Keeping Track of Your Pets With Microchips and GPS Smart Collars

When dogs or cats go missing–whether they run away or are stolen–it can be devastating for both pet and owner.

According to the National Humane Society, more than 10 million pets are lost each year. Only 26 percent of dogs and less than 5 percent of cats who come into shelters as strays are reunited with their owners.  An even more alarming fact is that 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats in these shelters end up being euthanized.

As a pet owner, even if you haven’t experienced such a loss, there is always the possibility you could.  However, there are also some preventative measures you can take to help keep your pet safe.

While embedding microchips in pets has become an increasingly common procedure for veterinarians and is a good tool for reuniting lost pets with their owners, they’re not foolproof. In order for a microchip to be effective, pet owners must register the chip with the manufacturer. If they don’t, when a pet is brought into an animal shelter or veterinarian’s office and the chip is scanned, no contact information will be associated with the pet and microchip, making it much more difficult to unite the animal with its owner.

GET SMART— The Smart pet collar is the latest innovative technology designed to give pet owners peace of mind. It’s a GPS tracker collar for your pet that works almost like an iPhone. It allows you, via an app on your phone, to not only communicate and send messages to your furry friend, but also monitor and alert you to its whereabouts.

So if Fido or Fluffy wanders too far away from the backyard, a notification is immediately sent to your phone. If the animal does manage to run away, the collar will automatically flash the message “I’m lost” along with your phone number to alert anyone who may come in contact with the animal.

Remember, regardless of how careful you are with your pets, they can still get lost. Providing your pet with a GPS collar as well as a microchip can go a long way to ensure a happy and healthy reunion if ever your pet strays from home.

If you’re planning to microchip your pets, be sure to take them to a licensed veterinarian.  To verify the license of a veterinarian, contact the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Veterinary Medical Board at (916) 515-5220, or visit their website at vmb@dca.ca.gov.

 

Don’t Miss the Latest Issue of Consumer Connection!

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recalled 51.3 million autos in the United States. The recalls included everything from defective ignition switches and consumer-connection-winter-2016steering wheels to acceleration issues and airbag and seatbelt defects. If you receive a recall notice, don’t ignore it. The winter 2016 issue of Consumer Connection walks you through what to do if you receive one.

This edition of DCA’s magazine continues its regular feature highlighting Department leadership. This issue includes an interview with the Executive Officer of the Board of Registered Nursing (Board), Joseph Morris. Mr. Morris discusses his background, long-term goals for the Board, and the Board’s challenges ahead.

The issue also explores a variety of other interesting topics, including recognizing a flood-damaged car when shopping for a used vehicle, fighting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the recently launched California State Athletic Commission’s campaign to prevent and treat concussions.

Visit the DCA website to download or read the magazine. You can also pick up a printed copy in the DCA Headquarters lobby at 1625 North Market Boulevard in Sacramento. Or, to have it mailed to you at no charge, call (866) 320-8652 or send an e-mail request to consumerconnection@dca.ca.gov. Get connected!

 

Weighing Out Diet Scams

weight-lossThe first month of 2017 is almost history, but a few of the resolutions you may have put on the list for this year may still not be crossed off—or started, for that matter. Getting more organized and saving money are goals that are easy to plan, while losing weight—a resolution that is at the top of many people’s lists—is one of the hardest to start.

Losing weight is a healthy and rewarding goal, however, beware of quick-fix weight-loss products and plans. Like other scams, if they sound too good to be true, they probably are.

At best, “miracle” weight-loss products won’t help at all and will only cause you to lose money. At worst, they can cause health issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that hundreds of dietary supplement products contain hidden active ingredients that may be advertised as “natural” and “safe.” As a result, the FDA has received numerous reports of increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, stroke, seizure, and even death as a result of taking these supplements.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), beware of weight-loss ads with tag lines like these:

  • Lose weight without diet or exercise!
  • Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!
  • Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!
  • Just take a pill!
  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
  • Everybody will lose weight!
  • Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!

The FTC says the best way to lose weight is to cut about 500 calories per day, eat a variety of healthy foods, and exercise regularly. Also, before beginning any weight-loss plan, consult your healthcare professional. To check the status of a doctor’s license, visit the Medical Board of California website at www.mbc.ca.gov.

Glaucoma Awareness Month: Guard Your Vision

Glaucoma. It’s called the “sneak thief of sight” because it can strike without symptoms and lead to permanent blindness.

