Current Events in July 2012

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    Hyperthermia: Too Hot for Your Health

    NIH offers advice for helping older citizens deal with the heat

    NOAA Photo

    With much of the nation sweltering this week, it’s important to remember that hot summer weather can pose special health risks to older adults. 

    The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has some advice for helping older people avoid heat-related illnesses, known as hyperthermia. 


    Hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment. Heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are commonly known forms of hyperthermia. Risk for these conditions can increase with the combination of outside temperature, general health and individual lifestyle. 

    Lifestyle factors can include not drinking enough fluids, living in housing without air conditioning, lack of mobility and access to transportation, overdressing, visiting overcrowded places and not understanding how to respond to hot weather conditions. 

    Older people -- particularly those with chronic medical conditions -- should stay indoors on hot and humid days, especially when an air pollution alert is in effect. People without air conditioners should go to places that do have air conditioning, such as senior centers, shopping malls, movie theaters and libraries. Cooling centers, which may be set up by local public health agencies, religious groups and social service organizations in many communities, are another option. 

    Warning signs 

    Health-related factors, some especially common among older people, that may increase risk of hyperthermia include: 

    • Being dehydrated.
    • Age-related changes to the skin such as impaired blood circulation and inefficient sweat glands.
    • Heart, lung and kidney diseases, as well as any illness that causes general weakness or fever.
    • High blood pressure or other conditions that require changes in diet. For example, people on salt-restricted diets may be at increased risk. However, salt pills should not be used without first consulting a doctor.
    • Reduced sweating, caused by medications such as diuretics, sedatives, tranquilizers and certain heart and blood pressure drugs.
    • Taking several drugs for various conditions. It is important, however, to continue to take prescribed medication and discuss possible problems with a physician.
    • Being substantially overweight or underweight.
    • Drinking alcoholic beverages. 

    Heat stroke is a life-threatening form of hyperthermia. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by heat and unable to control its temperature.

    Heat stroke occurs when someone’s body temperature increases significantly (generally above 104 degrees Fahrenheit) and has symptoms such as mental status changes (like confusion or combativeness), strong rapid pulse, lack of sweating, dry flushed skin, faintness, staggering, or coma. Seek immediate emergency medical attention for a person with any of these symptoms, especially an older adult. 

    Handling heat-related illness 

    If you suspect that someone is suffering from a heat-related illness: 

    • Get the person out of the heat and into a shady, air-conditioned or other cool place. Urge them to lie down.
    • If you suspect heat stroke, call 911.
    • Encourage the individual to shower, bathe or sponge off with cool water.
    • Apply a cold, wet cloth to the wrists, neck, armpits, and/or groin. These are places where blood passes close to the surface of the skin, and the cold cloths can help cool the blood.
    • If the person can swallow safely, offer fluids such as water, fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.

    With much of the nation sweltering this week, it’s important to remember that hot summer weather can pose special health risks to older adults. ...

    Reports: Smaller, Cheaper iPad On The Way

    But some technology experts say they've heard this one before

    The iPad, the first of the modern tablet computers, has plenty of company these days, especially with the entry of Google and Microsoft into the market.

    So is Apple preparing to fight back with a smaller, cheap unit? Sure looks that way.

    Technology sites are buzzing with week with speculation that the new iPad, expected later this year, will have a seven or eight inch screen, slightly smaller than the current model.

    According to various reports, based on unidentified sources in Asian manufacturing plants, the new iPad would lack the high-def screen of the newest iPad model but would be priced on par with some of the lower-priced competitors.

    While consumers might be interested in a smaller, cheaper iPad there's no shortage of opinion in the blogsphere about whether that's something Apple should – or would - produce.

    Chris Davies of Slashgear notes the late Steve Jobs scoffed at the idea of a smaller tablet when competitors introduced them. Introducing a new “iPad Mini,” he says, would be “one of the biggest turnarounds to date.”

    Anonymous sources

    The rumors were fed this week by reports by both Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal, who said they found people who would talk about the details of the supposed product at component manufacturers. The sources said they expect the new product to be announced in October.

    Bloomberg interviewed Shaw Wu, a technology analyst at Sterne Agee & Leach, who said a low cost iPad would be “competitors' worst nightmare.”

    Right now, the starting price for an iPad is $499. Google's Nexus 7 and Amazon's Kindle Fire both have seven-inch screens but sell for $199, giving them a decided advantage among price-conscious consumers. An iPad product the same size and same price could deliver a hit to sales of both.

    It could also upset the apple cart (no pun intended) for Microsoft, which recently announced plans to introduce its own tablet, the Surface. Though details are far from complete, the Surface is not expected to be a lower-priced tablet. Microsoft has yet to disclose price information.

    But yet another tablet product coming out at the same time – especially one with the Apple nameplace – won't be helpful.

    The iPad, the first of the modern tablet computers, has plenty of company these days, especially with the entry of Google and Microsoft into the market.S...

    Methadone linked to 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths

    The death rate is out of proportion to the amount of the painkiller being prescribed

    The prescription drug methadone accounted for two percent of painkiller prescriptions in the United States in 2009, but was involved in more than 30 percent of prescription painkiller overdose deaths, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

    Risky painkiller

    Methadone carries more risks than other painkillers because it tends to build up in the body and can disrupt a person’s breathing or heart rhythm. According to the report, four of every 10 overdose deaths from a single prescription painkiller involved methadone, twice as many as any other prescription painkiller. 

    Methadone has been used safely and effectively for decades to treat drug addiction, but in recent years it has been increasingly used as a pain reliever. As methadone prescriptions for pain have increased, so have methadone-related nonmedical use and fatal overdoses. CDC researchers found that six times as many people died of methadone overdoses in 2009 compared with methadone-related deaths in 1999. 

    Researchers analyzed national data from 1999-2010, and 2009 data from 13 states (those covered by a surveillance system for drug-related deaths, the Drug Abuse Warning Network of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). 

    “Deaths from opioid overdose have increased four-fold in the past decade, and methadone now accounts for nearly a third of opioid-associated deaths,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.  “Methadone used for heroin substitution treatment does not appear to be a major part of this problem.  However, the amount of methadone prescribed to people in pain has increased dramatically. There are many safer alternatives to methadone for chronic non-cancer pain.” 

    Lack of training 

    Despite recent federal efforts to warn health care providers that methadone prescribing is complex and that methadone should not be the first choice as a pain reliever, the number of methadone prescriptions has not declined significantly. The majority of these prescriptions are written by practitioners who typically do not have special training in pain management. 

    “Methadone continues to play an important role in substance abuse treatment and should not be limited in its use for that application,” said Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H., M.S.N., director of CDC′s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Health care providers can take precautions to reduce the risks of methadone overdose when used for treating pain.” 

    Prescription guidelines

    Health care providers can take additional measures to help prevent prescription painkiller overdoses. A key step includes following guidelines for prescribing methadone and other prescription painkillers correctly, which include: 

    • Screening and monitoring for substance abuse and other mental health problems,
    • Prescribing only the quantity needed based on the expected length of pain,
    • Using patient-provider agreements combined with urine drug tests for people taking methadone long term,
    • Using prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients who are misusing or abusing methadone or other prescription painkillers,
    • Educating patients on how to safely use, store, and dispose of prescription painkillers and how to prevent and recognize overdoses. 

