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    For-Profit College Marketer Settles Deception Charges

    QuinStreet was a "lead generator" for for-profit schools

    Returning service members are eligible for education benefits under the GI Bill and attracting these students can be lucrative for the growing number of for-profit educational institutions in the U.S.

    But in recent years policymakers have been closely monitoring these schools' marketing to ensure the former service personnel are getting reliable and complete information. A number of states sued one company – QuinStreet Inc. - for allegedly putting out misleading information. That case has now been settled.

    QuinStreet owns a network of websites that generate leads primarily for the for-profit education industry. The multistate enforcement action arose in conjunction with a larger ongoing effort by state attorneys general looking into the recruiting and deceptive business practices of some for-profit colleges.

    Misleading information

    The investigation determined that the sites misleadingly gave the impression that the schools immediately listed as "eligible GI Bill schools" were the only schools at which the veterans' benefits could be used.

    As part of the settlement QuinStreet will relinquish ownership and control of the domain GIBill.com to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which will use it to promote the GI Bill program and educate service members about the benefits available to them under the program.

    In the future, the company must clearly disclose that its sites are not associated with the U.S. government and unequivocally state that companies appearing on certain websites are not the only schools that accept GI Bill benefits. The company will also pay $2.5 million to the settling states.

    Complaints from students

    Consumers rate Kaplan

    Many complaints from students about for-profit schools revolve around funding, including the GI Bill. Ahshayahona, of Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., says she has completely run out of G.I. Bill funds because of what she said is delays by Kaplan University.

    “I now have no GI Bill money because Kaplan got all of it and I owe on loans because of Kaplan,” Ahshayahona wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. They have now kicked me out of my program and told me that I had to apply for re-admission. I have had to pay $50 out my pocket for a background check for Kaplan. I have close to a 3.0 GPA and I feel like Kaplan is blocking me from doing my clinicals because they can not find a facility that would deal with them or their students.”

    Consumer advocates and state Attorneys General have seen for-profit colleges intensify their recruitment of veterans since 2008, when Congress enacted the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which made billions of dollars in educational benefits available for veterans and their families. According to a February 2011 General Accounting Office report, $9 billion in educational benefits were provided to service members and veterans in Fiscal Year 2010.

    Oregon Attorney General John Kroger notes that of 20 for-profit colleges analyzed by the U.S. Senate HELP Committee, total military educational benefits increased from $66.6 million in 2006 to a projected $521.2 million in 2010. Part of the reason why military members are attractive to for-profit colleges is because their benefits don't count toward the business' 90 percent cap on federal Department of Education funding, Kroger said.

    Returning service men and women are eligible for education benefits under the GI Bill and attracting these students can be lucrative for the growing number...
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    Nevada County Could Be Model For Expanding Rural Broadband

    Rural county residents have easy access to high-speed Internet

    While national policymakers are searching for a way to expand broadband Internet service to rural America, they might learn a thing or two by taking a close look at Churchill County, Nevada. The county of 25,000 people has plenty of Internet options.

    “There's probably no one in the county that can't get high-speed Internet service,” said Bob Adams, General Manager of CC Communications, a county-owned telephone company.

    CC Communications began in 1889 when Western Union announced it was discontinuing telegraph service in the county. Churchill County purchased the lines for $950 and began providing the service itself.

    Full range of services

    Today, CC Communications provides telephone, television, cellular, technical and security services. Adams says the company added the ISP side of the business in 1994 with dial-up but transitioned to a DSL-type broadband service in 1998.

    For a while the company supplemented its wired service with wireless Internet, but spun-off the wireless division of the company and invested the money in fiber optic.

    “Seventy percent of our county residents are eligible to receive fiber optic service,” Adams said.

    CC Communications serves about 5,000 Internet customers. In addition, consumers can choose to receive high-speed Internet from Charter Communications, a cable TV provider in the county. It's a wealth of Internet riches most rural areas simply don't have. Many areas are limited to dial-up, mobile broadband or satellite service, all of which have distinct limitations.

    Why some rural counties have few options

    Adams says a big difference in the under-served rural areas is the fact that they must rely on large “price cap carriers,” like AT&T and Verizon, rather than small locally-owned providers. Whereas price cap carriers are reluctant to spend on infrastructure in sparsely-populated areas, the locally-owned providers see it as their mandate.

    “We serve our county residents the best we can and we don't have to worry about a profit, where price cap companies are publicly traded and face pressures we don't,” Adams said.

    Earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Wireline Competition Bureau announced it is seeking input on how the FCC should estimate the cost of bringing broadband to underserved areas in territories serviced by AT&T, Verizon and the nation's other large price cap carriers.

    While national policymakers are searching for a way to expand broadband Internet service to rural America, they might learn a thing or two by taking a clos...
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      Gas Prices Falling Faster

      Nationwide, prices down an average 10 cents a gallon

      As motorists prepare for the Independence Day holiday next week they'll find gasoline prices that are increasingly easier on the pocketbook. And the price decline appears to be picking up speed.

      The national average price of self-serve regular today is $3.353 per gallon, down from $3.454 last Friday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Survey. Fuel prices are 27 cents a gallon lower than they were a month ago.

      The average price of diesel fuel today is $3.670 per gallon, down from $3.738 a week ago.

      Following oil prices lower

      The accelerating decline in fuel prices reflects a significant drop in crude oil prices.

      “Concern about the global economy, particularly the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and a slowdown in growth in large emerging market economies such as Brazil, India, and China, continues to act as a drag on expectations for future oil demand, putting downward pressure on prices,” said Avery Ash, AAA's manager of federal relations.

      A stronger dollar is also bringing down oil prices, since oil is traded in dollars. The Federal Reserve decision not to goose the economy with an additional round of quantitative easing also helped boost the value of the dollar. The result has been a long break at the gas pump.

      Big drops in the west

      Prices seem to fall the fastest during the week in western states, where prices have been the highest all year long. Motorists in both Oregon and Washington saw average prices plunge 17 cents a gallon in a week.

      South Carolina, with the cheapest prices in the nation, became the first state to see its average price dip below the $3 a gallon mark.

      The states with the highest gas prices this week are:

      • Hawaii ($4.280)
      • Alaska ($4.130)
      • California ($3.780)
      • Washington State ($3.690)
      • Idaho ($3.669)
      • Oregon ($3.664)
      • Connecticut ($3.651)
      • Colorado ($3.636)
      • Nevada ($3.582)
      • Montana ($3.537)

       The states with the lowest gas prices this week are:

      • South Carolina ($2.945)
      • Mississippi ($3.017)
      • Alabama ($3.031)
      • Tennessee ($3.034)
      • Louisiana ($3.116)
      • Arkansas ($3.129)
      • Georgia ($3.154)
      • Virginia ($3.155)
      • Texas ($3.188)
      • Missouri ($3.200)
      As motorists prepare for the Independence Day holiday next week they'll find gasoline prices that are increasingly easier on the pocketbook. And the price ...
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      Low-Income Areas Still Lack Access to Healthy Foods

      Non-profits working to raise awareness of good nutrition, improve store selections

      A new SuperFresh store in Philadelphia

      Many families have a steady flow of fruits and vegetables in their homes, as they're the perfect accompaniment to a healthy lifestyle.

