Current Events in December 2011

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    What Does A Doctor Order At A Fast Food Restaurant?

    You can eat out and control your weight

    Going on a diet, or at least watching your calories, doesn't necessarily mean you have to stay away from fast food restaurants. It all depends on what you order when you go to one.

    And let's face it, in a busy life it's sometimes hard to avoid fast food. Often, you don't have the time to plan, prepare and consume three low-calorie, nutritious meals a day.

    “The average American consumes close to 50 percent of his or her meals outside of the home and fast-food restaurants are abundant,” said Dr. Jessica Bartfield, an internist who specializes in nutrition and weight management at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of Loyola University Health System. “By following a few rules, you can keep any fast food meal in calorie check.”

    Closet fast food fan

    It turns out Bartfield might not be typical of others in her profession. She admits to liking fast food restaurants. By looking over her shoulder, and watching what she orders, dieters might get some solid tips on eating out and not packing on the pounds.

    Bartfield says she likes sandwich shops that allow customers to load up on vegetable toppings, which adds nutritional value, and also pass on higher-calorie ingredients like cheese and dressings.

    “I am also a fan of fast-food places that offer soup or even chili as soup can be a terrific option, particularly ones loaded with veggies, lean meats and beans,” she said. “Be careful to avoid the cream- or cheese-based soups and beware the bread bowl, which can increase the calories by up to 1,000.”

    Bartfield listed for us her top five fast food tips:

    1. Select grilled rather than fried. A fast-food grilled chicken sandwich has 470 calories and 18 grams of fat while the fried version has 750 calories and 45 grams of fat.
    2. Hold off on cheese, mayonnaise and salad dressings unless low-fat options are available. Cheese can add an additional 100 calories or more per serving, as does mayonnaise and, often, you won’t miss the taste when ordering the plainer versions.
    3. Order the smallest size available. Go for the single burger rather than the double and for the small fry rather than bonus-size.
    4. Skip sugar-sweetened drinks, which are usually absent in nutritional value and don’t make you feel more satisfied. These calories quickly add up leading to excessive calorie consumption, especially at restaurants offering free refills on drinks.
    5. Save half of your order for your next meal. You save calories, save time and also save money.

    Tips for ordering at a fast food restaurant...

    Poll Finds Boomers Less Optimistic About Retirement

    Large number say they'll depend on Social Security

    All along it was assumed that Baby Boomers would do retirement differently than their parents. A new survey suggests that's true, not because of any sense of independence but out of economic circumstances.

    First, Boomers might not have saved all that much money for retirement. Second, the Great Recession hit at just the wrong time for many who were contemplating an early retirement. As a result, a survey by Allstate and the National Journal shows 68 percent of Boomers say they expect to keep working, in some form, past the traditional retirement age of 65.

    About 50 percent of them say they'll keep working out of economic necessity. Only 11 percent of current retirees report they have jobs.

    Impact of the Great Recession

    "The impact of the recession on the middle class is larger than past recessions. Not only is long-term unemployment at record levels, but Baby Boomers now say they will have to retire six years later than previous retirees," said Thomas J. Wilson, Allstate chairman, president and chief executive officer. "Sandwiched between the happily retired and the optimistic young, these near-retirees feel the pain of their declining home values and retirement savings and expect to work until 66 years of age. This profound decline in Baby Boomers' retirement expectations has significant public policy and private market implications."

    The poll found that people nearing retirement have different expectations about the sources of their retirement income and their financial security in retirement than current retirees. Both groups express a similar reliance on Social Security: 68 percent of retirees say it is a major source of income; 62 percent of near-retirees expect it to be.

    Pensions less of a factor

    However, more than half of current retirees cite a pension as a major income source, while only 37 percent of near-retirees expect the same. Meanwhile, 34 percent of near-retirees expect part-time work to be a major income source, while only 8 percent of current retirees report part-time work due to economic necessity.

    While 79 percent of current retirees say they're confident about their retirement security, only 67 percent of near-retirees say the same.

    "For those approaching retirement, the sense of security expressed by many of today's retired seniors looks like a ship that is sailing beyond reach," said Ronald Brownstein, editorial director of National Journal Group. "This survey captures a palpably greater degree of anxiety among near-retirees – families that have been exposed more directly to the battering of the job, housing, and stock markets."

    401(k) funds not that significant

    Despite the wide-spread availability of 401(k) retirement plans in the last two decades, only 39 percent of near-retirees expect these tax-deferred funds to be a major source of retirement income. Perhaps because of that, only 25 percent say they expect their retirement to be more comfortable than their parents'.

    Also no surprise, near-retirees overwhelmingly support Medicare in its present form, as opposed to a voucher system recently floated by some House Republicans.  

    Baby Boomers are more concerned about retirement now...

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      Consumers Lack Protections for Mobile Payments

      Consumers union wants wireless carriers to step up to the plate

      Most cell phone and tablet users can purchase digital goods and charge them to their monthly bill or prepaid phone account. But they may not get the protections they need to limit their financial liability if something goes wrong with the transaction.

      The protections consumers receive will vary depending on their wireless carrier's policies and what's in their cell phone contract, according to a new analysisby Consumers Union.

      "Consumers using mobile payments should get the same strong protections they currently enjoy when they make purchases with a credit card or debit card," said Michelle Jun, senior attorney for Consumers Union, the nonprofit advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. "But we found that consumer rights can vary widely between wireless carriers and the protections carriers claim to provide are often nowhere to be found in customer contracts."