The good news is that blindness from the disease is preventable. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month—a time to understand the disease and take important steps glaucoma-awareness-monthto guard yourself from its serious effects. Although there is no cure for glaucoma, if detected early, it can be treated with medication or surgery to slow down or prevent further vision loss.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), as much as 40 percent of a person’s vision can be lost without noticing—that’s why regular eye exams from a licensed optometrist are key. The GRF says these five tests are part of a thorough comprehensive glaucoma exam:

The inner eye pressure Tonometry
The shape and color of the optic nerve Ophthalmoscopy (dilated eye exam)
The complete field of vision Perimetry (visual field test)
The angle in the eye where the iris meets the cornea Gonioscopy
Thickness of the cornea Pachymetry

Anyone can get glaucoma, but there are those who are at higher risk:

  • African Americans over age 40
  • Everyone over age 60, especially Hispanics/Latinos
  • People with a family history of glaucoma

You can learn more about glaucoma by visiting the GRF’s website at www.glaucoma.org and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/features/glaucoma-awareness/index.html. To check the license and license status of an optometrist, visit the Board of Optometry’s website at www.optometry.ca.gov.

Beware of the Imposter IRS

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Inevitably, tax season comes, and with it some new form of scam to watch out for.

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued an alert to taxpayers and tax professionals to be on guard against fake emails purporting to contain an IRS tax bill related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Generally, the scam involves an email that includes a fake CP2000—a notice commonly mailed to taxpayers through the U.S. Postal Service—as an attachment. In reality, this document is never sent as part of an email to taxpayers—the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email or through social media. Here are some other ways to spot the scam:

  • The CP2000 notice appears to be issued from an Austin, Texas, address
  • The tax issue is related to the ACA and the notice requests information regarding 2014 coverage
  • The payment voucher lists the letter number as 105C.

The fraudulent CP2000 notice includes a payment request for a check made out to “I.R.S.” be sent to the “Austin Processing Center” at a post office box address. This is in addition to a “payment” link within the email itself. Don’t do it!

Frequent fakes:

 The IRS website (www.irs.gov) lists some of the most prevalent IRS impersonation scams, which include:

  • Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax.”
  • Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed by paying with an iTunes or other type of gift card
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals
  • Attempts to “verify” tax return information over the phone such as Social Security or bank account numbers
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry

Remember, neither the IRS nor the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) will ever:

  • Call and demand immediate payment and threaten arrest.
  • Call without giving consumers an opportunity to discuss a potential tax dispute.
  • Call and ask for your credit card numbers.
  • Call and ask for payment via pre-paid debit cards.

If you get a suspicious phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money or personal information, do not give out anything. Hang up immediately. You can always call the IRS directly at (800) 829-1040 if you think you owe taxes. FTB urges taxpayers to report any suspicious emails or phone calls received from tax scammers through its website at www.ftb.ca.gov, which also has additional fraud protection tips. FTB will contact a taxpayer by mail—often several times—prior to calling directly. FTB also uses an automated dialer program and a copy of that program’s message can be found on FTB’s website.

If you go with a pro:

California is one of the few states to have set requirements for professional tax preparers, according to the California Tax Education Council (CTEC). State law requires anyone who prepares tax returns for a fee to be either an attorney, certified public accountant (CPA), CTEC registered tax preparer (CRTP) or enrolled agent (EA). Choosing a tax preparer who is not one of those four professionals may prevent you from legal recourse against fraud. It may also increase your chances for additional taxes, interest and fines.

Always verify the legal status of a tax preparer before handing over your private tax information. To verify whether a person or firm is currently authorized to practice public accounting in California, check the license on the California Board of Accountancy’s website at www.dca.ca.gov/cba/ and visit its “Tax Resources” and “Consumer Assistance” sections for more information.

 

California’s New Laws for 2017

scalesIn 2016, Governor Brown signed into law 898 pieces of legislation. Here’s a sampling of some of the new state laws:

Barbering and booze: Under Assembly Bill (AB) 1322, Board of Barbering and Cosmetology-licensed beauty salons and barbershops can serve up to 12 ounces of beer or 6 ounces of wine to customers without having an alcoholic beverage license or permit. The businesses cannot charge for the alcohol.

Building construction: Senate Bill (SB) 465 requires the California Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to tell the Contractors State License Board when the state punishes disobedient contractors.

