Consumer Action INSIDER - October 2010



What people are saying

“I just want to thank Consumer Action for the opportunity to attend the most recent MoneyWi$e training in Newark, NJ. It was an invaluable experience for me to be able to share best practices with so many who are dedicated to helping communities in New Jersey through financial education. Thank you Consumer Action and Capital One and I look forward to being a part of more trainings in the future!”

—Maura Attardi, Regional Director, Education & Community Relations, Money Management International


MoneyWi$e grantee promotes financial self-sufficiency

A New Orleans MoneyWi$e grantee has achieved inspiring results in helping its clients learn good money management skills and act on them with tangible outcomes such as creating family budgets and opening bank accounts.

The Sojourner Truth Neighborhood Center (STNC), a program of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, is the recipient of a MoneyWi$e grant from Consumer Action and Capital One. The organization’s mission is to inspire hope for a safe, healthy, diverse community through implementation of enriching and engaging programs that holistically address individual, family and community needs and desires.

Consumer Action created MoneyWi$e, its popular financial empowerment project, in partnership with Capital One. The program, in effect for 10 years, provides free training and a series of 12 free multilingual money management publications to community-based organizations all over the country. The program also distributes a limited number of grants to organizations to help them use MoneyWi$e in the community.

“The MoneyWi$e program is an essential component to the Wealth & Asset Development programs offered at STNC,” says Jessica Kennington Olivier, program coordinator. The Sojourner Truth Center serves residents of the Treme & Tulane-Gravier/Lower Mid-City communities of New Orleans as well as former Lafitte Public Housing Residents.

The MoneyWi$e courses were launched at Sojourner Truth in February 2010 and are led by Claudette Austin, who brings two years of experience teaching the MoneyWi$e modules. The goal for participants is to complete a series of MoneyWi$e financial literacy classes; prepare a family budget that identifies income and debt and devise a family spending plan. For unbanked participants, an additional goal is to open a bank or credit union account to help manage the family budget.

In July, the Sojourner Truth Center was awarded with a stipend from Consumer Action and Capital One to enhance and support the MoneyWi$e program. With this financial support, STNC was able to offer graduates tools to assist in family financial management, as well as a $75 stipend to open a bank account. Marcia Bloodwirth, a Relationship Banker with Capital One Bank in New Orleans, visited Sojourner Truth to help participants open checking and/or savings accounts for 10 graduates.

The staff has reported that the most rewarding part of the classes has been the individual successes of the participants. During the module on “Elder Fraud,” one senior citizen participant was shocked to learn she was the target of fraud. “I didn’t know these were scams. I get these calls all the time! I will now be very cautious when I get these calls.”

One of the participants was a single mom with two young children. She had been using check cashing stores to cash her payroll checks. After studying “Banking Basics” and graduating from the class, she opened her first checking and savings account.

Another participant, a 72-year-old woman, came to MoneyWi$e classes to learn about finances. Her husband had always handled their financial affairs. She went from not knowing how to make a budget or write a check to feeling confident about managing her own finances. Because of the training, she opened her first very own bank account.

Each participant has a unique success story. Most of them requested their credit reports for the first time. Others learned how to protect themselves from ID theft. The classes have evolved into informal support groups, and the participants say they look forward to coming back every week.

“My experience is that many of the people in the community we serve have little knowledge of financial education,” said Austin. “As a MoneyWi$e instructor, I am delighted to be exposing them to information that they would not normally have access to. Financial management is so important and gives you more power over your own life. It's always a joy meeting with our participants every week. As much as I have taught them, I have learned so much from them in return.”

Staff say that the MoneyWi$e program at the Sojourner Truth Center is essential to its mission and goals to serve New Orleans residents. MoneyWi$e gives organizations an opportunity to educate and provide participants with the tools they need to gain control of their financial lives. Consumer Action is pleased that the program is helping them succeed.


Message to HHS: Do more to protect patient privacy

If the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gets its way, big changes to patient privacy may be on their way. In July HHS announced proposed changes aimed at strengthening the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) as required by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), enacted as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, known as the “stimulus bill.”

According to Consumer Action's Senior Associate for National Priorities, Michelle De Mooy, who advocates on behalf of privacy issues for consumers, many of the proposed changes are positive for consumers. Among other issues, she explains that the proposed rule addresses how sensitive patient information is handled under HIPAA and includes more requirements for some health-care related companies to become trusted ”business associates,” entities with some access to private medical information.

