NCL comments on Proposed Rule – Fish and Shellfish; Canned Tuna Standard of Identity and Standard of Fill of Container

November 21, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

The National Consumers League recently submitted comments regarding the Proposed Rule, “Fish and Shellfish; Canned Tuna Standard of Identity and Standard of Fill of Container.” We believe that the Proposed Rule, when implemented, will modernize the standard of identity for “canned tuna,” 21 C.F.R. § 161.190 (“canned tuna SOI”), to require an accurate measure and declaration of weight, and to allow for “safe and suitable” ingredients to provide manufacturers with the flexibility to keep up with changing consumer tastes.

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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 nclnet.org.

NCL comments regarding Proposed Rule: Medication Guides: Patient Medication Information Docket No. FDA-2019-N-5959

November 21, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

The National Consumers League recently submitted comments regarding the Proposed Rule, Medication Guides: Patient Medication Information, that we believe will greatly improve the information patients receive with their prescription medicines.

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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 nclnet.org.

NCL applauds the confirmation of Monica Bertagnolli as next NIH director

November 9, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the U.S. Senate’s decision to confirm Dr. Monica Bertagnolli to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

This past Tuesday, the Senate voted 62-36 for Bertagnolli to take over the leadership role at NIH – a role that has been vacant for nearly two years. Preceding Bertagnolli was 2022 Trumpeter Honoree Dr. Francis Collins, who served as NIH director for more than 12 years.

“Dr. Bertagnolli brings a wealth of knowledge and experience,” said NCL CEO Sally Greenberg. “As a surgical oncologist, former director of the National Cancer Institute, and former president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Bertagnolli is the right person to oversee the NIH as this important agency serves a critical role in advancing public health.”

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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 nclnet.org.

NCL Health Podcast Series: Amy Hinojosa, National CEO of MANA

NCL is excited to present the inaugural podcast episode of our new Health Podcast Series under the “We Can Do This!” podcast umbrella, hosted by our Senior Director of Health Policy Robin Strongin. This month we are celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month with our esteemed guest Amy Hinojosa, National President & CEO of MANA.

Obesity medicine specialists, health providers, insurers and employers urged to make obesity treatment a right of all Americans

October 13, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Nancy Glick, nancyg@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442 NCOA –Simona Combi, Simona.combi@ncoa.org, 571-527-3982

Washington, D.C. – With growing evidence that U.S. adults with obesity feel stigmatized and ignored by their health care providers, the National Consumers League (NCL) and National Council on Aging (NCOA) today urged health professionals, insurers and employers to join a national movement to define quality obesity care as a right for every American.

Taking the case directly to health professionals on the front lines in delivering obesity care, NCL and NCOA used The Obesity Society’s annual meeting in Dallas October 14-17 to announce plans to provide Americans with an Obesity Bill of Rights.  Today, over 100 million adults are living with obesity[1] (42 percent of the public), yet only 10 percent get help from medical professionals.[2] An Obesity Bill of Rights has the potential to transform obesity care by empowering Americans to demand the respect of their health providers and to be screened, diagnosed, and effectively treated for their obesity based on medical treatment guidelines.

“For too long, adults with obesity have encountered a healthcare system that works against them. They are stigmatized, discriminated against, not treated with respect by their health providers, and confront significant obstacles in receiving the care they deserve. ” said Sally Greenberg, Chief Executive Officer of the National Consumers League. “This must change; we need an overhaul of the health system, and we believe an Obesity Bill of Rights can drive this transformation.”

Because this change will only happen if there is agreement on a set of basic rights that ensure adults with obesity receive respectful, timely, and effective obesity care, NCL and NCOA unveiled www.Right2ObesityCare.org, a new online engagement platform, so the nation’s health providers, insurers and employers can play a role in developing the Obesity Bill of Rights.  Right2ObesityCare.org explains the purpose and research-driven process and encourages a wide range of health professionals – from obesity medicine specialists and physicians to dietitians, nutritionists, exercise physiologists, health educators, and mental health professionals – to contribute their ideas.