      Across the U.S., access to healthy and fresh foods usually entails no more than a trip to the neighborhood grocery store. But sadly, this isn't the case for many Americans in lower-income neighborhoods.

      A study conducted by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that over 33 percent of adults making less than $15,000 per year suffered from obesity, compared to 24.6 percent of the working class earning $50,000 per year or more.

      The link between income and health has been examined for many years, as many low-income neighborhoods still have a disproportionately lower number  of grocery stores, compared to wealthier areas.

      The issue of low-income adults not being able to access or afford healthier foods is naturally passed on to their children.

      20 million kids

      According to a report, almost 20 million school children receive free lunch through the National School Lunch Program, and although it provides kids with something to eat, free lunch still doesn't base its menu items on nutrition.

      The Child Nutrition Act regulates exactly what the lunch program can serve, but greasy foods like pizza and French fries are nevertheless served daily, since they fall within the government's standard of nutrition.

      Other findings also show how school children are impacted by low access to healthy foods. A report ran by the Children's Defense Fund showed nearly 45 percent of obese children ages 10 to 17 live in low-income neighborhoods.

      But some efforts have been recently made to help students in lower-income areas get access to fresh produce.

      Last summer Supervalu, Wal-Mart, Walgreens and other stores in low-income areas committed to upping the amount of fresh fruits and veggies they offer.

      Some cities like New York are even offering financial incentives for supermarkets who choose to open in low-income neighborhoods.

      Non-profits help

      Many non-profit organizations are also doing their part to help communities get better foods delivered, and they're also assisting with getting school children better educated on nutrition and fitness.

      Life in Sync, a non-profit based in Wyomissing, Pa., provides nationwide funding to assemble programs to conduct shows and educational workshops that teach kids about healthy eating and nutrition. And according to Cynthia Lynn, president of Life in Sync, the programs are having a very positive effect.

      "I believe change has to have the word fun in it," she said. We have streamlined the grant process to make it easy for schools to apply. Our targeted mission is to reach children inside schools, but outside the classroom- interactively inexpensively and, based on feedback, extremely effectively."

      ConsumerAffairs spoke with Lynn to get her take on the food desert problem in certain communities, and what consumers can do to ensure healthy items are accessible to all neighborhoods, not just the affluent ones.

      "Childhood obesity affects all children and families at all income levels. It's about changing behaviors with knowledge. Then joining our healthy 'in-the-know' movement'," she said.

      "We live in a society where our children are more comfortable eating neon green squeezable yogurts than freshly picked broccoli crowns," Lynn adds. "Packaged foods claiming to be healthy are readily available to busy parents who are trying to do the right thing. Hey, the packaging says so- and so did that healthy-looking woman in the ad on TV."

      Lynn also says the issue isn't with children not wanting to eat healthier; they just need to be properly educated, and given a slight nudge towards a healthier lifestyle.

      "We need to get back to cooking and eating fresh foods, period," she explains. We have learned firsthand through HealthBarn USA assemblies, that when students were asked who is interested in being healthy?’ 80 percent of kids raise their hands! And their actions match up, when they try and like many foods that they have never been exposed to before. They say 'this healthy stuff actually tastes good....I can do this'! "

      What to do

      What can consumers do? 

      "Demand it!" Lynn said. "Band with other 'in the know' friends. Take photos of healthier options. Even Wal-Mart and McDonalds are carrying products with natural ingredients. Why? Other 'in the know' consumers suggested that they do. And retailers are finding that healthier options are great revenue generators."

      HealthBarn USA is among the first assembly program to receive funding from Life in Sync, and according to Lynn, the programs are having huge amounts of success with its presentations on nutrition.

      "Stacey Antine, MS, RD, founder of HealthBarn USA, energetically facilitates the 90-minute educational and highly-interactive programs which include exercise, and student volunteers as expert taste testers for each of the five food groups. At the end, all students get the opportunity to be taste testers," says Lynn.

      But how successful with these kids be in passing on this new health information to their households?

      "These empowered kids are going home from HealthBarn assemblies saying they're only going to drink white milk from now on," she adds. "They leave the assemblies with the group mission to try one new thing that is whole natural and comes from the ground, and give their thumb report back to the teacher. One third grader wrote that he tried radishes of his own free will and liked them. So mama bear at home can create radish recipes with her son."

      "Teachers and kids can be creative," adds Lynn. "Let the kids decide what they care to focus on. If we all ate things that are good for our skin, hair, teeth, and bones, we'd be healthier and happier."

      Neighborhoods of all income levels aren't receiving the proper education about nutrition, says Lynn. And if they are getting some education, the information isn't being facilitated in the right way.

      "Nutrition education is not being taught in the school consistently", she says. And if it is, many of the times it's in a lecture format based on macronutrients. The staying power of the information lasts until the test. An interactive format seems to work."

      Any improvements

      On whether low income areas will see any improvements in getting better access to healthier foods, Lynn says she's cautiously optimistic, but changes are still needed.

      "Nutrition education is starting to take priority in schools, but the environment has not changed to support new knowledge. The food service options need to change. I'd be so radical as to say the healthier option meals be lower in price. The pocketbook is a strong motivator when change has to be nudged."

      And children are the perfect ones to start that change, says Lynn.

       "What better place than K-8 schools? They're not engrained with 50 -year habits. Plus, their bodies are changing. They're finely tuned to how they look and feel," she explained.

      But not only do the children and their parents need to make an effort towards healthier eating and access to better foods. It's really a societal problem, which will require all of society's collective effort to make a sweeping improvement.

      "Everyone's mindset needs to change so that the environment can support optimal health. Our society is not healthy or happy. It's time for a radical change. Change is the loss of past limitations," said Lynn.

      Many families have a steady flow of fruits and vegetables in their homes, as they're the perfect food-accompaniment to a healthy lifest...
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      Blue Hippo Will Pay $1.2 Million To Settle Pennsylvania Charges

      Consumers need to act quickly to claim their refund

      Blue Hippo Funding, the company that marketed overpriced computers to people with poor credit, may be gone but it's not forgotten.

      In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Linda Kelly has secured a nearly $1.8 million settlement in her consumer protection lawsuit against the founder and owner of the Maryland-based company. The suit accused BlueHippo of preying on Pennsylvania consumers with poor credit.

      Blue Hippo filed for bankruptcy in November 2009 and shortly thereafter began proceedings to dissolve the firm. It was sued by several states and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after consumers complained they made a number of payments but never received their merchandise.

      "Blue Hippo allegedly used a national campaign of television and radio ads, telemarketing calls and Internet websites to lure consumers into purchasing computers, flat screen TV?s and other electronic equipment," Kelly said. "In reality, the complaints we received indicated BlueHippo was little more than a sham enterprise that delivered few, if any, products to consumers."

      Act quickly

      Consumers rate BlueHippo

      Pennsylvania consumers who encountered problems with BlueHippo, but have not yet filed formal complaints, are encouraged to do so as soon as possible. Kelly said that under the terms of the settlement, the company's owner will pay restitution in the amount of $200,000, which will be used to compensate.