De Mooy says that so-called business associates have traditionally been the leaky faucets of patient data, with little to no regulation under HIPAA.

The rule also lays out penalties associated with HIPAA violations.

Despite these advances, HHS's proposed rule includes restrictions of individual rights and alterations to consumer notices about privacy practices.

Consumer Action signed onto comments with other privacy advocates asking for, among other items, the final rule to restore the right to patient consent for personal health information (PHI) disclosure that HHS stripped from the HIPAA privacy rule in 2002 and to expand the current right of patients’ to request a history of who has viewed their medical files.

Coalition partner World Privacy Forum noted in the comments to HHS that "an individual cannot fully protect his/her privacy interest in a health record (and most other records) unless he/she has a right of access to the record, the right to propose a correction, and the right to see who has used the record and to whom it has been disclosed. Each of these elements is essential."

For a more in-depth look at the legislation that governs patient privacy, please read Sensitive info may not be as protected as you think in the summer 2010 issue of Consumer Action News.


Consumer Action forms editorial content partnership with

Consumer Action has partnered with online insurance portal to use select examples of its original educational content and feature articles on Consumer Action’s website. The educational content also appears on Consumer Action’s Insurance Education Project website.

Consumer Action will post new educational articles from on a continuous basis so that visitors to the Consumer Action sites will have a chance to learn more about the intricacies of the consumer insurance marketplace.

Consumer Action's Insurance Education Project focuses on consumer education around the need for adequate insurance coverage. Covering a multitude of consumer insurance products, it features Consumer Action’s award-winning multilingual educational projects promoting informed participation in the marketplace by consumers with low financial literacy levels. These include but are not limited to people of color, low income and rural consumers, recent immigrants, non-English speakers and seniors. The Insurance Education Project also provides training materials and curricula to CBOs nationwide.

The new partnership will add to the dynamic nature of the project, founded with court funds from class action lawsuits.

“We are very impressed with the caliber of the educational articles written by,” said Linda Sherry, Consumer Action’s director of national priorities and its website editor. “ consistently reports on aspects of the insurance marketplace that consumers know little about, and the information is presented in an entertaining and readable way.”

Among other articles, Consumer Action has posted articles on wedding insurance, ID theft insurance, and auto insurance. To read the growing list of posted articles, click here.

“We’re pleased to partner with Consumer Action because we share the same mission,” said Amy Danise, senior managing editor of “We both want consumers to be empowered with knowledge when they make their insurance decisions.”


Consumer Action and American Express in the Twin Cities

Consumer Action traveled to Minneapolis in July to conduct a credit card financial literacy seminar for about 50 staff members and leaders of Minneapolis-area community based organizations (CBOs). Consumer Action co-hosted the training with American Express.

The credit card seminar called “Credit Cards What You Need to Know” coaches financial educators on how to help consumers understand credit terms and avoid the latest pitfalls when using revolving credit, including strategies to steer clear of many costly fees.

Consumer Action opened the morning session with a detailed overview of the new credit card law, the CARD Act. National Priorities Deputy Director Ruth Susswein explained some of the cost savings that the new law provides, such as prohibitions on interest rate increases on a cardholder’s balance except in very limited circumstances, and new limits on penalty fees.

The participating educators were engrossed in the conversation on How Adults Learn by Community Outreach Manager Linda Williams. Trainers discovered how to identify the different types of adult learners and best practices for trainings that meet the variety of learning styles.

Community Outreach Manager Nelson Santiago led the training on evaluating a credit card’s costs and benefits. One segment was devoted to Families and Credit, and the factors that affect whether your teen is ready to handle a credit card. In one activity, Credit Yesteryear, Santiago asked the group to recall how their families used credit growing up and how that compares to how we use credit today. As one might imagine, the question sparked lively discussion about the changing use of credit by Americans over past decades.

Consumer Action recently updated its free Credit Cards What You Need to Know training module. A companion piece, Families and Credit Cards, is also available.


San Diego conference examines changing regulatory environment

With the new focus on consumer protection, the retail financial and consumer services industry is reassessing its future. Knowing the issues that impact the industry helps Consumer Action foresee changes that may affect consumers and build a stronger consumer protection strategy.

