‘Innovation’ = airline speak for finding new ways to gouge consumers

Brian YoungIf you have been listening to the airline industry, you may think that now is one of the best times to fly. According to its lobbyists, fares are down, and the airlines are working overtime to provide their customers with new and innovative products. However, in reality, if you have spent any time shopping around for a ticket, you are probably intimately aware that all of this “innovation” serves one purpose: to stifle what little competition remains in the airline marketplace and to implement new and creative ways to gouge consumers.

The Government Accountability Office, along with several independent researchers, have found that the proliferation of airline fees have allowed airlines to deceptively appear to be lowering fares while, in fact, they are quietly raising the real cost of travel. This nickel and diming allows airlines to rake in revenue–to the tune of $57 billion dollars a year–in so-called “ancillary fees,” in turn allowing the airlines to bring in record profits. In 2018, the industry is estimated to see a $38.4 billion profit margin.

Airline fees also serve another disturbing purpose: they stifle competition and prevent the free market from functioning properly by undermining the ability of consumers to comparison shop. Most of us are aware of the different fees airlines are now charging for carry-on bags, change fees, and even necessities like water. These fees can greatly complicate the comparison shopping process. The fee Delta charges for carry-on bags could be very different than the fee United charges; in this environment, expecting consumers to calculate the real costs based on fees and add-ons in order to compare real prices is absurd.

Airlines are now flexing their creative muscles to develop new fees that vary depending on the day of the week! Lufthansa, for instance, now has a fee that’s based on fluctuating ticket prices, exchange rates, “market-specific conditions,” and special offers. Similarly, Virgin Atlantic has a fare of $93 for one of its routes, but the airline tacks on carrier-imposed surcharges of $320 and government taxes of $225, which increase the ultimate price of the ticket more than 5-fold.

Unsurprisingly the ever-growing list of varying fees has made it difficult for consumers to comparison shop. Staying updated on the new fees airlines have tacked on can become a full-time job. While some online travel agents and meta-search sites do their best to inform users of the new list of fees, (Google Flights for instance, now allows you to search for flights that include carry-on bag fees in the price of the ticket and will soon add an option to search for flight prices that include checked bags) by and large, the burden of determining what fees one is liable for is carried by the consumer.

In addition to just making comparison shopping complicated, many airlines such as Delta and Southwest also take another approach: prohibiting websites from displaying their fares alongside competitors’ completely. Southwest Airlines has long taken this approach, forcing consumers to go directly to its website to determine the price of a flight.

The industry’s refusal to share fare and schedule data has had a measurable detrimental impact on airline passengers. One industry study found that this practice could cost passengers upwards of $6 billion dollars per year (or $30 per ticket). Even more concerningly, the same study found that if this practice continues, more than 40 million Americans could refrain from flying due to sticker shock.

Fortunately, in 2016 Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx began investigating whether consumers are harmed when airlines restrict their schedule and fare information. However, once the Trump Administration took over the DOT (the relevant cop on the beat for this type of deceptive practice), the agency suspended the investigation, saying that forcing airlines to allow comparison shopping was not needed.

As this administration has signaled a lack of interest in transparent markets, Congress must now act to ensure that competition can once again thrive in the air travel marketplace. At the National Consumers League, we have long believed that an informed consumer is an empowered consumer and that in order for markets to function properly, consumers must be able to comparison shop. If airlines hide behind wildly fluctuating fees and conceal their fare and schedule information from consumers and online travel sites, consumers cannot make informed purchases. It is for this reason than NCL will continue to advocate for transparency in the airline marketplace, both in our advocacy to do away with arbitrary fees, as well as in our work to make sure that passengers can continue to shop around for the best price.

Being Financially Fragile in America – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

Nearly 36 percent of working Americans could not cover an unexpected $2,000 expense within 30 days. According to a survey done by the 2015 National Financial Capability Study (NFCS), working adults (ages 25 – 60) who answered “probably not” or “certainly could not” to the question of whether they could come up with $2,000 in 30 days. Such consumers are considered “financially fragile.”

The 2015 Survey for Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED) also revealed that 41 percent of respondents are considered financially fragile when faced with an emergency expense of $400. 41 percent said they would have to charge this unexpected expense to a credit card or use money from a savings account.

These statistics are not surprising considering that during the recession of 2008, nearly 50 percent of working adults were considered financially fragile.

Who is financially fragile?

