Protect Your Credit Card & Bank Account on Vacation

May 30, 2013

The summer travel season is here and that means scammers will be on the prowl trying to take advantage of tourists on vacation.  It’s important to be especially careful when using your credit card or ATM card on vacation.  Consumer Reports laid out some good advice on how to prevent a crook from stealing your ATM card password and how to protect yourself against unauthorized charges on your credit card.

The tips include inspecting an ATM for a false front and reporting any unauthorized charges immediately to limit your liability.  Click here to read more from Consumer Reports.

Protect Yourself

Creditcards.com recommends several other easy ways to protect your credit cards while traveling.

  1. Don’t pack all your cards.  No need to put them all at risk, just the one or two you know you’ll need.
  2. Watch your card.  Don’t leave purses or bags with credit cards unattended.
  3. Don’t use debit cards on vacation.  Stick with credit cards which offer more protection
  4. Check your card activity.  This will help you to learn quickly if someone has skimmed your card or made unauthorized charges.
  5. Create text alerts.  If your credit cards is stolen, activate text alerts on all your credit cards. That way anytime something is posted to your account, you get a text on your phone.
  6. Lock it up.  If you don’t need your credit card for the day, lock it up in your hotel room safe.

 

Nurse’s Allegations about Medicare Lead to $7.3 Million Settlement

May 23, 2013

A nurse’s allegations about excessive charges to Medicare led to a $7.3 million settlement between a Plano, Texas-based firm and the U.S. Justice Department.

Whistleblower Laura Davis’ complaint involved charges for Epogen, an anemia drug used to treat dialysis patients. A “qui tam” whistleblower lawsuit filed on her behalf in Baltimore alleged that Dialysis Corporation of America billed Medicare and other government healthcare programs for more Epogen than was used.

Epogen is an intravenous medication that is used to treat anemia, a common condition afflicting patients with end-stage renal disease. Epogen vials contain a small amount of medication in excess of the labeled amount, known as “overfill,” to compensate for medication that may remain in the vial after extraction and in the syringe upon administration.

The United States contends that from January 2004 through May 2011, DCA billed for 10-11% overfill whenever it administered Epogen. However, because of the types of syringes DCA used, the United States alleges that DCA was not able to withdraw and administer 10-11% overfill every time it administered Epogen to patients, and thus submitted false claims to Medicare that overstated the amount of Epogen that it was actually providing.

Dialsysis Corporation was acquired by U.S. Renal Care, which is headquartered in Plano, in June 2010.

Click here to read more from The Dallas Morning News.

Can You Trust Generic Drugs?

May 15, 2013

Many patients have come to accept generic drugs as a way to save costs when their insurance won’t cover name brands.  It seems like a reasonable alternative, but a recent whistleblower case calls into question whether the booming use of generics can be properly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

Generic drug maker Ranbaxy plead guilty to federal drug safety violations and will pay $500 million in fines to settle claims that it sold sub-par drugs and made false statements to the FDA about its two manufacturing plants in India.  The United States contends that Ranbaxy manufactured, distributed, and sold drugs whose strength, purity, or quality differed from the drug’s specifications or that were not manufactured according to the FDA-approved formulation. The Justice Department said it is the largest drug safety settlement to date with a generic drug manufacturer.

Many Generic Drugs Made Overseas

The global market for generics is estimated to be $242 billion and growing. Fortune Magazine examined the dark side of the generics boom in a recent article.  In Dirty Medicine, Fortune reports  more than 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredients for all U.S. drugs now come from overseas, as do 40% of finished pills and capsules.

When you consider just how much of America’s generic drug supply comes from factories outside of the U.S., the Ranbaxy case is cause for concern.  It puts the FDA in a difficult position when it comes to policing facilities that produce the generic drugs Americans are increasingly ingesting.

Fortune reports, as our dependence on generic drugs from overseas has grown, so have questions about their oversight and safety. A report by the Government Accountability Office found that in 2009, regulators inspected only 11% of foreign drug manufacturing plants, while they inspected 40% of domestic ones.

Here is an excerpt of the Fortune report:

Fortune’s investigation yields the first comprehensive picture of how one under-policed and far-flung generics company operated. It is not a tale of cutting corners or lax manufacturing practices but one of outright fraud, in which the company knowingly sold substandard drugs around the world — including in the U.S. — while working to deceive regulators. The impact on patients will likely never be known. But it is clear that millions of people worldwide got medicine of dubious quality from Ranbaxy.

Click here to read more.

