National Consumers League

Policy Statements


COMMUNICATIONS -- Telecommunications

Telecommunications services are essential to the welfare of all consumers. Competition and advances in technology have changed the way people communicate, work and learn. Consumers now have a wide array of services and a growing number of providers. Basic telephone service is at the foundation of an ever-increasing market of new services and technologies. The Internet has also transformed the communications industry, offering information and communications services to consumers, especially those with broadband access to this technology.

While this evolving telecommunications market offers many benefits to consumers, it also raises increased concerns about universal service, costs, and service quality. The National Consumers League supports the following principles:

1. Competition in telecommunications markets should provide consumers with greater choice, better prices, and innovative services.

2. Universal service is of fundamental importance to consumers. Even in a competitive market, the goal of universal service must be maintained and expanded as new technologies are developed. Essential communications services should be affordable to all households.

3. Competition should result in the widespread availability of telecommunications services that enhance the lives of all consumers.

4. Service quality is of primary concern to all consumers: telecommunications providers should be committed to the delivery of high quality services. Consumers should have accurate information regarding the quality and reliability of their services.

5. With the growing trend toward convergence of communications services, consumers must still have the opportunity to pick and choose among providers and select and pay for only the services that best meet their individual needs.

6. A policy of open, non-discriminatory access to all communications networks is of critical importance and benefit to consumers.

7. As new technologies are developed, these services should be available to all consumers when technologically and economically feasible. There is a role for public policies to ensure that all consumers have equitable and affordable access to essential new communications technologies.

8.  Telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment must be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, if it is readily achievable for a manufacturer to make it so. NCL further encourages that all new and advanced services and equipment meet Section 255 requirements, whether by regulation or voluntary industry compliance.  

9.  Manufacturers should implement universal design of telecommunications services and equipment, and Federal and State governments should enforce all laws and regulations that would establish meaningful universal design standards for all existing and new, basic or advanced, telecommunications equipments or services.

10. Government agencies that have oversight concerning telecommunications issues should provide consumers with the opportunity to participate in agency proceedings and should reach out to NCL and other consumer organizations to solicit their input.

11. Government has an ongoing obligation to monitor actively the telecommunications industry and to intervene to protect the interests of consumers when appropriate both by establishing rules that limit the likelihood of consumer harm and assuring redress when harm occurs.  

12. Telecommunications companies should adhere to the practice of providing good wages, benefits, working conditions, respect for workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, and respect for all employees.

13. Competition should produce companies that meet consumer demand for good quality products and services and that provide prompt customer service by ensuring a sufficient number of adequately trained employees.

14. Concentrated corporate control of the media undermines diverse and high-quality provision of news and information to the public that is essential to our democracy. Such concentration should be limited in order to ensure media diversity, local identity, just and respectful employment practices and respect for workers’ rights, diverse media outlets, and editorial independence from business considerations.

The principles contained within the NCL policies on Consumer Protection, Mergers and Acquisitions, and Privacy are of great importance to consumers of telecommunications services and may overlap with some of the principles contained within this policy.  

––Adopted December 9, 2005



CONSUMER EDUCATION

Knowledgeable consumers can participate more fully and effectively in the marketplace.  The more consumers know about their rights and responsibilities as well as about the goods and services they buy, the better they are able to protect themselves, make sound purchasing decisions, and contribute to the economy.  In the process of developing educational information for consumers, industry and government become more conscious of consumer needs, concerns, and interests, which can stimulate economic growth and underscore the changes needed to better serve consumers. In essence, consumer education can be the catalyst for changing individual behavior, strengthening enforcement of laws and regulations, developing alternatives when marketplace practices cannot be readily changed (as in a regulated market), and increasing effective citizen participation in the marketplace.

In an age of rapidly advancing technology, consumer education takes on an even more important role than in the past.  The proliferation of new markets, products, and services through the internet and other technology, creates the potential for large gaps in consumer knowledge and understanding and thus for marketplace abuse of unwary consumers.  Also, the ever-increasing amount of marketing directed at young people and children make the start of consumer education at an early age critical.

Children in a school setting are increasingly targets of advertising and other forms of marketing included in educational materials and programs.  NCL opposes this type of marketing to children in schools. Any corporate informational materials or programs in schools should be objective and stripped of all sales messages that are designed to impact or have the effect of influencing the purchasing behavior of children or their parents.

The United States is blessed with a diverse population.  It is to the benefit of consumers and the marketplace alike that consumer education comprehend this diversity and be structured in such a way as to ensure the inclusion of all people.

In subscribing to the principles outlined above, NCL supports the following to enable consumers to function effectively in the marketplace:

1. That educational resources be devoted to developing consumer education programs for kindergarten through graduate school, training teachers, developing adult courses and continuing education programs, and supporting community-based consumer education;

2. That federal, state, and local governments set goals for educating consumers and commit resources to implementing those goals;

3. That all providers of goods and services furnish consumer information at the point of purchase in a form that will be most easily understood by consumers, including alternate languages where appropriate; and

4. That business and labor develop and support relevant consumer information and education programs.

––Adopted December 13, 2000



CONSUMER PROTECTION

NCL supports the following consumer protection principles:

1. Truth: Consumer protection laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels are needed to protect the public against fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation in the sale or advertisement of merchandise, including both goods and services, in the marketplace.

2. Choice: The marketplace should encourage competition to better ensure that consumers are offered choices in purchasing goods and services and that the prices for these goods and services are fair.

