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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


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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August 3, 2015

Muscling In on Your Pocketbook

Filed under: Health,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:24 am

  PRNewswire, a respected firm that companies hire to disseminate their press releases, published an unusual one last year with the headline: “ScamOrNotReviews Announces Muscle Xlerator Review for 2014.” The release purportedly was announcing the publication of test results by this consumer group of a pill to help build muscles.

The summary of the release reads as follows:

ScamOrNotReviews, a consumer advocacy group, has announced the release of their 2014 Muscle Xlerator review. The company examines claims made by product manufacturers to ensure their validity, and in the case of Muscle Xlerator, they have found that the manufacturer’s claims are accurate.

ScamOrNotReviews? A consumer advocacy group? Gee, MrConsumer never heard of them. Who are they?

The answer, according to a press release about a different product published the same day, is this:

ScamOrNotReviews is a consumer advocacy group with the goal of testing products for consumers, preventing companies from successfully misleading them with regard to products or services that may be offered. For several years, the review company has helped consumers sift through the many accurate and inaccurate claims made by companies in order to sell a product or service.

Wow, Consumer Reports has competition.


Googling ScamOrNotReviews did not turn up a functioning website for this consumer group, nor any of their reviews. Links in the press releases purportedly to the reviews themselves went to what looked like advertisements for the products. In the case of Muscle Xlerator, it showed a young woman speaking in a heavy Russian (?) accent saying that the product will help build muscle mass. And beneath the videos were links to the websites that sell these products.

The press releases came from a company called AfterHim Media, LLC, a web design and search engine optimization company. Who do they really represent here? The illusive consumer group or the sellers of these products?

As to the product itself, Muscle Xlerator, the website claims that these capsules will “build muscle mass and get ripped quickly.” They offer a $5.95 trial, but in virtually unreadable type in a footnote it says:


If you are satisfied, do nothing and you agree to be charged $89.95. Plus you agree to be enrolled in our Auto-Ship Membership Program and 45 days from your initial order date and every 30 days thereafter, you will be shipped a fresh supply of MuscleXLerator for $89.95, plus $5.95 shipping and handling.


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April 13, 2015

Cape Cod Potato Chips: 40% Reduced Fat?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 4:55 am

  When you are choosing which potato chips to eat, do you have an angel on one shoulder nagging you to take the low fat bag, and a devil on the other urging you to grab the regular chips?

MrConsumer experienced such a tug, and decided to be virtuous and try the ones with 40% less fat.

cape cod chips

They were not quite as greasy as the regular Cape Cod chips, which, of course, is why the regular ones taste so heavenly.

Upon reading and comparing the nutrition label of the 40% reduced fat chips versus the regular Cape Cod chips, MrConsumer got a shock.


Cape Cod nutrition

He sacrificed that once-in-a-blue-moon treat of full-fat Cape Cod chips for a lousy 20 calories less? Yes, the 40% reduced fat chips were 200 calories and the regular ones were 220 — only 10% more calories. How could that be? Where’s the 40% savings?

First, a closer look at the fat reduction banner reveals that the comparison is not between regular Cape Cod and fat-reduced Cape Cod… but against the “leading brand” — presumably Lay’s. The actual fat difference between the two Cape Cod products is only a 25% reduction.

And then there is the incorrect assumption that a 40% reduction in fat translates into a 40% reduction in calories. It doesn’t. The potato itself counts for half the calories in the regular chips.

Next time MrConsumer has a chip choice, for the 20 extra calories, he may just splurge.

P.S. The Cape Cod reduced fat chips do indeed contain 40% less fat on a per ounce basis compared to Lay’s regular chips.


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January 19, 2015

CVS Sued Over Eye Vitamin Claims

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:25 am

  In June 2014, we told you about some misleading claims (see story) made for CVS Advanced Eye Health vitamins, a product which purchasers might mistake for being just like Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision — a vitamin proven to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Last week, CVS was sued in a California court by two men with AMD alleging the very things that we did.

In short, Bausch + Lomb’s PreserVision’s formula of six vitamins and minerals was tested (the AREDS2 tests) by the federal government and was shown to be effective in treating AMD which can lead to blindness. The CVS’ Eye Health product, typically located right next to PreserVision in its stores, and seemingly half the price, proclaims that it is comparable to the formula in AREDS2 studies. In fact, it only has two of the six proven ingredients. (Again, please see original story for a more detailed explanation.)

PreserVision vs. CVS

Unlike other false advertising issues, this one has serious health ramifications for anyone who didn’t compare the ingredients lists of the two products side by side. They could well be taking the CVS product thinking that it will slow their progression to blindness, when it probably has little or no effect.

At the time we reported the story originally in June 2014, CVS said they were in the process of removing the comparability claim from their packaging. But last week, they told the Consumerist that “CVS/pharmacy removed this statement from the product once the results of the AREDS2 study were released.”

Really? The results of the AREDS2 test were made public on April 11, 2013. So, it is inexplicable that a friend saw the CVS product with the same comparability claim still at a CVS store just last week.

[A previous version of this story showed a photograph of a revised box of CVS Eye Health without any comparability claims on the front. As it turns out, CVS now uses “Eye Health” as the name for its store brand version of Ocuvite, rather than for PreserVision… making it even more confusing for consumers.]


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November 24, 2014

How Many One-A-Day Vitamins is Right to Take?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:03 am

 I know, what a dumb question. That’s like asking how many musketeers were in the three musketeers.

JCD, a regular Mouse Print* reader, brought up the issue in the context of One-A-Day vitamins.


One would expect that you take one per day, right?


One-A-Day back

Nope… you have to take two.

You have to wonder how many people under-dosed on these vitamins because they reasonably assumed that the whole point of One-A-Day is to take one per day. Even at that, you are still not getting 100% of the daily requirement of some of the vitamins in the product.

Bottom line: don’t assume.


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