      In May 2011, Consumers Union called on the top wireless carriers to strengthen their contracts to protect consumers in the event that their phone is lost or stolen or if a merchant makes a billing mistake or the customer is not satisfied with a purchase. The consumer group urged the carriers to provide the same strong protections guaranteed by law when consumers use a credit card or debit card.

      In addition, Consumers Union pressed the companies to provide consumers across the country with the same protections California phone customers are entitled to receive as a result of regulations issued by the state's Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

      Carriers say it's adequate

      Since May, Consumers Union has been in communication with representatives from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless to find out how they handle disputed mobile payment transactions. All four carriers maintain that they provide ample protections for consumers.

      However, Consumers Union found that the protections these carriers provide fall short of what consumers get when they use credit cards and debit cards or when California consumers report a disputed charge on their phone accounts. In addition, many of the protections that wireless carrier representatives described to Consumers Union are not disclosed in customer contracts, making it difficult to know whether consumers can count on these safeguards when problems arise.

      "As new mobile payment options become available, consumers are better off sticking to services linked to credit cards or debit cards, which come with strong protections required by law," said Jun. "If wireless carriers want consumers to have confidence in direct carrier billing programs, they should strengthen their contracts with the protections consumers need."

      For more details, see How Top Wireless Carriers Compare on Consumers Protections for Mobile Payments.

      Most cell phone and tablet users can purchase digital goods and charge them to their monthly bill or prepaid phone account. But they may not get the protec...

      Don't Fall For A Loan Audit Scam

      Foreclosure rescue scam gets a new name

      By now many distressed homeowners know they should avoid "foreclosure rescuers," most of which are scams. So the scammers call it something else, like a "forensic loan audit."

      That might sound impressive, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it's not.

      "In exchange for an upfront fee of several hundred dollars, so-called forensic loan auditors, mortgage loan auditors, or foreclosure prevention auditors backed by forensic attorneys offer to review your mortgage loan documents to determine whether your lender complied with state and federal mortgage lending laws," the agency warns. "The “auditors” say you can use the audit report to avoid foreclosure, accelerate the loan modification process, reduce your loan principal, or even cancel your loan."

      You can't. According to the FTC and its law enforcement partners:

      • there is no evidence that forensic loan audits will help you get a loan modification or any other foreclosure relief, even if they’re conducted by a licensed, legitimate and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer.
      • some federal laws allow you to sue your lender based on errors in your loan documents. But even if you sue and win, your lender is not required to modify your loan simply to make your payments more affordable.
      • If you cancel your loan, you will have to return the borrowed money, which may result in you losing your home.

      This new breed of foreclosure rescuer looks for homeowners in distress, especially those already facing foreclosure, to make their pitch. The FTC says these homeowners need to be able to recognize these scams when they see them and understand that there are legitimate options available if you are facing foreclosure.

      Spotting a Scam

      If you’re looking for foreclosure prevention help, avoid any business that:

      • guarantees to stop the foreclosure process – no matter what your circumstances are
      • instructs you not to contact your lender, lawyer or credit or housing counselor
      • collects a fee before providing any services accepts payment only by cashier’s check or wire transfer
      • encourages you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time
      • recommends that you make your mortgage payments directly to it, rather than your lender
      • urges you to transfer your property deed or title to it
      • offers to buy your house for cash at a fixed price that is inappropriate for the housing market
      • pressures you to sign papers you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand.

      Finding Legitimate Help

      Housing experts say that when you’re behind on your mortgage payments, maintaining communication with your lender is the most important thing you can do. Contact your lender or servicer immediately if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage or you have received a foreclosure notice. You may be able to negotiate a new repayment schedule.

      Call 1-888-995-HOPE for free personalized advice from housing counseling agencies certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  

      FTC tips for avoiding loan audit scam...

      What's On Your Mind? Verizon, Discover, Dell

      Our daily look at consumer reviews

      There is no doubt that online bill pay through your local bank has many advantages. However, it requires you to be very, very careful when you enter the amount of a bill you want to pay.

      "I paid my Verizon phone bill of $49.46 on November 14 through my online banking," Steve, of Azusa, Calif., told "I didn't put a decimal point in and paid them $4,496. It was my fault, no doubt, but they are not sending me a refund. They say they need proof that my bank paid them. They sent me a statement where they took out the $49.46 and the next month's bill and I still have a credit of over $4,800. But still won't send me the credit."

      Steve is going to have to greatly escalate this to get it rectified, we're afraid. Lower-level customer service personnel may have a difficult time authorizing a refund of that size, even if it is clearly owed. Steve needs to explain his situation to someone high up the chain of command.

      If all else fails, he can cancel his phone service, at which time Verizon would have to pay any credit on his account. He can then re-establish service. A bother, true, but at least he'll get his money back. Otherwise, he has essentially pre-paid his phone bill for more than eight years.

      Unprotected and poorer

      Kelly, of Tustin, Calif., is another consumer who purchased a "payment protection plan" on her Discover account and, despite paying $60 a month for this coverage, has found it of little use.

      "In November 2008, I was diagnosed with leukemia and went on disability," Kelly said. "When I returned home from the hospital in January 2009, we contacted Discover about activating the benefit. They sent us forms that we provided to my doctor, and my doctor returned the forms to Discover. A few months later, Discover sent us correspondence indicating that they did not receive necessary information from my doctor, so my benefit claim was being closed.