3. Safety: Goods and services sold to consumers should be safe, meet all legal requirements,
contain all necessary warnings required by law, and provide complete instructions for safe
usage. All warnings should be clear, bold, and conspicuous.

4. Fairness: The sale and advertisement of goods and services should be conducted in a fair manner free from confusion, false promises, or scare tactics.

  • NCL supports “cooling off” periods when goods and services are sold with extended periodic payments, sold in the home, or involve high financial risks.
  • Advertisements that offer goods and services at “sale” prices should be truthful and substantiated with accurate, timely, relative, and meaningful price comparisons.
  • "Bait and switch” sales tactics should be unlawful and strongly enforced.


5. Access and Service: Consumers should reasonably expect responsive and accurate customer service that permits them to talk to a customer service representative when necessary. When feasible, customer services should be provided in other languages.

  • Consumers should be provided with easy access to complain or inquire both at companies offering goods and services for sale and to agencies empowered to enforce consumer protection laws.
  • Consumer protection assistance agencies at the local, state, and federal levels should be established and funded to ensure easy access for all consumers.


6. Right to Redress: Consumers should have the right to redress when consumer laws have been violated in the sales or advertisement of merchandise, including goods and services. Redress should be timely and include a right to appeal.

7. Information: Consumers are entitled to complete and accurate information about the goods and services offered in the marketplace. These disclosures should be communicated in clear and easily understood terms.

  • Disclosures should be clearly visible or audible.
  • Consumers should have sufficient time to read and review all information provided before having to make a purchase decision.


8. Education: Consumers should have access to clear, consistent, and accurate education materials about the goods and services available to them; the laws surrounding the sale and advertisement of these goods and services; the steps for redress; and the risks, rights, usage, and maintenance of the goods or services.

  • Consumer education should be a part of the school curriculum at all levels of education and should be a function of all consumer protection agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • Individuals and businesses offering goods and services for sale to the public should support consumer education.


9. Legal Rights: Federal law should not preempt state law where state law provides greater consumer protections.

  • Strong laws and regulations are needed to protect consumers from telemarketing and internet fraud.
  • Strong laws and regulations are needed to protect consumers from fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation in the sale and advertisement of auto repair, auto sales and service, home repair, mail order sales, general merchandise advertising, prize and award offerings, furniture, financing, home sales, credit cards, and other areas that have been found to have a high frequency of abuse and violative behavior.


10. Enforcement: Consumers are entitled to strong and timely enforcement of federal, state, and local consumer protection laws and regulations. Adequate funding is imperative for effective enforcement and oversight.

  • Consumers should have the right to both private and class action under these laws. Consumer protection laws should provide for private rights of action that compel payment of all legal fees and triple damages if violations are found.


––Adopted December 13, 2000




CONSUMER REPRESENTATION

Consumer representation is an essential part of the democratic process.  In a democratic society, consumers have an inherent right to take part in decision-making that affects their health, safety, and welfare with respect to goods, services, and other economic activity.  The National Consumers League makes this basic assumption and supports efforts to assure that right to all consumers.

The principle applies equally to open markets, restricted markets, or publicly regulated markets.  The principle implies that consumers have access to information to enable them to deal effectively with providers of goods and services on the basis of accurate, full, and understandable information adequate to this purpose.  It requires similarly a recognized, legitimate and effective role for consumers in regulatory structures and processes and in the decision-making processes of federal, state, and local agencies engaged in the provision of goods
and services.

Toward this end, the NCL:

1. Supports adequate provision of consumer information and the inclusion of consumer representation in public and private regulatory and accreditation institutions, including professional and government licensing boards and certifying organizations;

2. Encourages corporations and trade associations to establish consumer affairs offices and independent consumer advisory panels representing diverse public interest organizations;

3. Supports the establishment of an independent federal consumer advocacy agency that reports directly to the President of the United States;

4. Supports the establishment and sufficient allocation of resources for consumer agencies and advocates at the state and local level; and

5. Supports public funding for public participation.

––Adopted October 6, 2000



ENERGY

Both the nation and its citizens benefit tremendously from energy sources that are safe and reliable, as well as a marketplace that assures affordable rates. Energy in its various forms is a basic necessity of modern day life and is a critical element of our national infrastructure. The availability of reliable, safe and affordable energy is a matter of the highest public interest. Therefore, as an industry infused with the national and public interest, those who own and operate electric, gas, and nuclear facilities as well as those who produce raw energy resources do so with a public trust and responsibility. It is essential that all levels of government, local, State and Federal, exercise appropriate oversight of the production, sale and distribution of energy to assure affordable, safe, environmentally sound and reliable energy sources for all consumers.

Therefore, public and consumer ownership of utilities, consumer representation on utility regulatory agencies (see Consumer Representation), privacy protections (see Privacy), and environmental protections are key to a successful energy market. The National Consumers League believes that the following principles provide a framework for effective consumer protection (see Consumer Protection; Mergers and Acquisitions):

1. Reliability and Safety

2. Cost

3. Environmental Concerns and Conservation

4. Consumer Protections and Safety Nets

 

Reliability and Safety

“Reliability” suggests that we can be secure in the knowledge that the systems are in place so that energy sources will always be available for the consumer’s use: when we flip a switch, the lights come on; when we turn on our stove, the burner ignites; when we need transportation, the motor has fuel.

