NCL speaks out against the decision to overturn abortion rights

May 4, 2022

Washington, D.C. — The National Consumers League (NCL) is gravely disappointed to learn, through a prematurely leaked Supreme Court decision, that the Supreme Court is likely to overturn the right to abortion in the United States. The leaked opinion will overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which made access to abortions a federally protected right, and is a radical departure from current law, not even protecting women in the case of rape or incest.

As an organization founded by women, NCL has a strong history of advocating for women’s health rights and equal access to reproductive health services for all. Whether to have an abortion is a deeply personal decision that must be left up to a woman and her doctor. The state should have to interest in regulating this fundamental right.

The Supreme Court’s decision to leave abortion rights up to the states will greatly exacerbate the already problematic health inequities in access to reproductive services. Numerous states around the country have already begun their legislative attacks, with an estimated 13 states set to ban abortion at just six weeks, a time when many women don’t even know they are pregnant. In fact, the frequency of abortion is on the decline and tracks closely with access to effective and affordable, and best of all, free, contraception.

Without access to services, women seeking abortion will once again be forced to consider unsafe measures. We sincerely hope that the decision that was leaked is not the final word from the Supreme Court. That decision will put women at great risk, and will add to the already high rates of maternal morbidity and mortality in the U.S.

NCL believes that abortion rights are an essential health care right, and every woman should have the ability to access abortion services. The right to abortion should remain a constitutionally protected right, and access to abortion should not be left to the state legislatures. Ensuring that all women have equal access to safe abortion services is crucial in making sure that all women have autonomy over their health and wellbeing.

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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.

NCL applauds FDA proposal to ban menthol cigarettes

May 4, 2022

Media contact: National Consumers League – Katie Brown, katie@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, D.C. – The National Consumers League (NCL) applauds the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed rule to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. This long overdue ban is a critical public health measure that is expected to save the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to lung cancer, and other smoking-related morbidities. The tobacco industry has had a long history of aggressive marketing of menthol cigarettes to Black smokers. Today, 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes compared to 29% of all white smokers.

While consumers know that tobacco use is the number one cause of cancer and a preventable death in the U.S, it is a very addictive product and the industry knows that and capitalizes on it. The tobacco industry continues to prey on children with the lure of flavored tobacco products to ensure that young people become addicted. Flavored cigars are especially popular with Black and Latino teenagers.

The FDA’s proposed rule to ban flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes is not just important for preventing our young people from using tobacco; it will help to address a wide range of health disparities within the Black community.

The public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule from now until July 5, 2022. We urge consumers to share their views with the FDA during this open comment period. Smokers interested in quitting should also visit smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to learn about cessation services available in their state.

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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.

NCL Briefing: measuring the 340B program’s impact on charitable care and operating profits for covered entities

Join the National Consumers League for a panel discussion with experts from Health Capital Group, the Community Oncology Alliance, and Johns Hopkins on this new white paper, which analyzes 340B’s impact on hospital profit margins and charitable care spending and attempts to quantify the amount of program benefits accruing to covered entities, contract pharmacies and patients.

Why we need more Black health professionals in the workforce

By NCL Health Policy Associate Milena Berhane

A lack of diversity in the health care workforce has been a persistent issue in the United States, posing significant implications to health equity, particularly for the Black or African American community.

An estimated five percent of physicians identify as Black, despite making up 13 percent of the U.S. population. A recent study utilizing U.S. Census Bureau information found that the proportion of Black physicians in the United States has only increased by four percent in more than a century — from 1900-2018. This study also reported that the percent of Black male physicians has remained relatively stagnant since 1940. Diversity issues also exist in other health care professions, with an estimated 7.8 percent of nurses, 3.8 percent of dentists, and 2.5 percent of physical therapists being Black.

The education, testing, application, and interviewing process required to pursue a career in health care is rigorous and costly. In addition to a four-year degree, candidates are also required to take standardized exams, pay expensive application fees, and pay for travel to interview. Most medical students expect to spend up to $10,000 for the application process. Once accepted to a health professional program, the tremendous monetary and time costs of schooling are immense obstacles for many. Medical school attendees accumulate an average $200,000 of student loans by the time they are finished with their programs.