Gun laws: SB 880 and AB 1135 ban the sale of semi-automatic, centerfire rifles or semi-automatic pistols that do not have a fixed magazine. AB 1511 outlaws most gun loans.

Sexual assault: AB 2888 mandates a prison term for sexually assaulting unconscious individuals. This legislation is the result of a reaction to the jail sentence of a Stanford student who assaulted an unconscious woman and received a jail sentence in June 2016, but was released in September.

Distracted driving: Under AB 1785, drivers cannot hold or operate their devices for any reason. Exceptions are functions that require only a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger, as long as the phone is mounted in the car.

Car seats: AB 53 requires that children under 2 years old be put in rear-facing child safety seats, except for kids who are at least 40 pounds or 40 inches tall. Children under 8 years old must ride in the back seat of a car.

Voter registration and ballots: AB 1436, which passed in 2012 but takes effect January 1, allows people to register on the day of an election. SB 450 allows voters to return mail ballots at any county elections office in the state, not just the county that issued the ballot.

Dogs in cars: AB 797 allows good Samaritans to help free animals showing signs of distress in a hot car. They must first contact law enforcement and wait for them to show up.

Gender-neutral bathrooms: AB 1732 requires that all single-toilet restrooms in schools, businesses, and public places be designated as gender neutral.

Minimum wage increase: SB 3 raises the minimum wage for workers at businesses that have 26 or more employees from $10 to $10.50 per hour. Yearly increases under the law will bump the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.

Uber/Lift background checks: Under AB 1289, drivers for ride-booking companies will have their entire driver’s record checked.

Terminally ill and the “Right to Try”: AB 1668 allows terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs that have not yet had full federal approval for clinical trials.

For more details on California’s new laws, visit the Governor’s website at www.gov.ca.gov. For a list of all the new laws, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov/pdf/BillsEnactedReport2016.pdf.

 

 

 

Male Contraception Study Cut Short

syringeA male contraception study, cosponsored by the United Nations and commissioned by the World Health Organization, was recently stopped after it was concluded that the drug caused too many side effects.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, tested the safety and effectiveness of a contraceptive shot that was administered every eight weeks to 320 healthy men in different countries around the world. The trial was initially considered successful after it significantly decreased sperm counts. However, after Stage II of the three-stage trial, a number of men dropped out of the study, citing side effects such as acne, mood swings, depression, muscle pain, and increased libido. Researchers decided to stop the trial early in the interest of patient safety. A survey of patients who didn’t drop out found that most would use the product if it were available.

The premature halt of the study has caused some experts to draw comparisons with the side effects experienced by those women who use female birth control. It has also caused some raised eyebrows from women, who have been dealing with the side effects of FDA-approved birth control methods for decades. To learn more about contraception options and their possible side effects, women should talk to a qualified health care professional. (You can check the license of a doctor at the Medical Board’s website at www.mbc.ca.gov or a pharmacist at the Board of Pharmacy’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.)

Despite the sudden halt to the male contraception study, there are still plans to successfully bring a male contraceptive drug to the market. According to an NPR report, future trials with different, safer levels of hormones, as well as possibly alternative ways to administer the drug, such as via a gel or an implant, are in the works.

 

 

Dealing With the High Cost of Dying

103407746-gettyimages-471349769-1910x1000Let’s face it. No one enjoys discussing death or dying, much less planning a funeral for a loved one or even for themselves.

However uncomfortable the subject may be, if you don’t plan in advance, it could cost you both financially and emotionally.

Shopping around for the most suitable and affordable funeral goods and services is an important step in the right direction.  However, with so many funeral homes and services to choose from, it can be a daunting process.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, which licenses, regulates, and investigates complaints against California funeral establishments and nearly 200 fraternal and private cemeteries in the State, offers a booklet titled, “Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases,” which contains information that will help consumers make informed decisions throughout the process.  It provides extensive information on the legal requirements involving disposition arrangements such as home death care, retail casket sellers, embalming and cremation, as well as coroner fees and a host of other important and useful information.

consumer-guide-coverThe “Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchases” is available online in both English and Spanish at the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau’s Web site, www.cfb.ca.gov.

Additional help for consumers may also be on the way. Two groups, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America, recently filed a petition with the FTC seeking requirements for  funeral homes to fully disclose their prices for burial products and services online. Some establishments currently list pricing for services online; others do not.