    Methadone overdose rates are out of proportion to the number of prescriptions written...

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      'Bee Rescuers' Busy in Wake of East Coast Storms

      Hives exposed in damaged and downed tree

      In recent years honey bee populations have suffered serious declines, most likely due to pesticide exposure. So when bee hives are now discovered in inconvenient places, every effort is made to safely move them.

      When last week's storms took down trees along the Mid-Atlantic coast, some of those trees contained hives. That set up a conflict between bee preservationists and the frazzled work crews assigned to clear the debris.

      In Richmond, Va.'s historic neighborhood, The Fan, the storms damaged at least two towering oaks containing bee hives. Urban bee keeper Randyl Walter, who also has construction experience, found himself in the role of “bee rescuer.”

      “They called me and said there's a tree down and they're going to spray the bees if you don't get over there and get them out,” Walter said. “So I went over there and started collecting bees before the city arrived on the scene.”

      Delicate task

      Extracting bees from their natural hive is a delicate task. It requires cutting the comb out, putting it in frames, and then vacuuming up the bees so everything can be relocated. And even though a bee rescuer has the best of intentions, the bees usually don't see it that way.

      While they usually treat you as a benign presence when you bring them food, they react differently when you try to remove them from a hive. Walter says it's all based on bees' keen sense of smell.

      “Now your scent is associated with destroying the hive, because basically, when you do a cut-out to save the bees that's basically what you do, you destroy the hive,” Walter said.

      And as he stood in a bucket truck 30 feet in the air, Walter felt the bees' wrath.

      Nightmare at 30 feet

      “My suit had come open, and I didn't know, and the bees got up inside my suit and inside my veil, and I got stung in the face about one hundred or two hundred times on the back of the neck and across the face,” Walter said. “My eyes were so swollen I could barely even see. But I finished the extraction and saved all the bees. As many as I could.”

      While others might have fled the scene and gone to the emergency room, Walter said he is not allergic to bee venom, and in fact considers it beneficial. His girl friend practices apitherapy to treat her MS, finding occasional bee stings relax muscles. And he certainly doesn't hold the incident against his winged friends. Bees, he says, are mostly misunderstood by most people.

      “I find that if you don't hurt them they won't hurt you,” he said. “But as soon as you hurt one of them, that one will tell his friends and his friends will all come after you.”

      Walter says reputable exterminators now refuse to eradicate bee nests and instead refer homeowners to bee rescuers or other professionals who can safely remove them. As for the Richmond bees, Walter says they now have a new home in a city park.

      In recent years honey bee populations have suffered serious declines, most likely due to pesticide exposure. So when bee hives are now discovered in inconv...

      Consumers Crowd New Car Showrooms In June

      Despite sagging economy, new car sales surge

      2012 Chrysler 200

      It turns out a lot of consumers have a new car sitting in their driveway. Both domestic and foreign automakers report June was a near record month for sales.

      Chrysler sales rose 20 percent, its best June since 2007. Ford's sales increase was a more modest seven percent, helped by the Escape's best sales month ever. Sales were up 16 percent at General Motors with across-the-board increases in all its brands.

      "Despite the relative slowdown in the last two months, the auto industry continues to experience improved profitability with strong year-over-year sales, historically high transaction prices and precise incentives spending," said Jesse Toprak, Vice President of Market Intelligence for

      Japanese automakers also had a good month. Sales of the Infiniti G Sedan for the month were up 48.5 percent to 3,923 units, which was the model's best June since 2007. Other models also recorded double digit increases.

      "June was a great month for Infiniti, with increased sales of practically every one of our lines and the Infiniti JX 7-passenger luxury crossover adding incremental volume, said Ben Poore, vice president of Infiniti Americas.

      Nissan sales were up 28 percent in June. Mazda sales gained five percent, Honda sales were up 48 percent and Toyota blew away forecasts with a 51 percent sales increase.

      "June and first-half year sales were driven by consumer interest in our new models including the Prius c, the newest member of the Prius family, and the Camry, the best-selling car in America," said Bob Carter, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

      Benz' best ever

      On the luxury end, Mercedes Benz sales recorded one of its “best ever' months for U.S. sales. The 12.5 percent increase for the month brings the year-to-date total to 142,619 units, up 20.8 percent and making this Mercedes Benz USA's highest first-half on record.

      What's behind the surge in sales? It is a little puzzling, coming at a time when the economy is said to be sliding back toward recession. Automotive insiders point to low gasoline prices, pent-up demand, rock bottom interest rates and the continued influx of new models.

      It turns out a lot of consumers have a new car sitting in their driveway. Both domestic and foreign automakers report June was a near record month for sale...

      Developing a Survival Plan for Power Outages

      Planning ahead will make life a little easier after a disaster strikes

      Last week's storms that devastated parts of the Mid-Atlantic region underscore the need for individual consumers to be prepared when disaster strikes.

      And if the recent storms aren't enough to convince you, keep in mind that we are still early into hurricane season. Don't live along coastal areas? Well, just about everyone is vulnerable to some kind of natural disaster than can upset daily life, from tornadoes to earthquakes.

      Being prepared is the best defense for such energy emergencies. The first step in being prepared is developing a weather emergency plan. The plan should include a list of important phone numbers that you can grab and take with you in case you need to quickly evacuate your home (i.e. doctors, family members, etc.). Of course, you probably have all these numbers stored in your cell phone but remember it may not work for days after the disaster.

      The plan should also include an evacuation route, as well as an established meeting place in case you lose communication with loved ones. After the recent Washington storms, D.C. area residents found themselves driving well into Pennsylvania to find motels that had both vacancies and power.

      Plan for three days of roughing it

      Grab a backpack or purchase a large plastic bucket with a lid from a local hardware store or home center. Stuff the backpack or bucket with three days' worth of food and water. Other items should include a flashlight, battery powered/hand-cranked radio, first aid kit, money, medications and a CD or USB drive containing important documents. Store the kit in a place that is easily accessible in an emergency situation.

      If disaster strikes and you find yourself without electricity and other utilities, turn off major appliances such as water heaters, stoves and air conditioning units. Unplug other appliances such as TVs, stereos, microwaves and computers. This will prevent damage to appliances and possible overloads to the system when power is restored. Leave one light on so you will be able to see when power is restored to your home.

      Make sure you have a battery-operated or weather radio, multiple flashlights and a battery-operated clock and fan, along with extra batteries. Keep these items in a place when you can easily get to them.


      If you have a portable generator, read the owners' manual and make sure you understand how it operates before trying to use it. Do not connect it directly to the electrical system of your home. Electricity could flow backward into the power lines and endanger lives. Either have a qualified electrician perform the work or plug appliances directly into the portable generator.

      If you're running a portable generator, be sure to use properly rated extension cords.

      Also, make sure the portable generator is properly vented to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Do not place a portable generator in your home or an enclosed space with limited ventilation like a garage or a screened porch. It needs to be far enough away from your house that you don't asphyxiate yourself and your family.

      Also, be considerate of your neighbors. Try to site the generator so it doesn't asphyxiate or deafen those living nearby.  

      Familiarize yourself with your main electrical panel. You may have to turn off the main breaker or have to reset circuit breakers after an outage. Inspect the area around your electricity meter. If you detect or suspect any damage, call your local utility provider. Of course, the likelihood your utility will answer is slim to zero in most areas but it doesn't hurt to try.