Due to generations of systemic racism in our country, Black Americans are less resourced — financially and in terms of social capital — than their white counterparts. The rigorous process of applying to and remaining in health professional programs creates a pipeline that excludes disadvantaged students from the ability to pursue careers in clinical care.

The barriers to enter the workforce have further negative impact on communities and health equity. Black patients face a variety of issues that can influence their ability to access medical care, including medical mistrust caused by historical unethical medical mistreatment faced by Black Americans, dismissal of health concerns that Black patients express to health care providers, and others. Time and time again, Black patients have shared their experiences of medical providers ignoring their health concerns, and therefore being undertreated and going undiagnosed for their conditions. In addition, research indicates that Black patients report poorer patient-provider communication and shared decision-making. These issues lead to Black patients receiving lower quality care from medical providers, further worsening health conditions that could be treated.

Racial bias and a lack of culturally competent medical care in the healthcare system has led to poorer health outcomes for Black patients. Black Americans of all ages already face higher rates of hypertension, asthma, diabetes, and other health issues due to systemic racism and how it has affected the environments they live in, the food they have access to, their education prospects, income, etc. These inequities compiled with a culturally incompetent and bias medical system leaves Black Americans with little ability to receive proper medical treatment and improve their health and well-being. Although medical schools are attempting to teach the importance of culturally competent care, it is crucial that Black patients are also able to access healthcare providers that look like them and come from their communities.

Clearly, the current make up of racial diversity of the health care workforce has failed to keep up with the demographic shifts in the United States. Although public health efforts are important in addressing and improving health equity, inequities within the medical system must be addressed simultaneously. The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted and exacerbated health inequities. Increasing the amount of Black health professionals across the United States is a critical step in ensuring better health outcomes for Black patients and their overall well-being.

Consumers should never ingest or inject disinfectants!

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

The President of the United States speculated at a press conference this past week that since disinfectants kills germs on surfaces, perhaps someone should look into whether humans should ingest or even inject disinfectants.

“I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump said during Thursday’s coronavirus press briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

Under no circumstances should any of these cleaning products be ingested! THEY ARE POISONOUS!

Sadly, some consumers considered seriously Trump’s suggestion. Poison centers in New York and Illinois reported a doubling of calls after Trump’s statements.

Consumer and product safety groups like NCL have worked for years with makers of disinfectants and bleaches with brand names like Lysol, Chlorox, and Fantastic to prevent accidental ingestion of these products. Children used to die in large numbers from ingesting cleaning products, but they can harm or kill adults too.

To its credit, Proctor & Gamble, makers of Clorox, issued this statement after Trump’s remarks: “Bleach and other disinfectants are not suitable for consumption or injection under any circumstance.”

Makers of Lysol issued this statement: “As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion or any other route).”

Consumer organizations were behind passage of the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970, which provides child-resistant packaging to protect kids from getting into products under the sink. Since the PPPA’s implementation, deaths in children aged five and under went down by 1.4 per million.

With COVID-19 overtaking this country, resulting in more than 53,000 deaths in the United States alone to date—and growing daily—we need accurate and honest information from our leaders. We do not want consumers exposing themselves to hazards from ingesting cleaning products.

Consumers: do not ingest or inject household cleaning products. THEY ARE POISONOUS if consumed. A network of poison control centers exist around the nation. Visit https://aapcc.org to get your questions answered 24 hours a day. They are the experts!

Coronavirus and food safety: What you need to know

By Nailah John, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow

Perhaps some of the only good news about the Covid-19 is that food is not the primary way that the virus can be spread. According to Harvard Medical School, “We are still learning about transmission of COVID-19. It’s not clear if this is possible, but if so, it would be more likely to be the exception than the rule. That said, COVID-19 and other coronaviruses have been detected in the stool of certain patients, so we currently cannot rule out the possibility of occasional transmission from infected food handlers. The virus would likely be killed by cooking.”