As energy systems shift from a local and state base to become more regional and national in nature, the responsibility for reliability and safety may need to shift. To assure reliability and safety, NCL supports:

1. Clearly defining local, state, and federal roles and responsibilities to ensure reliability and safety, including oversight, approval, and dispute resolution powers as well as consumer protection and education;

2. Establishing joint industry, federal or regional oversight and enforcement for interstate reliability and safety as appropriate, which may include mandatory minimum quality of service standards;

3. Developing rules and standards with transmission providers, transmission users, consumers, and other interested parties

4. Diversifying the mix of energy sources so that dependency on any one source is reduced. This should include increased focus on renewable technology and sources of fuel in addition to realizing the full potential of traditional coal, oil, gas, and nuclear resources, but should not require mandated energy portfolio standards;

5. Maintaining reserves, including bio-based renewable reserves, to ensure availability of required energy resources;

6. Retaining qualified workers with skills and experience.


Cost

For the average consumer, “cost” equates to “price.” And the watchwords in pricing are affordability and predictability. Both can be affected by reliability issues — consumers know from past “energy crisis” experience that diminishing supply quickly affects cost, making cost both unpredictable and unaffordable. But cost and price also are affected by other issues. Unregulated markets, for instance, appear more vulnerable to cost fluctuations due to market abuses. Regulated markets may appear slow to respond to passing on cost savings to consumers. Therefore, both regulated and unregulated markets must be monitored for cost issues. Also, the manner in which a market is moved from being regulated to unregulated can affect costs, so these processes must be watched carefully as well. NCL supports measures to:

1. Create or strengthen state and federal programs that monitor for abuse in the energy markets resulting in predatory pricing. In the electric and natural gas markets this should include monitoring and enforcement action regarding such events as unauthorized service billing (cramming) or switching customers to another supplier without permission (slamming). It also should include some oversight or appeal authority regarding contract abuses between consumers and providers, providers and other providers, and providers and other contractors.  

2. Carefully consider cost effects of deregulating retail markets that presently are regulated. Many issues such as stranded costs, availability of suppliers other than the incumbent monopoly, and supply margins all impact the extent to which regulation or deregulation benefit consumers from a cost standpoint.

3. Develop standards and processes for government intervention when prices escalate out of control.

 

Environmental Concerns and Conservation

Some may argue that one “cost” of keeping prices low for consumers is to reduce efforts to produce energy while protecting the environment. NCL opposes such thinking as both shortsighted and harmful. We find consumers generally desire clean water, air, and land, and that they oppose the unnecessary harm of wildlife. We would argue that many environmental efforts,
such as conservation, have saved money for consumers. But even for those measures with some cost, consumers appear willing to pay for the long-term benefits that accrue in terms of health and quality of life. NCL supports both environmental protection and conservation through measures to:

1. Ensure enforcement of a strong Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act;

2. Increase financial support for programs to conserve energy and to increase
reliance on cleaner power sources;

3. Increase funding for research and development of alternative and renewable energy technologies, including: wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass fuels, geothermal, advanced fossil fuel, fuel cells, and electric or gas transportation;

4. Make appropriate changes to building codes and efficiency standards at the local, state and federal levels to incorporate existing methods and especially new technologies as they become available;

5. Provide incentives for the development of efficient transportation methods such as vehicle fuel efficiency, renewable bio-based fuel vehicles, and mass transit;

6. Educate and provide incentives for consumers and property owners to use mass transit and conserve energy.


Consumer and Worker Protections and Safety Nets

To an extent that is perhaps unsurpassed in any other market, broad safety nets must be in place for consumers to ensure their protection and their access to essential and sometimes lifesaving energy services. NCL supports:

1. Adhering to the principals of Universal Service — ensuring that basic energy service is available to everyone no matter what their economic circumstances or where they reside:

2. Ensuring consumers have true choice in competitive markets:

3. Ensuring easy access to assistance for low-income consumers and those with critical needs;

4. Ensuring the continuation of traditional consumer protections, including: disconnection polices, repair access, and avenues for redress (See Consumer Protection);

5. Developing processes for providing service when the consumer’s primary provider is unable to do so;

6. Giving consumers adequate information to identify and gain access to safety net protections;  

7. Providing adequate health and safety protections for energy sector workers;

8. When the workforce is reduced, retraining opportunities should be available to those who have lost their jobs (See Fair Labor).
––Adopted December 13, 2001  



FAIR LABOR STANDARDS

The National Consumer League believes that the consumer interest is best served when all have the opportunity to earn a living wage.  Opportunities for adequate levels of income for all should be pursued vigorously, including for youth, minorities, people with disabilities, women, and low-income workers.  Neither responsible consumers nor policymakers want lower prices at the cost of worker exploitation.

The National Consumers League urges:

1. Employment of all workers to the fullest extent possible; maximum employment goals should be integrated into basic national economic policy.

2. Coverage of all workers by minimum wage laws, with rates periodically reviewed and raised as productivity and living costs require. These laws must be monitored and vigorously enforced. The feasibility of moderate reductions in the work week, flextime, and part-time work with maintenance of wages and benefits should be examined, as a means of increasing worker productivity and health.  NCL does not support the use of a contingency workforce as a means to avoid providing benefits or paying an adequate wage.  Serious consideration should be given to substituting an automatic index based on average nonagricultural wage increases that would tie wages to an average rate.