      Last week's storms that devastated parts of the Mid-Atlantic region underscore the need for individual consumers to be prepared when disaster strikes.And...

      Car-Sharing: A Growing Trend But Is It For You?

      There are pluses and minuses to car-sharing and on-demand rentals

      If you’ve noticed, car-sharing companies are growing in popularity, and many find them to be a more convenient alternative to rental car agencies.

      Companies like Zipcar or City CarShare are pulling in new consumers by the thousands, and the customer base is primarily made up of those who live in big cities, and don’t need a car every day. Also, a big portion of these customers just don’t want to own a car.

      Rental companies like Thrifty and Budget may provide the convenience of having access to a wider selection of vehicles, and a bigger network of repair and support services, but some are also known to have really poor customer service.

      Poor service

      Consumers rate Hertz

      Many traditional rental car companies are of colossal size, which can many times cause rushed, impersonal or even rude service. The global rental company Avis is a prime example.

      “While on business in Miami, I needed to speak with the Avis office at Miami airport,” said Edwin of New Jersey, in our ConsumerAffairs Complaints section.

      “I spent over 30 minutes on the cell phone with the automated attendant that simply loops in circles and does not offer human contact. When I selected the manager at Miami airport, I received a voice message to call the front desk and yet another phone number. Of course, no one answers the phone! I will never, ever use Avis again, as they simply do not know the meaning of customer service."

      And Edwin doesn’t suffer alone, as many people have turned to car-sharing as an alternative option to bigger and sometimes indifferent car renting companies. Some have chosen to use car-sharing services instead of owning a vehicle themselves.

      In a 2009 report conducted by automotive experts Frost & Sullivan, researchers concluded that each car that's shared takes the place of 15 personally owned vehicles. This is ideal for larger U.S. cities that have an overabundance of cars on the road and taking up space in garages. The environmentally conscious segment of consumers are especially fond of the car-sharing concept.


      Many are also attracted to the self-service aspect of using a shared-car company. Customers don’t have to deal with a grumpy rental car agent, or wait in annoying lines to get a vehicle when they need one.

      Cars are typically picked up in accessible public locations like mall parking lots, parking garages, and local neighborhood streets, and many times gas and insurance is included in the sharing fee.

      Major rental car players Enterprise and Hertz have also thrown their hat into the hourly rental ring.

      Enterprise, already having its car-sharing service WeCar, recently purchased sharing companies Mint Cars On-Demand and PhillyCarShare, in efforts to expand its car-sharing division, and cash in on the newly formed consumer craze.

      The fact that Enterprise, the biggest rental car chain in the U.S, is focusing on its car-sharing division, shows how much this particular industry looks to be more of a future consumer necessity than a fleeting consumer trend.

      Hertz hourly car service division, called Hertz On Demand, is also expanding by adding more vehicles and locations to its service.

      Both Enterprise and Hertz are big enough to have a wider selection of hourly cars for consumers to choose from. Also, the companies already hold the prime pickup locations that could help them oust Zipcar from its comfortable number one spot.


      Consumers rate Avis

      But what are the drawbacks of dealing with a car-sharing company, whether it's Zipcar, City CarShare, or Hertz-On-Demand? As we all know there have to be some glitches.

      Most car-sharing companies charge a yearly fee that you may not want to commit to, especially if you plan not to use the service that match.

      A friend of mine signed up for Zipcar a few years ago, but only used a car once. To this day he complains of not getting his money’s worth.

      The fees aren't that high, averaging around $60 and $50 a year at Zipcar and City CarShare respectively, but memberships can be hard to cancel sometimes, and one always has to be concerned with automatic renewal tricks.

      There’s also an additional costs for the initial application, and local and state taxes may apply depending on where you live.

      Deciding exactly how often you’ll use the hourly car is most important. If you’re a person who plans to use the car a few times a year, a traditional rental car location may be best for you.

      Also, some of the locations where cars have to be picked up aren't in the safest areas. Customers sometimes have to go to secluded parking garages, or walk down isolated streets to pick up a vehicle. Picking or dropping off at night can also be stressful in these kind of places.

      And if you're a disabled driver and need certain accommodations, you have to give many car-sharing companies notice far in advance.

      Sharing companies also don't offer the same car variety as rental companies. Many times customers have to wait for the previous customer to drop off the car in timely fashion.

      Many sharing locations only have one or a few cars, so if the person is tardy or inconsiderate, you could be stranded and out of luck.

      But even with some imperfections, car-sharing is still a pretty good idea for those who live in big cities, or for those that feel having a car isn’t worth the costs, the parking hassles, or the responsibilities.

      Sharing is also popular among college students, as many shared-car locations are on college campuses.

      At the moment there are no ConsumerAffair reviews or complaints listed about Zipcar, Hertz On Demand or other sharing companies, which either means good service is being provided, or not enough people know and use these types of companies.


      Another corner of the hourly car rental industry is also peer-to-peer car-sharing.

      Especially popular in the Bay Area, car owners charge hourly and daily rates for complete strangers to borrow their car. Individuals are now getting extra cash by using social networking sites to advertise their vehicle and offer it for temporary use.

      In some areas, car owners have even joined independent car-sharing companies, and reported making several hundred dollars a month.

      The personal car-sharing company Getaround offers owners the chance to use its brand, and charge a sliding fee to borrowers depending on the make, model and year of the car. GPS systems are used to track mileage and distance so car owners can confirm charges and the overall use of the vehicle.

      The question of liability remains a little sticky. Companies insist that their insurance provides adequate coverage but others aren't so sure. Before deciding to rent out your car, consider the risk. If someone is killed in an accident involving your car, you could face expensive and ongoing litigation.

      Automakers get in on the act

      Even big automotive makers believe in the overall concept of car-sharing.

      Earlier this year General Motors finalized a partnership with car-sharing company RelayRides. GM customers that have OnStar will now be able to use RelayRides cars by being able to unlock them with their smart or cell phones. Most sharing companies send a personal membership card that unlocks the door.

      Nick Pudar, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at OnStar, feels the car-sharing industry is just beginning to grow and will continue to thrive, but only in specific areas.

      “I see sharing growing in importance," he said. But “It really depends upon the density of commerce and humanity in the cities. The evolution of sharing is going to be geographically differentiated.”

      Car-Sharing Pros

      • Self-Service You don’t have to make your way over to the rental car place, which can be a hassle. Companies like Zipcar often have pickup locations somewhere in your neighborhood. You just go, unlock the door, then drive away.
      • A Money Saver Compared To Owning You won’t deal with any of the perpetual costs associated with car ownership like maintenance fees, gas, and insurance. Many consumers, the younger ones especially, pay a lot for a car they don’t actually need. Car-sharing allows you to pay a small yearly fee, along with the daily cost of the rental. Gas and insurance are often included. 
      • Reduces Traffic and Good For Environment Most big cities are filled to the brim with traffic and congestion, which has its effect on the environment. The more people who car-share, the less people own cars, and the less impactful it is on our surroundings. 