If the requirements are approved, the change would update a 1984 FTC rule that currently requires price disclosure, but only in person or over the phone. Many consumer advocates maintain the new online guidelines—if implemented—would make planning for funerals much easier and convenient for consumers who could access funeral information with the click of a mouse and in the comfort of their homes.

Remember, once you’ve decided on a funeral home and arrangements have been made,  you’re entitled by law to get an itemized statement with the final cost so there are no surprises and you know exactly what you’re paying for.

Most importantly, the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau recommends consumers make sure that the funeral establishment, funeral director, crematory, crematory manager, or cemetery they choose are licensed by the State and in good standing.  You can verify the license online on the Bureau’s website at http://www.cfb.ca.gov/consumer/lookup.shtml

(NOTE: The State does not license cemeteries operated by religious organizations; cities, counties, or cemetery districts; the military; Native American tribal organizations; or other groups. If you don’t know who regulates the cemetery you’re interested in, ask the cemetery manager.)

If you need help with a cemetery or funeral issue, visit the Bureau’s Web site at www.cfb.ca.gov or call the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Information Center at (800) 952-5210 or the Bureau directly at (916) 574-7870.

 

 

 

 

 

Fight the Resistance! Get Smart About Antibiotics Week: November 14–20

get-smart-about-antibiotics-weekHere’s a quick quiz: Do antibiotics fight bacteria, viruses, or both? Which illnesses should be treated with antibiotics: strep throat, whopping cough, bronchitis? Bacteria are germs that cause colds and flu—true or false?

You can find the answers to these questions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website; the CDC’s Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is November 14–20. The week’s activities are about raising awareness of the enormous and growing threat of antibiotic resistance and how we—patients and healthcare providers—can all fight the resistance.

After decades of misuse and overuse, antibiotics are no longer as effective as they once were. The Board of Pharmacy (Board) states, “This is a big problem, and is a major public health threat within hospitals and communities—wherever antibiotics are used.”

antibiotic-resistance

According to the Board, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against drug resistance and to stop its spread is to not insist on getting antibiotics when your doctor doesn’t prescribe them. Also, don’t save antibiotics from a previous illness. When you’re prescribed antibiotics, take them exactly as directed. And never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Take preventative steps as well, such as keeping up with your vaccinations, washing your hands, and effectively managing symptoms to feel better versus taking antibiotics.

For more information on Getting Smart About Antibiotics Week, go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/getsmart and the Board’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.

 

It’s Not Just About Generics: Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

shutterstock_385954984The generic version of a two-pack of EpiPen is now priced at $300—a price that’s better than the brand-name cost of $600 for this widely used allergic-reaction antidote. Buying the generic versus the brand-name is definitely the first step in saving money on your meds, but what else can you do to combat rising drug prices?

You may have more control over what you pay for drugs than you think. According to a January 2016 article by Consumer Reports, prices from retailers, especially large retailers like chain drugstores and big-box stores, can vary greatly. Shop around because drug prices can cost as much as 10 times more from one retailer to the next. Also, don’t avoid independent drugstores—they may actually have more flexibility to beat their competitor’s prices.

Surprisingly, drug prices are negotiable, so ask for a lower price—even with generics. Check sites such as GoodRx.com to do some comparison shopping and to also find out the fair market price. The website also gives you information about coupons, discounts, and how to save money at nearby pharmacies.

Be sure to ask your doctor to help you find a lower-cost alternative and have he or she give you a prescription for a 90-day supply versus 30 days, which can save you money as well. A 90-day supply allows you to pay one copay for 90 days instead of one for every 30, plus it saves you extra trips to the pharmacy.

This next tip may sound counterintuitive, but may be worth checking out. You may not want to always use your insurance to pay for your prescription drugs; you may get a better price if you pay out of pocket and if you sign up for a pharmacy’s discount plan (but read the fine print to understand all terms and conditions).

Check online for lower prices—with caution. Be very careful about which online pharmacy you choose—there’s plenty of fraud out there. Only do business with online pharmacies that display the VIPPS symbol—that indicates it’s a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site. Remember, if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Some drug companies and foundations offer financial assistance programs. Check Needymeds.org, a national nonprofit information resource that can help you locate assistance programs so you can afford your medications and other healthcare costs.

To learn more about how to save money when buying prescription drugs and for resources for medication discounts, visit the State Board of Pharmacy’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.