Great, but not all foods can or are intended to be cooked – think of deli meats, cole slaw, potato salad, cheeses, salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, pastry, butter, cream cheese; so if the mainstay of a deli or restaurant is “fresh” foods, spreading the virus is a real threat if the right precautions are taken.

And COVID-19 has made us all keenly aware of the importance of wiping surfaces and washing hands frequently, especially when handling food. We also know that COVID-19 can’t typically be transmitted from food or from food packaging. But we do have suggestions.

Food safety measures one should take:

  • Wash your hands the right way: Use plain soap and water- skip the antibacterial soap, scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails for about 20 seconds, if you need to time yourself sing the chorus of your favorite song twice. Rinse your hands, and then dry them with a clean towel. Remember to wash your hands often especially since COVID-19 lives on surfaces for an extended period.
  • Wash surfaces and utensils after each use: Wash cutting boards, utensils countertops with hot, soapy water, especially if you had raw meat, seafood, poultry or eggs on these surfaces. Don’t cross contaminate!
  • Remember it is very important to wash your dishcloths in a hot cycle of your washing machine, sometimes we forget this key element to food safety.
  • Learn more from FoodSafety.gov.

Food safety is paramount in our day-to-day lives – it’s so important that we take the necessary steps not to expose ourselves – whether eating in a restaurant or cooking at home, to COVID-19. Remember eat healthy, nutritious foods and take all the steps needed in preparing a safe meal for you and your family.

Understanding the rapidly emerging disease, Coronavirus

Nissa Shaffi

On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Coronavirus as a global health emergency. The virus first emerged from a seafood and poultry market in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China, in December 2019. Since then, it has paralyzed several cities around the world, metastasizing into a global public health and economic crisis.

Coronavirus, officially renamed COVID-19 by WHO, is a member of a large family of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe, life-threatening conditions. Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people (zoonotic). There have been only two prior coronaviruses that have exhibited zoonotic transmission, which include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Secure Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has not previously presented in humans. With nearly 80,000 confirmed cases across 37 countries—which resulted in over 2,700 deaths—WHO warns that COVID-19 is likely to become a global pandemic. Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned that the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. is inevitable and could cause severe disruptions to everyday life.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 

Risk Factors

Based on surveillance of COVID-19 thus far, it appears that the virus is nondiscriminatory, and anyone could be at risk for contracting the virus.

Symptoms

According to the CDC, the incubation period for COVID-19 may range from two to 14 days, and symptoms include high fever, cough, and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, the virus develops into pneumonia, which presents the most danger.

Transmission

The method of transmission is suspected to be from person to person via droplets resulting from breathing, coughing, or sneezing. The virus is also suspected to be transmitted via contaminated surfaces. WHO recommends maintaining a distance of at least one meter (three feet) between yourself and anyone who presents the symptoms mentioned above.

Precautions

WHO recommends regular hand washing with either an alcohol-based gel or soap and water to prevent the spread of infection. Individuals should also cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and should avoid close contact with anyone showing similar symptoms of respiratory illness. Additionally, while getting the flu shot cannot protect you from contracting COVID-19, it does protect you from the flu, a condition that has a far higher mortality rate than COVID-19.

Travel

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised that older and at-risk travelers limit travel to Japan, Italy, and Iran, where the disease is rapidly gaining ground. CDC has also explicitly advised against all non-essential travel to South Korea and China. For more information on CDC’s travel advisories, please click here.

Although the rapid spread of the disease is concerning, the promising news is that the number of new cases in China has dropped–indicating that aggressive interventions deployed by health officials in the region are working. While there are international efforts underway to develop treatments for COVID-19, there is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent contracting the virus is to avoid exposure. For more information on prevention against COVID-19, click here and here.

New study reveals promising progress in fight against cancer

Nissa Shaffi

A recent study released by the American Cancer Society (ACS) shows that breakthrough treatments for lung cancer have resulted in a 26-year record low for cancer mortality overall. Cancer-related deaths have dropped at an average rate of 1.5 percent from 2008 to 2017 and between 2016–2017, cancer mortality rates dropped to 2.2 percent. This translates to nearly three million fewer American cancer-related deaths than would have occurred if mortality had remained stagnant.