  • Women (42 percent) are significantly more likely to be economically stressed than men (29 percent)
  • Financial fragility decreases steadily with increasing income, thus, paying workers more decreases their precarious finances
  • Financial fragility is about equally distributed across age groups, although fragility is slightly higher among 40- to 49-year-olds

According to a NEFE Digest article, a number of factors can cause financial fragility. A lack of assets include things such as low borrowing capacity on credit cards, inadequate health insurance, renting a house instead of owning and lack of access to traditional bank accounts. The second is debt, including medical, education and credit card debt. Some of these issues can be addressed with improved financial literacy.

The NCL is especially interested financial fragility in the U.S. for reasons that sync up perfectly with our mission: protecting workers and paying them a fair wage and ensuring consumer protections from predatory practices like payday loans and bank fees and excessively high interest on student or auto loans. We also agree with NEFE Digest that financial literacy reduces financial risk because consumers make better, more informed decisions when they have more knowledge and information. NEFE Digest notes that better financial literacy lowers one’s likelihood of being financially fragile–regardless of age or income.

Financially literate consumers bolster the overall health of the economy. This is why programs such as NCL’s LifeSmarts program, which educates youth the environment, health and safety, personal finance, technology and their rights as consumers, are so important. Financial literacy education should start young and continue throughout adulthood. Doing so reduces the risk to all consumers that they will become financially fragile.

Imposters, information theft, and internet scams: the dangers of unregulated online pharmacies – National Consumers League

By NCL Food Policy and LifeSmarts Caleigh Bartash

With technology improving rapidly over the past few decades, online retailers have proved more convenient, reducing the market share of brick-and-mortar retailers. However, the convenience of purchasing prescription medication online or over the phone can inadvertently trap consumers in internet scams.Countless issues can arise from ordering prescription medication online. Unapproved internet dealers often evade government recognition or detection, failing to comply with drug safety regulations. Consumers can receive counterfeit, contaminated, or expired drugs. In some cases, these drugs may contain deadly opioids like fentanyl. Unauthorized medications can also have varying amounts of a medicine’s active ingredient — if they contain the correct ingredient at all.

Consumers may be attempting to access medications that they have previously been prescribed. However, they face security threats as soon as they give their personal details to an illegitimate pharmacy. These sellers have poor security protections, with leaks of sensitive customer information all too common. Illegitimate online sellers may even outright sell consumer data to scammers. Moreover, these websites can trick unsuspecting consumers into downloading viruses which further risk personal property and information.

Counterfeit drugs, unauthorized data sharing, and cyber attacks are dangerous, but now, a new threat has emerged involving counterfeit letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, the FDA released a press announcement alerting consumers to fraudulent warning letters claiming to be sent from the government. They advised that any consumer who received a warning message is likely the victim of a scam.

The July 2018 FDA press announcement is unique in that it is targeted directly to consumers. Commonly, these warning letters are used as a tool to inform the public about drug safety issues and are typically sent exclusively to manufacturers and companies creating products under their jurisdiction. FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb summarized the FDA’s policy, stating “we generally don’t take action against individuals for purchasing a medicine online, though we regularly take action against the owners and operators of illegal websites.”

What’s next for those that received a warning letter? The FDA requests that potential victims contact them with information, including pictures and scanned documents if possible, in an effort to help them investigate the scams. Consumers can use the email address FDAInternetPharmacyTaskForce-CDER@fda.hhs.gov as the primary channel for communicating with the agency about suspicious warnings.

The best way to avoid falling victim to any scam involving illegal internet pharmacies is to abstain from suspicious websites. How do you distinguish fake internet pharmacies from safe ones? The FDA offers guidance with their BeSafeRx campaign. Asking a few simple questions at the doctor’s office or calling a certified pharmacist can help consumers protect themselves. Safe online pharmacies usually offer information including address, contact information, and state license. Consumers should be wary if the pharmacy does not require prescriptions to access pharmaceutical drugs. Other warning signs include international addresses, clear spam messages, and unreasonably low prices.

####

Have more questions about fraud? NCL’s Fraud.org site has prevention tips, an outlet for consumer complaints, and an experienced fraud counselor to teach you how to avoid common scams. And for those wanting to learn more about proper medication consumption, our Script Your Future initiative has helpful advice and information so you can navigate your prescriptions with the utmost confidence.