3. Support of the right of all workers to form unions, collectively bargain, and be protected by public authorities from unfair disruptions in these pursuits.  First contract disputes of newly organized workers should receive mediation and arbitration.  Stronger penalties should be established for violation of employee rights when workers seek to form a union and during first contract negotiations. The role of the National Labor Relations Board, as guardian and arbitrator of fair labor-management practices, as well as that of state Public Employees Relations Boards and the National Mediation Board must be strengthened. Intrusion into the privacy of employees must be prohibited.

4. Accident prevention programs, safety training, and effective safeguards against toxic materials and hazards in order to maintain healthy conditions in the workplace should be updated and expanded on a regular basis.

5. Increased relevancy and accessibility of workforce and vocational rehabilitation training programs and career counseling, particularly for minorities, older workers, and women returning to the labor market.  The private as well as public sector should institute retraining to equip workers faced with changing technologies.  The federal employment service and other employment programs should be strengthened to encourage full employment and assure wide opportunities for training and for jobs.  Private employment agencies should be regulated to prevent abuses, excessive fees, or unethical practices.

6. Expansion of workers' compensation programs and unemployment insurance and enactment of federal minimum standards for these programs.   

7. Elimination of discrimination in hiring, promoting or firing, and strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

8. Effective enforcement of fair labor standards and worker protections at all levels of government in the U.S. and abroad, including compliance with international agreements, made possible by adequate staffing levels of compliance officers.

9. Equal fair labor standards protection and coverage at all levels of government for agricultural and non-agricultural workers.  

10. Child labor policies that protect children’s health, the quality of their lives, and their ability to produce effectively as adults.

11. Stronger protections in the U.S. and abroad safeguarding youth from excessive, inappropriate, and hazardous child labor.

12. Adoption of international conventions that promote fair labor standards and worker protections in the U.S. and abroad.

13. Family and medical leave policies that promote worker productivity and health.

14. Working to improve workplace accessibility so that all workers can contribute fully and equally with their colleagues.

––Adopted October 1, 2004




FINANCIAL SERVICES

The National Consumers League is committed to fair and equitable access to credit, banking services, investment opportunities and insurance for all consumers.  The financial services marketplace is confusing to many consumers.  Particularly in the area of investments, but as well in all financial services, NCL believes that companies offering these services have a responsibility to help consumers make fully informed decisions by providing accurate, complete and readily understandable information in both written and verbal communications.   

General Protections for Consumers of Financial Services and Products

1. Consumers must be protected against misleading, unfair or deceptive practices in the financial services industry.   

2. They must also be protected against invasions of privacy.  Privacy disclosures should explain in plain language the kinds of personal information that are collected for use in developing marketing profiles and how consumers may prevent that use (See the League’s privacy policies).

3. Financial services institutions, including those that offer credit, should be required to ensure that they offer products appropriate to the needs, credit worthiness and financial capacity of their customers.   Consumers should not be urged or induced to purchase products that would extend their obligations beyond their financial capacity.   

4. Discriminatory practices in the financial services industry must not be tolerated.

5. Consumers should be protected against exploitive sales tactics and excessive charges for services.

6. Financial services institutions should be required to provide training to employees so that they are able to provide accurate, complete, readable and understandable information to consumers

7. In general, financial services firms should provide consumers with clear, conspicuous, standardized and easy to understand disclosures in regard to:

a. Annually, the financial health of a financial institution;
b. Any state guarantee or other programs that protect consumers in case of     default; and
c. Consumer rights if a financial institution fails.   

8. Consumers of financial services and products should have access to the courts for redress, and should not be limited to mandatory arbitration.

9. Federal banking regulators should assess the activities of affiliates in banking, lending and investment activities in determining the compliance of banks with the Community Reinvestment Act.  These affiliates should be required to comply with state consumer protection laws.  The performance standards for CRA ratings should include incentives for increased prime lending.  

10. Consumers of financial services and products should have access to a toll-free number for obtaining readily available assistance for complaints, questions and concerns.   

11. Financial services companies must be required to provide, at no cost, paper billing and account statements unless a consumer affirmatively opts for electronic billing.

 

Insurance

1. Minimum standards for insurance company solvency should be established by the federal government.   

2. States should have full-time, independent insurance consumer advocates.

3. State insurance commissioners, key staff and contractors should be subject to strong conflict of interest prohibitions.

4. States should strengthen their oversight of the solvency of insurance companies and require sufficient funding to cover losses of the insured.

5. The scope and cost of insurance products must be disclosed. The disclosures should be in easy to understand language that will enable consumers to comparison shop for price and benefit coverage and limitations and exclusions.

6. Consumers should be given a minimum of thirty days advance notice of cancellation and non-renewal of policies. Liability policies should be cancelled only for good cause.   

7. Notification or warning of cancellation at a minimum of thirty days before cancellation occurs.   

8. Insurance eligibility or rates should not be determined by gender, race, national origin, religious affiliation or any other group characteristics. The prohibition against redlining should be vigorously enforced.

 

Banking and Credit

1. Banking services at a minimum should include:

a. Basic checking or savings;
b. Small minimum balances;
c. Fixed number of free transactions and reasonable charges for transactions in
excess of set number;
d. Monthly easy-to-understand statement with full detail of account activity;
e. Free teller service;
f. Protection against duplicative fees for use of ATM cards; and
g. Protection against point of sale charges for use of debit card.

2. Those who offer banking services should make them available to low income consumers.

3. Depository institutions should not charge their customers a fee for cashing government
checks.  Those without an account should be charged only a nominal amount.