      Blue Hippo sold computers and big screen TVs on a layaway plan. Consumers, most of whom had little or no credit, were required to make to make weekly payments for several months before their received their merchandise. Generally, computers that might sell for $500 in a retail store would be listed at more than $2,000. Often, consumers would never receive what they paid for.

      "While our Bureau of Consumer Protection has already received complaints from more than 300 consumers regarding BlueHippo, we believe that there are other potential victims who have not yet come forward," Kelly said.

      Pennsylvania residents with problems or complaints involving BlueHippo should call the Attorney General's toll-free consumer protection hotline, at 1-800-441-2555.

      Blue Hippo Funding, the company that marketed overpriced computers to people with poor credit, may be gone but it's not forgotten.In Pennsylvania, Attorn...
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      Report Finds Confusion In Reverse Mortgage Market

      Many seniors get into trouble by not understanding the ins and outs of a reverse mortgage

      American consumers are struggling to understand reverse mortgages, a report released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finds

      “Reverse mortgages are complex and have the potential to become a much more pervasive product in the coming years as the baby boomer generation enters retirement,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “With one in ten reverse mortgages already in default, it is important that consumers understand what they are signing up for and that it is the right product for them.” 

      What it does 

      A reverse mortgage is a special type of home loan that allows older homeowners to access the equity they have built up in their homes now, and defer payment of the loan until they die, sell, or move out of the home. 

      Reverse mortgages require no monthly mortgage payments, but borrowers are still responsible for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. Nearly 10 percent of reverse mortgage borrowers are at risk of foreclosure because they have failed to pay taxes and insurance. 

      The original purpose of reverse mortgages was to let older homeowners convert home equity into an income stream or line of credit that borrowers could use in retirement. It was anticipated that most -- though not all-- borrowers would use their loans to age in place, living in their current homes for the rest of their lives or at least until they needed skilled care. 

      The study, a requirement of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, found that what is happening in practice is different than what was intended. 

      Findings and concerns 

      Some of the Bureau’s main findings and concerns are: 

      • Lack of Understanding: The CFPB report found that while consumers are largely aware of reverse mortgages, few completely understand them. Many consumers struggle to understand how their loan balance will rise and their home equity will fall over time with a reverse mortgage. Some borrowers do not understand that they need to continue to pay taxes and insurance with a reverse mortgage. 
      • Younger Borrowers: The CFPB report found that consumers are getting reverse mortgages at younger ages. The most common age for a new borrower is 62 -- the first year in which a consumer becomes eligible for a reverse mortgage. These borrowers will have fewer resources to pay for everyday and major expenses later in life and may find themselves without the financial resources to finance a future move -- whether due to health or other reasons. 
      • Lump Sum Payments: According to the CFPB study, seventy percent of borrowers are taking out the full amount of proceeds as a lump sum rather than as an income stream or line of credit. This raises concerns that consumers who take out all of their accessible home equity upfront will have fewer resources available later in life. They may not have the money to continue to pay taxes and insurance on their homes, which can put them at risk of losing their home. Borrowers who save or invest the proceeds may be earning less on the savings than they are paying in interest on the loan. 
      • Deceptive Marketing: The Bureau understands that older consumers may be receiving deceptive and misleading marketing materials about reverse mortgages. The Bureau has seen examples of mailers that tout reverse mortgages as a government benefit or entitlement program like Medicare. These mailers use images that look like government seals in order to entice consumers to sign up. It is difficult to tell from these materials that a reverse mortgage is in fact a financial product and not a government benefit. 
      • Housing Counseling: The CFPB report concluded that the new array of product choices in the reverse mortgage market makes a housing counselor’s job much more difficult. Counselors need improved methods for helping consumers better understand the complex tradeoffs they need to make in deciding whether to get a reverse mortgage. 

      The Bureau has posted new questions and answers about reverse mortgages to the Ask CFPB database. The Bureau has also developed a fact sheet and a consumer guide for older Americans with key facts on reverse mortgages. 

      The CFPB is currently accepting reverse mortgage complaints through the Web, phone at 1-855-411-CFPB, and mail.

      Confusion is at a fairly high level when it comes to reverse mortgages...
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      How To Choose The Right Prepaid Credit Card

      And avoid the worst ones that are loaded with fees

      For many consumers, prepaid credit cards are replacing bank accounts. Money can be direct deposited to these accounts and the cards used to make purchases or get cash from ATMs.

      The problem with prepaid cards, however, is navigating the fees. Some cards have more and higher fees than others. Not all cards have the same capabilities. Choosing the right card can mean the difference between saving money and overspending.

      Consumers are expected to load $82 billion into prepaid card accounts during 2012, according to the Mercator Advisory Group. That would be a 44 percent increase from last year.

      If the group’s prediction that we load $117 billion during 2013 holds true, prepaid card deposits will have increased 200 percent in just three years.

      Best and worst

      Card Hub, a credit card information website, has analyzed the prepaid card offers and selected the best and worst in three different use categories:

      Alternative Checking Account

      Best Card: Green Dot Gold Prepaid Visa Card

      Worst Card: Account Now Visa Classic

      Children’s Allowance

      Best Card: The Suze Orman Prepaid Card

      Worst Card: NetSpend Prepaid MasterCard – Fee Advantage/ACE Elite Prepaid Visa - FeeAdvantage Plan

      Alternative Check Cashing Tool

      Best Card: Chase Liquid Card

      Worst Card: Original RushCard – Monthly Plan

      The study looked at 20 cards and found that seven of them were not suitable to serve as an alternative to a checking account because they lacked direct deposit or online bill paying capability. Only two of the cards were suitable as alternative check cashing tools, as the other 18 do not allow consumers to load checks directly onto their cards.

      For example, Chase offers use of its bank branches and ATMs to Chase Liquid cardholders, but Capital One does not integrate its own prepaid card with the rest of its everyday banking services in the same manner.

      While you may assume that ACE, the largest check cashing company in the US, would offer a prepaid card conducive to check cashing, neither of its cards are suitable to be an alternative check cashing tool, the study found.

      Difficult decision

      “The prepaid card market is difficult to navigate for two reasons: Most consumers are new to it and there are a multitude of different fees that prepaid card issuers have been known to charge," said Odysseas Papadimitriou, founder and CEO of Card Hub. "Unfamiliarity can lead consumers to simply apply for whichever card is offered by a company they’ve heard of, and the broad range of fees can make this a costly mistake."

      In fact, choosing the wrong card for they way you need to use it can cost hundreds of dollars each year.

      "The most important things to consider when evaluating a prepaid card are its fees and features, not branding or the name of its issuer," Papadimitriou said. "The first step in choosing the right card is realizing that not every card is suitable for every purpose, so you need to quickly rule out cards that prevent you from accomplishing certain tasks –paying billers that do not accept plastic, for example."

      Once you have determined how you need to use the card, choose the one that will be least expensive in light of your intended usage.

      "Ultimately, we better get used to this because prepaid cards are bound to have a prominent role in the personal finance landscape for years to come," Papadimitriou said.

      For many consumers, prepaid credit cards are replacing bank accounts. Money can be direct deposited to these accounts and the cards used to make purchases...
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      Top Five Used Cars Of 2012

      ConsumerAffairs makes its picks based on consumer reviews

      With the rising cost of new cars, used cars are in demand - especially those that are of recent vintage and have a reputation for being reliable.

