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December 21, 2015

Here We Downsize Again 2015 (Part 4)

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:00 am

 
Note: The next new Mouse Print* story will appear on January 4th.


We end the year with our final installment of products that have undergone the shrink ray.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Gillette deodorant

Thanks to our ever vigilant Richard G. for catching Gillette deodorant going from a full four ounces to 3.8. And you still can’t carry it on an airline.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Kleenex Costco

We’ve seen the smaller boxes of Kleenex tissues get smaller over the years, but Albert L. found that they shrunk at Costco as well. In this case, each box in the 10-pack is now shy 30 tissues. Put another way, you are missing more than a whole box now from every 10-pack.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Campbell's Spaghetti

Frankie found and took a wonderful picture of Campbell’s Spaghetti, which went from 14-3/4 ounces to 14.2 ounces. Surprisingly, the can is noticeably smaller despite such a small decrease in contents.


*MOUSE PRINT:

Walmart Great Value nuts

Tim B. discovered that Walmart lopped off more than 12% from their Great Value mixed nuts, bringing cans down to an even pound from 18.25 ounces. The price also went up from a reported $7.98 to $8.84. Combined, that is the equivalent of a 26% price increase, making it not such a “Great Value.”


*MOUSE PRINT:

Soda Stream

Finally, Richard G. found that Soda Stream, which makes flavor concentrates so you can make your own soda, changed their packaging and a lot more. The old bottle made 50 eight-ounce servings of soda and cost $7.99. The new version only makes 29 glasses, but the price dropped by $2. Fair deal? Not at all. The customer is now getting 40% fewer glasses of soda, but the price only went down by 25%.

If you spot a product that has been downsized, send MrConsumer an email at edgar(at symbol)mouseprint.org . And if you can take a sharp photograph of the old and new product labels, that would be great too.




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December 14, 2015

Holy Cow, How Wise is Milkwise?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:03 am

Have you checked out the dairy aisle lately? There are all these newfangled milk products on the shelf, all claiming in one way or another to be better than plain old milk.

One such product in New England stores is Hood (brand) Milkwise.

MilkWise

It’s got one-third the sugar, almost half the calories, and 50 percent more calcium than even reduced fat milk. How did they do that… put the cows on a low fat and low carb diet?

The answer is in the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Milkwise ingredients

They watered it down — water is now the first ingredient — plus they added calcium and sugar. That is why it is called a “milk beverage” instead of milk. This product is reminiscent of Trop50, the “orange juice beverage” that claimed 50% fewer calories because it is basically orange juice diluted with a lot of water.

But the Milkwise label makes it seem so healthy. How can this be? The trick is that they left out one key attribute of milk in the comparison — protein. We’ve taken the liberty of filling in the blanks.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Milkwise protein

Milkwise only has one-quarter the protein of regular milk. Expressed the other way, regular milk has four times the protein of Milkwise.

Maybe it should be called Milk-not-so-wise.

Thanks to Dr. W who was driving along the highway in Saugus, Massachusetts and saw a Milkwise billboard with a mother and child. She thought the ad was suggesting that this was a healthier milk product.




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December 7, 2015

A Dirty Little Health Insurance Secret

Filed under: Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:49 am

MrConsumer has probably spent in excess of 30 hours doing research to help a self-employed New York friend find a new health insurance policy since his current company is being shut down by New York state because of its financial condition.

What the Affordable Care Act has done, at a minimum, is put policies for a dozen or more companies all in one place to help make price and benefit comparisons easier.

Shopping for a “platinum” policy — where there is no deductible and lower co-pays in exchange for paying more per month upfront — has been a challenge, not so much because of price, but rather because of the limited networks of doctors and hospitals being offered.

And that’s the dirty little secret or *MOUSE PRINT of many non-group plans. They are only able to achieve relatively low monthly premiums by having very high deductibles and/or very limited networks. For my friend, we’ve overcome high deductibles by paying more per month. But we can’t overcome the limited networks of doctors.

Of the 40 or so platinum plans listed on the New York health exchange, NOT ONE OF THEM had all four of my friend’s current doctors. And don’t think this is a problem peculiar to the exchange or because of “Obamacare.” The non-group individual plans offered directly to consumers by these same insurance companies use the same limited networks. To save money, presumably they have eliminated many of the most expensive doctors and hospitals in favor of “more efficient” ones.

As an example, Health Republic, the company being forced to close by New York, offered my friend access to 28 hospitals within five miles of his zip code.