4. Consumers must be ensured of access to credit on fair and reasonable terms.

5. Federal and state laws should be enforced and enhanced as necessary to ensure the protecting consumers against erroneous information and for providing greater consumer access to credit files.  Credit reports should be more user friendly.  

6. Consumers should have access to their credit scores and information about how they are determined.

7. Consumers should have access to their credit reports, with an annual report available from the three major credit-reporting agencies at no charge, upon request.

8. The interests of legitimate bankruptcy petitioners should be protected by federal law, especially for those with low incomes.  Retirement benefits and savings should be protected.

9. Consumers should be protected from abusive debt collection practices.  Federal and state regulators should have the resources to more strictly enforce the laws governing this industry. Penalties for violation of the law should be strengthened. The laws should also be expanded to allow for private rights of action against collectors.

10. Consumers should be protected against usurious interest charges and fees.

11. The use of the Rule of 78 for calculating refunds of prepaid interest and insurance charges should be prohibited.   

12.  Consumers should be protected against involuntary purchase of credit insurance and other credit protection products.   

13. The sale of credit and non-credit insurance products that are paid with a lump sum from proceeds of credit transaction should be prohibited.

14. Borrowers should be provided a reasonable notice prior to foreclosures.

15. Predatory lending abuses should be curbed.  Consumers should be protected against the practice of repeated, unnecessary and inappropriate refinancing of loans, commonly referred to as flipping, which is used not to address their financial needs but to extract additional costs and fees from them.  Unfair prepayment penalties should be prohibited.

16. Closing costs or other fees that are financed in the loan amount should be limited. Closing costs and fees should reflect the true expenses involved.

17. Banking and credit companies must disclose:   

a. All relevant fees and terms and conditions–both on invoices and all sales
documents–should be in plain language for checking, savings and money market accounts, and all other financial products;  
b. The availability of privacy policies;
c. Changes in the terms of financial service agreements, at least thirty days in advance of the change;  
d. The availability of credit reports, with an annual report from the three major
credit-reporting agencies at no charge, upon request;
e. The cost of refinancing loans as compared to financing a separate loan.
f. An explanation of credit insurance, whom it benefits and disclosure that purchase of credit insurance is strictly optional;   
g. Home loan disbursements and settlement statements at least three days before closing;
h. The period of time it will take to pay a balance due and the total amount, if a
consumer makes only the minimum payment due; and
i. The distinction between non-deposit products (e.g., stocks and mutual funds) that are not insured and the deposit products that are covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).



Investments

1. Plain-language disclosure about the disciplinary and other background of brokers and investment advisors should be readily available at no cost to enquiring consumers from government agencies (both state and federal) and self-regulatory organizations.

2. The federal and state governments should support investor education targeting consumers, with an emphasis on the young.   State securities agencies that impose fines and other penalties on investment law violators should be able to reserve and “dedicate” such funds for investor education purposes.

3. The risks and costs of investments must be communicated in plain language, omitting no material considerations.    

4. Investment products should be described in a standardized manner that supports comprehension and comparison.     

5. Compensation of broker-dealers must be disclosed. Account statements should also show the current value of investments, commissions at the time of each sale and the cost of fees.  Special incentives for brokers should be disclosed at the time of sale.  Conflicts of interest should be disclosed.   

6. Investors should have access to the courts to recover losses and damages due to malfeasance by financial services providers.

7. Standards for investment advisors should be strengthened, with federal requirements for training, testing and registration.  

8. For investment fraud and abuse, penalties should include civil and criminal sanctions.   

9. The SEC should adopt stronger regulations to prevent fraudulent, unfair or deceptive practices in the industry, to include accounting methods   Remedies should include financial recovery for consumers.

––Adopted December 12, 2006



FOOD

The National Consumers League is committed to a food policy that ensures a safe, nutritious, and abundant food supply.  The League believes consumers should have access to food at reasonable prices, and no person should go hungry or suffer malnutrition.  NCL supports a system for monitoring and improving the nutritional status of the United States, in particular
programs that aid low-income families and school children.

NCL is committed to a food production system in which the family farmer, rancher, and agricultural worker can earn a decent living.  Food and fiber policy should be tied to price and production.  We support a policy that provides an economic safety net for family farmers and ranchers.  

A safe food supply is an essential goal of the League’s food policy.  With numerous chemicals and other technologies (e.g., genetically modified organisms) introduced into our environment each year, many of them through food, consumers insist on high standards of protection from local, state, and federal regulatory and enforcement agencies.  NCL further:

1. Opposes actions that result in large price swings, both in the prices farmers receive and in the prices consumers pay.  A stable food price structure benefits farmers and consumers alike;

2. Supports efforts of the United States to keep grain reserves to avoid shortages caused by weather or natural disaster, and to address nutrition assistance programs and renewable energy development;

3. Supports cooperation between family farmers and consumers, who are natural allies.  Farmers and consumers must work together to develop alternatives, such as USDA oversight, to increasing concentration and industry alliances in the food processing, production, merchandizing, distributing, and retailing industries.  Concentration spells fewer markets for farmers and numerous foreclosures of efficient family farms.  Reduced competition means higher prices for consumers;

4. Supports enterprises that aid farmers and consumers, including direct farmer-to-consumer markets, as well as local and regional producer and consumer cooperatives;