      Despite that, Kelly went on paying $60 a month for the benefit she wasn't receiving. After applying for the benefit a second time, she said she was again denied.

      "In May 2011, we lost our home to foreclosure," Kelly said. "Our payments to Discover were automatic. After moving to a rental, I found that we were still paying a minimum amount, and still incurring 22 percent interest and still paying $60 a month for a benefit we've never received. Why are we paying $60 a month for a benefit that is actually costing us money?

      Why indeed? Some consumers feel the need to take out "insurance" on their appliances and credit cards, but they should keep in mind these policies are almost always to the company's advantage.

      Catch 22

      William, of San Antonio, Tex., bought a Dell Inspiron 1750 in December 2009. He also paid for what he thought was an additional warranty which provided coverage until Dec 2014.

      "The keyboard quit working on Dec 14 2011." William said. "I called Dell for Service with the warranty and was told that I did not have a warranty but I had accidental insurance and that they would refund the money I had paid for non-existing warranty. I argued to no avail that I had bought a warranty but their response is canned as I am sure this is not the first instance. When I talked to the warranty department I was told I could not have the insurance without a warranty and that I would have to pay for the repair in order to get the warranty."

      Wow, trying to follow this makes our head hurt! Surely William has the paperwork from his warranty insurance. If he doesn't, he's probably out of luck. To consumers considering an extended warranty on anything, put the money you would have spent on the warranty away and don't spend it. When the item breaks, use the money to help pay for the repair. Nine times out of ten you'll be better off.

      And we just have to say ... this is an awful lot of bother, angst and consternation over a keyboard.  William can go to any Best Buy and pick up a keyboard for $20 or less.  Is it really worth fighting over?

      Here is what's on consumer's minds today: Verizon, Discover, Dell, Unprotected and poorer and Catch 22....

      Cigarette Smoking Down, Marijuana Smoking Up

      Teen smoking, drinking habits show overall improvement

      Are teens smoking more or less?  Good question, and there's no simple yes or no answer.

      A survey released today by the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, finds that cigarette and alcohol use by eighth, 10th and 12th-graders are at their lowest point since the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey began polling teenagers in 1975.

      However, researchers found a slowing rate of decline in teen smoking as well as continued high rates of abuse of other tobacco products (e.g., hookahs, small cigars, smokeless tobacco), marijuana and prescription drugs.

      The survey results appear to show that more teens continue to abuse marijuana than cigarettes; and alcohol is still the drug of choice among all three age groups queried.

      "That cigarette use has declined to historically low rates is welcome news, given our concerns that declines may have slowed or stalled in recent years," said NIDA director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "That said, the teen smoking rate is declining much more slowly than in years past, and we are seeing teens consume other tobacco products at high levels.

      "This highlights the urgency of maintaining strong prevention efforts against teen smoking and of targeting other tobacco products," Volkow said.

      The 2011 results showed that 18.7 percent of 12th-graders reported current (past-month) cigarette use, compared to a recent peak rate of 36.5 percent in 1997 and 21.6 percent five years ago. Only 6.1 percent of eighth-graders reported current smoking, compared to a recent peak of 21 percent in 1996 and 8.7 percent five years ago.

      "While it is good news that cigarette use has declined to historically low rates, we can and must do more to accelerate that decline," said Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for health. "The actual decline is relatively small compared to the sharp declines we witnessed in the late nineties."

      Less alcohol

      For alcohol, 63.5 percent of 12th-graders reported past year use, compared to a recent peak of 74.8 percent in 1997. Similarly, 26.9 percent of eighth-graders reported past year use of alcohol in 2011, compared to a recent peak rate of 46.8 percent in 1994.

      There also was a five-year decrease in binge drinking, measured as five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks, across all three grades. Binge drinking was reported by 6.4 percent of eighth-graders, 14.7 percent of 10th-graders, and 21.6 percent of 12th-graders, down from the 2006 rates of 8.7 percent, 19.9 percent and 25.4 percent respectively.

      Despite the declines noted in the report, use of marijuana has shown some increases in recent years and remains steady. Among 12th-graders, 36.4 percent reported past year use, and 6.6 percent reported daily use, up from 31.5 and 5 percent, respectively, five years ago.

      The upward trend in teens' abuse of marijuana corresponded to downward trends in their perception of risk. For example, only 22.7 percent of high school seniors saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 25.9 percent five years ago.

      Similarly, 43.4 percent of eighth-graders reported that they saw great risk in smoking marijuana occasionally, compared to 48.9 percent five years ago. In addition, concerns about the use of synthetic marijuana, known as K2 or spice, prompted its inclusion in the survey for the first time in 2011. Surprisingly, 11.4 percent of 12th-graders reported past year use.

      "K2 and spice are dangerous drugs that can cause serious harm," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy. "Parents are the most powerful force in the lives of young people and we ask that all of them talk to their teens today about the serious consequences of using marijuana, K2, or spice."

      Prescription drugs

      There was mixed news seen in the non-medical use of prescription drugs. Abuse of the opioid painkiller Vicodin was reported by 8.1 percent of 12th graders -- similar to 2010 and down from 9.7 percent in 2009. There was also a decline reported by 10th graders -- to 5.9 percent from 7.7 percent in 2010. However, no such declines were seen for the opioid painkiller OxyContin.