D.C. City Council Angers Voters by Moving to Overturn Initiative 77 – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

After the passage of Initiative 77, seven members of D.C. City Council pledged to overturn the initiative, essentially suppressing the will of the voters. This move by the City Council has further outraged D.C. voters, who already feel disenfranchised. Considering the 80,000 DC voters who weighed in on this issue, its no wonder.

In the past few weeks, there has been controversy surrounding Initiative 77 and its hope of survival in D.C. City Council. Initiative 77, a worker-led campaign that passed by a 56% to 44% margin, would raise the minimum tipped wage by $1.50 a year until it reaches $15.00 by 2025. Currently, in the District of Columbia, the minimum tipped wage is a mere $3.33. Employers are allowed to pay tipped workers this small amount if tips make up the difference. Therefore, if tipped workers make at least $13.25 in tips, the current minimum wage, then employers are “off the hook” for covering the difference.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, even those who voted against the initiative agreed that the City Council should not negate the will of the people. Those interviewed for the article responded with heated comments saying, “it enrages me,” and, “the City Council shouldn’t assume an electorate…doesn’t know what they are voting for.” These are not isolated responses; many voters have reached out to their City Council members, strongly protesting the possibility of repeal.

NCL supported the OFW campaign but regardless, it is not democratic or just for the City Council to overturn the decision of the voters. Many, including the leading group in this effort, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), have accused the City Council of voter suppression and stomping on democracy. 

NCL believes in Initiative 77 and shedding the distinction between a tipped and minimum wage. We also strongly believe that civic participation is the foundation of our democracy. If the City Council moves to overturn this measure, it will send a very negative message to voters about the importance of the democratic process and the value of their voice in it.

BlackRock: Promoting shareholder activism – National Consumers League

By NCL Public Policy intern Melissa Cuddington

Many consumers think of money management companies, such as BlackRock Inc., Vanguard Group, and State Street Corp., to be solely interested in the finance market and ways to strengthen their investment portfolios. Turns out this isn’t entirely the case. 

The recent action of Laurence Fink, CEO of BlackRock Inc., calling on shareholders to better articulate long-term plans and spell out how their organizations can contribute to society in a positive manner, is a stellar example of a company promoting shareholder activism.

According to a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year, Fink stated that BlackRock Inc. plans toover the next three yearsdouble the size of the team that engages with other companies regarding their societal impact. Fink also states that this team will be investigating corporate strategies that can be used when collaborating with investors and shareholders.

Fink states in his annual letter that investors must “understand the societal impact of your business, as well as the ways that broad structural trends—from slow wage growth to rising automation to climate change—affect your potential for growth.”

This statement by Fink caught NCL’s eye as a positive and productive move on the part of the finance industry. It is crucial that money management companies understand their societal impact and ways in which their investments affect structural trends—such as climate change and unemployment. We hope to see other money management companies follow suit.

Regulations Can Save Lives, Like Ted’s – National Consumers League

Sarah Aillon, NCL internWritten by National Consumers League Intern Sarah Aillon

The Trump administration is waging war against regulations. In January, President Trump announced in his State of the Union address that “in our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.” Since entering Office, the Trump administration rolled back many environmental, and economic regulations which secure the health, safety, and security of the American people. While the Trump Administration boastfully describes these rollbacks as progress, many public protection advocates have sounded their alarms.

Earlier this June, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and Georgetown Law organized a symposium which addressed the threat deregulation poses in the Trump era. Titled, The War on Regulation: Good for Corporations, Bad for the Public, the event featured a wide range of public protection advocates, including the mother of an accident victim, professors, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) Their stories prove just how critical many regulations are for individual well-being and what happens when regulations do not monitor dangerous products.

Janet McGee, an advocate on the event’s second panel, and described the harrowing death of her 22-month-old son, Ted. In 2016, the toddler was in his room napping. When Janet went in to check on him, she found Ted under a dresser that had fallen on him. Ted was unresponsive and cold but had a faint heartbeat. McGee started CPR and then rushed him to the hospital. Tragically, the boy passed away four short hours after she first found him.

McGee’s story is not outstanding: every 17 minutes someone in the United States is injured by falling furniture, televisions or appliances. These furniture tip-overs kill a child every two weeks.