      But choosing a used car can be more difficult than selecting a new vehicle since some models tend to hold up better than others. Also, the way a car has been driven can affect how many more reliable miles it has in it.

      In analyzing the thousands of car complaints ConsumerAffairs receives, we can make some suggestions. Our survey isn't scientific - it's based on the number of complaints we receive about a particular brand or model.

      To make the rankings a little more accurate, we have weighted the results, considering the number of cars a particular manufacturer sells. While Honda draws more complaints than Audi, for example, Honda sells a lot more vehicles than Audi. That has to be taken into consideration.

      So here are our top five used car choices of 2012:

      1. Toyota Camry

      The Toyota Camry, one of Toyota's top-selling models, has drawn only 93 complaints at ConsumerAffairs. Odell, of Biltmore Lake, N.C., has both good and bad things to say about the Camry.

      "I purchased a new 2012 Camry Hybrid after owning the 2007 model for 5 years," Odell writes. "My experience with the navigation, audio, and phone systems was excellent. Easy to use and understand. However, these systems on the 2012 are a "nightmare" to program and operate, and the information on the navigation system is very poor in comparison. The owner manuals are a joke. I am really frustrated with the new systems and manuals."

      2. Chevy Cruze

      The Chevy Cruze is Cherolet's popular economy car. While it has been a best seller, it caught our attention because it has only generated five complaints in our database. However, Anthony, of Coram, N.Y., had a significant issue with his Cruze.

      "On Feb. 4, 2012, at 5 pm, my Chevy Cruze caught fire at the engine compartment causing a total loss of the car," Odell wrote. "One week prior, we just had an oil change. After the incident, I did some quick research and I'm not the only one this problem has happened to. GM needs to look into and address this problem before someone gets seriously injured."

      Despite Odell's problem, Edmunds.com also gives the Cruze a favorable review, citing its "upscale interior design, peppy yet efficient turbocharged engine, Eco model's top fuel econom, secure handling, top safety scores and a big trunk."

      3. Audi

      All models of Audi have generated only 164 ConsumerAffairs complaints. But some of those reviewing the car cite problems with reliability.

      "I finally purchased a brand new 2008 Audi RS4 and have had a problem with my starter," Jason, of LaSalle, Ill., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. "It sometimes just doesn't start, no rhyme or reason. After about 15 minutes, it will start. I have had the car serviced. In fact, it was at the Audi garage for six months."

      In reviewing the 2010 Audi A3, Edmunds said it makes for a good entry-level luxury car with plenty of utility, but the higher sticker price and expensive options may scare off some buyers.

      4. Mazda

      Mazda is an often overlooked nameplate, with all models generating just 202 ConsumerAffairs complaints. But some of the complaints have been significant. Kay, of Cabot, Ark., has experienced transmission problems.

      "I have a Mazda 6 year model 2007.," Kay wrote. "The car has 101,000 miles. This is the second time to replace transmission. I would not purchase any Mazda vehicles!"

      Other consumers have reported clutch issues with their Mazda.

      5. Honda

      Honda has a great reputation but only makes the number five spot on our list because of its 689 complaints. However, that number must be balanced against the huge number of Hondas sold in the U.S. Also, many of the complaints are from consumers in other countries, who are not driving the same models sold in the U.S.

      While the cars have a reputation for reliability, there are complaints about individual models.

      "Before 60,000 miles they have already replaced the motor brackets, the battery, and the TPMS sensors four times on my 2009 Honda Civic," Adrianne, of Manassas, Va., writes.

      Keep in mind that when selecting a used car, how the previous owner has cared for it will have a lot to do with how it performs for you. Problems consumers describe in complaints are not necessarily problems you'll have. But some brands and models do seem to hold up better than others.

      Before heading for the car lot, researching issues others have had with a brand and model can alert you to questions to ask and problems to look for.

      With the rising cost of new cars, used cars are in demand - especially those that are of recent vintage and have been proven to be reliable.But choosing ...
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      FDA Approves New Drug for Overactive Bladder

      The once-a-day tablet provides a new treatment option

      Help may soon be on the way for folks who find themselves constantly running for the bathroom. 

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Myrbetriq (mirabegron) to treat adults with overactive bladder -- a condition in which the bladder muscle cannot be controlled, squeezes too often or squeezes without warning. 

      An extended-release tablet taken once daily, Myrbetriq improves the storage capacity of the bladder by relaxing the bladder muscle during filling. Symptoms of overactive bladder include the need to urinate too often (urinary frequency), the need to urinate immediately (urinary urgency) and the involuntary leakage of urine as a result of the need to urinate immediately (urge urinary incontinence). 

      “An estimated 33 million Americans suffer from overactive bladder, which is uncomfortable, disrupting and potentially serious,” said Victoria Kusiak, M.D., deputy director of the Office of Drug Evaluation III in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, adding that, the products approval “provides a new treatment option for patients with this debilitating condition.” 

      Rigorous testing 

      Myrbetriq’s safety and efficacy were demonstrated in three double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter clinical trials. A total of 4,116 patients with overactive bladder were randomly assigned to take Myrbetriq at doses of 25 milligrams, 50 mg, 100 mg, or a placebo once daily for 12 weeks. 

      Results showed that Myrbetriq 25 mg and 50 mg effectively reduced the number of times a patient urinated and the number of times a patient had wetting accidents during a 24-hour period. Patients taking Myrbetriq 50 mg also expelled a greater amount of urine, demonstrating the drug’s effectiveness in improving the storage capacity of the bladder. 

      Side effects 

      The most common side effects observed in the trials were increased blood pressure, common cold-like symptoms (nasopharyngitis), urinary tract infection, constipation, fatigue, elevated heart rate (tachycardia) and abdominal pain. 

      Myrbetriq is not recommended for use in those with severe uncontrolled high blood pressure, end stage kidney disease or severe liver impairment. 

      Myrbetriq is marketed by Astellas Pharma US, Inc. of Northbrook, Ill.

      A new treatment option for people with bladder control problems...
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      Spot Delivery Still Victimizes Car Buyers

      Don't let dealers pull the rug out from under you once the deal is done

      It's called spot delivery or yo-yo financing. By any name it's a practice some car dealers use to extract additional money or a higher interest rate from a buyer long after they thought everything was settled.

      Amanda, of Las Vegas, Nev., said she just experienced it at a local Honda dealer.

      “I went in to buy a car and after finding one that I liked they said would be able to finance me if I had a co-signer,” Amanda wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

      Amanda said she had a great credit score, proof of employment and a co-signer so she thought everything was fine. Then two weeks later, the salesman called and said she didn't qualify for financing after all. She was told to return the car and they would find her something she could afford.

      No car or money

      “After taking time out of my work schedule to go down there again they said the only way they could finance me is if I got a car that I didn't want for more money,” Amanda wrote. “I was extremely distraught at that point because I felt like I had to jump through hoops to make this work and that should've been their job. I put $2,500 down on the car and asked for my money back.”

      Seems like a reasonable request, but Amanda said she found the dealer, who was quick to put her in a car, was not so quick to write a check.