 

 

Medicare’s Pay & Chase Phenomenon

May 3, 2013

Forget about drug-dealing, Medicare fraud is becoming America’s new get rich quick scheme of choice.  Why? Because it’s easy money, with little threat of prosecution. An article in the Broward Palm Beach New Times explains the crime is so widespread, prosecutors don’t even bother going after anyone unless they’ve stolen $500,000 or more.

Reporter Chris Parker rode along with agents, driving by strip mall after strip mall packed with pop-up medical clinics that authorities say game the system. First , the money comes fast and easy. Medicare generally pays invoices first and pursues criminals later, only after time-consuming audits. It’s a phenomenon that’s become known as “pay and chase” by insiders.

The sheer volume of offenders makes going after the bad guys overwhelming, and the bad guys know it. Click here to read more about the onslaught of Medicare fraud in the New Times report on how Medicare fraud has become big business in South Florida.

Employees within these clinics and even big hospitals are generally the whistle-blowers who come forward to expose the fraud. Authorities depend on these citizens to stop the systemic fraud that’s ripping off taxpayers. Click here to learn more from the James Hoyer Law Firm about how and why to become a whistle-blower if you have inside knowledge about fraud against the government.

 

 

 

What Made Your Doctor Prescribe that Drug?

April 29, 2013

Could an all expenses paid fishing trip or dinner at a five star restaurant influence your doctor when it comes to which prescription to give you? It’s a serious concern which is the focus of attention again because the US Attorney in Manhattan filed suit against drug maker Novartis for allegedly paying kickbacks to increase its prescription-drug sales.

Whistleblower Case

A whistleblower first brought the case to light and now the federal government is putting its power behind the allegations with the filing of this federal lawsuit.  The Switzerland based drug-maker is accused of violating the Anti-Kickback Statute to increase sales of two hypertension drugs, Lotrel and Valturna.  US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara said in a statement, “Novartis reaped dramatically increased profits on these drugs, and Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health-care programs were left holding the bag.”

Pharmacy Kickbacks?

This suit against Novartis comes just days after the same US attorney’s office filed suit against the company for another alleged violation of the False Claims Act.  That suit claims Novartis paid kickbacks, disguised as rebates and discounts, to at least 20 pharmacies for switching patients to its drug Myfortic, which is an immuno-suppressant.

It’s not the first time Novartis has faced such allegations.  Just three years ago, the company settled criminal and civil charges that it illegally promoted drugs for off-label uses. Once again, the company was accused of providing illegal kickbacks to doctors through special junkets and entertainment.  Novartis paid $422.5 million to settle that case and signed a corporate integrity agreement to promise that its promotions would comply with federal anti-kickback laws.

Returning Money to Taxpayers

When whistleblowers working for pharmaceutical companies come forward to report suspected violations of these anti-kickback laws, it lays the groundwork for the government to recover what often amounts to millions of dollars in improper Medicare and Medicaid payments. That means money returned to the taxpayers.

Novartis denies wrongdoing in both of these most recent cases and vows to defend itself in court.

Best & Worst Jobs of 2013

April 26, 2013

The health care industry continues to lead the way when it comes to job growth and pay. Six out of the ten “best” jobs listed in this year’s CareerCast.com Jobs Rated Report are in the medical field. From Biomedical Engineer to Dental Hygienist to Physical Therapist, medically related fields rank well for “work environment, stress and hiring outlook.”  Working with computers also continues to score well.  Here are the top 10 jobs and their average yearly income:

  1. Actuary – $91,211
  2. Biomedical Engineer – $85,163
  3. Software Engineer – $89,147
  4. Audiologist – $68,135
  5. Financial Planner – $107,222
  6. Dental Hygienist – $69,107
  7. Occupational Therapist – $174,108
  8. Optometrist – $95,254
  9. Physical Therapist – $78,102
  10. Computer Systems Analyst – $79,145

Click here to see the complete list.

Worst Job

On the other side of the spectrum, the worst job on the list is “Newspaper Reporter,” with an average salary of $36,000 and a decreasing outlook for job growth.  Tough times in journalism.

10 Most Expensive & Cheapest Places to Live in the U.S.

April 9, 2013

Manhattan, New York

If you’re looking to avoid a high cost of living, you’re best to avoid the bright lights of big cities. Manhattan, New York ranks number one for highest costs for the 7th year in a row.  No big surprise there, but apparently paradise also comes with a heftyprice tag.  Honolulu comes in 3rd on the list.

