Cover Me: Apply Heat

With its health plans on hold, company hawks pills and nostrums.

Cinergy Health, of course, is not the only company that has ever been a discount medical provider. There are many others, and in this account the Houston Press examines operations that have absolutely nothing to do with Cinergy.

Perhaps one of the better examples of how many discount medical providers — and their counterparts — operate is contained in a lawsuit brought by consumers in Ohio against Universal Health Card and its marketer, Coverdell & Company (the latter of which is a member of the Dallas-based Consumer Health Alliance). The suit, filed in April, is awaiting a decision on class-action certification.

The plaintiffs' lawyers accuse the companies of "preying" upon the uninsured and underinsured, duping them into buying "worthless" benefits via a series of misleading steps — the first of which, the lawyers say, is the fact that the company calls itself "Universal Health Card," which is awfully close to "Universal Health Care."

While the defendants, of course, deny the allegations, Universal Health Card actually blames any deceptive or misleading tactics on Coverdell. But here's the thing: UHC is owned by the Ohio-based Arthur Middleton Capital Holdings, which also owns Universal Media Syndicate. If you've ever flipped through a newspaper and seen something that at first glance looks like a legitimate news piece touting the awesomeness of Amish barbecue grills or über-valuable collectible coins issued by the World Reserve Monetary Exchange, you know Universal Media Syndicate. It's the company that acquires "remnant" advertising space from newspapers, which it fills with ads designed to look indistinguishable from actual editorial content — complete with headlines and bylines. As long as the company slaps a tiny notice somewhere that it's an advertisement — even if it's dwarfed by the boldfaced headline trumpeting the revolutionary Heat Surge Amish Electric Fireplace — the company is covered.

And of course, these advertorials don't just hawk coins and gadgets; they promote medical discounts such as the Universal Health Card, although usually the fake reporter works into the story the fact that this is a limited offer, specific just to the local area, which will expire in 48 hours.

But the lawsuit has put a chilling effect on UHC — it's no longer enrolling new subscribers. When the Houston Press called to inquire about the plan, we were told that sad news, but we were also told that other wonderful products were available. We were directed to www.patenthealth.com, the Web site of PatentHEALTH, which manufactures the dietary supplements Apatrim (for weight loss), Trigosamine (for joint care) and Fast-Acting Trigosamine (for fast-­acting joint care). These are all endorsed by PatentHEALTH's "Director of Health Science R&D," Dr. Joseph Dietz, PhD. The Web site states that Dietz's unpublished studies of clinical trials show that the active ingredient's "lubricating properties are impressive."

When the Press asked Arthur Middleton's John Armstrong in which field of study Joseph Dietz received his PhD, Armstrong said he believed it was "animal feed science."

Court documents show transcripts of the conversations between the named plaintiffs and UHC's operators, who tell the callers that, of the two possible UHC plans, the one that happens to work the best for them is the more expensive one. In each case, the operators wait until they process the payments before verifying that the callers know that the plan isn't insurance.

The suit alleges that "Defendants' bogus news story is intended to incite a false sense of urgency among consumers desperate for affordable health care. As such, defendants' advertisement states, 'For the next 48 hours, the new Universal Health Card is available to individuals and entire families and you don't have to be over 65 or have low income to get the new card'...Attributing a statement to Kenneth J. Geis, the 'Director of the National Hotline,' defendants' fake news story further provides: 'Our reason for the 48-hour deadline is simple; we want to make sure that everyone gets to speak to a real person who can instantly register and then issue the free card.'"

The suit also alleges that "Defendants also assure those in need of health care that, 'All health care needs are being provided at affordable rates by over 561,000 health care professionals, including Doctors and Hospitals locally and across the nation.' However, Defendants' claim that more than 561,000 medical providers accept the Card is false. Plaintiffs and other Class members that have contacted the medical providers listed on the Card's website have found that most — if not all — of the doctors, dentists, pharmacists and hospitals that the Defendants claim accept the Card do not in fact accept it, nor have most even heard of, the Card."

Unfortunately, the lawsuit is silent on whether these doctors, dentists, pharmacists and hospitals have heard of the Heat Surge Roll-n-Glow electric Amish fireplace.

 
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