DC-based National Priorities Director Linda Sherry participated in the ADVANCE 2010-Harness Dynamic Risk conference sponsored by ID Analytics, a San Diego-based company that provides business tools to help companies gauge consumer identity behavior and gain insight into credit and identity risk. The conference, held Sept. 21 and 22, at the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego, was attended by a diverse group of companies from major telecommunications providers to financial services institutions, as well as academics, economists and scientists.

Sherry participated in a break-out panel centering on how the credit business is changing given new business requirements and the evolving regulatory environment. The panel examined the impact of the CARD Act and other recent laws on the ways banks are doing business.

Jennifer Flynn of the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) moderated the panel. Sherry’s fellow panelists included Mark Birkhead of Citigroup, Inc.; Jay Silvestain of Fifth Third Bank in Chicago, and Robert Romeo of AT&T.

“This was a lively and interesting panel,” said Sherry. “There were a number of perspectives, not just consumer vs. industry, but also across industries, which made for a good discussion.”

Creditors consider a wide variety of information in managing and assessing credit risk and account profitability, noted Sherry, but there should be limits on what is collected and how it is used. It is often more appropriate for companies to manage perceived customer risk by requiring security deposits on cell phones or credit cards, limiting initial extensions of credit and assessing earlier rather than later a consumer’s ability to take on additional financial obligations.

In her remarks, Sherry noted that companies and consumer organizations must begin to see each other as partners in creating and developing innovative products and services to help families manage their finances. “Everyone’s finances are more limited today,” said Sherry. “Family income should not have to be spent on unnecessary and unwarranted fees. Consumers deserve predictability, too.”


Hotline Chronicles: Prescription for handling complaints about your doctor

A Maryland man recently wrote to the Consumer Action Complaint Hotline that his doctor would not respond to requests for a prescription refill. The man, who is uninsured and living on a fixed income, owes a balance at the doctor’s office and he has been making small payments on his medical bills whenever he can. The consumer believes that the doctor is purposely ignoring requests for a refill because of the debt.

“Our pharmacy has sent numerous refill requests to the doctor’s office,” wrote the consumer. “I have now been without my medication for several weeks.”

First off, suggest our hotline counselors, try to address the issue by calling the physician’s office directly. This may simply be a paperwork snafu.

If the doctor still ignores requests for refills, we suggested that the man contact his state’s licensing board, the Maryland Board of Physicians, and file a complaint.

“Often consumers are intimidated by their doctors,” noted Consumer Action’s Consumer Services Manager Joe Ridout. “But you need to speak up if you feel your doctor is behaving in an inappropriate or unprofessional manner.”

Ridout suggests that consumers take the following actions when faced with a churlish or unprofessional doctor:

  • Write a short description of your problem and the solution you are looking for. Call the doctor’s office to schedule a time to talk with the office manager or the doctor about the situation. Refer to your written description to keep the call brief but informative. Make your specific request for a solution. For example, “I would like for you to send a refill prescription to my pharmacy today. Here is the pharmacy’s phone number.” Keep a note of the time and date you called, who you spoke to, and what was said.
  • If you do not feel satisfied with the outcome of your talk with the doctor or his office, contact your state’s medical society or licensing board for instructions on how to file a complaint. Find a list of these state agencies at the American Medical Association (AMA) website.
  • If your doctor is a provider at a hospital or medical group, call and ask about its process for handling and addressing patient grievances. If appropriate, file a grievance.

According to the AMA, physicians must recognize responsibility to patients first and foremost. If the Maryland man’s doctor no longer wants the man as his patient, he should let the man know so he can seek alternative care. “A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount,” says the AMA’s Principles of Medical Ethics.

Consumer Action’s Ridout suggests that you check doctors’ backgrounds before becoming a patient:

  • DocFinder is a free database that contains licensing background and disciplinary information for physicians and other health care practitioners as well as physician profile information from states that have passed physician profile laws.
  • The Federation of State Medical Boards is a national non-profit organization representing the 70 medical boards of the United States and its territories. It offers Doc Info, a database of U.S. licensed physicians.

You can reach Consumer Action’s free advice and referral hotline at 415-777-9635 (leave a message) or online—click here.

Hotline volunteers sought in San Francisco

If you live in San Francisco and have time on your hands to do good works, Consumer Action is seeking volunteers to help handle calls from consumers who need advice and referrals to complaint handling agencies. Training will be provided. Following training, the opportunity to volunteer while working at your home may also be available to certain candidates. Call or email Joseph Ridout at 415-777-9648 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to arrange an interview.



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