      Car-Sharing Cons

      • Limited Amount of Miles Many traditional rental companies offer unlimited mileage, but Zipcar for example only gives you 180 miles per day, and after that you’ll have to cough up $0.55 per mile. If you were planning to use a car-sharing company for your next long road trip, you may want to plan again.
      • Not For The Spontaneous If you’re one who likes to plan your excursions as you go along, car-sharing companies may not be for you. Many times members have to book weeks in advance for a car, especially in bigger cities like New York or Chicago. With a traditional rental place, you can practically wait to the last mille-second and still get a vehicle.
      • Not Always Conveniently Located A good portion of car-sharing pickup locations are in very accessible areas, but not always. At times you may have to travel further than a rental car location to get there. There have also been reports of pickup locations being in desolate and unsafe areas. With no employee or security guard to watch out for you, it might be safer just going to a brick-and-mortar rental place.

      If you’ve noticed, car-sharing companies are growing in popularity, and many find them to be a more convenient alternative to rental car agencies.C...

      Study Finds Crash Avoidance Features Really Do Reduce Crashes

      Autonomous braking and adaptive headlights yield biggest benefits

      Some of those high-tech gadgets they’re putting on cars really do make you safer. 

      Insurance claim analyses by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) show that  collision avoidance systems -- particularly those that can brake autonomously -- along with adaptive headlights, which shift direction as the driver steers, show the biggest crash reductions. 

      On the other hand, lane departure warning appears to hurt, rather than help, though it’s not clear why, and other systems -- such as blind spot detection and park assist -- aren’t showing clear effects on crash patterns yet.  

      “As more automakers offer advanced technologies on their vehicles, insurance data provide an early glimpse of how these features perform in the real world,” said Matt Moore, vice president of HLDI, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). “So far, forward collision technology is reducing claims, particularly for damage to other vehicles, and adaptive headlights are having an even bigger impact than we had anticipated.” 

      Systems studied 

      The crash avoidance systems studied were all offered as optional equipment. The automakers supplied HLDI with identification numbers of vehicles that had each feature, allowing HLDI to compare the insurance records for those vehicles with the same models without the feature. 

      In each analysis, HLDI controlled for factors that could influence claim rates, including driver age and gender, garaging state and collision deductible.  

      Forward collision avoidance 

      Forward collision warning systems alert the driver if the vehicle is gaining on the traffic ahead of it so quickly that it is about to crash. Some of these systems also are equipped with autonomous braking, meaning the vehicle will brake on its own if the driver doesn’t respond in time.  

      Claims for the front-to-rear collisions that forward collision avoidance systems are meant to address are common under property damage liability (PDL) coverage, and HLDI found the technology reduces PDL claim frequency. Claim frequency under collision coverage, which includes many of the same crashes that fall under property damage liability but also a lot of single-vehicle crashes that these systems are not designed to address, was reduced but by a smaller amount. Some reductions also were seen for injury claims. 

      Adaptive headlights 

      Adaptive headlights respond to steering input to help a driver see around a curve in the dark. The headlights’ horizontal aim is adjusted based on the speed of the vehicle, direction of the steering wheel and other factors so that the lights are directed where the vehicle is heading. 

      Damage claims fell as much as 10 percent with adaptive headlights. That was surprising, since only about 7 percent of police reported crashes occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and involve more than one vehicle. An even smaller percentage are multiple-vehicle, nighttime crashes occurring on a curve, where adaptive headlights would be expected to have an effect. 

      It’s possible that other differences between the adaptive headlights and conventional ones besides steerability -- for example, in brightness or range -- may have played a role in reducing crashes with other vehicles. However, those differences weren’t consistent among all vehicles in the analysis.  

      Researchers had expected that the biggest effects from adaptive headlights would be on single-vehicle crashes reflected in collision coverage. Collision claim frequency did fall, but only by a little. However, injury claims of all types, both for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicles and to other road users, fell substantially for all but one make. 

      Lane departure warning 

      In contrast to the better-than-expected results for adaptive headlights, lane departure warning systems from Buick and Mercedes appeared to have the opposite of their intended effect. Both were associated with increased claim rates under collision and PDL coverages and for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicles. Although the increases were not statistically significant, the results suggest these particular systems aren’t reducing overall crashes. 

      Volvos with lane departure warning had lower claim frequencies under most coverages than Volvos without the feature, but those vehicles also had forward collision warning with auto brake, which more likely accounts for the benefits.  

      IIHS researchers previously calculated that if all vehicles had lane departure warning, the technology could prevent or mitigate up to 7,529 fatal crashes, provided the systems worked as intended and drivers always responded appropriately. That potential stems from the large proportion of fatal crashes that are a result of a vehicle leaving the roadway. 

      However, as a proportion of all crashes, not just fatal ones, drifting off the road is not common. That may help explain why no benefit has shown up so far in the claims data. The HLDI results also could point to problems with the current technology, which relies on cameras to track lane markings and thus isn’t effective if the markings aren’t clearly visible. 

      HLDI has yet to look at lane departure prevention, which, unlike a warning system, actively keeps a vehicle in its lane and could have a very different impact on claims. 

      “Just as forward collision warning systems that include autonomous braking cut crashes more sharply than those that don’t, lane departure prevention systems that don’t rely on a driver’s response may hold more promise than the systems HLDI has looked at so far,” says David Zuby, chief research officer at IIHS. “The lane departure prevention systems are newer and less common than the warning systems, so we’ll have to wait for more data before we can look for a pattern there.” 

      Some crash avoidance features really do assist drivers, while some don't...

      Transporting Fireworks Can Be Dangerous

      You can’t be too careful with fireworks whether hauling them or setting them off

      It isn’t just setting off fireworks that can be dangerous. Taking them home from the point of purchase can be hazardous, too. 

      With the Fourth of July just around the corner, the U.S. Department of Transportation wants to help you prevent unnecessary accidents and fatalities due to the unsafe transport of fireworks.   

      “Fireworks on the Fourth of July are an American tradition,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We want to make sure the traveling public and commercial operators know how to safely transport fireworks so we can all enjoy these colorful displays, both small and large.” 

      Commercial transport 

      The department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is conducting a nationwide roadside inspection sweep to ensure that commercial motor vehicles transporting fireworks categorized as Class 1 Explosives are operating in full compliance with federal and state safety standards. 

      FMCSA inspectors, in partnership with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and state law enforcement, will examine the driver, vehicle and hazardous materials loads. They will take into account safety permits, shipping papers, placards, load securement, packaging, marking, labels, and all other requirements for the transportation of fireworks categorized as Class 1 Explosives. 

      In addition, the department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have issued safety information for consumers and commercial operators about how to safely handle and transport fireworks.  

      PHMSA’s safety alert covers the transport of consumer fireworks, which are explosives covered by the Hazardous Materials Regulations. 

      The alerts 

      The safety alert outlines the requirements for these explosives, which must be labeled and packaged properly. PHMSA also provides the following resources about transporting fireworks and hazardous materials: 

      Because of the tremendous fire risk they pose to aircraft both in the air and on the ground, the FAA is reminding the traveling public that fireworks of any kind, including sparklers, are prohibited aboard aircraft. This includes both carry-on and checked bags.

      Transporting fireworks can be as dangerous as setting them off...

      Coffee May Lower Skin Cancer Risk

      Latest study to suggest coffee is a health food

      It wasn't so long ago that coffee was considered harmful. Now, study after study touts its benefits.

      The latest, published in the journal Cancer Research, suggests drinking more coffee could reduce your risk of developing the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma.