Town Halls Chart the Obstacles for Adults with Obesity and Their Providers

Along with hearing from health professionals, the Obesity Bill of Rights will be informed by the insights of both adults with obesity and their health providers who participated in four town hall meetings that NCL and NCOA hosted across the country. Held in senior centers and churches in

California, Delaware, Mississippi, and Oklahoma between June and August 2023, the town halls involved more than 250 older adults, community leaders, and local clinicians who laid bare a healthcare system that is inhospitable to delivering quality obesity care.                                                        

When asked to share their experiences, older adults attending the town halls spoke of feeling invisible when seeing a health provider, not being listened to, and being treated with disdain when they initiated conversations about their obesity. At the same time, physicians described feeling inadequate to provide obesity care due to the limited time for counseling, not enough training in obesity management, inadequate coverage and reimbursement for obesity care, and needing better tools to help patients recognize obesity risks. This confirms research that finds adults with excess weight often feel unwelcome in the doctor’s office or believe that seeking help for obesity signifies moral failure. [3]

“This is a chronic condition that no one wants to talk about,” said Ramsey Alwin, NCOA President and CEO. “For several decades, NCOA has worked to empower older adults to better manage their chronic conditions. To break down barriers related to obesity, we held town halls that allowed both older adults and their health providers to relay their lived experiences. What we learned is that encouraging more people to seek obesity care requires an investment in science-based, easy-to-understand, accessible information about obesity; a healthcare system that encourages informed decision-making and patient-centered care; and effective public policy that requires health plans to provide access to the treatments deemed appropriate by the health provider, including lifestyle interventions, FDA-approved weight loss medications, and bariatric surgery.”

Mobilizing for Change
With the townhalls as a guidepost, NCL and NCOA are now leading a rigorous process to finalize and release the Obesity Bill of Rights to the medical community and public before the end of 2023. The process includes hosting a meeting of top experts to review a preliminary draft with recommendations for refinement. NCL and NCOA will also seek feedback from specialists in minority health, aging, and rural health, as well as health professionals and other stakeholders who offer advice through the online engagement platform.

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About NCL

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. The organization’s 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.

About NCOA

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is the national voice for every person’s right to age well. We believe that how we age should not be determined by gender, color, sexuality, income, or ZIP code. Working with thousands of national and local partners, we provide resources, tools, best practices, and advocacy to ensure every person can age with health and financial security. Founded in 1950, we are the oldest national organization focused on older adults. Learn more at www.ncoa.org.

[1] Hales CM,, et al. Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2017-2018. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NCHS Data Brief. No. 360. February 2020.

[2] Stokes A, et al. Prevalence and Determinants of Engagement with Obesity Care in the United States. Obesity. Vol. 26, Issue 5; May 2018, 814-818

[3] Gunther S, et al. Barriers and enablers to managing obesity in general practice: a practical approach for use in implementation activities. Qual Prim Care. 2012; 20: 93-103

Guest Blog: Standardizing portions could help stem the obesity epidemic

By Deborah A. Cohen, MD, MPH

The past few decades have seen dramatic changes in the food environment and food behaviors, all resulting in the epidemics of obesity and diet-related chronic diseases.  About 72% of American adults are overweight or obese and more than half have diet-related chronic diseases. Our research shows that the food environment actually encourages people to eat impulsively and markets twice as much food as people need to maintain a healthy weight.  Our diets are largely influenced by the relative supply and availability of different food products, by marketing, and by other factors we aren’t even aware of.1-3  Restaurants are among the largest risk factors for a poor diet.