      In 2011, the non-medical use of the ADHD medicines Adderall and Ritalin remained about the same as last year among 12th-graders, at 6.5 and 2.6 percent, respectively. There was, however, a significant decline in the abuse of over-the-counter cough medicine among eighth-graders, down to 2.7 percent in 2011 from 4.2 percent in 2006, when the survey first asked about its abuse. A similar decline in cough medicine abuse was seen among 12th-graders, to 5.3 percent from 6.9 percent five years ago.

      "To help educate teens about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, NIDA is launching an updated prescription drug section on our teen website," said Dr. Volkow. "Teens can go to our PEERx pages to find interactive videos and other tools that help them make healthy decisions and understand the risks of abusing prescription drugs. 

      Are teens smoking more or less?  Good question, and there's no simple yes or no answer.A survey released today by the University of Michigan, A...

      Study: Family Members Most Likely To Commit Financial Elder Abuse

      Ten tips for avoiding becoming a victim

      A word of advice to senior citizens: be very careful which family members you trust with your finances. In fact, researchers at Virginia Tech suggest you might be better off finding someone outside your circle of family and friends to help you.

      Karen A. Roberto, director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, found that of the 1,128 news articles on elder abuse published from November 2010 through January 2011, 31 percent dealt with abuse of a financial nature.

      Family, friends, neighbors

      Although slightly more than one-quarter of these events were identified as singular random acts incurring relatively minor financial losses, a high level of brutality and disregard for human life characterized these crimes, she found.

      Even more disturbing is the revelation that family, friends, and neighbors were identified as perpetrators in 45 percent of these cases and the overall dollar losses at the hands of family and friends were higher than from any other category of perpetrators.

      “Our findings support what service providers have long suspected, older adults are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse during the holidays,” said Roberto. “This might be due to the increase in the frequency of visitors in and out of their homes, money flowing more freely, and distractions that take them out of their normal routines.”

      The research study, which also analyzed newsfeeds from April through June of 2010, determined that older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse, a 12 percent increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008. “A trend,” said Roberto, “that perhaps is a reflection of the state of the economy.”

      Women more likely to be victims

      Elderly women, especially those between the ages of 80 and 89, were found to be nearly twice as likely to fall victim to financial abuse as men. They often lived alone and frequently required some level of assistance with either health care or home maintenance.

      Conversely, nearly 60 percent of perpetrators were found to be younger males between the ages of 30 and 59. In almost all cases reported through the newsfeeds studied, financial abuse was achieved through deceit, threats and emotional manipulation of the elder.

      Roberto offers 10 tips of preventing financial abuse:

      1. Stay active and engage with others; isolation increases both vulnerability and opportunity for victimization.
      2. Monitor your financial affairs. Even if assistance is needed, you or a trusted friend or family member should double check bank and credit card statements and other financial transactions. It is advisable to use direct deposit when possible and to sign your own checks if able.
      3. Stay organized. Know where your financial documents are (including wills, trusts, and power of attorney). Keep them safe and review annually; update as circumstances change.
      4. Discuss benefits of appointing a Power of Attorney with your attorney so that your directives can be adhered to even if you become incapable of stating them yourself.
      5. Be cautions in making financial decisions. Do not allow anyone to pressure you into making a hasty decision. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never give out bank account, social security or credit account numbers to solicitors.
      6. Protect your passwords. Do not share banking, computer or ATM passwords with others, and notify company or bank if you notice any questionable charges or transactions.
      7. Beware of telephone solicitations. It is not rude to hang up when an unknown caller tries to talk you into doing something you don’t want to do or buying something you don’t want. Hang up! Then call the National Do Not Call Registry at 1-888-382-1222 to reduce the number of solicitation calls you receive.
      8. Be careful of individuals who may take advantage of you. Elder financial abuse can be committed by anyone, including caregivers or family members. Be wary if anyone pressures you to do something with your money or possessions that you are not sure you want to do (e.g. adding their name to your bank accounts or property titles). Be especially careful of someone who tries to keep you isolated from others, and call a trusted family member or the police.
      9. Recognize potential financial abusers. Most abusers are very persuasive in convincing the elder of their trustworthiness. Again, never make a monetary decision without talking it over with someone you are sure has your best interests at heart.
      10. Know what to do if you believe you are a victim of financial abuse. Put aside your fear or embarrassment and discuss your concerns with someone you trust, be it another family member, clergyman, bank manager, or attorney.

      family and friends most likely to commit financial elder abuse...

      Debt Consolidation Firm To Pay Refunds To Consumers

      Florida finds United Financial Systems failed to pay promised refunds

      United Financial Systems, Inc. and its principal, Christopher Boulahanis, have agreed to pay refunds to 500 consumers as part of a settlement with the Florida Attorney General's Office. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi began an investigation when consumers complained the Florida-based company failed to provide refunds it had promised.

      Consumers like Ann, of Virginia Beach, Va., said they had kept up their end of he bargain but United Financial had not.

      "My experience with United Financial Systems was horrible," Ann told "They took my money from my checking account and did not pay my creditors for four months. I am out approximately $1600.00, plus they charged me a $60.00 fee each month to rob me. I had to make payment arrangements with the creditors, plus pay the company I am now with, to carry on the agreement I had with UFS. I just want my money back. I am retired and can ill afford to lose that kind of money."

      $595,000 in refunds

      The agreement with the state of Florida requires the company to refund approximately 500 consumers more than $595,000 in restitution in total.

      “The people who sought financial relief from this debt consolidation company were already facing difficult financial times, which were exacerbated when the company failed to refund their money. I am pleased that we are helping 500 consumers receive nearly $600,000 in restitution,” Bondi said.