Health Republic

*MOUSE PRINT:

Empire Blue

By comparison, Empire Blue Cross and Oscar, two leading providers in the area, only offer 12 or 13.

And fewer doctors accept these two plans. Well, how big are the doctor networks for each company? They can’t or won’t tell you, making excuses that the number of doctors keeps changing or that they just don’t know. How can any health insurance consumer make an informed decision if you don’t know how limited the network is that you are buying into?

Given that lack of information about the number of doctors in an insurer’s network, how can you judge the size of the provider network that accepts your insurance? In addition to the number of hospitals test, MrConsumer created the David/John/Smith/Cohen test. If the website of the health insurance company allows you to search by first name only for primary care physicians and/or specialists, choose a radius of five miles from your zip code, and enter the name “John” or “David.” Then compare the number of Johns and Davids in each of the plans you are considering. One can presume that higher numbers indicate more doctors that accept that insurance.

If you cannot search by first name, enter a common last name like “Smith” or “Cohen” and compare how many doctors with that name each plan has.

Why is the size of insurer’s provider network important? If you are referred to a specialist by your primary care doctor for a new condition, or are diagnosed with a condition best treated at a specialty hospital, you want to be able to get treatment at this preferred provider rather than having to settle potentially for someone less expert or a less well-equipped hospital. Most of these policies do not have “out-of-network” coverage.

So what plan did MrConsumer’s friend wind up with? He still hasn’t decided, but will have to give up some of his current specialists.




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November 30, 2015

Thanks for Nothing #1

Filed under: Electronics,Humor,Retail,Thanks for Nothing — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:32 am

We are starting a new recurring feature today called “Thanks for Nothing.” It is designed to highlight offers that seem great on their face, but when you get down to the details, you’ll probably say forget it.

Example 1:

For Black Friday, Lowe’s advertised 60-watt LED bulbs for an amazing 99 cents each — the lowest price ever.

99 cent LEDs

*MOUSE PRINT:

2000 hours

These bulbs only have an expected life of 2000 hours. That is about one-tenth the time the average LED bulb is expected to last. (See our prior story about LED bulb longevity.)

Thanks for nothing, Lowe’s.


Example 2:

Also during Black Friday weekend, online stores had some amazing deals. One that crossed our screen was this leather chukka boot for only $30 — quite a bargain at that price:

Vegan Leather

*MOUSE PRINT:

Upon closer examination, it says “vegan leather.” Huh? Is that like gluten-free leather? Who knows… so we asked the company whether this was man-made, and if so why they didn’t say so. They responded:

“It is man-made however, that is vegan friendly which is why they put vegan leather/suede.” — Street Moda, customer service

So if your dog is on a vegan diet and decides to chew on your chukka boots, he won’t be going off his diet, I guess.

And to the extent that this company is trying to mislead consumers into thinking that this is a form of real leather, thanks for nothing, Street Moda.


Example 3:

Also just ahead of Black Friday, Big Lots sent out an email with a seemingly very valuable coupon — “$10 off everything” it proclaimed in the subject. Since both Kohl’s and J.C. Penney offered similar $10 off coupons on anything, this seemed very plausible.

10 off everything

*MOUSE PRINT:

$10 off $50 purchase

Oh, did you forget to list the minimum purchase requirement in the subject, Big Lots?

Thanks for (almost) nothing.


We welcome your submissions of other great “thanks for nothing” examples. Just email them to edgar(at symbol)mouseprint.org .




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November 23, 2015

Chase Ups Credit Card Costs But Does So Transparently

Filed under: Finance — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:31 am

How many times have you gotten a notice from your credit card issuer announcing “changes” to your credit card agreement but you can’t quite figure out exactly what they’ve done?

Most times, they simply announce that your new APR is so and so, or the fee for a late payment is $X. Without going back to your original agreement which you don’t have, you have no idea how much more you are being gouged. (We all know that rates and fees rarely go down.)

In a refreshing change, some Chase Freedom cardholders last week received a huge 10.5″ by 17.5″ notice about “important changes to your acccount terms.” Here is what made it even more remarkable.

Very large *MOUSE PRINT:

Chase terms
Click to enlarge

They actually show you, side-by-side, what the old terms were and what the new terms will be. It certainly doesn’t convey good news, with finance charges jumping over five percent, and late fees going up as well. But, at least the cardholder wasn’t left in the dark about what exactly they were doing. A big hat-tip to Chase.

On the other hand, why Chase was raising rates wasn’t quite as clear:

The changes to the Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) described below are to standardize these terms for cardmembers who have the same type of account.

Huh?




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