In a decision worthy of Solomon, HHS' inspector general's office has informed a San Francisco World Wide Web address auctioneer that it's OK to sell the name "Medicare.com," as long as it's not used as an Internet site.
The company, SiteJockey.com, is in the business of selling catchy Web addresses to the highest bidders. That part doesn't trouble the inspector general.
"However, we do think that anyone using a Web site named Medicare.com to market information, products or services would be in violation of the statute (section 1140 of the Social Security Act)," wrote William Libercci, the inspector general's reviewing officer. The law bans the use of government emblems, initials, names and trademarks for nongovernment purposes.
Violations could cost offenders $5,000 per instance.
In the March 10 letter, Libercci told SiteJockey.com President Alex Sepehri-Nik that a disclaimer saying the site's not maintained by the government wouldn't cut it.
"It is our opinion that many persons utilizing the Internet, upon accessing Medicare.com, would be misled into believing that this site was authorized, approved or endorsed by the Medicare program," Libercci wrote, adding that SiteJockey.com should inform prospective purchasers of the potential liability.
"We don't want to break any laws," Sepehri-Nik says, adding his company is auctioning the name for its owner, Caribbean Investment Corp., Vancouver, B.C. "(The letter) puts a serious damper on the market."
Sepehri-Nik says some easily remembered domain names have fetched millions of dollars.
"The name Medicare has widespread name recognition, and most people on the Internet know the difference between dot-com and dot-gov," Sepehri-Nik says. `'We're not trying to fool anyone."
On the road. Ever wonder what Miss America does once she's snagged the tiara? Miss America 2000 Heather French is spending the year crisscrossing the country speaking on behalf of the estimated 200,000 veterans who are homeless and the 300,000 veterans infected with the hepatitis C virus.
The 25-year-old Maysville, Ky., native, whose father is a disabled Vietnam vet, "is a beautiful but most importantly a sincere spokesperson for vets and the VA," says Department of Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Kerri Childress. The VA earmarks $150 million of its $20.9 billion medical budget for homeless veterans programs. "We recognize (homelessness) as primarily a medical problem," Childress says. An estimated 80% of homeless vets are substance abusers, and 30% have a mental illness.
French, who is travelling a reported 20,000 miles per month to raise awareness of veterans' healthcare issues, is the seventh Miss America in 10 years to champion a health-related issue. Past winners have taken on diabetes, domestic violence, HIV disease, eye and ear research and, in 1994, homelessness.
Mom's busted. A Cedar Rapids, Iowa, woman allegedly sold drugs to an undercover federal agent from her hospital bed nine hours after having a baby.
Bonnie Herr, 20, gave birth March 16 to a 6-pound girl at 421-bed St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids and was arraigned last month in U.S. District Court there. The new mother faces up to 40 years of jail time and $2 million in fines for selling $650 worth of crack cocaine to Gregory Brugman, an undercover agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Brugman and a confidential informant who had allegedly bought drugs from her in the past went to the hospital to arrange another buy when the new mother allegedly offered to sell them some crack she'd hidden in her room. Herr is out on bond awaiting a trial later this year.
"Nobody can ever remember anything like this happening before," said St. Luke's spokeswoman Laura Rainey. "It is so odd, so peculiar. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, you just don't hear about this kind of thing going on."
Big fat lies? Big fat fine. To settle charges of deceptive advertising for two diet supplements called "Fat Trapper" and "Exercise in a Bottle," Encino, Calif.-based Enforma Natural Products has agreed to pay $10 million to the Federal Trade Commission.
"With Enforma, you can eat what you want and never, ever, ever have to diet again," one of the ads claimed, including "delicious foods like fried chicken, pizza, cheeseburgers, even butter and sour cream." According to company claims, Enforma "helps your body to burn more calories while you're just standing or sitting around doing nothing--even while you're sleeping."
The stipulated final order prohibits the defendants--the company; Andrew Grey, its president and CEO; and Fred Zinos, former vice president of sales and marketing--from making unsubstantiated weight-loss claims, requires scientific substantiation for future claims and compels the defendants to disclose that eating less and exercising more is necessary to lose weight.
It's the money, stupid. Outliers was interested earlier this month to hear a doctor at the e-HealthcareWorld conference in Las Vegas lecture about how to become a dot-com healthcare millionaire. Stan Bernard, who is president of e-health consulting firm Bernard Associates, told his audience that the road to e-success is paved with the four Bs--big vision, buddies, buzz and brand. Never mind those old standbys like clinical outcomes, efficiency, quality of care or patient satisfaction. In the new healthcare, hype is apparently everything.