      The settlement contains a strict enforcement mechanism such that any failure to make timely payments by United Financial Systems will result in a court ordered judgment against the company and its principals for the full amount of refunds due plus an additional $500,000 in civil penalties. The settlement also precludes the company and its representatives from engaging in credit counseling, debt management or debt consolidation in Florida.

      How to get reimbursed

      Consumers who have money coming to them will get it from the Office of the Florida Attorney General in two payments: a partial payment March 31, 2012, and a final pro rata payment Sept. 30, 2012. All affected consumers must submit a sworn affidavit documenting the amount of their loss postmarked by Jan. 20, 2012.

      Any consumers who were defrauded by United Financial Systems should contact the Florida Attorney General’s Office immediately if they have not submitted an affidavit in this matter. Consumers can download an affidavit form.

      debt consolidation firm customers to get refunds...

      New York Law Forbids Mail Order Pharmacy Mandates

      Consumers will now have option of using local drug stores

      New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a new law that prevents health insurance companies or employers from forcing plan participants to use mail order pharmacies to purchase covered prescription drugs.

      The law exempts drug plans negotiated by unions. In signing the bill into law, Cuomo said it would improve consumer convenience by expanding their options.

      A spokesman for mail-order pharmacy Express Scripts told the New York Times that Cuomo should have vetoed the bill -- that mail-order delivery is still the cheapest option with the least potential for error. There are many consumers who have written to who would disagree.

      Consumer frustration

      "This company is an absolute nightmare," Ginger, of Newport Beach, Calif., said of Express Scripts. "I have not received my medicines once before running out of the previous script. Not once! I've called their customer service so many times I should be on their Christmas card list."

      Tara, of Dallas, Tex., also complains of slow service from Express Scripts.

      "I get this medication filled every three months with a new script, and have been getting it filled with Express Scripts for nearly three years," Tara said. "So far, they're batting 1000: I run out of medication before I get the next order exactly 100% of the time, no exaggeration. Out of each year, I estimate I go without my medicine at least a month, and this year we're looking at six weeks already."

      Not just one company

      The consumer frustration appears to apply to mail-order pharmacies in general, not just Express Scripts. Medco, a competing mail-order pharmacy, draws similar complaints.

      "First, they tried to deny medications that my doctor specifically requested for me because they were supposedly not covered under my plan," Heather, of Ladson, S.C., told "After reading my plan information I discovered that even if a drug is not routinely covered on the plan, Medco must cover it -valbeit at a very high copay - when directly requested by a physician due to allergic reaction to other covered drugs in the same category. When this was brought to their attention, they reluctantly agreed to cover my migraine meds."

      Consumers in New York will now have the option of continuing with their mail-order pharmacy or using a local drug store to fill their prescriptions. Not surprisingly, the National Community Pharmacists Association, which represents brick-and-mortar drug stores, supported the legislation.

      Local drug stores cheer

      "In signing this bill into law, Governor Cuomo made the right call for public health, patient choice and New York jobs," said association CEO CEO B. Douglas Hoey. "The law empowers patients to choose the best pharmacy option for their personal health needs and preferences. While most patients overwhelmingly prefer to talk to a pharmacist in person, those who prefer to use mail order facilities will have that choice. But mail order is not for everyone and the key is leaving that decision in the hands of patients—not a large corporation with a vested interest in growing its mail order business."

      The law exempts drug plans negotiated by unions. In signing the bill into law, Cuomo said it would improve consumer convenience by expanding their options....

      Feds Warn Against Misleading Lap-Band Ads

      1-800-GET-THIN warned to clean up its advertising & promotion

      The marketing firm 1-800-GET-THIN and eight California surgical centers are being warned that their advertising is misleading and doesn't provide enough information about possible side effects of the Lap-Band, a surgical procedure for weight loss in obese adults.

      Several Californians have died following surgery related to the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising campaign, according to The Los Angeles Times.

      A lawsuit filed last February seeks damages in the death of a 50-year-old California woman who died five days after Lap Band surgery. Laura Faitro of Simi Valley died after undergoing surgery at Valley Surgical Center in West Hills, Calif.

      Her husband, John, said Ms. Faitro became interested in the surgery after seeing television commercials for1-800-GET-THIN. But a few days after the surgery, she was hospitalized with an infection and later died.

      Warning letters

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to the marketing group and to  Bakersfield Surgery Institute Inc.; Beverly Hills Surgery Center; Palmdale Ambulatory Center; Valley Surgical Center; Top Surgeons LLC; Valencia Ambulatory Center LLC; Cosmopolitan Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery; and San Diego Ambulatory Center LLC.

      In the letters, the FDA warns that billboards and advertising inserts the centers are using fail to provide required risk information, including warnings, precautions, possible side effects and contraindications.

      The FDA said it is also concerned that the font size of information related to risks on the advertising inserts is too small to be read by consumers.

      "The FDA takes seriously its responsibility to protect consumers from products promoted without adequate warnings,” said Steve Silverman, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “It's particularly troublesome when advertisements don’t communicate the serious risks associated with medical devices."

      Action threatened

      If the affected companies do not change the advertising and promotion strategies to address the concerns raised by the FDA, the agency is prepared to take further action, which could include product seizure or civil money penalties.