ACS revealed that much of this success is due to declines specifically in lung cancer mortality. This is a promising development as lung cancer leads to more cancer-related deaths than colorectal, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Steady reductions in smoking and advancements in early-detection practices have created the perfect environment for dramatic drops in lung cancer rates. Technologies like video-assisted surgeries have enabled doctors to more clearly scan stages of tumor growth, providing patients with higher eligibility for operations and more targeted radiation treatments. Additionally, groundbreaking immunotherapies for both lung cancer and melanoma have acted as a catalyst for an expanding area of research, providing renewed hope to cancer patients with metastatic disease.

Despite the welcome decline in deaths associated with lung cancer, the death rates of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers have plateaued. Progress for the treatment of prostate cancers has been especially compromised due to growing skepticism from health officials regarding prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screenings. While the original intent of reducing PSA screenings was to prevent over-diagnosing and unnecessary treatments for potentially benign tumors, fewer treatable cancers are being detected as a result.

The National Consumers League (NCL) lauds this truly welcome progress in reducing cancer deaths. At the same time, we would like to echo ACS’s call for better testing, which will lead to accurate and better screening of cancers. It takes a village to see progress of this magnitude in public health. Doctors, researchers, advocacy groups, drug companies, and access to life-saving preventive care afforded by the Affordable Care Act can all take credit for this very good report. NCL recognizes the many factors that helped to reduce the incidence of a terrible disease that takes the lives of more than 600,000 people a year. Let’s keep the progress going into 2020 and beyond!

I’m going for the kids’ portion!

With overweight and obesity stats in an upward trajectory, the National Consumers League and the Georgetown School of Business are partnering up for a survey on a simple topic: what do Americans know about portion sizes, calories of average foods, and how many calories we can eat each day without packing on the pounds? 

We have a health crisis in AmericaFrom 2015-2016, 39.8 percent of American adults were considered obesewhich means the body mass index (BMI) measurements of more than 129 million of us are considered obeseThe annual medical cost of obesity is estimated at $147 billion because heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers are tied to obesity. What is particularly concerning is that more than a third of younger people, ages 20-39, are obese.  

In fact, the New York Times reported that roughly a fifth of our soldiers are obese! The military is trying to combat this problem by replacing sweet drinks with water and cutting out fried foods, but it’s not working. 

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines recommend that the average person should consume about 2,000 calories a day. Do most of us know that if you exceed 2,000 calories day regularly, you pack on the pounds? (That’s unless, of course, you’re getting a lot of calorieburning exercise or have a great metabolism.) Is that number too high for many of us? (It is for me. If I eat more than 1,650 calories, I know I’m going to put on weight.That’s what we want to find out with our research: what do Americans really know about this guideline? 

We will also be asking whether most Americans know how many calories are in average serving of common foods such as yogurt (150), hamburgers with bun (350), pizza (350 per slice), bagels (325), muffins (425), 4-piece fried chicken dinner with all the fixings (850-1,200), a 30oz. steak (1,400), a piece of cheesecake (650)big chocolate chip cookie (450)and an ice cream cone (300-400.) 

Also, dAmericans know what an average serving is? A Cheesecake Factory salad is not an average serving! Each of their salads have more than 1,300 calories. That’s too much for one meal. Unfortunately, restaurant serving sizes have increased a lot over the last several decades. 

Which brings me back to my headlinekids portions! I’ve begun sampling my local downtown DC upscale food spots popular with millennials like Roti, CAVAChoptThe custom is that you order a bowl of lettuce or spinach as a base and put lots of pretty healthy but also pretty caloric toppingsadd a protein for a few bucks extra, and crowned with shredded cheese and salad dressing. When you’re done, you have a big portion and lots of good food but also lots of caloriesalbeit not from hamburger and fries but still, calories! 

So try the kids’ portion! They are cheaper by a thirda lot less food, a lot fewer calories, and completely filling. My CAVA kids meal had a small white bread (unfortunately) pita, yogurt spread, two small spicy meatballs, cucumber salad, tomato salad, three pieces of fried breadand scoop of brown rice. In other words, a lot of food! I figured it was about 550 calories. Voila! A third of my 1,650 allowable daily intake of food. And I was stuffed. I’ll be trying other food outlets to check out the kids portions. And we recommend that other consumers do the samehelps to limit calories and prevent food waste when you’re eating out!