      “I returned the car three days ago and they said I wouldn't receive my money for another three days, Amanda said. “So now they have the car and my money.”

      Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon complaint. Kimmel & Sullivan, a national law firm, handles a number of automotive and lemon law cases. The firm says consumers have more legal remedies than they might think.

      Don't have to give it back

      “If you signed purchase documents and registration applications and if you obtained insurance for the vehicle, had a new license plate put on the car and/or had your old plate transferred, the car belongs to you,” the firm says on its website.

      For that reason, it's important to look over the sale and financing documents carefully, making sure you understand the terms and all documents are properly signed. A finance document showing payments, deposit, interest rate and other financial items is a binding contract, giving you specific legal rights.

      According to Kimmel & Sullivan, you own the car subject only to making payments. The dealer cannot change that once you take possession.

      It's called spot delivery or yo-yo financing. By any name it's a practice some car dealers use to extract additional money or a higher interest rate from a...
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      Healthcare Law Survives High Court Challenge

      The individual mandate has been ruled constitutional as a tax

      Obama signs the health care law (White House photo)

      A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, known also as “Obamacare.” 

      In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the majority, including Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. 

      President Obama, speaking early this afternoon, said the ruling upheld the principle that illness and accident should not lead to a family's financial ruin. Obama said that whatever the politics, the decision was a victory for families across America.

      "Insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime limits on the care you will receive," Obama said as he listed the benefits the measure provides to individual Americans. He said 26 million Americans under 26 have already benefited from the law by being able to stay on their parents' healthcare policy.

      Obama reacts to the ruling from the East Room

      He said the benefits "enjoy broad popular support" among middle-class families and said healthcare providers will no longer be able to "bill you into bankruptcy."

      Obama said he knew the mandate would not be politically popular but said it was necessary to spread the cost of healthcare fairly among everyone. 

      "It should be pretty clear by now I didn't do this because it was good politics. I did it because I thought it was good for the country," Obama said, referring to the vehement opposition the measure has aroused among conservatives.

      The mandate

      The majority found the individual mandate, considered the heart of the healthcare law, is permissible under Congress’s taxing authority. Writing for the majority Roberts held, “Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."  

      The mandate requires people to buy health insurance or pay a fine. 

      Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented. In his dissent, Kennedy said the entire act is “invalid” and should be repealed in its entirety.

      In a joint statement, the dissenters said, "The act before us here exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance."

      The ruling means implementation of the healthcare law can proceed as scheduled.

      What it means

      The Supremes have spoken. The high court's ruling is the final word on the Affordable Healthcare Act. No further legal appeals challenging the constitutionality of the law are possible except in the most extrordinary circumstances, which means that only Congress can modify or repeal the law.

      Mitt Romney has said that if elected President, he will "end Obamacare on Day One," although it is not clear how he would do that, since it is now the law of the land and the President does not have the authority to repeal laws passed by Congress.

      The Supreme Court's decision -- whether you agree or disagree with it -- at least removes an air of uncertainty that has stymied healthcare organizations, hospitals, insurance companies, drugmakers, doctors and consumers. It has been difficult to plan intelligently for the future without knowing whether the law would remain in effect.

      Effect on consumers

      Most elements of the Health Care Act have not yet taken effect and will not do so until 2014, so today's ruling has little immediate effect on most consumers.

      However, there are a few early provisions that are already in effect and that will remain so under today's ruling. They include:

      • Parents will still be able to keep their children on their insurance plans up to age 26.
      • Medicare recipients will continue to receive discounts on prescription drugs to close a gap in coverage known as the "doughnut hole."
      • New taxes and fees, including the 10% tax on tanning services, remain in place.

      Pediatricians commend the Court

      Robert W. Block

      The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which represents 60,000 pediatricians, commended the Court's decision. “Today, the Supreme Court upheld a law that invests in children’s health from the ground up,” said AAP President Robert W. Block, MD, FAAP.

      “Pediatricians have already seen firsthand that health reform works,” said Dr. Block. “Since the Affordable Care Act took effect, millions of children with pre-existing conditions gained health care coverage; 14 million children with private insurance received preventive health services with no co-pay; and 3.1 million more young adults gained coverage through their parents’ plans. These are just a few of the law’s investments in child health, with many more set to take effect over the next few years as affirmed by today’s decision.”

      The Academy endorsed the law in 2010 and filed three amici curiae (“friends of the court”) briefs to the Supreme Court in support of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, individual mandate and the mandate’s severability from the rest of the statute.

      States react

      Ken Cuccinelli
      Colorado Attorney General John Suthers was one of the state attorneys general who oversaw the multistate case challenging the individual health insurance mandate. He called the decision "unexpected."

      “The Court has approved the stick and not the carrot. Congress can now penalize individuals for refusing to buy a commercial product,” Suthers said.

      Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli went even further and proclaimed it  “a dark day for the American people, the Constitution, and the rule of law.  This is a dark day for American liberty.”

      “This decision goes against the very principle that America has a federal government of limited powers; a principle that the Founding Fathers clearly wrote into the Constitution, the supreme law of the land.  The Constitution was meant to restrict the power of government precisely for the purpose of protecting your liberty and mine from the overreaching hand of the federal government,” Cuccinelli said.

      California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, on the other hand, called it "a historic victory."


      today issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act:

      “Today’s decision is a historic victory for Californians, for the President, and for the country. The Affordable Care Act repairs a healthcare system badly in need of reform and ensures that every American has access to affordable health care. We never doubted the constitutionality of this law, and it is already making a difference in the lives of millions of Californians,” she said.

      The Affordable Care Act has been passed and will be in full effect in 2014. Although many pediatricians commend the court, some state representatives have ...
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      Public Citizen: Health Care Act Leaves Millions Behind

      Single-payer, Medicare-style coverage for all is what's needed, advocates say

      Weissman

      Not all liberals and progressives are delighted with today's Supreme Court that found most of the Affordable Care Act constitutional. Public Citizen President Robert Weissman says it leaves millions behind. 

      "Tens of millions of Americans will remain uncovered, as will tens of millions of under-insured who will remain at risk of financial ruin if a major illness strikes. The private health insurance and pharmaceutical industries will remain in charge of prices and life-and-death treatment decisions," Weissman said in a letter to Public Citizen supporters.

      The answer, Weissman said, it a single-payer, Medicare-style plan that covers everyone. 

      "The improved Medicare-for-all approach starts with the premise that health care is a critically-needed right that must be afforded to all, irrespective of any individual’s ability to pay," Weissman said.  "It solves the problems of 50 million uninsured Americans simply and directly by establishing that everyone is covered by improved Medicare for all."

      Everybody in, nobody out

      Improved Medicare for all would prevent the deaths of the 45,000 Americans who die every year from lack of health insurance, Weissman said, adding that it would eliminate the hundreds of thousands of medical bankruptcies — affecting millions of Americans every year — that occur because people can’t pay their medical bills.

      Further, according to Weissman, the Medicare-for-all approach would "eliminate the greatest waste in the health care system: the needless costs imposed by the private health insurers."

      "These firms impose hundreds of billions of dollars of excess cost on us via their excessive profit-taking and executive compensation, their marketing expenses, their vast bureaucracies devoted to denying care, and their imposition of massive paper-pushing obligations on actual health care providers," he said.