      The Lap-Band is a gastric band, an implanted medical device used in a surgical procedure for weight loss in obese adults who have a body mass index (BMI) of 30-40, with one or more obesity-related medical conditions (such as type II diabetes and hypertension), or in patients with a BMI of 40 or over with or without an obesity-related medical condition.  Gastric banding is used when non-surgical weight loss methods (such as supervised diet, exercise and behavior modification) have not been successful. Patients considering gastric banding must be willing to make major changes in their eating habits and lifestyle.

      “The decision to undergo a gastric banding procedure should be done in close consultation between a patient and his or her health care provider,” said Kimber Richter, M.D., deputy director for medical affairs in the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “It is important for the patient to fully understand both the risks and the benefits of the procedure and for the health care provider to be sure the procedure is appropriate for the patient.”

      The Lap-Band has not been approved for use in children younger than 18. Only those who are able and willing to follow dietary and other health and lifestyle recommendations should consider the procedure. It’s important that patients and their physicians are aware of and understand the limitations of gastric banding, the FDA said.

      Health care providers who choose to promote the gastric banding procedure are required to educate patients about the risks involved, which must also be included in any advertising and promotional materials. Patients considering the surgery should read the patient information provided by their doctor and should ask any questions they have about gastric banding before having surgery.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that it has taken action against eight California surgical centers and the marketing firm  ...

      FDA OKs Hand-Held Device to Detect Bleeding in the Brain

      Helps determine if immediate CT scan is needed

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today allowed marketing of the first hand-held device intended to aid in the detection of life-threatening bleeding in the skull called intracranial hematomas, using near-infrared spectroscopy.

      The device, called the Infrascanner Model 1000, can help health care providers identify patients with critical head injuries who need an immediate brain imaging study.

      “While patients with suspected brain injuries routinely receive a CT scan, this portable device offers emergency room physicians a non-invasive mechanism to aid in assessing whether an immediate CT scan is needed,” said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

      Intracranial hematomas occur when blood from a ruptured blood vessel collects within the brain or between the skull and the brain. As blood expands within the brain or in the narrow space between the brain and the skull, the brain becomes compressed.

      This can produce symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, dizziness, lethargy, weakness in the arm or leg on one side of the body, seizures, or unconsciousness. An intracranial hematoma can be life-threatening if it is not treated immediately.

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year about 1.7 million people in the United States experience a traumatic brain injury.


      The Infrascanner, Model 1000, uses a scanner that directs near-infrared light, a wavelength of light that can penetrate tissue and bone, into the skull. Blood from intracranial hematomas absorbs the light differently than other areas of the brain. The scanner detects differences in light absorption (optical density) and transmits the information wirelessly to a display on a hand-held computer.

      By comparing the optical density from a series of scans of specific areas on both sides of the skull, a trained health care provider can use the information provided by the device, in conjunction with other clinical information, to determine the likelihood of an intracranial hematoma and the need for further diagnostic procedures, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan. 

      The FDA reviewed data for the Infrascanner Model 1000 through the “de novo” classification process, a regulatory pathway for some low to moderate risk medical devices that are not comparable to a legally marketed device.

      The FDA granted the de novo petition for the Infrascanner Model 1000 based on a review of data comparing results from 383 CT scans of adult subjects with Infrascanner scan results. The Infrascanner was able to detect nearly 75 percent of the hematomas detected by CT scan. When CT scans detected no hematoma, the Infrascanner detected no hematoma 82 percent of the time. The Infrascanner Model 1000, however, is not a substitute for a CT scan.

      The FDA is specifying special controls in an accompanying regulation classifying the Infrascanner Model 1000 as a Class II device with special controls. The special controls provide information about specific risks that must be addressed by other manufacturers who may wish to market a similar device.

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today allowed marketing of the first hand-held device intended to aid in the detection of life-threatening blee...

      Feds Call For Nationwide Ban On Driver Use Of Cell Phones

      Blame texting for serious accident involving school buses in Missouri

      The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called on all 50 states - at least those that have not yet done so - to ban the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by people behind the wheel.

      The recommendation came at the conclusion of an NTSB hearing into a 2010 accident in Missouri that involved two school buses, a piece of construction equipment, and a passenger vehicle. Two people were killed and 38 others injured.

      The NTSB ruled the probable cause of the accident was the 19 year old driver of the passenger vehicle sending 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before the fatal crash. The young driver was one of the two fatalities.

      The board also faulted the drivers of the two school buses; the first for inattention behind the wheel and the second for tailgating.

      Up 50%

      A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study released last week said texting behind the wheel increased 50 percent last year. Twenty percent of drivers admit they've dashed off a text message while driving. The study found the younger you are, the more likely you are to have done it.

      Driving while talking on a cell phone, also against the law in a number of states, is an even more common practice, the survey found. Most drivers surveyed said they will take a cell phone call while driving.

      Nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Except for Maryland, all laws are primary enforcement—an officer may cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place. Thirty-five states, D.C. and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers.

      The NTSB wants a nationwide ban of cell phone use behind the wheel...

      Domestic Air Fares Up 8.5%

      Memphis, Cincinnati have highest fares, Atlantic City the lowest

      Average domestic air fares rose to $370 in the second quarter of 2011, up 8.5 percent from the average fare of $341 in the second quarter of 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reported today. 

      Memphis, TN and Cincinnati had the highest average fare, $476, while Atlantic City, NJ, had the lowest, $205.

      Second-quarter fares increased 3.9 percent from the first quarter, the second consecutive quarterly increase. Quarter-to-quarter changes may be affected by seasonal factors. 

