Consumer Protection Updates

News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

1 in 10 surveyed daycares still using deadly, recalled infant sleepers

Three months after nearly 5.4 million infant sleepers were recalled for causing 36 infant deaths, a new survey by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education (U.S. PIRG) and Kids in Danger (KID) revealed that many child care facilities continue to use these dangerous inclined sleepers. The survey began after PIRG Consumer Watchdog Adam Garber discovered that his own son’s daycare in Philadelphia was using the recalled products.

“Every day, millions of parents drop their kids off, assuming their daycares have the information they need to keep their kids safe,” said Garber. “This failed recall is a wakeup call that our current system leaves too many infants at risk from these dangerous sleepers.”

U.S. PIRG and KID blamed the situation on confusing messages about the recall. Initially, a consumer warning for the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play on April 4th linked deaths to infant rollovers, leading some parents and facilities to conclude that proper use would keep babies safe. But a more complete analysis revealed some deaths occurred when the child was buckled in, leading the company and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to fully recall the 4.7 million Rock ‘n Play sleepers soon after on April 14. On April 26, nearly 700,000 units of the Kids II Rocking Sleeper were recalled.

Letter to Gov. Abbott: Sign SB1264

By | Bay Scoggin
State Director

Today, TexPIRG asked the Governor to get SB1264 off his desk and into law, protecting consumers with non-federal health plans from ever having to deal with surprise medical bills again. Check out what we had to say.

News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

TexPIRG: Consumers Do Well in Texas Legislature

The legislative session adjourned on Monday, with consumers and the public interest claiming some big victories including the end of surprise medical bills, said the consumer group TexPIRG on Tuesday.

Surprise medical bills will no longer affect consumers in Texas with a non-federal insurance plan after bipartisan work on Senator Hancock’s SB1264. The bill expands on a Texas Department of Insurance program that sends eligible surprise medical bills to an arbitration process between the insurance company and the healthcare provider. Before, consumers had to be aware of their eligibility and submit a request, but with the update, consumers will no longer even receive the surprise medical bill in the first place, significantly increasing utilization.    

The rest of the good news:

  • A bill by Representative Oliverson will prevent hidden fees at freestanding emergency rooms, ending a prominent consumer abuse.

  • Telemarketers won’t be able to “spoof” their calls anymore, thanks to Representative Leman’s HB1992. Spoofing is the practice where robocallers make their calls appear as if they originate from the same area code as the individual they are calling.

  • The Lower Colorado River Authority will be more transparent after TexPIRG and others called for changes as part of legislation to reauthorize the agency.

  • SB9, a bill that would reduce voter participation by making it harder to register and vote, was not passed. The bill was authored by Republic Senator Hughes.

  • HB3040, authored by Representative Hunter, will study how we select our judges, including whether or not elections or appointments will lead to more qualified, representative judicial nominees.

  • None of the many bills designed to block construction of a high-speed bullet train from Houston to Dallas passed, continuing the possibility of reduced congestion on I45 and lower transportation-related air emissions.

  • Bills to increase transparency in government spending, such as Representative Canales’ HB81, which requires disclosure of public spending on entertainment events, sometimes referred to as the Enrique Iglesias bill, after public spending on a concert by that artist received significant public criticism for the expenditure amount being hidden from the taxpayer.

“We were pleased with how the legislative session turned out, especially with the amount of transparency and healthcare-related bills that passed,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG’s Director. “Consumers benefit from more transparency, in government, businesses, and markets, and we saw a concerted effort to pursue that goal.”

“Ending surprise medical bills for a large portion of Texas consumers and enacting one of the strongest arbitration programs in the country will serve healthcare consumers well in the coming years,” continued Scoggin.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Health Care

The Real Price of Medications

People living in the United States have access to some of the best medical care in the world, from life-saving drugs to cutting-edge surgical techniques. But our system is deeply flawed, with spiraling costs forcing many Americans to spend more on care and often receiving poor quality care for all the extra money spent.

Retail prescription drug costs represent about 10% of the total national healthcare expenditure in America and are a public concern because of existing high prices, which often continue to climb. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 Americans on medication struggle to afford their prescription drugs - and that rises to more than 4 in 10 for individuals in worse health.  Research on these high health care expenses (including prescription drug expenses) in comparison to other countries show that this difficult cost burden is driven primarily by inflated prices: not differences in the drugs used, our aging population, nor the amount of drugs prescribed.”

These high prices decimate the delivered value we get from medications. The main problem is this: although a patient may pay more for their life saving medicine, they are not getting any more health value for the extra money spent.

Research shows that high prices lead patients to engage in risky behaviors, including medication rationing or altering dosages without doctor’s consent. Nearly 17% of older adults exhibit this non-adherence behavior, the highest among 11 comparably wealthy countries. Physician treatment plans don’t work when patients can’t follow them, and research shows that medical treatment deviations account for major proportions of treatment failures and many hospital and nursing home admissions.