Here’s a rather shocking statistic: most Americans dine out between 4-5x per week and, on average, spend 55% of all their food dollars on meals and snacks away from home.4,5  The problem is that away-from-home meals are often inferior in nutritional quality to meals prepared at home – they tend to be higher in salt, fat, and calories, and lower in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains; they also typically include 2-3 times more calories than we need to maintain a healthy weight.6,7  Indeed, portion sizes have been increasing substantially over the past three decades.8

When people dine away from home, their ability to control portion sizes, and thus caloric intake, is limited. Studies demonstrate that we all eat more when we are served more. 9,10   As portion size increases, calories go up. The results are stunning:  Laboratory based studies in both adults,11,12 and children13,14 show that when larger portion sizes are served, calories go up as much as 30% with no differences in self-reported hunger.  So eating out – which we do a lot more than we used to – is a major contributor to weight gain and increases the risk of obesity and chronic diseases.6 Multiple studies support the association between frequency of meals consumed in restaurants and the risk for overweight.15-18

My research looks at how portion sizes can be made transparent and predictable with the hope that this would have an enormous benefit for America’s obesity crisis. Smaller, standardized portions are a practical and feasible solution to help stem the obesity epidemic.

Portion control has also proven to be an effective measure to reduce the amount – and therefore the harm – of alcohol consumption.19,20 Alcoholic beverages are classified by the percentage of alcohol content and the U.S. government defines a standard drink as containing 0.6 oz. of alcohol. Standard drink sizes are 12 ounces for a standard beer, 5 ounces for a glass of wine, and 1.5 ounce shot of 80 proof spirits.  These standard portion sizes allow us to measure a standard drink and to limit the risk of inebriation. Many states mandate that alcohol be served in standard portions; twelve states also require that larger portions of alcohol carry a higher price.21  Applying these principles to food could be an enormous aid, since people are not reliably able to judge what constitutes an appropriate individual portion just by looks.22-24 Standard portions are also a necessity for medications.  Many consider food as “medicine”, so applying portion standards to food is a natural extension that could improve health outcomes. That was our goal.

Piloting the Solution: Standardized Portions

Under a National Institutes of Health funded planning grant, my colleagues and I  developed guidelines for standard portions .  With input and guidance from an advisory board composed of nationally recognized nutrition researchers, we set calorie limits for meals at 700 calories each for lunch and dinner, 500 calories for breakfast and 200 calories for snacks.  We separated meal components into appetizers (150 calories), soups (150 calories), dressings and salads (150 calories), plain entrees (200 calories) for breakfast, lunch and dinner, mixed entrees (350 calories), non-starchy sides (100 calories), starchy sides (150 calories), beverages and desserts (100 calories).25

We conducted a pilot study with three local restaurants in Southern California. We incentivized these establishments to create an alternative menu to their usual offerings, providing meals in quantities that met the above caloric guidelines. We offered restaurants a $2000 participation fee as well as paying for all the costs of the menu development and printing, and purchasing gift cards to offer customers as part of the evaluation. The restaurants created new “Balanced Portions” menus, which included 6-8 items from their regular menu. The meals were not intended for weight loss purposes, but are only designed to prevent unintended overconsumption.

We began our pilot project by  asking restaurant managers to identify which menu items were the most popular. The project did not change any preparation or recipes. Not surprisingly, even though we would be reducing the quantity of some items served and increasing the quantity of others, none of the restaurants were interested in reducing the price of any item for offering less.

One restaurant did not want to change the price or the quantity, we plated the calorically set portions and then had them pack the remaining food for carry out.   (see Figure 1, top menu.) When we measured the original food quantities, in most cases the amounts served were double the guidelines for a single meal, so leftovers were sufficient for a second meal. The meal was marketed as “Dinner today, Lunch tomorrow”.