      BTS reports average fares based on domestic itinerary fares. Itinerary fares consist of round-trip fares unless the customer does not purchase a return trip. In that case, the one-way fare is included.

      Fares are based on the total ticket value which consists of the price charged by the airlines plus any additional taxes and fees levied by an outside entity at the time of purchase. Fares include only the price paid at the time of the ticket purchase and do not include other fees, such as baggage fees, paid at the airport or onboard the aircraft. Averages do not include frequent-flyer or “zero fares” or a few abnormally high reported fares.

      Not inflation-adjusted, the $370 second-quarter 2011 average fares were up 6.5 percent from the previous second-quarter high of $347 in 2008. Unadjusted second-quarter fares dropped to a low of $302 in 2009 during the recession. Second-quarter 2011 fares were up 22.5 percent from the 2009 low, not adjusted for inflation.

      Second-quarter 2011 fares, not adjusted for inflation, were highest of any quarter. The post-1995 high was $359 in the third quarter of 2008.  Adjusted for inflation, second-quarter 2011 fares in 1995 dollars were $250, down 17.4 percent from the second quarter of 1999, which, at $302, was the inflation-adjusted high for any second quarter since 1995. BTS air fare records reach back to 1995.

      Average domestic air fares rose to $370 in the second quarter of 2011, up 8.5 percent from the average fare of $341 in the second quarter of 2010, the U.S....

      10 Tips For Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

      Make January's weight loss resolutions easier to keep

      There's a very good reason that so many New Year's resolutions involve losing weight. The previous month often includes holiday parties and family feasts that add to the weight that needs shedding in January.

      What if you could avoid putting on those extra pounds in the first place? A team of medical experts at Greenwich Hospital’s Weight Loss & Diabetes Center, in Connecticut, has come up with 10 tips for avoiding holiday weight gain.

      1. Set realistic expectations. Consider patterns in your weight during previous holiday periods. This is usually a time to maintain, not lose, weight.
      2. Schedule downtime. If you tend to have a lot of social events and responsibilities on your calendar, also schedule times to relax. It’s equally important for your overall health.
      3. Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time as best as you can. It’s easy to get distracted and pick up something "quick and easy" from a fast food restaurant. Instead, bring an apple, banana or small bag of nuts to eat in the car as a healthy snack.
      4. Write it down. This applies to a meal and snack schedule, and also to a food diary of everything you eat. Review it at the end of the day and start again the next day.
      5. Ask for help. It's nice to take care of others, but not to the point that it gets in the way of eating healthy, exercising adequately, and getting enough sleep for your personal health.
      6. Never go to a holiday party hungry. It’s a sure bet that you’ll overindulge on calorie-dense foods, and you'll be overeating in no time, but don’t get down on yourself for a special-occasion binge.
      7. Engage in mindful eating. In other words, don’t eat while multitasking. Savor each bite, focus on the joy of flavor. Appreciate every morsel.
      8. Drink water throughout the day and at events. Staying well hydrated can keep you alert. People often misread the body’s signals for thirst as hunger.
      9. Use exercise to relieve stress and empower you with physical and mental energy to follow your healthy holiday plans. Take a daily walk, even if it's only for a few minutes. This will help clear your head, regain perspective, help control your hunger and bump up your rate of metabolism.
      10. Get an adequate amount of sleep. When you are tired, simplest daily tasks can be a struggle, not to mention all of the holiday hustling. Lack of sleep triggers hormones that affect your weight and mood.

      advice for avoiding putting on pounds during the holidays...

      California, Nevada Team On Mortgage Fraud Probe

      States hope to offer more help for victims

      California and Nevada are two of the nation's hardest hit states when it comes to the housing collapse. So it may be no surprise they have joined forces to investigate mortgage-related fraud and assist its victims.

      By forging an alliance, California and Nevada will combine investigative resources, including litigation strategies, information, and evidence gathered through their respective ongoing investigations, assisting each state as it pursues independent prosecutions. The alliance will link the offices’ civil and criminal enforcement teams, aimed at speeding up investigation of wrongdoing in the two states.

      Man-made disaster

      “The mortgage crisis is a manmade disaster that has taken a heavy toll on the country, but it saved its worst for California and Nevada,” said California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. “The mortgage crisis is a law enforcement matter, and we will prosecute to hold accountable those who are responsible and also protect the homeowners who are targeted for fraud."

      In October 2011, Nevada and California ranked first and second, respectively, for the percentage of their housing units that entered the foreclosure process, reflecting a parallel surge in foreclosures in the two states. One in every 180 Nevada properties entered the foreclosure process in October, and one in every 243 California homes received a filing that month.

      In 2010, California led the nation with a total of 546,669 foreclosure filings - 4 percent of the state’s housing units - while Nevada led the nation with 9.4 percent of its homes receiving a foreclosure filing, totaling 106,160 units.

      “I am pleased to join forces with General Harris to fight against fraudulent mortgage and foreclosure practices that continue to devastate lives, homes, and the economy in Nevada and California,” said Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. “This strong partnership will allow our states to make an even more concerted effort to hold fraud perpetrators accountable and ensure law-abiding homeowners receive justice.”

      Non-judicial foreclosure states

      The crisis in these Western states is similar because both states share a foreclosure system in which a bank can foreclose on a borrower’s home without court oversight, also called “non-judicial foreclosure.” The attorneys general say the result has created a rich opportunity for predators, leading both states to make mortgage-related law enforcement action a top priority.