      Increasing the number of cups of caffeinated coffee you drink could lower your according to a study published in Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

      This comes as good news to a nation of coffee-lovers. We analyzed more than 23 million postings to social media over the last year to see how consumers feel about coffee. Answer: They like it. The heady brew gets a solid 67% approval rating.

       Drink up

      “Our data indicate that the more caffeinated coffee you consume, the lower your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma,” said Jiali Han, Ph.D., associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston and Harvard School of Public Health.

      Han makes clear that's no reason to begin drinking more coffee. If you don't drink coffee now, his data is no reason to start.

      “However, our results add basal cell carcinoma to a list of conditions for which risk is decreased with increasing coffee consumption,” Han said. “This list includes conditions with serious negative health consequences such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.”

      So, who knew coffee was a health drink? Studies three or four decades ago linked heavy coffee consumption to heart trouble and cancer. Now, it appears, coffee can help ward off at least one form of that disease.

      According to our analysis, most people like coffee because of its taste, not its health benefits. On the other hand, those who dislike coffee also chose taste as their primary reason.

      Skin cancer

      Basal cell carcinoma is the form of skin cancer most commonly diagnosed in the U.S. Even though it is slow-growing, it is associated with a high death rate and places a burden on health care system.

      “Given the large number of newly diagnosed cases, daily dietary changes having any protective effect may have an impact on public health,” said Han.

      Han and his colleagues based their findings on an analysis of two very large studies, plus 20 years of follow-up. They found that the more a subject drank coffee, the less their risk of basal cell carcinoma.

      And unlike some previous studies, Han's research suggests it's the caffeine that protects against cancer. He said he saw reduced risks when subjects consumed caffeine from a variety of dietary sources, including tea, soft drinks and chocolate.

      It's the caffeine

      “These results really suggest that it is the caffeine in coffee that is responsible for the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma associated with increasing coffee consumption,” said Han. “This would be consistent with published mouse data, which indicate caffeine can block skin tumor formation. However, more studies in different population cohorts and additional mechanistic studies will be needed before we can say this definitively.”

      Neither coffee consumption nor caffeine intake seemed to have any impact on the two other forms of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease.

      It wasn't so long ago that coffee was considered harmful. Now, study after study touts its benefits.The latest, published in the journal Cancer Research,...

      First Over-the-Counter Home Use HIV Test Kit Approved

      The OraQuick test could provide users results within an hour

      The days of going to a clinic for an HIV test are about to end. 

      The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test -- the first over-the-counter, self-administered HIV test kit to detect the presence of antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and type 2 (HIV-2). HIV is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). 

      The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test is designed to allow individuals to collect an oral fluid sample by swabbing the upper and lower gums inside of their mouths, then place that sample into a developer vial, and obtain test results within 20 to 40 minutes. 

      The results 

      A positive result with this test does not mean that an individual is definitely infected with HIV, but rather that additional testing should be done in a medical setting to confirm the test result. 

      Similarly, a negative test result does not mean that an individual is definitely not infected with HIV, particularly when exposure may have been within the previous three months. 

      The test has the potential to identify large numbers of previously undiagnosed HIV infections, especially if used by those unlikely to use standard screening methods. 

      Prevention tool 

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection. About one in five are not aware they are infected. There are about 50,000 new HIV infections every year. Many of these new infections are transmitted from people who are unaware of their HIV status. 

      “Knowing your status is an important factor in the effort to prevent the spread of HIV,” said Karen Midthun, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “The availability of a home-use HIV test kit provides another option for individuals to get tested so that they can seek medical care, if appropriate.” 

      High success rate 

      Clinical studies for self-testing have shown that the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test has an expected performance of 92 percent for test sensitivity, the percentage of results that will be positive when HIV is present. This means that one false negative result would be expected out of every 12 test results in HIV-infected individuals. 

      Clinical studies also have shown that the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test has an expected performance of 99.98 percent for test specificity, the percentage of results that will be negative when HIV is not present. This means that one false positive would be expected out of every 5,000 test results in uninfected individuals. 

      Customer support 

      OraSure Technologies, the manufacturer of the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test will have a consumer support center that is available via phone and will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

      The center will be operational and available to educate users with information about HIV/AIDS, the proper method for administering the test and guidance on what to do once results have been obtained once the manufacturer makes the product available for sale to the public. 

      Information about the consumer support center and contact information is included in the test kit. 

      OraSure Technologies, Inc. is headquartered in Bethlehem, Pa. A version of this test for use by trained technicians in clinical settings was approved in 2004. 

      A convenient way to test yourself for HIV has the green light...

      New Safety Standard for Play Yards

      Stability tests and lock and latch mechanisms are included in the new standard

      Some of the Safety 1st Disney Care Center and Eddie Bauer playyards recalled in 2009

      Children’s play yards should be a lot safer now that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has approved a new federal mandatory standard to improve the safety of play yards and to prevent injuries and deaths to children. 

      The mandatory requirements for play yards include: 

      • A stability test to prevent the play yard from tipping over.
      • Latch and lock mechanisms to keep the play yard from folding on a child when it is being used.
      • Entrapment tests for attachments so a child's head does not get trapped while a bassinet or other accessory is attached.
      • Floor strength tests to ensure structural integrity and to prevent children from getting trapped by the play yard floor.
      • Minimum side height requirements to prevent children from getting out of the play yard on their own.
      • A test to prevent play yards whose top rails fold downward from using a hinge that creates a V- or diamond shape when folded to prevent head or neck entrapments.
      • There were more than 2,100 incidents with play yards reported to CPSC, including 60 fatalities and 170 injuries, between November 2007 and December 2011. 

      The effective date for the mandatory play yard standard is six months after the final rule is published in the Federal Register.

      In addition to play yards, CPSC has issued mandatory safety standards for cribs, children's bed rails, baby bath seats, baby walkers and toddler beds.

      Thwe voluntary standard for play yards has been incorporated into the new mandatory rule...

      DC-Area Pepco Customers Frustrated By Slow Power Restoration

      Pepco lags other utilities in getting the lights back on

      As of today, Pepco, the utility company that serves part of the Washington, DC metropolitan area, says it has restored power to about about half of the more than 440,000 customers who lost power as a result of Friday’s storm.

      That means the rest – about 220,000 – are still making do without electricity, not to mention sweltering in the 95 degree heat. Some customers appear to be losing patience.

      “I have been without power in my home since June 29th and have been told estimated time for having power again will be July 6th,” Amanda, of Gaithersburg, Md., wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “This is completely unacceptable. The government needs to step in and fine Pepco for the terrible service they provide. It had been 100 degrees for the last four days. No other company could get away with providing such terrible service.”

      Shontell, of Washington, DC, calls the restoration time “a disgrace.”

      “Pepco tries to cover themselves by giving a week window for restoration,” Shontell wrote. “Who can live in their homes without air relief?”

      Most other utilities in the DC area are far ahead of Pepco in restoring power. In Fairfax County, Va., only 75,232 Dominion Power customers were without electricity as of Monday evening. About 450,000 lost power initially. 

      Huge repair task

      Pepco defends itself by saying its the scope of the repair task is huge by historical standards. As a comparison, at the peak of Friday's storm there were 443,000 customers out of power the company says. This storm caused twice as many outages as Hurricane Irene last August.

      “Because each storm and its impact on the electric system are unique, the restoration effort and progress differs as well,” the company said in a statement.