The picture is even more concerning when you consider that drug prices can vary greatly within cities, states and regions of the United States. Doctors may prescribe more expensive medication that is just as effective as other options, or patients may decide to forgo treatment, when more affordable options could be available at the pharmacy around the corner. Sometimes, the best treatment may be what the patient can consistently stick to, but with providers and patients unsure about prescription drug prices, that treatment decision becomes even more daunting.  
 

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Health Care

Prices of common medications can vary by hundreds of dollars

While many Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs, TexPIRG Education Fund’s survey of retail prices of commonly-prescribed medications found patients can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in some cases by shopping around at pharmacies within their communities.

"Texans shouldn’t have to forgo life-saving medicines. But when they don't realize there are more affordable options at a different pharmacy, some have to do exactly that,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund’s Director.  “Our medications don’t work any better when we pay more for them. We need a transparent prescription drug system that delivers value to patients at a reasonable price, instead of confusing and price-gouging them."

Retail prescription drug spending represents about 10 percent of the overall national health expenditures in America, while nearly 1 in 4 Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs primarily because of inflated prices.

TexPIRG Education Fund’s report, The Real Price of Medications: A Survey of Pharmaceutical Prices, released today, reveals a wide variation in the retail pricing of prescription drugs by pharmacies large and small, urban and rural. The report looked at prices in Dallas, El Paso, and Gainesville.

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Food

How safe is our food

Americans rely on a vast network of farms and businesses to provide safe food daily.  But in recent years, a string of high-profile recalls ranging from romaine lettuce to millions of pounds of beef to Ritz and Goldfish crackers have called into question the system developed to ensure safe food reaches people’s plates. The ubiquity of the problem can make grocery shopping a game of Russian Roulette where what a family has for dinner could make them seriously sick.

While our food safety system has improved significantly over the last 100 years, when toxics, fake foodstuffs, and bacteria regularly infiltrated the supply, it is clear there is more work to do.  A modern society relies on ensuring that the daily act of eating does not undermine the health of the population. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to get a handle on trends within the food system as ongoing, individual testing results are hard to access and may not indicate what hazards are reaching people’s mouths.  

In 2011, the United States made significant upgrades to the food safety system by passing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  This law, pushed through in the wake of a number of significant food recalls, was supposed to help the nation identify additional dangers by ensuring we were using modern techniques to track outbreaks of contamination like Salmonella and dangerous strains of E. coli, improve regulatory oversight of the food production system to minimize contamination, and update recall laws.

 

Our food safety system has two lines of defense. First, a series of protections including health standards, inspections, and enforcement help keep contaminants out of the food supply in the first place. Second, when contaminated products make it to store shelves, the recall system helps remove these products from stores, homes and restaurants to keep people safe.  

News Release | TexPIRG Ed Fund | Food

New report: Hazardous Meat & Poultry Recalls Nearly Double

AUSTIN -- From E. coli-contaminated romaine lettuce to Salmonella-tainted beef, major recalls in 2018 drove Americans to investigate their refrigerators for contaminated food and caused stores and restaurants to toss millions of pounds of meat and produce.  TexPIRG Ed Fund’s new report How Safe is Our Food? reveals that these recalls are part of a larger trend over the last five years indicating systemic problems with our current food safety system.

 

“The food we nourish our bodies with shouldn’t pose a serious health risk. But, systemic failures means we’re often rolling the dice when we go grocery shopping or eat out,” said Bay Scoggin, Texas Public Interest Research Group Education Fund Director. “Serious health risks are preventable through common sense protections from farm to fork.”

 

News Release | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

New Guide Helps Consumers Get Great Deals on Refurbished Electronics

This holiday season, you can pay even less than you would on Black Friday for electronics, if you buy them used and refurbished. “Fixed for the Holidays” helps consumers purchase used items with confidence -- detailing what to buy, how to know if you are getting a good deal and where to shop.

“Not only can you save 20 percent or more by shopping refurbished, buying used products is better for the environment and cuts waste,” added Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “It’s a win-win for the person getting the electronics and his or her community.”

Our guide, published at www.TexPIRG.org/feature/usp/fixed-for-the-holidays has tips that help consumers buy refurbished products.

Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Fixed for the Holidays

Why Shop Refurbished?

Black Friday prices year-round: You can usually find great deals on used electronics, getting something that’s like-new, but for a sizable discount. Technically, the minute you open a new device, it becomes used, so the difference between a used and new item can be negligible. You can get an item that’s close to new at prices lower than Black Friday deals.

Buying used is a greener choice: Buying used gifts is better for the environment. Most of the environmental damage from our electronics comes from the manufacturing process.

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