5. Supports the development and promotion of adequate nutrition information for persons of all ages.  NCL encourages the food retailing and manufacturing industries to provide nutrition information to consumers that is accurate, understandable, and objective.  NCL urges continued efforts to establish such mandated information collection as a basis for
sound national policy;

6. Supports food labels that provide consumers with the information required to purchase products that will best meet their needs, including knowing the country of origin of the products they purchase.  NCL encourages the federal government and industry to make food labels more understandable and useful to consumers;

7. Encourages food producers and marketers to develop and promote products of sound nutritional value, especially when promoting products to children.  Advertising, especially when targeting children, should provide straight forward information about how a particular food product fulfills nutritional needs;

8. Supports a substantial voice for consumers in the allocation of public resources for use in research, including scientific research on nutrition;

9. Supports air and water use practices in agriculture that preserve rather than deplete or pollute natural resources; and

10. Supports continued government oversight and close inspection of all aspects of the food production process from farm to table.  This oversight should include performance standards for pathogens verified through the use of microbial testing.

––Adopted December 13, 2000


HEALTH CARE

Government at all levels must act to insure access to affordable quality health care for all citizens.  As a matter of public policy, the government’s role in health care must not be limited to the reimbursement of health care practitioners and facilities for the treatment of the diseased or injured.  Rather, government must assume its responsibility to further the total health of consumers, including the quality of their environment, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, their nutritional needs, occupational health and safety, and right to comprehensive preventive health care.  An increase in research on the causes of diseases, which eventually could lead to prevention, is critically needed.  While medical care itself is inevitably technical and therefore must be left to physicians and other qualified health care providers, it is important that consumers be genuine participants in their own care and have a significant role in shaping public policies which affect them and their families.

There is also a critical need for coordinated, pluralistic, and cost-effective health care delivery systems to deliver high-quality services that are accessible to all people without regard to age, sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, social or economic condition, or residence.  

Towards these ends, the League supports:

1. Primary care as the foundation of a system that provides consumers a full range of quality providers, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, nutritionists, and mental
health workers;

2. Attention to populations with special needs such as children, pregnant women, the poor, people with HIV and AIDS, the elderly, people with mental and physical disabilities, and non-English speakers;

3. Strong emphasis on the development of physician practice guidelines and nursing research based on health outcomes;  

4. A network of care available to persons living in underserved urban and rural areas to coordinate fragmented delivery systems, often complicated by inadequate communications and transportation; and development of more effective methods to correct the shortage of medical and health personnel in medically underserved areas–both rural and urban;

5. Long-term care integrated with acute health care services and available in the most appropriate setting;  

6. Progressive health care financing based on a uniform payment system with community rating. Deductibles, co-insurance, and co-payments are obstacles to full access to the health care system and should be eliminated or at least held to a minimum;

7. Specific published prices for health care services and the prohibition against providers requiring consumers to pay additional fees;

8. Consumer access to comprehensive and accurate information and education about the range and implications of available health care options;

9. Managed care organizations, including health maintenance organizations, as a choice for consumers with participation on a voluntary basis;

10. Requirement for a safe environment in workplaces, including the proper disposal of industrially related toxics and research on occupational health hazards.  Workplaces that are dangerous or expose employees to long-term health risks impose substantial burdens on the system;

11. The requirement that when new medical technologies are disseminated that there be adequate assessment of the effectiveness and requirements for training and teaching so that these technologies do not harm quality of medical care and possibly greatly add to the cost;

12. Careful monitoring and regulating of promotion and advertising of prescription drugs;

13. Consumers’ right to an appeals process to contest unfair administrative or medical decisions;

14. Unrestricted access of consumers to their medical records, and their right to correct inaccurate information and control dissemination of confidential information; and

15. Consumer representation in either an administrative, advisory, or advocacy capacity at every level and in every sector of health care.



In addition, NCL:

1. Endorses the concept of comprehensive health care as a universal right and joins with other groups in health coalitions to support a national health plan.  Proposals should include dental care, prescription drugs, psychiatric care, and long-term care to the extent that it is medically necessary;

2. Calls for health-care cost containment policies, both state and federal, as well as voluntary efforts to restrain health costs through broad community coalitions,
labor/management cooperation, and collective bargaining negotiations;

3. Opposes cuts in Medicare and Medicaid which are of vital importance to the elderly, disabled, and poor; and supports all efforts to make these programs more responsible to the health-care needs of these groups by expanding covered services, and, in Medicaid, expanding eligibility to all the poor and indigent;

4. Supports expanding Medicare services to include eyeglasses, hearing aids, foot care, preventive care, and long-term care in all appropriate settings, including home health care, assisted living, hospices, and intermediate and skilled nursing homes. Financial barriers to participation in Medicare, such as high deductibles, coinsurance, and premiums should be reduced or eliminated;

5. Calls for expanding Medicare to include a voluntary, comprehensive, affordable, and guaranteed prescription drug benefit available to all beneficiaries;

6. Expresses concern about the rapid takeover by giant, for-profit conglomerates of health care services of all kinds – hospitals, nursing homes, home health care, HMOs, managed care organizations, and other health care services – and calls for financial and other support for continuing, strong, and community-oriented non-profit health care institutions;

7. Urges, in response to the misdistribution of primary care physicians and other health personnel, substantially increased federal assistance to medical, public health, and allied health professional schools and to economically disadvantaged students, in order to encourage better distribution of health professionals to meet consumer demand; and

8. Believes health professionals should adhere to a high standard of ethical behavior.  This includes avoiding conflict of interest or undue influence by marketing appeals in decision-making.