      But that doesn't satisfy Gerald, of Tacoma Park, Md., who says he's lived in many other parts of the country challenged by Mother Nature.

      “My cabin in the Green Mountains of Vermont during several winters produced close to 200 inches of snow per winter - never a power outage,” Gerald wrote. “I have lived in this area for 15 years in multiple residences serviced by Pepco, and every time any kind of storm has hit, power has been lost for one to 10 days.”

      What Gerald overlooks is that Friday's storm hit one of the nation's most populous -- and congested -- areas. A similar storm in a rural area might inconvenience 10,000 or 20,000 people while the Friday storm cut a swath from Chicago to Washington, hitting many cities and croweded suburbs along the way.

      Work crews have to pick their way through crowded, darkened streets looking for downed lines. It's hard, dangerous, slow work.

      Worst storm since 2003

      Pepco, meanwhile, says the storm was one of the most catastrophic weather events that the Mid-Atlantic region has experienced since Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The company, it says, is doing all it can as fast as it can.

      “Pepco line crews have been working around the clock during the initial restoration efforts supported by contract line crews,” the company said in a press release.

      Complicating the restoration efforts are the large number of trees that were blown down during the storm. Before power lines can be restored the trees must be cut up and removed. Consumers can help by not taking out their frustrations on work crews, the company says.

      “In order to keep the restoration work on track, and for customer and crew safety, it is important that customers do not engage field crews or impede their progress,” Pepco said.

      Traffic congestion

      One big factor that hampers recovery time is the traffic gridlock that develops following a major storm. Consumers without power tend to pile into their cars, hoping to find a mall or theater with air conditioning. With traffic signals out, traffic quickly becomes an impenetrable mess, slowing down the utility repair crews who are trying to find and fix downed lines.

      In fairness, it should be noted that when the weather is good, Pepco is regularly assailed by consumers for trimming trees too close to the bone. But it's those very trees that fall over in storms and cause the problem everyone now complains about.

      With storms becoming more frequent and intense as a result of climate change, consumers may want to "harden" their homes and be ready to shelter in place for extended periods. 

      As of today, Pepco, the utility company serving the Washington, DC metropolitan area, says it has restored power to about about half of the more than 440,0...

      Scientists Report Progress On Clothing to Recharge Your Phone

      Researchers think this could be the answer to dying phone batteries

      Two researchers at the University of South Carolina (USC) have demonstrated how one day, your clothing may be used to charge your cell phone or tablet.

      If it works it could solve one of the more aggravating occurrences of modern life – having your cell phone battery die just before you make an important call. In the future, electronics may be part of your wardrobe.

      "We wear fabric every day," said Xiaodong Li, a professor of mechanical engineering at USC. "One day our cotton T-shirts could have more functions; for example, a flexible energy storage device that could charge your cell phone or your iPad."

      Ordinary T-shirt

      Li and colleague Lihong Bao started with an ordinary T-shirt from a local discount store. They soaked it in a solution of fluoride, dried it and baked it at high temperature. They excluded oxygen in the oven to prevent the material from charring or simply bursting into flames.

      When they were finished their T-shirt's fibers had been transformed from cellulose to activated carbon. The material was still flexible and could be folded without breaking.

      Now, the once-cotton T-shirt was also a repository for electricity. By using small swatches of the fabric as an electrode, the researchers showed that the flexible material, which Li's team calls “activated carbon textile,” acts as a capacitor. Capacitors are components of nearly every electronic device on the market, and they have the ability to store electrical charge.


      But the research team didn't stop there. They next coated the individual fibers in the activated carbon textile with “nanoflowers” of manganese oxide. Just a nanometer thick, this layer of manganese oxide greatly enhanced the electrode performance of the fabric.

      "This created a stable, high-performing supercapacitor," said Li.

      A supercapacitor you happen to be wearing, so you never have to look for an outlet.

      According to Li, this hybrid fabric, in which the activated carbon textile fibers are coated with nanostructured manganese oxide, improved the energy storage capability beyond the activated carbon textile alone. The hybrid supercapacitors were resilient: even after thousands of charge-discharge cycles, performance didn't diminish more than 5 percent.

      "By stacking these supercapacitors up, we should be able to charge portable electronic devices such as cell phones," Li said.

      That's all well and good, but Li and his team didn't say how comfortable that once-cotton T-shirt was after going through the process. But one scientific breakthrough at a time.

      Two researchers at the University of South Carolina (USC) have demonstrated how one day, your clothing may be used to charge your cell phone or tablet.If...

      Could Housing Be Economy's One Bright Spot?

      Housing data keeps improving while other indicators fall

      There are plenty of things to worry about in the economy. Unemployment is still over eight percent, corporations are warnings earnings might suffer, and Europe's debt problems could still derail any recovery.

      But despite all that, there continues to be evidence of a recovering housing market. Sales figures have slowly climbed and, more hopeful to economists, prices are also slowly going up.

      Business data service CoreLogicc has released its May Home Price Index (HPI) showing nationwide home prices, including distressed sales, increased on a year-over-year basis by 2.0 percent in May compared to May 2011.

      On a month-over-month basis, home prices, including distressed sales, also increased by 1.8 percent in May compared to April. The May 2012 figures mark the third consecutive increase in home prices nationwide on both a year-over-year and month-over-month basis.

      Big economic driver

      Why is that important? Falling home values have trapped many homeowners in “under water” situations, meaning they owe more than the home is worth. Buyers have been reluctant to buy and lenders have been reluctant to lend as long as prices have been falling.

      Now that home prices appear to have stopped falling, conditions may allow the housing market to recover which could provide a lift to the overall economy.

      “The recent upward trend in U.S. home prices is an encouraging signal that we may be seeing a bottoming of the housing down cycle,” said Anand Nallathambi, president and chief executive officer of CoreLogic. “Tighter inventory is contributing to broad, but modest, price gains nationwide and more significant gains in the harder-hit markets, like Phoenix.”

      Fewer homes for sale

      In fact, May's existing home sales were slightly lower from April in part, according to the National Association of Realtors, because there were not that many homes for sale. For years the supply of homes for sale has vastly outnumbered the demand. Now, the data shows that dynamic has shifted.

      Excluding distressed sales, home prices nationwide increased on a year-over-year basis by 2.7 percent in May 2012 compared to May 2011. On a month-over-month basis excluding distressed sales, the CoreLogic HPI indicates home prices increased 2.3 percent in May 2012 compared to April 2012, the fourth month-over-month increase in a row.

      Distressed sales include short sales and real estate owned (REO) transactions.

      Organic increase

      Best of all, say analysts, the increase in prices has been organic, not fostered by subsidies such as the recent Home Buyer's Tax Credit. The increase has occurred in spite of banks' much tighter lending standards. And lest you worry that we'll return to the crazy days of the housing bubble, the price increases are occurring for homes on the lower end of the price scale.

      “Home price appreciation in the lower-priced segment of the market is rebounding more quickly than in the upper end,” said Mark Fleming, chief economist for CoreLogic. “Home prices below 75 percent of the national median increased 5.7 percent from a year ago, compared to only a 1.8 percent increase for prices 125 percent or more of the median.”

      The five states with the highest appreciation were: Arizona, up 12.0 percent; Idaho up 9.2 percent; South Dakota up 8.7 percent; Montana up 8.2 percent, and Michigan up 7.9 percent. Arizona and Michigan were among the states hardest hit by the housing collapse.

