interest rate loans evade state and voter-approved interest rate caps and spread across the country

March 23, 2021

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

Washington, DC—With just a few days left before a crucial deadline, the National Consumers League (NCL) joined a broad coalition of 324 organizations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia calling for Congress to eliminate a Trump-era regulation that took effect in December and could “unleash predatory lending in all 50 states.” The rushed “fake lender” rule, which was issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), would facilitate “rent-a-bank” schemes whereby predatory lenders launder their loans through a few rogue banks, which are exempt from state interest rate caps, through a superficial partnership meant to evade critical predatory lending rules. Linked here and included at bottom is the coalition’s letter to Congress.

“States across the country have passed laws to protect their citizens from predatory lending. This harmful rule undoes that progress,” said Sarah Robinson, Public Policy Manager at the National Consumers League.  “We call on Congress to protect consumers from these types of predatory loans that target vulnerable communities and seek to trap borrowers in a cycle of debt.”

As was done more than a dozen times under President Trump, this Congress could use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rescind recently finalized regulations, including the OCC’s “fake lender” rule, with just a majority vote in both chambers, limited debate, no filibuster, and the president’s signature. However, to be considered, there is a strict deadline for CRA resolutions to be introduced, estimated to be April 4. With spring recess coming up, the practical deadline is likely the end of this week. A CRA of the OCC “fake lender” rule has not yet been introduced. These resolutions also must be voted upon by a certain date, currently estimated for sometime between May 10 and May 21.

The coalition of signatories to the letter consists of 325 groups, including civil rights, community, consumer, faith, housing, labor, legal services, senior rights, small business, student lending, and veterans organizations representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The letter states that “[t]he rule replaces the longstanding ‘true lender’ anti-evasion doctrine with a ‘fake lender’ rule that allows lenders charging rates of 179 percent or higher to evade state and voter-approved interest rate caps merely by putting a bank’s name on the paperwork – just as payday lenders were doing in the early 2000s.”

The groups warn, “These lenders charge triple-digit interest rates, target the financially vulnerable and communities of color, and trap consumers in devastating cycles of debt…. Currently, there are only a few of these rogue, predatory lenders, but they will spread to all 50 states if the OCC rule is not overturned.”

A 2-pager explanation of the “fake lender” rule is here.

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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.
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National Consumers League applauds House passage of American Rescue Plan

March 10, 2021
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) applauds the House of Representatives’ action to approve President Joe Biden’s relief package, known as the American Rescue Plan.

“The American Rescue Plan is a monumental relief package and critical antipoverty measure that will give desperately needed support to average Americans who have been devastated by COVID-19, including sending out $1,400 checks and funding states’ efforts to streamline and speed up vaccine distribution. This is a much-needed measure, and we are grateful to the Administration and Congress for their round-the-clock work in getting this essential support into the pockets of hard working Americans,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg.

With the 220-211 House vote, the bill will go to the President’s desk for signature. NCL applauded specific measures included in the legislation:

  • $300 federal boost to weekly jobless payments and extension of two key pandemic unemployment benefits programs through September 6.
  • Expansion of the child tax credit to up to $3,600 per child and $3,000 for each child under age 18 . Currently, families can receive a credit of up to $2,000 per child under age 17.
  • The first $10,200 worth of benefits payments are tax-free for households with annual incomes less than $150,000.
  • The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to freelancers, gig workers, and independent contractors.
  • The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which increases the duration of payments for those in the traditional state unemployment system.
  • $350 billion in relief to states, local governments, territories. and tribes.
  • $10 billion Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund.
  • 15 percent increase in food stamp benefits through September (it was previously set to expire at the end of June).
  • $880 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, to help increase participation and temporarily improve benefits, among other measures.
  • $30 billion to help renters and landlords weather economic losses.

“It’s a great relief that passage of the bill comes ahead of a Sunday deadline, when a federal boost to unemployment benefits was set to expire,” said Greenberg.

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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.
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NCL encourages HHS nominee Becerra to continue efforts to help lower consumer out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy counter

March 1, 2021
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 is encouraging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee Xavier Becerra to continue critical efforts to help drive down consumer out-of-pocket costs of medicines at the pharmacy counter.

Last week, Becerra testified before the Senate HELP Committee as his confirmation hearings were underway. If confirmed, Becerra would play a critical role in helping consumers pay no more than necessary for the medications they need by addressing the role pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) play in determining what consumers pay and why.

NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg weighed in with the following statement:

“PBMs have repeatedly promised to lower costs for patients, but unfortunately we’ve not seen this in action. When it comes to prescription drug access and affordability, we should all be on the side of consumers, rather than middlemen corporations. The challenges posed by COVID-19 serve as a daily reminder of the importance of standing up for individuals and families that don’t have the knowledge or patience to understand why they’re subjected to PBM schemes. If confirmed, Attorney General Becerra will have the opportunity to continue working on this issue and helping to ensure PBMs uphold their promise to consumers. Everyone in the health care system needs to work to reduce costs for consumers, who are burdened by high costs across the board. We look forward to joining with him to get to the heart of why out-of-pocket costs are rising and, most importantly, what can be done about it.”

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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.
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Jeanette Contreras portrait

Vaccine recommendations for those who recovered from COVID-19

By NCL Director of Health Policy Jeanette Contreras

As the United States prepares for the release of a third COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meets to discuss further implementation considerations that will inform guidance for the vaccine rollout. At its March 1 meeting, ACIP dedicated a portion of the discussion to whether those who’ve recovered from the virus should still be vaccinated.

To date, there are more than 28 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and experts estimate that the true number of individuals infected, yet not clinically confirmed, to be triple that amount, pushing the total prevalence to approximately 100 million. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) indicates that those who’ve recovered will have a certain amount of natural immunity to the virus for up to eight months after infection, which is in line with the findings of a major British study published in early February, in which 88 percent of participants who previously tested positive for COVID-19 still had antibodies after six months.

Considering that the demand is greater than the supply, it is a difficult task to make recommendations for the equitable distribution of vaccines. For example, Spain issued recommendations that patients wait six months after diagnosis to get vaccinated if an individual is under age 55 with no major health complications. People over 55, or those with health risks that make them vulnerable to reinfection, are exempt from this delay and encouraged to be vaccinated.

Additionally, early studies are showing that immunity in individuals who had recovered and received one shot may be equal to or even exceed those not infected who had received two doses. According to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a single dose of the Moderna or Pfizer mRNA vaccines would elicit an immune system response sufficient to provide comparable immunity to two doses in a non-infected person. On February 12, France became the first country to issue guidance recommending that people who have already recovered from COVID-19 only need to receive one dose of a vaccine, between 3 and 6 months after their infection.

Early research like this is informing public health policies in other countries. But the United States is known all over the world for its scientific rigor and reliance on randomized clinical trial data as a gold standard. In a recent blog, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins reassures us that, should other studies support these early results, the experts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC will certainly consider whether one dose is enough.

The implementation of a one-dose vaccine would help to increase supply, however, the emergence of COVID-19 variants presents new challenges for curbing this pandemic. Current CDC guidance states that even if you’ve recovered from COVID-19, you should get vaccinated. Arming yourself with a vaccine will keep you and your family safe, and ultimately help to stave off new COVID-19 variants.

Women’s sexual health shouldn’t be tabo‪o‬

It’s 2021, can we speak frankly about women’s sexual health yet?

Annual Fraud.org report shows link between COVID-19, recession, and scammers preying on Americans

Watchdog group’s annual report tracking trends out today 

For immediate release: February 1, 2021

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

Washington, DC—An analysis of the scams most frequently reported by consumers in 2020 tells the story of economic downturn, social isolation, pandemic fears, and opportunistic criminals, according to a new report released today by the National Consumers League’s (NCL) Fraud.org campaign. Through the Fraud.org website, NCL collects complaints from consumers about suspected and confirmed fraud incidents, tracks trends, and shares the data with law enforcement. 

The report’s findings note the pandemic’s impact on fraud trends, including increases in “get rich quick” schemes and predatory scams of the heart. The number of complaints received at Fraud.org regarding bogus prizes, sweepstakes, and free gifts nearly doubled year-over-year. Another pandemic scam trend: a notable increase (30 percent) in romance scams, which experts at Fraud.org are linking to the social isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic and Americans turning to online communication for companionship. 

“The COVID recession has fueled a rise in get-rich-quick schemes and romance scams,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud and the new report’s author. “The pandemic created a perfect storm for criminals: millions out of work and struggling with new financial hardship; people forced to isolate and seek companionship online; and incredible uncertainty about the future. Last year was a good year to be a con artist.” 

With many of the conditions from 2020 still in place, the consumer watchdog is cautioning consumers against the most common scams that plagued Americans last year.  

“While the exact pitch differs from scam to scam, there are red flags that consumers should consider,” said Breyault. “A request to send money to someone you’ve never met in person is almost always a scam. Another tried-and-true tactice scammers use is to create a false sense of urgency to get victims to send money before they stop and think. The best advice we can give to consumers is to stop, think, and talk to a friend or loved one before you send money.” 

