Reports

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Health Care

Paying the Price

Millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans struggle to afford the medicines they need, even forgoing medically necessary drugs when prices are out of reach. When discussing the high cost of prescription drugs, politicians often focus on the financial burden carried by senior citizens. Unfortunately, as this report shows, high prescription drug prices are a problem for Americans of all ages, particularly for the uninsured.

Today, nearly 46 million Americans under the age of 65 lack health insurance, and millions more with insurance lack prescription drug coverage. Young adults from 19 to 34 years old are the fastest growing group of uninsured, accounting for 40 percent of the total.

At the same time, prescription drug prices are skyrocketing in the United States, rising much faster than the rate of inflation. In 2005, Americans spent $252 billion on prescription drugs.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Health Care

Turning Medicine Into Snake Oil

False and misleading prescription drug advertising is common and dangerous. Prescription drug marketers are inundating doctors, and to a lesser extent, the public, with marketing that misrepresents risks, promotes unproven uses, and makes unsubstantiated claims. The false and misleading messages are communicated through conventional advertising, sales representatives, doctors speaking on behalf of drug marketers, and through clinical trial suppression, manipulation and misrepresentation. Sadly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ineffective at addressing the problems. This report takes a comprehensive look at all of these facets of the prescription drug marketing problem and suggests effective solutions.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland

Toys are safer than ever before, thanks to decades of work by product safety advocates and parents and the leadership of Congress, state legislatures and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Nevertheless, as parents venture into crowded malls and browse for the perfect toy on the Internet this holiday season, they should remain vigilant about often hidden hazards posed by toys on store shelves.

The 2005 Trouble in Toyland report is the 20th annual Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) survey of toy safety. This report provides safety guidelines for parents when purchasing toys for small children and provides examples of toys currently on store shelves that may pose potential safety hazards.

PIRG’s research focused on four categories of toys: toys that may pose choking hazards, toys that may pose strangulation hazards, toys that are excessively loud, and toys that contain potentially toxic chemicals. PIRG researchers visited numerous toy stores and other retailers to find potentially dangerous toys and identify trends in toy safety.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Right Start

A child’s first few years are an exciting time for parents who hope, if for nothing else, that their child starts his or her life happy and healthy. 

Unfortunately, not all products marketed for children and babies are completely safe for their use. Many contain toxic chemicals that may have detrimental health impacts for children exposed during critical stages of development.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Mistakes Do Happen

The most valuable thing we have is our good name. The most common reflection of our reputation as a trustworthy consumer is our credit report. Unfortunately, the information contained in our credit reports, which are bought and sold daily to nearly anyone who requests and pays for them, does not always tell a true story.

Credit bureaus collect and compile information about consumer creditworthiness from banks and other creditors and from public record sources such as lawsuits, bankruptcy filings, tax liens and legal judgments. The three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union— maintain files on nearly 90 percent of all American adults.[1] Those files are routinely sold to credit grantors, landlords, employers, insurance companies, and many others interested in the credit record of a consumer, often without the consumer's knowledge or permission.

Several studies since the early 1990s have documented sloppy credit bureau practices that lead to mistakes on credit reports—for which consumers pay the price. Consumers with serious errors in their credit reports can be denied credit, home loans, apartment rentals, auto insurance, or even medical coverage and the right to open a bank account or use a debit card. Consumers with serious errors in their reports who do obtain credit or a loan may have to pay higher interest rates because the mistakes falsely place them in the sub-prime, high-cost lending pool.

We asked adults in 30 states to order their credit reports and complete a survey on the reports’ accuracy. Key findings include:

- Twenty-five percent (25%) of the credit reports surveyed contained serious errors that could result in the denial of credit, such as false delinquencies or accounts that did not belong to the consumer;

- Fifty-four percent (54%) of the credit reports contained personal demographic information that was misspelled, long-outdated, belonged to a stranger, or was otherwise incorrect;

- Twenty-two percent (22%) of the credit reports listed the same mortgage or loan twice;

- Almost eight percent (8%) of the credit reports were missing major credit, loan, mortgage, or other consumer accounts that demonstrate the creditworthiness of the consumer;

- Thirty percent (30%) of the credit reports contained credit accounts that had been closed by the consumer but remained listed as open;

- Altogether, 79% of the credit reports surveyed contained either serious errors or other mistakes of some kind.

States have long taken the lead in protecting consumers’ privacy and ensuring the accuracy of credit reports. In 1992, Vermont was the first state to pass a law providing a free annual credit report on request, followed by Colorado, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. California adopted other comprehensive reforms in 1994 and later became the first state to require disclosure of credit scores.

Congress eventually followed the states’ lead, adopting some credit reporting reforms in 1996 and criminalizing identity theft in 1998. In December 2003, Congress passed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act). With the FACT Act, the financial industry won its primary goal: permanent preemption of stronger state credit and privacy laws. The FACT Act also included several modest consumer reforms, borrowing from state laws already enacted, including the right to a free annual credit report on request. Although these consumer reforms came at the unacceptable price of a state’s right to protect its consumers, the law includes a number of provisions designed to enhance the accuracy of credit reports.

Despite recent federal action, we need to do more to protect consumers’ financial privacy and ensure the accuracy of credit reports. Policymakers should:

- Strengthen a consumer’s private right of action to seek redress through the courts when a credit bureau or a creditor fails to protect personal information or comply with an investigation.

- Limit or prohibit the use of a consumer’s Social Security number for transactions, credit applications, or on drivers’ licenses and other identification.

- Give consumers more control over who has access to their credit reports and when, better information about when their reports are accessed or when negative information is added to their reports, and the right to control the use of credit scores for insurance purposes.

- Give identity theft victims more power to easily clear their names.

Consumers should:

- Order their credit report every year from the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) to identify and correct inaccurate information before it causes problems.

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