Voluntary safety standards in the American furniture industry perpetuate the high risk of furniture tip-overs. Voluntary safety standards threaten the consumer’s safety and security. A Consumer Reports investigation tested 24 dressers against the industry’s voluntary safety standards and found only six dressers met the industry’s standards. In response to their findings, Consumer Reports suggested raising the test weight for furniture tip-overs from 50 pounds to 60 pounds and to apply tests to dressers that are 30 inches high and higher. Anchoring dressers to walls with brackets and straps is an effective strategy to prevent the problem, but few consumers are aware of the need to secure their furniture from tip-overs.

Voluntary safety standards make enforcement of furniture safety difficult. Companies can pick and choose what standards they comply with. Voluntary safety standards allow product design to remain poor and increase the threat of injury and death.

The Ikea dresser responsible for the death of Janet McGee’s son did not meet safety standards. McGee’s Ikea dresser is not the only one from the company to fail their consumers. Over the course of 19 years, 8 children have died from Ikea dressers. As stated by McGee, the longstanding effects of furniture tip-over represent an industry-wide problem. However, with voluntary safety standards, little enforcement or change occurs.

Despite the danger many dressers on the market hold, little has been done to resolve the threat. Safety standards remain voluntary instead of mandatory. “Parents should worry about their children for many reasons, but furniture falling on them should not be one of them,” said McGee. Eventually, Ikea offered to take back 29 million chests and dressers in the Malm line, but very few consumers knew about the recall. Tens of millions of the Malm dressers are thought to still be in use and unsecured today.

McGee’s tragic, cautionary tale is just one example of why consumer regulations are necessary. President Trump’s focus on slashing regulations endanger everyday people, favoring big business at consumers’ expense. Regulatory safeguards enable people to live and work safely. “Strong government rules matter. We cannot, we must not accept a government that works only for a privileged few,” Warren said.

To learn more about furniture tip-over and Janet McGee’s story, click here.

___

Sarah Aillon is a rising senior at Dickinson College pursuing dual degrees in Political Science and History. She is passionate about the National Consumers League’s work and is a child labor policy intern with them this summer.

Endometriosis: In need of attention! – National Consumers League

Zoe PharoZoe Pharo is a rising sophomore at Carleton College in Northfield, MN and is excited to be a health policy intern with the National Consumers League this summer.

Endometriosis is estimated to affect close to 200 million women worldwide, but we often hear very little about its prevalence.

 

On behalf of the National Consumers League, I attended a June 19 panel on endometriosis, hosted by the Society for Women’s Health Research. Panelists included Linda G. Griffiths, PhD, Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stacey Missmer, ScD, Scientific Director of the Boston Center for Endometriosis; and Robert N. Taylor, MD, PhD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah. The panel was moderated by the Society for Women’s Health Research’s President and CEO, Amy Miller, PhD.

What is endometriosis? 

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue that is typically only located inside the uterus is found elsewhere in the body. While it is estimated that close to 200 million women worldwide will experience endometriosis, we often hear little about its prevalence. Even as awareness of endometriosis increases—thanks to Lena Dunham and other celebrities sharing their struggles with the disease—numerous challenges still remain, including the following:

  • Many women face delays in diagnosis or misdiagnosis;
  • Funding for research has been slashed and continues to decrease under the Trump Administration;
  • Subtypes of the disease have yet to be identified;
  • Data on the prevalence of endometriosis does not exist; and
  • There is no standardized way to measure the amount of pain felt by women with endometriosis, often resulting in upsetting and discouraging interactions when women try to talk to their clinician, family members, colleagues, spouse, or others about their experiences.

What are the symptoms of endometriosis? 

Common symptoms of endometriosis include infertility, back and pelvic pain, digestive problems, painful sex, and painful menstrual cramps. The most visible symptoms of endometriosis are the lesions that often accompany the disease. However, there is no conclusive research on the relationship between lesions and pain or infertility. It is important to note that many women with endometriosis never present with any outwardly visible symptoms. Further, medical professionals do not have a standard way to measure pain. As Dr. Robert N. Taylor said, “Pain is a highly complex behavior” and is therefore hard to study and model.

Additionally, a patient diagnosed with endometriosis may present with comorbidities. Endometriosis has been found to lead to an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other autoimmune diseases.

Why the delay in diagnosis?

Diagnosis of endometriosis is delayed an average of six to seven years, partly because, as Dr. Taylor said, “American medicine has lagged behind in the teaching of sexuality.” Healthcare providers and women’s health advocates need to create spaces where women are comfortable discussing their sexual health and any painful symptoms that may point towards a diagnosis of endometriosis.