      There are plenty of things to worry about in the economy. Unemployment is still over eight percent, corporations are warnings earnings might suffer, and Eu...

      How Misleading Information Can Get Into Carfax

      It can be true but not really reflect the reality of the situation

      As we have previously reported, car owners can sometimes be blindsided by information that finds its way into Carfax, long the industry standard for information about individual vehicles.

      Some consumers complain the information is wrong. There is an appeals process when that happens. But sometimes the information can be true, but misleading.

      Let's take the case of Sheri, of Ladera Ranch, Calif. She says her lease matured this week and rather than turn in the vehicle and pay for excessive mileagle, she decided to take the purchase option and then use the leased vehicle on a trade-in.

      Bad news

      “During the negotiations on the car I intended to purchase I was informed that a current Carfax indicated that my leased car had been in a multiple car accident and as such, the trade-in value was going to be several thousand dollars less than originally quoted,” Sheri wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

      That was news to Sheri. She had leased the car right out of the showroom and had never been in any accidents. Or so she thought.

      "I was rather shocked by this revelation and claimed that I'd never been in a multiple car crash. However, the dealership said they had to abide by the Carfax report. Knowing that I'd never been in an accident," she said.

      “I contacted the collision center my husband and I had used over the years and queried them over the report,” Sheri wrote. “They did verify that in December of 2010, they did touch up the front and rear bumpers of my car as they were scratched in a few places; the rear bumper was scratched as the result of a car tapping into me as I sat at a stop sign.”

      Why on earth, Sheri asked, would the repair shop report such an insignificant repair to Carfax. They didn't. They only report to insurance companies.

      Insurance report

      “The insurance company representing the individual who bumped into me paid for the repair to my car and reported this to Carfax,” Sheri wrote.

      The slight damage to front and rear bumpers when one vehicle pushed Sheri into another became a “multiple car accident.”

      “In my opinion this was a minor event and for there to be a Carfax record which puts forth a report claiming my car was 'involved in a crash and damaged in multiple places' is not only an egregious misrepresentation of the facts, but a damaging report with unwarranted financial repercussions on me as a consumer.”

      Sheri's problem is that the Carfax report is technically true, even though it may sound much worse than it actually was. It may be worth her time to contact Carfax and try to change the information. It would probably require an affidavit from the repair shop about the nature of the repairs and even then, she might not be successful.

      The lesson is that there may be times that you do not want to file an insurance claim and have information entered into the “permanent record.” In Sheri's case, the cost of paying for the repair herself would likely be much less than the loss in trade-in value of her car.

      As we have previously reported, car owners can sometimes be blindsided by information that finds its way into Carfax, which is becoming the industry standa...

      Psychologist Pleads Guilty In Connection With $63 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

      The scam involved referral kickbacks along with billing and payment for services not rendered

      A Licensed Psychological Associate has admitted her role in a health care fraud scheme that resulted in the submission of more than $63 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare and Medicaid in Miami and Hendersonville, NC. 

      Federal officials say Serena Joslin, 31, of Asheville, NC, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in Miami to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. Joslin admitted to participating in a fraud scheme that was orchestrated through an entity called Health Care Solutions Network (HCSN).  HCSN operated purported partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), a form of intensive mental health treatment for severe mental illness, in both Miami and Hendersonville. 

      According to an indictment unsealed on May 2, HCSN obtained Medicare beneficiaries to attend HCSN for purported PHP treatment that was unnecessary and, in many instances, not provided.  HCSN obtained those beneficiaries by paying kickbacks to owners and operators of assisted living facilities (ALFs) or by otherwise recruiting them from ALFs and nursing homes.  

      Court documents say Joslin admitted that she was aware that HCSN recruited patients who were inappropriate for PHP treatment.  Nevertheless, she agreed with other HCSN employees to -- among other things -- fabricate therapy notes and other medical records, and to direct therapists to fabricate therapy notes and other medical records, all to make it appear as if HCSN patients received appropriate PHP services.  Joslin was aware that fraudulent claims to Medicare would be submitted on behalf of these patients. 

      At sentencing, scheduled for Jan. 11, 2013, Joslin faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

      Eight other charged defendants, including the owner and operators of HCSN, await trial before Judge Altonaga. 

      One of several people allegedy involved in a multi-million dollar Medicare scheme has pled out...

      GlaxoSmithKline To Pay Billions to Resolve Fraud and Safety Case

      This constitutes the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history

      A history-making settlement involving the federal government and a global health care giant. 

      GlaxoSmithKline LLC (GSK) has agreed to plead guilty and pay $3 billion to resolve its criminal and civil liability arising from the company’s unlawful promotion of certain prescription drugs, its failure to report certain safety data and its civil liability for alleged false price reporting practices. 

      The resolution is the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history and the largest payment ever by a drug company, according to the Justice Department.  

      GSK agreed to plead guilty to a three-count criminal information, including two counts of introducing misbranded drugs, Paxil and Wellbutrin, into interstate commerce and one count of failing to report safety data about the drug Avandia to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

      Settlement terms

      Under the terms of the plea agreement, GSK will pay a total of $1 billion, including a criminal fine of $956,814,400 and forfeiture in the amount of $43,185,600.   The criminal plea agreement also includes certain non-monetary compliance commitments and certifications by GSK’s U.S. president and board of directors.   GSK’s guilty plea and sentence is not final until accepted by the U.S. District Court.  

      GSK will also pay $2 billion to resolve its civil liabilities with the federal government under the False Claims Act, as well as the states.   The civil settlement resolves claims relating to Paxil, Wellbutrin and Avandia, as well as additional drugs, and also resolves pricing fraud allegations. 

      “Today’s multi-billion dollar settlement is unprecedented in both size and scope. It underscores the Administration’s firm commitment to protecting the American people and holding accountable those who commit health care fraud,” said James M. Cole, Deputy Attorney General.   “At every level, we are determined to stop practices that jeopardize patients’ health, harm taxpayers, and violate the public trust – and this historic action is a clear warning to any company that chooses to break the law.” 

      This resolution marks the culmination of an extensive investigation by special agents from HHS-OIG, FDA and FBI, along with law enforcement partners across the federal government. Looking ahead. GSK will be subject to stringent requirements under its corporate integrity agreement with HHS-OIG; this agreement is designed to increase accountability and transparency and prevent future fraud and abuse.

      Criminal plea agreement 

      Under the provisions of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, a company in its application to the FDA must specify each intended use of a drug.   After the FDA approves the product as safe and effective for a specified use, a company’s promotional activities must be limited to the intended uses that FDA approved.   In fact, promotion by the manufacturer for other uses – known as “off-label uses” – renders the product “misbranded.”  