––Adopted December 13, 2000



HEALTH INFORMATION PRIVACY

1. Right to Privacy -- An individual has a right to privacy with respect to individually identifiable health information. The individual should have the right to decide to whom, and under what circumstances, their individually identifiable health information will be disclosed.   

2. Informed Consent and Notice -- Health information that identifies a specific individual should not be disclosed without that individual’s explicit consent, unless authorized by law. Individuals should be notified about how their medical records are used and when their individually identifiable health information is disclosed to third parties.

  • Informed consent is a process, which ensures that patients understand a proposed treatment or procedure, and can intelligently share in responsible decision making. Implicit in this principle is the right of a patient to decline the proposed treatment or procedure. Included among the basic elements of informed consent must be a statement describing the extent to which the confidentiality of the patient’s medical records will be maintained. Use or disclosures without informed consent should be permitted only under exceptional circumstances; for example, if a person’s life is endangered, if there is a threat to the public health, or if there is a compelling law- enforcement need. Disclosure of individually identifiable health information to someone other than the patient or the caregiver solely for marketing or commercial purposes should never be permitted without informed consent.
  • Individuals should be given written, easy-to-understand notice of how information will be used, so that they can make informed, meaningful decisions about uses and disclosures of their health information.


3. Security Safeguards and Penalties -- Safeguards, including computerized “walls” and electronic audits, should be utilized to prevent the unauthorized release and possession of computerized medical information.   

  • The increased use of electronic health record data storage creates opportunities for greater protection of health information through a number of computer security methods, many of which already are utilized by other industries. Providers, health plans, and other users of health information should seek to incorporate electronic security measures, such as passwords, electronic audits, and encryption, to avoid unnecessary access and possible misuse of health information. There should be penalties for violation and private right of action for individuals harmed by a breech in the security of their health information. States should adopt common operating standards for data security and patient privacy protection, including clearly established penalties for violations not covered by HIPAA (such as identity theft), and an accountable means for monitoring, enforcement, and prosecution of violations.


4. Individual Right to Access–Health care consumers should have access to their medical record and the ability to propose corrections or amendments to the record.

  • In order to be an active participant in health care, consumers should be able to obtain, inspect, and, if necessary, offer corrections or amendments to their medical record. Erroneous information contained in the medical record can result in discrimination with respect to insurance and employment.
  • No personal health information should be available to a provider or health professional that is not also available to the patient (with exception for cases of danger to the patient).
  • Unreasonable or unaffordable fees should not impair the ability of each person to access, review or supplement their personal health information.
  • People must be able to receive complete paper copies of any of their information.
  • Right to Private Action -- For violations of the right to privacy and security of health information, consumers should have a right to private action.


6. Research Access -- Certain needs for health information, such as research and public health interests, should be recognized and met to the extent possible through access to unidentifiable data. Access to identifiable health data for properly constituted institutional review board (IRB)-approved studies should be available, when necessary.

  • Research that will improve the health and reduce health risks of all Americans should be supported. In certain research settings, medical information should be made available to researchers without prior written authorization, under certain conditions. Such conditions should include a determination by a properly constituted IRB that the research involves minimal risks to participants, the absence of consent would not adversely affect the rights or welfare of participants, the research could not practicably be carried out if consent were required.
  • Researchers should be responsible for removing the personal identifiers and for providing the IRB with assurances that the information will be protected from improper use and unauthorized additional disclosures. In a GAO report published in February 1999 (GAO/HEHS-99-55, Medical Records Privacy), it was stated “IRB review does not ensure the confidentiality of medical information used in research because the provisions of the Common Rule related to confidentiality have limitations.” It is suggested in the report that organizational policies be in place, which restrict access to personally identifiable information to authorized individuals, and that organizations impose data security safeguards and encryption policies to ensure confidentiality.


7. Education–The public and users of health information should be educated about the need to maintain the confidentiality of medical record information (See NCL Consumer Education policy).

  • As overwhelming opportunities exist for the public, health professionals, clinicians, insurers, employers, and other users of health information to access private medical records, it is important that there be a national, systemic approach to educating these users about the importance of protecting medical records.


8. Consumer Information Programs–NCL supports pharmaceutical care and pharmacy programs, which provide useful information to consumers about their prescription drugs; however, health information privacy must be protected (See NCL Consumer Education policy). Inappropriate or suboptimal uses of prescription medicines result in needless deaths and suffering, as well as billions of dollars of added hospitalization costs and loss of productivity. Armed with greater and better knowledge about the medicines they take, consumers will be empowered to make more informed decisions about their health and health care. NCL strongly supports programs to provide consumers with truthful and
accurate information on prescription drugs. NCL participated in developing and supports HHS’s “MedGuide Action Plan,” which calls for uniformly structured, “consumer friendly” information about the risks and uses of a prescription drug, to be provided to the patient by the pharmacist, at the time a drug is dispensed.

  • NCL has also actively supported the concept of pharmaceutical care and pharmacy programs which provide information about appropriate medication regimes, self-monitoring and self-reporting, refill reminders, disease state information programs, and drug therapy education, including information about alternative therapies to help the consumer understand treatment and to assure better health.
  • Any consumer information programs should provide the consumer, at the outset, with a complete description of the program, its potential benefits, and an explanation of how the program works. If possible, this information should be provided by the physician or other health care provider. At a minimum, this information should be provided by the pharmacist before the patient becomes involved in the program. Pharmacies, to the best of their knowledge, should fully inform consumers about the intended use of any confidential health care information in pharmacy records at the time they receive their prescription. Participation in these programs should be entirely voluntary, and consumers should have easy-to-exercise options to withdraw from any information program at any time.