      Weissman said Public Citizen plans to step up its advocacy for single-payer, improved Medicare for all.

      "In the near term, we expect to devote substantial energy to holding off efforts to further privatize and weaken existing Medicare. We anticipate that the early steps forward in winning expanded and improved Medicare will come from state initiatives, which we aim to support directly, and by ensuring that states are able to obtain needed waivers from federal laws and rules," he said.

      "We cannot and will not tolerate a system that sacrifices 45,000 Americans a year just for the sake of corporate profits," he concluded. "We can be our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper and be cost-effective at the same time. Indeed, it turns out that being cost-effective requires that we take care of each other."

      WeissmanNot all liberals and progressives are delighted with today's Supreme Court that found most of the Affordable Care Act constitut...
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      Healthcare Ruling May Bring Workplace Improvements

      Businesses see the benefit of healthier employees

      Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. employers may try to make their employees healthier in a bid to reduce costs.

      Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and a Harvard professor, reacted to the historic ruling by telling CNBC today that corporations will spend money providing incentives and benefits to help employees lose weight, quit smoking and embrace healthier lifestyles. Skyrocketing healthcare costs, he says, are mostly related to lifestyle.

      Emerging trend

      In fact, this trend has already started. A 2010 study found that wellness programs are smart for employees and the bottom line, with the return on investment sometimes as high as six to one. The researchers, writing in the Harvard Business Review, said wellness programs must be comprehensive, and can't stop at giving out a few passes to a fitness center and nutrition information in the cafeteria.

      The researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center studied 10 organizations that have financially sound workplace wellness programs.

      They conducted interviews with senior executives, managers of health-related functions and focus groups of middle managers and employees -- in all, about 300 people.

      A broad range of companies -- including Johnson & Johnson, Lowe's, H-E-B, and Healthwise -- have built their employee wellness programs on six major principles.

      1. engaged leadership at multiple levels;
      2. strategic alignment with the company's identity and aspirations;
      3. a design that is broad in scope and high in relevance and quality;
      4. broad accessibility;
      5. internal and external partnerships; and
      6. effective communications.

      The companies have reaped big rewards in the form of lower costs, greater productivity, and higher morale, the researchers found.

      Healthy games

      Some companies may also introduce games in the workplace that can promote health and improve the well-being of employees, saving employers direct and indirect health care costs.

      "Wellness programs using health games have the potential to significantly impact human well-being and the costs, pain, and suffering of preventable illnesses and conditions," said Bill Ferguson, PhD, Editor of Games for Health Journal.

      Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. employers may try to make their employees healthier in a ...
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      Hipsters Turning to Concierge Healthcare

      Too hip to fill out insurance forms, they just pay in advance

      The term hipster is one that has grown in both popularity and usage lately. It has different meanings to different people, but mainly a hipster is one who follows the latest trends and fashions, while maintaining a counter culture outlook.

      A hipster is typically somewhere between their 20s and 30s, and usually exists on the forefront of everything new and unconventional. Some people are turned off by hipster types and label them pretentious.

      While this hipster outlook and lifstyle has been traditionally centered on fashion, music, and films that exist outside of the mainstream market, it has now included of all things ... healthcare.

      Younger consumers who seek alternative ways to spend their dollars are choosing boutique or concierge medical practices, which have historically only been for the affluent.

      Personalized care

      What exactly is concierge medicine?

      It's basically a form of care where the patient pays a yearly retainer for an unlimited amount of medical visits. Doctors who practice concierge medicine take on far fewer patients than traditional physicians, so in theory they're able to provide more personalized care.

      News outlets have reported doctors cutting their patient list in half just to provide a better and more focused amount of service.

      Patients who visit these kinds of practices are usually able to have direct contact with their physician, receiving perks like getting the doctor's personal cell phone number and email address. Some concierge doctors are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

      Also, medical examinations are longer, more extensive and include other components like mental, hearing and detailed vision tests. 

      Concierge practices usually charge a yearly fee between $1,000 and $5,000, but companies like One Medical who offer a retainer fee of $199, have taken the concept of concierge medicine and introduced it to a younger, less affluent demographic.

      This is where the hipster comes in, or that consumer who looks for alternative services that are seemingly not attached just to dollars and profit.

      Many young people are choosing these types of boutique practices because they're able to receive medical care in a different way.

      Although some additional medical fees are also paid by the patient on top of the retainer, less money is being spent to receive a higher quality of individualized care, according to patients.

      Outside the box

      One Medical is a prime example of a company that markets itself to the younger, urban and outside-of-the-box portion of consumers. It boasts that patients can use smartphones and web portals to make same day appointments, while also claiming to be affordable for those without healthcare insurance. In theory, these two perks are ideal for younger less financially stable adults.

      In a 2011 study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, results showed that younger people are using their smartphones to access medical information now more than ever. This includes the way they prefer to book medical appointments and communicate with their doctors.

      GreenField Health is another boutique concierge practice that caters to younger adult patients.  The Portland, Ore. based company charges a sliding retainer fee based on the age of the patient.

      So if you're age 18 to 24 you pay $12 monthly, which is $120 a year for unlimited visits. If you're age 50 to 59 you pay $51 a month, which is $588 a year, and the fees go up higher the older you are.

      Consumers in hipster neighborhoods located in metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have been choosing boutique concierge practices in large numbers.

      ConsumerAffairs contacted One Medical to determine what percentage of its patients were of the younger 20 to 35 year old demographic, and Samantha, who is an employee of the company said, "The majority of our patients are younger people in bigger cities. People who are really busy and don't have a lot of time to sit in the doctor's office."

      Same-day appointments as well as being able to book visits by smartphone is a key selling point for practices like One Medical and GreenField Health. There  are other unique perks that draw in younger consumers.

      Students get a $100 discount on the retainer fee, paying only $99 a year, and younger doctors are hired to relate better to younger patients, explained Samantha at One Medical's Washington, D.C office.

      Since One Medical and GreenField Health are both relatively new practices opening in 2005 and 2007 respectively, and still somewhat unknown, there isn't any chatter about them in our ConsumerAffairs complaints and Review section.

      But as these two companies and others like them grow, tons of reviews are bound to come.

      "Older" patients

      Young hipster types aren't the only ones using these medical services. In April of 2011, The New York Times spoke with 40-year old Jennifer Contreras who is a patient of One Medical. She claimed there was no waiting time to see the doctor, and her visit with him was un-rushed, detailed and extremely thorough.

      "We did all the careful fine-tuning over e-mail until we got just the right dosage of blood pressure medication," she said. It wasn't just 'Oh, take this medication and I'll see you later.' It was 'Let's make sure we get this right.' "

      Critics of places like One Medical and GreenField say older people and seniors are being thrust out of receiving quality healthcare at lower costs. Especially since many of these practices charge a higher annual fee for older patients.

      Dr. Ashish Jha an associate professor with Harvard School of Public Health said "One Medical could potentially scale by getting more and more younger people who are relatively healthy."

      Other critics say younger people tend to be healthier and need the least amount of medical care, so yearly retainers aren't truly needed for them.