      • Paxil:   In the criminal information, the government alleges that, from April 1998 to August 2003, GSK unlawfully promoted Paxil for treating depression in patients under age 18, even though the FDA has never approved it for pediatric use. GSK agreed to plead guilty to misbranding Paxil in that its labeling was false and misleading regarding the use of Paxil for patients under 18.  
      • Wellbutrin:  The United States also alleges that, from January 1999 to December 2003, GSK promoted Wellbutrin, approved at that time only for Major Depressive Disorder, for weight loss, the treatment of sexual dysfunction, substance addictions and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, among other off-label uses. GSK has agreed to plead guilty to misbranding Wellbutrin in that its labeling did not bear adequate directions for these off-label uses. For the Paxil and Wellbutrin misbranding offenses, GSK has agreed to pay a criminal fine and forfeiture of $757,387,200. 
      • Avandia: The government contends that, between 2001 and 2007, GSK failed to include certain safety data about Avandia, a diabetes drug, in reports to the FDA that are meant to allow the FDA to determine if a drug continues to be safe for its approved indications and to spot drug safety trends.   The missing information included data regarding certain post-marketing studies, as well as data regarding two studies undertaken in response to European regulators’ concerns about the cardiovascular safety of Avandia.   Since 2007, the FDA has added two black box warnings to the Avandia label to alert physicians about the potential increased risk of (1) congestive heart failure, and (2) myocardial infarction (heart attack).   GSK has agreed to plead guilty to failing to report data to the FDA and has agreed to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $242,612,800 for its unlawful conduct concerning Avandia. 

      Except to the extent that GSK has agreed to plead guilty to the three-count criminal information, the claims settled by these agreements are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

      The settlement involves the drugs Avandia, Paxil and Wellbutrin...

      It's Not Just Cereal; Sugary Drinks Market to Kids Too

      Cereal and soda companies -- between them, kids are awash in sugar

      ConsumerAffairs recently covered a story about cereal companies, and how millions are spent on advertising to get kids hooked on sugary products. Although percentages on childhood obesity in the U.S. continue to swell, both cereal and candy companies continue to invent new ways to lure young consumer.

      In the past companies would just use TV commercials, or maybe place a comic book ad to promote to young children, but no longer.

      Advertising methods to secure young consumers have become extremely advanced, and companies are sparing no creative expense to get the job done.

      Take Coca-Cola for example. The company just created a nifty little app for smartphones that allows users to kick a soccer ball by using animated characters. The app can be downloaded for free from Apple's App Store, and it does a good job of keeping younger consumers abreast of Coke’s sugary products.

      Just like cereal companies building websites to attract young consumers, Coca-Cola also uses the old tactic of meeting kids directly where their passions lie.

      The marketing logic is: If companies can appear like they really respect and care about youth subculture, it’ll be easier to draw younger consumers in.

      The Crab and the Penguin

      Coke's "The Crab and Penguin App" is another sign of a company spending dollars to hook kids on sugar despite childhood obesity issues. But of course the soda giants aren't alone in this tactic.

      We've all seen those SunnyD commercials, where the sweaty kids run in front of the fridge, completely baffled about which beverage to drink. The kids utter that corny and now infamous line: "Okay, we got soda, purple stuff and SunnyD… SunnyD, yeah that's it," they all decide.

      Actually, SunnyD was the wrong choice, because it has about the same amount of sugar as soda, though the company markets it as a better option.

      Just a 16-ounce container of the yellow concoction has a whopping 15 teaspoons of sugar, plus the added artificial sweeteners. To put it into better perspective, imagine your child downing 15 consecutive teaspoons of sugar, then washing it down with a bit of modified cornstarch and gums, which are also in the strange beverage.

      And of course SunnyD has a video game that keeps children in-the-know about its sugary products.

      SunnyD's website is equipped with an interactive game that allows users to create drumbeats by hitting several little multicolored drum pads. This is also an attempt by the company to attach its brand to the lifestyles of younger consumers, regardless of health repercussions associated with kids consuming too much sugar.

      Capri Sun, the cute and harmless-looking juice pouch, also does a good job of using cartoon characters and video games to market to kids. The company’s website has a game called "The Legend of The Golden Pouch," where two teams compete against each other to find, you guessed it, the golden pouch.

      A six-ounce serving of Capri Sun has 18 grams of sugar, which is a hefty amount of sweetness for a portion that small. Kids also drink these tiny juice bags by the twos and threes, stacking sugar upon more sugar.

      One might say, "Hey, I was exposed to junk food and soda commercials when I was a kid and I'm fine."  Yes, but did you have access to them 24-hours a day, seven days a week?

      Cable cartoon networks offer around-the-clock programming, along with around-the-clock-children advertising. Kids also have access to smartphones and the Internet during the day, exposing them to hours and hours of tempting products. What's worse is that most kids aren't aware of the impact.

      A report released by the Center For Science In The Public Interest, showed that "until the age of about 8-years old children are unable to understand the persuasive intent of advertisements."

      Since Coca-Cola is a company that already has tremendous influence over consumers, it has the potential to take kid advertising to unprecedented levels, especially through apps and video games.

      Spotify finds it sweet

      Coca-Cola is also partnering with other young cool brands to make sure it stays relevant and youthful.

      In 2011, Coke announced it’s partnering with the digital music site Spotify to release a musical app, a Facebook component, and an extended marketing campaign. This further allows the soda brand to maintain its cultural relevance, specifically among young consumers who combine their hobbies and passions into their buying decisions.

      The partnership between Spotify and Coca-Cola isn’t a short-term one, as the two companies hope to keep younger shoppers engaged through music and technology for a long period of time.

      "This is the beginning of something we both feel will be incredibly long-term," said Spotify founder Daniel Ek to Billboard magazine.

      His statement further confirms that part of a company’s marketing goal is to establish a strong presence early on in the child’s lifetime. This is to both maximize buying potential through a young consumer’s life, and also capture them while they're still unsure and impressionable.

      In 2008, The International Council of Beverages Association created a set of marketing rules for soda companies to follow voluntarily. The guidelines dealt with how brands should responsibly market products to children.

      Voluntary agreement

      Both Coke and Pepsi agreed to abide by the standards, saying they would no longer market carbonated beverages and other unhealthy products to children under 12 years of age. But don’t kids 12 and under use computers? Don’t they have smartphones? Of course they do.

      A 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that young students spend 7 1/2 hours a day looking at a television, computer, smartphone, or other kind of electronic device. Eight year olds were also included in that study, as it’s widely known that children are becoming more and more device savvy every day.

      A separate 2009 report released by child and technology experts, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, showed that 60 percent of the best-selling apps on iTunes are designed for younger children. 

      Coke’s promise of not marketing to 12-year-olds turned out to be a flimsy one, as the company had to expect that young children play video games and also have access to smartphones. But cleverly, the company created a convenient loophole for itself.

      The main part of Coca Cola’s promise was not to promote its unhealthy products to audiences that were chiefly made up of children 12-years or younger. As long as it didn’t promote items during child programing for example, Coke and Pepsi would technically be keeping its word.

      Coke’s Crab and Penguin App, with its animal cartoon characters, are perfect for the 12-year old's level of interest. Kids younger than 12 could possibly take to the game even more.

      PepsiCo is no better, as the company also has apps and video games to associate itself with younger audiences.

      A child’s best bet to quench their thirst is still water. It’s not purple and doesn’t have a silly mascot associated with it, but it’s still the reigning beverage champion for its simplicity and healthiness.

      Water also remains the best way to prevent dehydration, especially for younger kids who never sit still. It rids the body of toxins, as well as the other yucky things children put in their bodies in a given week.

      Most importantly, water will decrease a child’s dependency on sugary beverages. And that’s the biggest win-win of them all.

      ConsumerAffairs recently covered a story about cereal companies, and how millions are spent on advertising to get kids hooked on sugary products....