The Council for Community and Economic Research recently crunched more than 50,000 prices for common purchases in more than 300 urban areas.  They looked at everything from grocery items to transportation and housing.  Based on those comparisons, here are the 10 most expensive cities in the country.

10 Most Expensive Places to Live

  1. Manhattan, New York
  2. Brooklyn, New York
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. San Francisco, California
  5. San Jose, California
  6. Queens, New York
  7. Stamford, Connecticut
  8. Washington D.C.
  9. Orange County, California
  10. Boston, Massachusetts

 If you’re fed up with paying more for common purchases like milk and gasoline, consider that a half-gallon of milk in Manhattan costs $2.34 and a gallon of gas comes in at $3.97. Click here to compare prices between the cities and to read more on CBS Money Watch.

Cheapest Places to Live

When it comes to affordable living, a city in the Lone Star State takes the top spot for the 3rd straight year.  The cost of living in Harlingen, Texas actually fell by just over half a point from last year.  Here are the top 10 cheapest cities in the U.S. according to the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index.

10 Cheapest Places to Live

  1. Harlingen, Texas
  2. McAllen, Texas
  3. Norman, Oklahoma
  4. Ardmore, Oklahoma
  5. Memphis, Tennessee
  6. Fayetteville, Arkansans
  7. Wichita Falls, Texas
  8. Muskogee, Oklahoma
  9. Pueblo, Colorado
  10. Ashland, Ohio

The Healthiest Foods You Can Eat

March 5, 2013

Staying healthy and fit can be a lot of work, but there are certain foods that can help.  Fitness Magazine profiled ten super foods that can do everything from help you lose weight to improve your memory and fight against cancer.  Here are the top five.  To read about the rest visit fitnessmagazine.com.

1. Lemons

  • Just one lemon has more than 100 percent of your daily intakeof vitamin C which may help increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels and strengthen bones.
  • Citrus flavonoids found in lemons may help inhibit the growth of cancer cells and act as an anti-inflammatory.

2.  Broccoli

  • One medium stalk of broccoli contains more than 100 percent of your daily vitamin K requirement and almost 200 percent of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C — two essential bone-building nutrients.
  •  The same serving also helps stave off numerous cancers.

3.  Dark Chocolate

  • Just one-fourth of an ounce daily can reduce blood pressure in otherwise healthy individuals.
  • Cocoa powder is rich in flavonoids, antioxidantsshown to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase “good” HDL levels.
  • A dark chocolate bar contains about 53.5 milligrams of flavonoids; a milk chocolate bar has fewer than 14.

4. Potatoes

  • One red potato contains 66 micrograms of cell-building folate — about the same amount found in one cup of spinach or broccoli.
  • One sweet potato has almost eight times the amount of cancer-fighting and immune-boosting vitamin A you need daily.

5.  Salmon

  • A great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to a reduced risk of depression, heart disease, and cancer.
  • A 3-ounce serving contains almost 50 percent of your daily dose of niacin, which may protect against Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.

Also on the list are walnuts, avocados, garlic, spinach and beans.  Click here to read more about their benefits from Fitness Magazine.

 

Food Prices on the Rise

February 25, 2013

If you thought gas prices were bad, look out! Food prices could be going up more than they have in 20 years. Some economists are predicting spikes of 15-20% and an overall hike in the next year of about 10%.  What’s to blame? Experts say the drought and higher production costs.

Check out the report below from News Channel 5 in Nashville, to learn more.  Plus, click here for a few more story’s on the pending inflation from Dow Jones Columnist Al Lewis.

New Study says Antioxidants Might Not Offer Such Big Benefit After All

February 21, 2013

Antioxidants have been touted for their age defying benefits when it comes to brain and overall health, but not so fast, a new study suggests,  they might not offer such a big benefit, after all.  In this latest research, people who ate more antioxidants (in everything from berries to coffee and tea) did not lower their risk of stroke and dementia in old age.

That’s not to say there was no benefit.  The leader of the study says there was some advantage, but not as much as she once believed. “We’re seeing strong and clear benefits with specific antioxidants, but not overall,” says Elizabeth Devore, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who led the new study, which was published online in the journal Neurology.

Devore conducted an earlier study among women which did find that eating lots of berries delayed cognitive decline among women, but now she believes other factors might be at play.  Berries have lots of chemicals called flavonoids, which researchers think probably have protective powers much like those of better-known antioxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E.

Scientists have just started to really dig into the relationship between flavonoids and health, thanks to a big new USDA database on the still largely mysterious chemicals.

Click here to read more from NPR.

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