The other two pilot restaurants were not interested in packing up extra food, so they created an alternative menu by selecting menu items that already met the guidelines. The owners came up with new prices comparable to other selections on the menu. At yet another restaurant, the regular menu only included entrees and sides, so to get variety, people needed to order several large dishes. The new menu allowed people to get variety with one order. In all cases we requested that each meal contain at least one cup of vegetables. We piloted this with 3 restaurants: First Szechuan Wok, Dave’s Deli & Catering, and Delhi Belly. (Figure 1)

Once we verified the quantity of food to be plated as a serving size, we sent the meals out for calorimetry (measures calories) to verify that the calories would be <700.  All the meals met the criteria. We then held a training session for restaurant staff and provided written guidelines on food to be plated for each menu item. We provided restaurants with measuring cups and kitchen scales so they could meet the guidelines. The plates were full, as we generally increased the quantity of vegetables and reduced the quantity of meats and starchy sides. The restaurants all passed the training session.

Feedback from Customers. Once the menus were launched and made accessible to patrons, we invited customers to provide feedback on the menus and their experience and offered them gift cards from the restaurant for their participation, whether or not they ordered from the Balanced Portions Menu.

Overall, the feedback on the alternative Balanced Portions menus from customers was positive. We conducted in-person and phone interviews with 33 customers (56% ordered from the Balanced Portions menu) who dined at one of the three restaurants. Findings from the one-on-one interviews revealed that 16 of the 18 customers who ordered from the Balanced Portions expressed satisfaction with their meals and shared that they “would love” to see Balanced Portion menus offered at other restaurants. In addition, the availability of Balanced Portions menu may help them reduce food waste, maintain healthy eating habits, and meet recommended dietary guidelines. Interestingly, among those who ordered from the regular menu, one participant described the portions as “very generous” and more than half reported going home with leftovers.

However, some of the interviewees expressed concerns regarding cost and thought lowering the prices and offering more Balanced Portion menu options may encourage more people to opt for standardized portions. Some participants thought eliminating to-go options and offering smaller portions at lower prices would be most  appealing.

Adherence to Portion Sizes. We also assigned a research assistant (RA) to be a “secret shopper.” The RA ordered Balanced Portions meals to-go and then carefully measured each component with measuring cups and kitchen scales to determine adherence to the guidelines previously issued. In all but one case, the restaurants were adherent to the guidelines. At Delhi Belly they did give a little extra rice, and we advised the owner to be serve a bit less rice.

Conclusion: Our results were very promising.  We concluded that it is highly feasible for restaurants to offer meals with standard portions that reduce the risk of overconsumption, overweight and obesity associated with dining out. We also concluded that we will need more attention to the issue of Balanced Portions menus over time to inform future rollouts at a national level.  Furthermore, understanding the impact on customer attitudes and behavior will provide critical insights into how to scale this in the future. This research is a rewarding and promising first step, full of opportunities to effectively address the obesity crisis and its connection to eating food outside of home.