      But for the most part negative reviews about hipster healthcare have been far and few. It'll be interesting to see how younger patients really fare as these medical practices grow both in popularity and patient interest.

      The term hipster is one that has grown in both popularity and usage since the start of the second millennium. It has different meanings to different people...
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      Food Trucks Bringing Variety to City Streets

      The moveable feasts are making lunchtime a little more interesting

      A Seattle food truck (Wikipedia photo)

      If you've looked around during lunch time you've probably noticed a few more food trucks than before, as the concept of the mobile takeout restaurant has been catching on within the last year or so.

      This week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed a proposal that would permit food trucks to legally operate within city streets, and cook meals within vehicles.

      The ordinance would allow trucks to sell food while being parked for a two-hour maximum in a designated area, a legal parking space, or a private residence with the owner’s permission. Mobile food trucks also have to be at least 200 feet away from restaurants, according to reports.

      In addition, the city of Chicago will create specific parking areas for trucks that will soon turn certain streets into entire food sections, which will more than likely increase both consumerism and tourism within the city. 

      His Honor, a former top aide to President Obama and no political slouch himself, has no doubt been reading the political tea leaves, for there is no doubt that food trucks are winning the hearts and minds of American consumers.

      ConsumerAffairs conducted a computerized sentiment analysis of about 490,000 comments posted on social media over the last year and found net positive sentiments in the 70%-80% range for most of the year.

      But why?

      Why have food trucks, and the entire concept of them become so popular in recent years?

      A 2011 study by business consultants Technomic showed that 91 percent of consumers saw food trucks as a lasting trend compared to seven percent who said it would be a quick passing fad.

      Our sentiment analysis found that, other than being a little greasy, food dished up from the back of a truck is just what consumers have been waiting for.

      Consumers are also able to locate different food truck options easier than locating different restaurants, especially during a quick lunch break. Since trucks don't settle in just one area, it gives both businesses and consumers more opportunities to find each other.

      First the obvious: Low overhead and start-up costs allow people who are skilled in the kitchen to get their product exposed without breaking the bank to open a restaurant. Experts say starting a food truck costs around 30 percent less than opening a restaurant.

      Also, if the food truck fails to take off, business owners have an easier and cheaper way to back out, especially compared to shutting down a restaurant.

      Food trucks can benefit the consumer too. Since it's easier and less expensive to start one, more trucks are on the street, thus giving the consumer a wider variety of food options at relatively reasonable prices.

      Serendipity

      The Technomic also showed that 61 percent of consumers found out about mobile food trucks by just coming across them. In addition, 84 percent of the respondents said they follow a food truck through social media on a weekly basis. Free advertising through pages like Twitter and Facebook is also a big part of the food truck revolution.

      The report also indicates that 75 percent of consumers who frequent  food trucks that are clustered together, purchase food from multiple trucks for one meal. This is mainly due to the specialized nature of food trucks, which is ideal for mixing and matching different food products, the report says.

      The food truck craze, which started from the neighborhood meal cart, has grown so popular that major restaurant chains are also using the idea to introduce new products. Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A, and Qdoba Mexican Grill have all hitched its brands to the concept of bringing food on the road.

      Even non-food brands are using the business model. Fashion designers, vinyl record stores, and magazine companies have all adopted the trendy selling pattern, and converted old mail and ice-cream trucks into full-fledged businesses.

      Critics of the food truck craze are mainly restaurant owners and food event organizers, who complain of customers being lured away because trucks remain too close in proximity. Mayor Emanuel's backing of the proposal to keep trucks at least 200 feet away from restaurants could spread nationwide, and provide other business owners with some wanted breathing room.

      So far no customer complaints have been documented in our ConsumerAffairs Complaints and Review section about mobile food trucks, which either indicates trucks are providing good service, or the concept is too new for consumers to fully assess.

      10 best

      According to Smithsonian's list, some of the ten best food trucks in the U.S. are Kogi in Los Angeles, Gastro Pod in Miami, Lardo in Portland, Ore., Clover Food Lab in Clover, Mass., and Fojol Brothers in Washington D.C. The full best-of list can be seen here.

      At this year’s 93rd Annual National Restaurant Association Restaurant Hotel Show, food trucks were a major part of the discussion.

      Experts told show attendees that six out of 10 consumers would visit a food truck offered by their favorite restaurant, according to research. This of course had restaurant owners at the convention salivating, as they were all in attendance to further grow their businesses.

      Some experts even say food trucks are healthier lunch options, since many of them use fresh ingredients, and offer more low calorie and vegetarian items than a lot of restaurants.

      If you've looked around during lunch time you've probably noticed a few more food trucks than before, as the concept of the mobile takeout restaurant has b...
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      FDA Approves Anti-Obesity Drug Belviq

      Approval comes despite opposition from leading consumer health group

      Another weapon in the battle against obesity. 

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Belviq (lorcaserin hydrochloride), as an addition to a reduced-calorie diet and exercise, for chronic weight management. 

      Public Citizen's Health Research Group blasted the move as “reckless."

      "We expect that as with many of the other drugs, this one will be withdrawn from the market after the agency is forced to confront the many serious adverse health effects, such as heart valve damage, that will be reported," said the group's director, Dr. Sidney Wolfe. 

      Heart valve issues 

      Regarding that concern, FDA says heart valve function was assessed by echocardiography in nearly 8,000 patients in the Belviq development program. There was no statistically significant difference in the development of FDA-defined valve abnormalities between Belviq and placebo-treated patients. 

      Because preliminary data suggest that the number of serotonin 2B receptors may be increased in patients with congestive heart failure, Belviq should be used with caution in patients with this condition. Belviq has not been studied in patients with serious valvular heart disease. 

      The drug’s manufacturer will be required to conduct six post-marketing studies, including a long-term cardiovascular outcomes trial to assess the effect of Belviq on the risk for major adverse cardiac events such as heart attack and stroke. 

      Use driven by BMI 

      The drug is approved for use in adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater (obese), or adults with a BMI of 27 or greater (overweight) and who have at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol (dyslipidemia). 

      BMI, which measures body fat based on an individual’s weight and height, is used to define the obesity and overweight categories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults in the United States are obese. 

      Belviq works by activating the serotonin 2C receptor in the brain. Activation of this receptor may help a person eat less and feel full after eating smaller amounts of food. 

      Not for everyone 

      Belviq should not be used during pregnancy. Treatment with Belviq may cause serious side effects, including serotonin syndrome, particularly when taken with certain medicines that increase serotonin levels or activate serotonin receptors. These include, but are not limited to, drugs commonly used to treat depression and migraine. Belviq may also cause disturbances in attention or memory. 

      In 1997, the weight-loss drugs fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine were withdrawn from the market after evidence emerged that they caused heart valve damage. This effect is assumed to be related to activation of the serotonin 2B receptor on heart tissue. When used at the approved dose of 10 milligrams twice a day, Belviq does not appear to activate the serotonin 2B receptor. 

      The most common side effects of Belviq in non-diabetic patients are headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, dry mouth, and constipation, and in diabetic patients are low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), headache, back pain, cough, and fatigue. 