      Both states have taken unilateral action in the past. In May 2011, Harris formed a Mortgage Fraud Strike Force, now composed of nearly 40 attorneys and investigators, that has launched a wide series of investigations and litigation. It has resulted in multiple lawsuits and the arrest this month of three top officers of a Stockton real estate company who took thousands of dollars in up-front loan modification fees and made false promises to assist struggling Central Valley homeowners with lowering their mortgage payments.

      In 2007, Masto formed the Nevada Mortgage Fraud Strike Force that launched a wide series of investigations and litigation into areas including violations of the law related to mortgage lending, servicing, and foreclosure practices and the creation, rating, marketing, sale, and management of mortgage backed securities. The Nevada Mortgage Fraud Strike Force has taken action against predatory “mortgage rescue” companies and individuals claiming to offer services to stop foreclosures.  

      California and Nevada will work together to investigate mortgage fraud...

      Honda Plans to Recast Its Acura Brand

      Gives up its long quest for top-tier luxury status

      Honda had always hoped its Acura marque could emulate Toyota and Nissan, which successfully propelled the Lexus and Infiniti brands into the rarefied luxury-car tier alongside Mercedes-Benz, BMW and, arguably, Cadillac.

      It never quite happened, and Honda now says it will try to reposition Acura as a mid-range, fuel-efficient brand, a plan it revealed during the recent Toyota Auto Show.

      Could be, but Acura is blessed with a lofty reputation among consumers. A analysis of more than 420,000 consumer comments on Twitter, Facebook and other social media and blogs finds consistently positive sentiment hovering around 70 percent.

      Blue line indicates net sentiment

      Over the next few years, Acura will introduce a new compact sedan, the ILX, built on Honda's global Civic platform, replacing the TSX, Automotive News reported. A redesigned RL flagship is expected by next fall, followed by a redesigned mid-sized TL sedan in the spring of 2013.

      In the crossover category, a redesigned RDX compact will debut next spring with the next MDX arriving in 2013.

      New NSX

      But listen sports fans, not all the news is about fuel efficiency and miles per gallon.  Honda says it will also be bringing back the NSX sports car.

      The original NSX was built from 1990 to 2005 and attracted a fanatical, if small, base of loyalists. The rear-wheel-drive, Pininfarina-designed speedster was often called a Japanese Ferrari and with good reason. 

      Honda built the NSX from 1990 to 2005. It was a rare rear-wheel-drive effort by the automaker, and it sought design help from Italian car designer Pininfarina.  It was often thought of as a Japanese Ferrari, and it was just as fast.  The car sold for about $90,000. There’s no word on what the price of the new NSX might be.

      1995 Acura NSX (eBay Motors photo)

      The original NSX was a monster, with a hugely powerful racing engine, but the new model will make greater use of technology to achieve at least comparable results.

      Acura sales chief Jeff Conrad said the approach will emphasize "efficiency and a strong power-to-weight ratio," Automotive News said. "If we are thinking about being sporty, we need to do it with the machine's efficiency. That's the thing we can do. The way we achieve it will be unique to Acura."


      Sentiment analysis powered by NetBase

      Honda had always hoped it could emulate Toyota and Nissan, which successfully propelled the Lexus and Infiniti brands into the rarefied luxury-car tier alo...

      How To Improve Your Credit Score

      Three things you can do to raise your score

      A common concern among people writing to is their credit score. They often worry how some action will affect their credit.

      "We were in financial hardship and were needing to short sell our condo," Nicolette, of Saratoga Springs, Utah, told "We were told by CitiMortgage that we needed to be at least 60 days late on our mortgage payments in order to qualify for a short sell. We had excellent credit scores, and had never missed a payment on anything in our lives. But, in order to qualify for the short sale we stopped making payments and were 90 days late by the time the sale closed. Because of this misinformation, our credit scores have been ruined."

      Once your credit score has been damaged, is there any way to restore it? Fortunately, there is.

      Arm yourself with information

      For starters, pull your credit reports using That's the free government-mandated service, and it does not require you to sign up for any kind of credit monitoring service. It's available free to all U.S. residents once a year.

      Once you have your credit report, check it for errors. Your credit report contains the data used to calculate your score and it may contain errors. In particular, check to make sure that there are no late payments incorrectly listed for any of your accounts and that the amounts owed for each of your open accounts is correct. If you find errors on any of your reports, dispute them with the credit bureau and reporting agency.

      Next, set up payment reminders for all of your monthly bills. Making your credit payments on time is one of the biggest contributing factors to your credit score.

      Banks often offer payment reminders through their online banking systems that can send you an email or text message reminding you when a payment is due. You can also set up automated payments from your account to you don't have to remember to pay he bill.

      Easier said than done

      Try to reduce the amount of the money you owe. This might seem difficult, but reducing the amount of credit card debt you owe is going to give you the biggest bang for the buck.

      Put away your credit cards until you've paid down your balance. If you have an asset that you can sell for cash, do it and apply the money to your debt. Come up with a payment plan that puts most of your available budget for debt payments towards the highest interest cards first, while maintaining minimum payments on your other accounts.

      Be very selective about opening new credit accounts. Be wary of arguments that having another credit card will help improve your credit score. If you already have existing debt, it probably won't. And the kinds of credit cards that are marketed to people with poor credit often have low credit limits and very high fees. You could easily end up with an even lower credit score.

      There's really no quick, easy way to repair your credit. If a company promises that there is, avoid them like the plague.  

      Advice on raising your credit score...