No more surprises: Congress and patients alike sick of surprise billing

headshot of NCL Health Policy intern Alexa

By NCL Health Policy intern Alexa Beeson

This July, the House Energy and Commerce’s Health Subcommittee passed the No Surprises Act (H.R. 3630) to protect patients from surprise billing. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee also passed its companion to address surprise billing, the Lower Health Care Costs Act (S.1895). These bills were being considered after a press conference at which President Trump called for reform in surprise billing.

Stakeholder witnesses at the House hearing this June on H.R. 3630 included patient, provider, and insurance payer groups. Reimbursement models were discussed at length, but the unifying theme was that patients should be held harmless in surprise billing situations.

Surprise billing happens mostly in a small subsect of out-of-network providers; the patient has no idea about who’s in or out of network. Some professionals are out-of-network technicians subcontracted by an in-network facility, such as a last-minute anesthesiologist switch for a surgery, or any other non-disclosed provider. To get reimbursed for their services, providers send a bill to the patient for whatever wasn’t covered by the insurance company.

Surprise billing also occurred among patients who should receive reduced prices for care. Johns Hopkins Hospital filed suit on more than 2,400 patients in the last decade, collecting the equivalent of 0.03 percent of its operating revenue. Some of these patients were never told about their right to charity care, and many who qualify never received a discounted rate. These bill collections are inconsequential for Johns Hopkins but could bankrupt a patient.

Legislation to address balance or surprise bills will protect patients, ensuring they will only have to pay in-network rates for out-of-network emergency care. This will help patients avoid bills that can set them back, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although surprise bills only come from a small portion of providers, 1 in 7 insured adults will receive a surprise medical bill from an in-network hospital. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70 percent of such patients were not aware that the provider was out-of-network when they received the care.

Panelist Sonji Wilkes, a patient advocate, presented testimony about her struggle with a surprise bill sent after the birth of her son, who was diagnosed with hemophilia. That child was treated by a charitable out-of-network hematologist who did not charge them for her services. However, the NICU that observed the boy was subcontracted to a third-party provider. This meant that the NICU was out-of-network. The Wilkes were sent a $50,000 bill by the hospital that still haunts them 15 years later.

Thomas Nickels, the executive vice president of the American Hospitals Association, claimed that fixed reimbursement rates, such as a median benchmark or percentage of the Medicaid reimbursement value, would disincentivize insurers from maintaining adequate provider networks. Nickels supported the Alternative Dispute Resolutions method, which involves baseball-style arbitration where providers and payers settle on reimbursement value on a case-by-case basis.

Jeanette Thornton, a senior vice president at America’s Health Insurance Plans, argued that the New York model of baseball-style arbitration would create immense clerical burden, resulting in lost time and greater administrative costs. She argued the arbitration reimbursement model would raise costs for patients in the end. Instead, she advocated for the government-dictated fixed reimbursement rates.

Both versions of the bill call for a benchmark to resolve payments between insurance plans and out-of-network providers. This benchmark says health plans would reimburse providers with the median in-network rate already contracted within specific geographic areas. The House bill contains binding arbitration as a fallback in case either the provider or payer decide the payment was an unfair price.

The National Consumers League supports Congress’ tackling of this issue of surprise or balance billing. NCL has taken no position on how these bills are settled between the payer and provider, as long as patients are protected from outrageously expensive bills they can never hope to pay and were never anticipating. In addition, medical debt is the greatest contributor to consumers declaring bankruptcy, and balance billing is a contributor to that troubling consumer issue. The bottom line is that a bill for medical services should never cause bankruptcy, and a patient should never have to choose between medical treatment and food or housing. We are hopeful this issue will be resolved during this Congressional session.

Alexa is a student at Washington University in St. Louis where she studies Classics and Anthropology and concentrates in global health and the environment. She expects to graduate in May of 2020