  1. Milliman RE. Using background music to affect the behavior of supermarket shoppers. Journal of Marketing. 1982;46(3):86-91.
  2. Milliman RE. The influence of background music on the behavior of restaurant patrons. Journal of Consumer Research. 1986;13(2):286-289.
  3. Curhan RC. The relationship between shelf space and unit sales in supermarkets. Journal of Marketing Research. 1972;9:406-412.
  4. Kant AK, Whitley MI, Graubard BI. Away from home meals: associations with biomarkers of chronic disease and dietary intake in American adults, NHANES 2005-2010. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015;39(5):820-827.10.1038/ijo.2014.183
  5. Saksena MJ, Okrent AM, Anekwe TD, et al. America’s Eating Habits: Food Away From Home. In. Wash, DC: USDA; 2018:https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/90228/eib-90196_summary.pdf?v=98073.90222
  6. Lin BH, Frazao E. Away-from-home foods increasingly important to quality of American diet. ERS/USDA. 1999;http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/AIB749/.
  7. Rosenheck R. A systematic review of a trajectory towards weight gain and obesity risk. Obes Rev. 2008;9(6):535-547.
  8. Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Patterns and trends in food portion sizes, 1977-1998. JAMA. 2003;289(4):450-453.
  9. Rolls BJ, Roe LS, Meengs JS. Larger portion sizes lead to a sustained increase in energy intake over 2 days. J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106(4):543-549. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=16567150
  10. Diliberti N, Bordi PL, Conklin MT, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. Increased portion size leads to increased energy intake in a restaurant meal. Obes Res. 2004;12(3):562-568. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=15044675
  11. Rolls BJ, Morris EL, Roe LS. Portion size of food affects energy intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;76(6):1207-1213. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=12450884
  12. Kral TV, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. Combined effects of energy density and portion size on energy intake in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(6):962-968. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=15159224
  13. Rolls BJ, Engell D, Birch LL. Serving portion size influences 5-year-old but not 3-year-old children’s food intakes. Journal of American Dietetic Association. 2000;100:232-234.
  14. McConahy KL, Smiciklas-Wright H, Birch LL, Mitchell DC, Picciano MF. Food portions are positively related to energy intake and body weight in early childhood. . Journal of Pediatrics. 2002;140:340-347.
  15. Ayala GX, Rogers M, Arredondo EM, Campbell NR, Baquero B, Duerksen SC, Elder JP. Away-from-home food intake and risk for obesity: examining the influence of context. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md). 2008;16(5):1002-1008. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cmedm&AN=18309297&site=ehost-live
  16. McCrory MA, Fuss PJ, Hays NP, Vinken AG, Greenberg AS, Roberts SB. Overeating in America: association between restaurant food consumption and body fatness in healthy adult men and women ages 19 to 80. Obes Res. 1999;7(6):564-571.
  17. Jeffery RW, French SA. Epidemic obesity in the United States: are fast foods and television viewing contributing? Am J Public Health. 1998;88(2):277-280.
  18. Hornick BA, Krester AJ, Nicklas TA. Menu modeling with MyPyramid food patterns: incremental dietary changes lead to dramatic improvements in diet quality of menus. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(12):2077-2083. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cmedm&AN=19027412&site=ehost-live
  19. Voas RB, Fell JC. Preventing alcohol-related problems through health policy research. Alcohol Research & Health. 2010;33(1-2):18-28. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2010-23622-003&site=ehost-live
  20. Anderson P, Chisholm D, Fuhr DC. Effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of policies and programmes to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. Lancet. 2009;373(9682):2234-2246. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cmedm&AN=19560605&site=ehost-live
  21. NHTSA. Preventing Over-consumption of Alcohol – Sales to the Intoxicated and “Happy Hour” (Drink Special) Laws http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/alcohol/PIREWeb/images/2240PIERFINAL.pdf. 2005.
  22. Levitsky DA, Obarzanek E, Mrdjenovic G, Strupp BJ. Imprecise control of energy intake: absence of a reduction in food intake following overfeeding in young adults. Physiol Behav. 2005;84(5):669-675. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=15885242
  23. Levitsky DA, Youn T. The more food young adults are served, the more they overeat. J Nutr. 2004;134(10):2546-2549. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=15465745
  24. Wansink B, Painter JE, North J. Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obes Res. 2005;13(1):93-100. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=15761167
  25. Cohen DA, Story M, Economos C, Ty D, Martin S, Estrada E. Guidelines for Standard Portions in Away-From-Home Settings In:2023.

Unveiling the flaws in the 340B Drug Pricing Program: Hospitals, medical debt, and consumer struggles

Sally Greenberg

By Sally Greenberg, Chief Executive Officer

In 1992, Congress created the 340B Drug Pricing Program to help ensure vulnerable patients would be able to access medications they need but may not be able to afford. This program provides steeply discounted drugs to health care providers – mostly hospitals – serving low-income patients with the intent that the providers would pass those discounts along to patients. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening. The National Consumers League (NCL) is increasingly concerned about this program, especially as it relates to hospitals’ abusive and aggressive debt collection practices, and how those practices lead to consumer medical debt. A recent letter from a bipartisan group of Senators underscores hospitals’ role in this growing problem.