Even when women do discuss their symptoms, delayed diagnosis can be due to symptoms that overlap with other gynecologic and gastroenterological processes. For example, a common misdiagnosis is IBS. In addition, for many years, the only way to definitively diagnose endometriosis was by operating, using laparoscopy or excision. Surgical diagnoses come with risks, so we are beginning to move towards alternative methods that do not rely on such invasive procedures. However, even newer medical treatments, such as suppressing hormone production, can have negative consequences in young women.   

What can policymakers, healthcare providers, and advocates do?

Policymakers can appropriate additional funding for endometriosis research. First and foremost, endometriosis is an economic problem, representing an annual $69.4 billion economic burden in the United States. Despite this burden, funding for endometriosis is shrinking, at the same time that endometriosis is becoming more prevalent in the population.  

As Dr. Linda Griffiths pointed out, research on endometriosis is not what is funding many scientists’ careers. Dr. Griffiths described her research on endometriosis as a “hobby,” and advocated for more basic research on the biology of endometriosis and on potential subtypes of the disease. Future research should also look at selective groups that have yet to be studied. In addition, it is important to reconsider how to effectively judge pain. Currently there is no standard algorithm. This is troubling to Dr. Griffiths, as she recounted a time when she vomited from the intensity of her own endometriosis pain.  

Dr. Griffiths also recommended routine and accurate collection of data, which currently does not exist for endometriosis. We need to consistently measure the prevalence of endometriosis in various populations as well as the efficacy of potential treatments.  

Dr. Stacey Missmer recommended the implementation of policies to enable women to report their symptoms and be taken seriously when they do so. Electronic medical records might provide a way to alter clinician-patient interactions. Dr. Missmer said she envisions an electronic drop-down option for immediate entry, perhaps asking patients, “Are you experiencing pelvic pain?”

Finally, we need to talk openly about the physical and psychological effects of endometriosis. NCL is working closely with leading organizations in the women’s health space to consider the most effective ways to bring down barriers to better outcomes in women’s reproductive health.

Carpenter v. United States: Impacts on privacy legislation – National Consumers League

The U.S. Supreme Court decision last week in Carpenter v. United States will shape the relationship consumers have with their wireless devices and the services they use every day for years to come. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that by obtaining cell-site records, the U.S. government performed a search. By doing so without a warrant, this search was judged unconstitutional, violating petitioner Timothy Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment rights and reversing two previous decisions.

In the case, the FBI had requested records as part of an investigation into several Detroit-area armed robberies, and those records included details about call dates, times, and approximate locations. Carpenter asked that the cell phone evidence be suppressed because it was obtained in a search without a warrant.   

You’re thinking, “And? I’m not accused of armed robbery,” but it’s bigger than Timothy Carpenter. The Carpenter decision affects all of us, and in essence redefines government searches in a digital age.

Think of your relationship with your cell phone. According to Pew, 95 percent of Americans now own one. The same study found that for one in five of us, our smartphone is our sole source of Internet service. We carry them to work, to school, to our homes, and to meet up with friends. They go with us to our meetings, appointments, and vacations. They are a key vector through which we’re understood. Part of that is an unprecedented ability to locate us. When 95 percent of us are moving and communicating with our phones, and when 20 percent of us are using them as our only personal Internet connection, government access to when and where we use cell phones becomes an inroad to very intimate surveillance.

The FBI obtained records defined by the Court as “personal location information maintained by a third party” under the Stored Communications Act (SCA). SCA compels service providers to hand over records of electronically stored communications to government, without a warrant requirement, provided there is evidence for the information’s relevance to an ongoing investigation. Last week’s decision sets a new standard for expectations of digital privacy at a time when consumers and government are grappling with how to think about our lives online using documents drafted by the nation’s founders.

NCL has previously stated that consumer privacy is an integral part of the data economy, and we advocate for robust consumer protections in this space to encourage safe and secure use of online services. We applaud the Court’s decision and see it as an important step in the fight to safeguard consumers’ data in the United States and beyond.

Rebecca Kielty is spending the summer with John Breyault’s team, working on consumer privacy issues as NCL’s 2018 Google Public Policy Fellow. Rebecca received her B.A. from the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg and her M.A. from Georgetown University.

Automobile industry ignoring safety packages – National Consumers League

NCL Public Policy Intern Melissa Cuddington contributed to this post.