In 2020, consumers submitted more than 5,700 complaints to Fraud.org. Forty-three percent of complaints reported a monetary loss, with the median loss of $1,628.  

Top Ten Scams of 2020 

  1. Internet: Gen Merchandise 
  2. Phishing/Spoofing 
  3. Fake Check Scams 
  4. Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles 
  5. Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts 
  6. Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers 
  7. Computers: Equipment/Software 
  8. Internet: Auctions 
  9. Investments: Other (note in comments) 
  10. Internet: Extortion 

Other topline findings from the report include:  

New fraud entered top ten: extortion scams. 

 “As the pandemic and the recession continue to grind on in 2021, we are paying special attention to so-called ‘Internet extortion’ scams, which entered the top ten scams for the first time last year,” said Breyault. Such scams fall in to two broad sub-categories. The first category are “sextortion” scams, where consumers receive a message where the scammer threatens to release embarrassing photos, videos, or other personal information to the victims’ friends and family. The second sub-category involves “psychic” services, where the scammer claims to had discovered that a “curse” or other tragic event is about to befall the victim. Only by paying a significant fee can the victim have the “curse” lifted.  

Younger consumers and seniors are being targeted more frequently.  

The percentage of complaints received from consumers aged 26-65 decreased by an average of 8.76% in 2020.  By comparison, complaints from consumers aged 25 and below and those 65 and older increased by an average of 30.60% and 15.82%, respectively versus 2019. For consumers aged 25 and under, the top three most reported fraud categories were Internet merchandise scams, fake check scams, and romance scams. For those 65 and older, the top complaint categories were prize/sweepstakes scams, phishing/spoofing, and Internet merchandise scams.  

The Web and the telephone remain scammers’ preferred contact methods. 

With email spam filters growing increasingly successful at blocking out scam emails, fraudsters continued to turn to the Web and the telephone to find victims. Those two contact methods were mentioned in more than 81% of the complaints. “This highlights the need for consumers to be wary when responding to messages from unknown senders, particularly those encountered on social media,” said Breyault. “Consumers should also continue to be on guard for unknown callers seeking to offer them prizes or other inducements to send money.”  

Read the full 2020 Top Scams report from NCL.

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneering 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.

National Consumers League welcomes appointment of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission

For immediate release: January 29, 2021

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, welcomes the appointment of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to serve as acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Rosenworcel is the second woman to lead the agency in its 86-year history.

The following statement is attributable to NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

We welcome Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s appointment as Acting Chairwoman of the FCC. Her years of service at the Commission and on Capitol Hill make her an ideal choice for this position. She brings an in-depth understanding of the Commission, its committed and talented staff, and the agency’s relationship with Congress.

Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel is a strong proponent of consumer protections, net neutrality, and universal access to high speed broadband. Her appointment couldn’t  come at a better time; the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the chasm of access to high quality broadband in so many communities across America. Most critically, millions of students without affordable broadband access have suffered as schools have moved online during the past year. NCL is committed to working with Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and her team to address this critical problem.

We are honored that Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel accepted NCL’s Trumpeter Award for consumer leadership in 2020. We welcome this strong consumer advocate who has always kept an open door for consumers from all backgrounds to discuss their concerns with the commission. We look forward to continuing to work with her and the talented FCC staff.

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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.

The National Consumers League welcomes the appointment of consumer advocate and FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

For immediate release: January 29, 2021

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 welcomes President Biden’s nomination of Rohit Chopra, a current commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to chair the  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

This following statement is attributable to Executive Director Sally Greenberg:

We are very pleased by President Biden’s nomination of Rohit Chopra to serve as director of the CFPB. At the FTC, Commissioner Chopra has proven to be a fair, thoughtful, and even-handed regulator with a strong record of defending the interests of consumers and pressing the agency to uphold its mandate by doing more to fight fraud and combat unfair and deceptive practices.

Chopra was on the ground floor as the CFPB was built. He was one of the first hires by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) when she took on the role as director of the—then—brand new agency. He brings a wealth of experience in the work of federal agencies, having also acted as special advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.

Despite his busy schedule, Commissioner Chopra always had an open door to hear from advocates and everyday consumers. When it comes to fighting abusive debt collection practices, crushing student loan debt, predatory payday loan companies, and auto lenders that discriminate against black, brown, and immigrant communities, consumers will have no greater champion than Rohit Chopra.

We urge the Senate to promptly confirm Commissioner Chopra so that he and his team can get started on the critically important mission of protecting the interests of the nation’s consumers.”

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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.