We find it particularly troubling that many hospitals benefiting from 340B are not only nonprofit entities but are designated as charity hospitals – supposedly caring for low income and indigent patients. A 2022 report by the Alliance for Integrity and Reform of 340B found that charity care spending for nearly two-thirds of 340B hospitals was less than the national average for similar hospitals. Further, a December 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that “some nongovernmental hospitals that do not appear to meet the statutory requirements for program eligibility are participating in the 340B program and receiving discounted prices for drugs for which they may not be eligible.” One report found that 82% of nonprofit hospitals spent less on community programs than the value of their tax exemptions.

Consumers are not benefiting from the 340B program in the way Congress intended. A patient whose income is above 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) is expected to pay full price for a drug they receive at the hospital, even though the care center from which they are “buying” the drug did not pay full price for it. Hospitals participating in the 340B program saved an average of $11.8 million per year, according to a 2019 report from Beckers Hospital Review, and multiple studies have found that a majority of hospitals markup medicines between 200-500 percent. Under the current program, an individual who makes $29,200 per year has to pay that price.

What is even more alarming is the fact that if a patient can’t pay, the hospitals that have benefited enormously from discounted drugs intended for vulnerable patients are aggressively suing these same patients. This illustrates a major disconnect between the intent of the 340B program and the way it is operating today.

While estimates differ, medical debt is believed to cause more than 60 percent of bankruptcies in America. Most consumers facing medical debt did not end up in that situation because of bad decisions or profligate spending. Most have had some kind of injury or unexpected illness and don’t have insurance – or don’t have sufficient insurance – to cover their medical and hospital costs. Patients who need financial assistance should be processed when entering the hospital for medical care. Many are not given the chance to do so and as a result, can be sued for debt after services are rendered. Medical debt collection practices are debilitating for low-income consumers and can destroy their credit ratings, subjecting them to subprime rates and a never-ending spiral of debt.

Even if patients don’t start out poor, because of excessive fees, penalties, and other costs added onto what may or may not be actual medical debt on the part of patients, aggressive debt-collection practices can leave them destitute. Many don’t have funds to hire a lawyer, and if summoned, they often don’t know they need to actually go to court; in fact, sometimes debt collectors advise them not to show up in court. As a result, default judgments are filed against them, leading to garnishments of wages, and liens on homes, cars, and other properties. In 2019, the Journal of the American Medical Association studied the garnishment of wages by hospitals in the state of Virginia and found that 71% of the hospitals were nonprofit and the gross mean annual revenue of hospitals engaged in garnishments was $806 million, with 8,399 patients having wages garnished.

Below are just a few stories illustrating hospitals’ medical debt collection practices playing out in communities throughout the nation.

  • A woman in Knoxville, Tennessee, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. Even though she had health insurance, she was left with almost $10,000 in medical bills that she couldn’t pay. Financial counselors told her she couldn’t schedule cancer checkup appointments with her doctor until she has a plan to pay her bills, according to a December 2022 story by NPR.
  • As reported by the Washington Post in May 2019, an investigation by the Baltimore Sun found that 46 hospitals in Maryland filed more than 132,000 lawsuits for unpaid medical bills from 2003 to 2008 and won at least $100 million in judgments. In some cases, hospitals added annual interest at twice the rate permitted for other types of debts or placed liens against patients’ homes.
  • The Washington Post reported in 2019 that the University of Virginia (UVA) Health System sued former patients more than 36,000 times for over $106 million over a six-year period. During that time, UVA’s Medical Center earned a $554 million profit and held stocks and other investments worth $1 billion. One of the patients the UVA Health System sued was Heather Waldron. Following emergency surgery and other treatment in 2017 to address an intestinal malformation, Waldron received a bill from the University of Virginia Health System for $164,000, more than twice what a commercial insurer would have paid for the care. When she was unable to pay, the UVA Health System pursued her with a lawsuit and a lien on the home she shared with her then-husband and five children. In the fall of 2019, the family lost their home, and the “financial disaster” contributed to Waldron and her husband divorcing earlier that year.