      Anti-obesity drug approved despite opposition from some...
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      Regular, Moderate, Coffee Drinking May Reduce Heart Failure Risk

      That morning cup of Joe might do more than get your eyes open; it could keep your heart pounding

      If you're one of those folks who can’t face the day without a cup of coffee in the morning, here’s some good news for you. 

      New research in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation Heart Failure finds that people who drink coffee regularly in moderation could have a reduced risk of heart failure.

      Researchers analyzing previous studies on the link between coffee consumption and heart failure found that moderate coffee drinking as part of a daily routine may be linked with a significantly lower risk of heart failure. In contrast, indulging excessively may be linked with an increased chance of developing serious heart problems. 

      "While there is a commonly held belief that regular coffee consumption may be dangerous to heart health, our research suggests that the opposite may be true," said Murray Mittleman, M.D., Dr.P.H., senior study author and director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. 

      "We found that moderate consumption -- which we define as the equivalent of about two typical American coffee shop beverages -- may actually protect against heart failure by as much as 11 percent," he said. "On the other hand, excessive coffee drinking -- five to six commercial coffee house cups per day -- has no benefit and may even be dangerous. As with so many things, moderation appears to be the key here, too." 

      Study specifics 

      Researchers reviewed five high quality prospective studies of coffee consumption and heart failure risk published between 2001 and 2011. Combined, the studies included 6,522 heart failure events among 140,220 males and females. Four of the studies were conducted in Sweden and one in Finland. 

      The study defines moderate consumption as four Northern European servings per day, the equivalent to about two typical 8-ounce American servings. Excessive coffee consumption is 10 Northern European servings per day, the equivalent to four or five coffees from popular American coffee restaurant chains (servings sizes vary from 9 to 20 fluid ounces per serving). 

      Researchers didn't account for brew strength, but coffee is typically weaker in the United States than it is in Europe. They also didn't differentiate between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, but most of the coffee consumed in Sweden and Finland is caffeinated.

      Variety of factors 

      "There are many factors that play into a person's risk of heart failure, but moderate coffee consumption doesn't appear to be one of them," said Elizabeth Mostofsky, Sc.D., lead study author and research fellow at Beth Israel. 

      "This is good news for coffee drinkers, of course, but it also may warrant changes to the current heart failure prevention guidelines, which suggest that coffee drinking may be risky for heart patients. It now appears that a couple of cups of coffee per day may actually help protect against heart failure." 

      The American Heart Association recommends that heart failure patients consume only a moderate amount of caffeine -- no more than a cup or two of coffee or other caffeinated beverage a day. 

      Unanswered questions 

      Researchers didn't definitively say why coffee offers a heart-health benefit. But evidence suggests that frequent coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to the beverage's caffeine, which may put them at a decreased risk of developing high blood pressure. 

      Habitual coffee consumption is also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, with most studies showing the greatest reduction in risk with higher levels of coffee consumption. 

      "Diabetes and hypertension are among the most important risk factors for heart failure, so it stands to reason that reducing one's odds of developing either of them, in turn, reduces one's chance of heart failure," Mittleman said.

      New research suggests a little coffee might be good for your heart...
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      Dole Fresh Vegetables Recalls Limited Number of Salads

      There is a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes

      Dole Fresh Vegetables is voluntarily recalling 1,077 cases of bagged salads. 

      The products being recalled are Kroger Fresh Selections Greener Supreme coded N158 211B 1613 KR04 with Use-by date of June 19 and UPC 11110 91039, Kroger Fresh Selections Leafy Romaine coded N158 111B KR11 with Use-by date of June 19 and UPC 11110 91046 and Wal-Mart Marketside Leafy Romaine coded N158111B with Use-by date of June19 and UPC code 81131 02781. 

      The recalls are prompted by a possible health risk from Listeria monocytogenes, an organism that can cause foodborne illness in a person who eats a food item contaminated with it. Symptoms of infection may include fever, muscle aches and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea or diarrhea. The illness primarily affects pregnant women and adults with weakened immune systems. Most healthy adults and children rarely become seriously ill. 

      No illnesses have been reported in association with the recall. This precautionary recall notification is being issued due to an isolated instance in which a sample of Marketside Leafy Romaine salad yielded a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes in a random sample test conducted by the State of North Carolina. 

      The Product Code and Use-by date are in the upper right-hand corner of the package; the UPC code is on the back of the package, below the barcode. The salads were distributed in six U.S. states (Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia). 

      No other Wal-Mart Marketside, or Kroger Fresh Selections salads are included in the recall. Only the specific Product Codes, UPC codes and June 19, 2012 Use-by date identified above are included in the recall. 

      Consumers who have any remaining product with these Product Codes should not consume it, but rather discard it. Retailers and consumers with questions may call the Dole Food Company Consumer Response Center at (800) 356-3111, which is open 8:00 am to 3:00 pm (PDT) Monday - Friday. 

      Retailers should check their inventories and store shelves to confirm that none of the product is mistakenly present or available for purchase by consumers or in warehouse inventories. 

      Dole is recalling three kinds of salads...
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      Non-Traditional Destinations Offer Top Vacation Bargains

      Princeton, N.J. sees the biggest drop in hotel rates

      Vacations are expensive, but if you want to save money it's certainly possible. It just might mean going off the beaten path and visiting places you might not think of as vacation destinations.

      In its June 2012 report, discount travel site Hotwire.com features the top five cities in North America where hotel, air and car rental rates have dropped the most as compared to the same time last year.

      "Summer officially kicked-off last week which typically means higher prices in most popular markets; however, we're still seeing some fantastic deals on hotel, air and car rentals across the country," said Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group. "For sun worshippers, cities like Palm Springs, Key West and Las Vegas all have deep discounts on airfare and car rental rates. For those looking to escape the sizzling temperatures, places like Spokane, Seattle, Vancouver and the Bay Area are each offering stellar rates on a variety of your travel needs."

      Hotel bargains

      But those areas don't offer the best hotel bargains, Howire found. Rather, some unusual choices made the list.

      Coming in at number one is Princeton, N.J. It replaces another New Jersey destination at number one – Atlantic City. Princeton scored a six percent drop in hotel rates.

      Augusta, Ga., is in second place with a five percent price decrease compared to last year. Augusta doesn't have a beach or roulette tables but is a top deal market for history buffs and golf lovers.

      Continuing to round out the top five hotel deal markets are Providence, Rhode Island and Spokane, Washington, each with five percent price drops.

      Arts and entertainment

      Known as the "Renaissance City," Providence offers an array of arts and entertainment for travelers to enjoy. As of late, 3.5-star hotels in this city have been increasing their discounts to compete for the same business as the 4-star hotels that dominated the market last year, Hotwire reports.

      In Spokane, there is less demand than last summer, so hotels are becoming more aggressive with rates.

      Rounding out the top 5 is Montreal, Canada where hotel rates have dropped three percent this month, which means travelers can afford to enjoy this popular city during its high season.

      While there, folks can catch L'International des Feux Loto-Quebec that takes place from late June to early July.

      When it comes to airfare, Hotwire found Little Rock, Ark., saw the biggest drop in fares since last year – 20 percent. The biggest savings on car rentals is in Boston, where rates are down by an average of $22.

      Vacations are expensive, but if you want to save money it's certainly possible. It just might mean going off the beaten path and visiting places you might ...
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