In November 22, 2004, Automotive News, the publication that covers the auto industry, ran one of my favorite editorials of all time:

“All safety related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles. No choice. It’s not an economic decision; it’s a moral decision. When the choice becomes profit vs. lives, the decision should be simple.”

This issue is more pertinent now than ever. The National Consumers League strongly supports enhanced auto safety technologies and, like the quote above says, it’s a moral decision to make safety technologies standard equipment. Case in point: driver-assist technology, has been available for about a decade in the United States. It includes automatic breaking, lane-changing aids, and cruise control, each of which has made driving safer.

One would think that these driver-assist programs would be included in “standard safety packages,” but they are not. As such, it’s sad to read that the auto industry is doing a poor job marketing and selling these systems. According to the Wall Street Journal, salespeople are apparently not being properly trained to discuss the benefits of these safety technologies. In a recent survey done by the MIT AgeLab, only six out of 17 car sellers were able to explain the safety technologies. In fact, many car salespeople say they don’t have the knowledge or the time to explain these packages. Car sellers are not incentivized to explain these technologies because they drive up the cost of the car and take “excessive” time in the showroom. What a loss! Thirty percent of traffic accidents and fatalities could be avoided if the majority of cars had these standard safety packages, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

This lack of enthusiasm for selling the safety that exists today is ironic. Automobile manufacturers are trying to rush through Congress a bill that gives nearly carte blanche for the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) with little regulation. Safety is one of the top reasons AVs are being touted by the auto industry as a means for greatly reducing auto injuries. But we are skeptical; just look how industry gives short shrift to the safety devices we have access to now!

There are notable exceptions. NCL applauds carmakers Honda Motor Co., Subaru Corporation, and Toyota Motor Corporation for their plans to include safety packages in their standard car models, such as the 2019 Subaru Ascent and the 2018 Honda Accord. These companies have also made a concerted effort to keep prices down for models featuring the safety technology. We’d like to see them and their competitors expand these features to their whole fleet.

We urge the automobile industry take a second look at the cost of these driver-assist packages that aren’t standard equipment, to train their sales force to sell these lifesaving packages, and—most importantly—to start to include these safety packages in standard car models. Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between affordability and safety. Like Automotive News said nearly 15 years ago, “All safety-related devices should become standard equipment on all vehicles.”

Vaccine-averse ‘Hotspots’: A danger to all – National Consumers League

By Melissa Cuddington, NCL public policy intern

Think that measles has been eradicated from the United States? Think again. According to a report published earlier this month by PLOS Medicine, measles is still spread by unvaccinated children and foreign visitors to the United States. This spread is seen in “hotspots,” otherwise known as areas where the risk of disease is higher because parents choose to abstain from getting their children vaccinated. Parents continue to claim non-medical exemptions for issues of philosophy, and that’s dangerous.

A recent Washington Post article shined a light on the growing problem the anti-vaccination movement is creating: 18 states still allow parents to opt their children out of school immunization requirements. These hotspots are located across the country both in urban, metropolitan locations, such as Houston, Austin, and Pittsburgh and in rural areas as well.

In many of these urban centers, too many children are being exempted from immunization requirements, making it easier for vaccine-preventable diseases to spread and infect others. The Post article notes that these urban centers have busy airports, opening up the possibility for diseases to spread to the un-vaccinated.

According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who remain unvaccinated are most likely the cause of the increased occurrence of measles and other contagious diseases being spread throughout the United States. The CDC also predicts the reemergence of these diseases if parents continue to skirt vaccination requirements.

Many of these diseases from the past are easily preventable if parents get their children vaccinated at a young age. Medical research shows that if children do not receive the measles vaccination (MMR) 12 to 15 months after birth, they are at risk of exposure.

Sadly the anti-vaccination movement in the United States has been going strong. At some point, parents need to consider that the decision not to get their child vaccinated is not just personal—it’s a communal one. The choice to abstain from vaccination puts vulnerable adults and children at risk. As the research demonstrates, this decision could expose others to possibly fatal diseases, which are entirely preventable with immunization.

As a consumer advocacy organization that champions vaccinations for all who can safely be vaccinated, NCL pushes against these non-medical exemptions. It is dangerous for parents to be making decisions for their children that can have adverse effects on others. NCL encourages state and federal health officials to support laws that don’t allow personal preference to prevent children from being immunized. California’s law is a good model and would keep us all safe from totally preventable diseases.