We support the critical role hospitals play in communities across the country and understand many dutifully provide charity care to those who cannot pay. However, we believe that if hospitals are designated charity entities and are receiving 340B discounts, they should be required to prove that those discounts have been passed along to patients. The current situation is unacceptable and merits an in-depth investigation and tightening up of the 340B rules. Charity hospitals should not be able to both claim 340B status and drag the very populations they are pledged to serve into debt collection proceedings, taking their homes, their cars, and their possessions in the process. Changes need to be made to ensure that only eligible hospitals are allowed to participate in the 340B program and that the deep discounts for medicines are passed along to patients, as Congress intended.

NCL statement on PBMs and new GAO report

September 18, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Consumers League (NCL) today released a statement following a recently released U.S. Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) report on Medicare Part D rebates.

The following statement is attributable to NCL Chief Executive Officer, Sally Greenberg:

“Investigation after investigation, report after report, and study after study prove that pharmacy benefit managers (“PBMs’) do not provide benefits to consumers. To the contrary, we believe PBMs, who are middlemen, drain billions of dollars that should be going into the pockets of patients and consumers and help them defray their healthcare costs. The evidence mounts that PBMs, which once had a noble purpose, have lost their way and become profit centers unto themselves, adding costs to our drug supply system at the expense of patients. This latest report by GAO underscores that our nation’s seniors – often our most vulnerable patients who rely most on medications – pay the highest price for PBM practices.

“In just one year, GAO found that the PBMs collected almost $50 billion in rebates from prescription drug manufacturers under the Medicare Part D program alone. These savings should go directly to Medicare beneficiaries, but for the nearly 80 of the highest rebated drugs analyzed, GAO found that seniors paid more than $20 billion, while their plan sponsors — often vertically integrated with PBMs — paid only $5.3 billion. PBMs are able to enrich themselves because they control access to prescription drugs, block competition, conduct business in the shadows, and pocket discounts meant for patients. PBMs simply driving up out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries to the tune of millions of dollars.

“Congress has an opportunity to enact meaningful PBM reforms to prevent such behavior. We urge our leaders in Congress to closely examine the findings of the GAO report, and put a stop to the practices of PBMs to profit off of vulnerable patients. In doing so, our elected representatives will put money back in the pockets of patients and help them to better afford the medications they need.”

Learn more about NCL’s work to address the PBM problem at nclnet.org/pbms.

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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 nclnet.org.

NCL applauds FDA for its latest decision to approve an updated COVID-19 vaccine

September 11, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Melody Merin, melodym@nclnet.org, 202-207-2831

Washington, DC – The NCL applauds the FDA’s announcement approving the latest COVID vaccine, which will be available to many Americans immediately or very soon to patients who are eligible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 9,000 COVID-19 hospital admissions in the week ending July 29, a 12.5-percent increase from the week before. While that’s far below the nearly 45,000 admissions recorded the same week a year ago, the new vaccine is nevertheless is welcome and much needed to keep COVID and its new variants in check. The percentage of emergency department patients diagnosed with COVID-19 has risen gradually in July.

National Consumers League response to the Request for Information regarding FDA regulation of CBD

August 25, 2023

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, 202-823-8442

Washington, D.C. – On August 17, the National Consumers League responded to the Request for Information regarding FDA-Regulation of CBD.

In 2019, in response to the proliferation of unreviewed and untested CBD products, NCL identified the need for greater education among consumers about CBD and better enforcement of regulations in the CBD marketplace. NCL created Consumers for Safe CBD to address the need, champion the rights of consumers, and call on government and industry to do better – to ensure safety and promote a pathway for new products through clinically tested scientific research. Since then, action has been taken on the state and federal levels to increase access to cannabinoids beyond CBD. In response, NCL expanded our educational campaign and established Cannabis Consumer Watch.” 

The full letter can be found 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 nclnet.org.