––Adopted December 9, 2005




HOUSING

The National Consumers League believes that all Americans have a right to a home that meets the needs of it residents in a suitable living environment. Government bears the responsibility to assure that no one is forced to live in housing that is unsafe, dilapidated, lacks basic facilities, or costs so much that other necessities must be sacrificed.   

Throughout the United States, low and moderate-income families are being forced to spend an increasing share of their incomes on housing. To access affordable housing, some families must live further from quality jobs, marketplaces, public transportation, and community services. Thus they are spending more on transportation costs in traveling to work. Lower income residents in some urban areas are being displaced by the more affluent, due to the development of more expensive housing and amenities. As a result, the availability of affordable and appropriate housing is diminished, as well as the capacity of the community to continue to meet the needs of those with lower incomes.

For most consumers, purchase of a home is their greatest expenditure.  Consumers who contract for mortgages and loans based on equity in a home must have fair and equitable access to credit, and be protected against fraud, usury, unnecessary foreclosure, flipping of loans and other practices that harm homeowners.  Disclosure of terms and conditions must be in plain
English (See NCL Financial Services policy).

Each housing market is unique, with many factors determining the policies and actions that will enable a community to meet the housing needs of its residents.  Housing policies should be flexible at the national, state and local levels to best address local housing needs.  Effective policies will be targeted to both people and places and provide assistance to renters as well as homeowners.

The needs of those who are homeless, living in substandard housing or with very low incomes should be the first priority of national, state and local housing policies. Policies designed to assist moderate-income households should not come at the expense of those in the most need.  These policies should directly subsidize housing costs while encouraging work, allowing wealth accumulation, and strengthening families.   

NCL asserts policies directed towards places should promote balanced metropolitan growth with racially and economically diverse residential neighborhoods.  Policies should encourage the production and preservation of low-cost housing units with access to quality schools, recreational facilities, jobs, and transportation.  In particular, production subsidies should be targeted towards special populations, such as the elderly, handicapped, and homeless
individuals.  Regional planning should include inclusionary zoning of low-cost units, open space, centralized community services, and environmental conservation.  

––Adopted October 6, 2006




IMMIGRATION

NCL supports a principled, comprehensive immigration reform that treats all immigrants with respect and dignity, no matter their legal status in the United States.  NCL’s policy is below:

  • Renews our commitment to citizenship that fully integrates undocumented immigrants into our way of life,  affirming our shared rights, protections and responsibilities  by providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans.
  • Protects the sanctity of family by reducing the backlogs and keeping spouses, parents and children together.
  • Attracts the best and brightest skilled professionals to strengthen our economy,  create jobs, and build on the success of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and incorporates DREAMers,  young immigrants who are Americans but for a piece of paper, into mainstream life through a path to citizenship so that America benefits from their scholastic achievements and military service.
  • Ensures smart and effective enforcement that protects our borders, fosters commerce, and promotes the safe and legitimate movement of people and goods at our ports of entry.
  • Ends the exploitation of U.S. and immigrant workers by providing safe and legal avenues for foreign workers to fill legitimate workforce needs, and establishes a workable employment verification system that prevents unlawful employment.

NCL supports comprehensive immigration reform that reflects both the League’s  history and legacy  in support of workers and consumers, and our interest and values as Americans,  and is consistent with our nation’s commitment to fairness and equality.


MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS

In assessing the impact of mergers and acquisitions, the National Consumers League will consider the short-term and long-term implications based on whether they will:

1. Enhance competition in the relevant markets;

2. Avoid anticompetitive concentration in violation of federal law;

3. Offer consumers more choices and better products or services;

4. Have a beneficial impact on consumer prices for products or services;

5. Include a commitment to universal access, design and service to accommodate all consumers, regardless of geographic location, disability, race, income or other potential barriers;

6. Provide equity in pricing and choice for consumers without discrimination;

7. Incorporate the best practices in marketing, dispute resolution and other consumer protection measures;

8. Meet consumer demand for good quality products and services and provide prompt customer service by ensuring a sufficient number of adequately trained employees;

9. Cause no diminution of current wage levels in the industry and ensure good wages, benefits and working conditions for all employees;

10. Have a beneficial impact on the quality and quantity of jobs of affected employees.

––Adopted February 9, 2000



PHARMACEUTICALS

In order to achieve better health for all consumers, it is important that all consumers have access to affordable pharmaceuticals that are safe and effective.  Restrictions should not be placed on drug research so long as consumers are not exposed to drugs of questionable safety and efficacy. We recognize that drugs have both risks and benefits; only by easy access to complete information can consumers make rational decisions regarding prescription drugs and informed choices on over-the-counter drugs.  Consumers should have access to the price of pharmaceuticals.

We deplore the over- and under-medication of consumers, especially those in institutional situations.  Our goal is to assure the appropriate use of drugs and to educate consumers so that they are able to make informed decisions in the marketplace.

Toward that goal, NCL recommends that:

1. Drugs with chemically identical active ingredients be marketed under generic labeling with assurance by the Food and Drug Administration that they are also therapeutically equivalent and may therefore be used interchangeably.  Pharmacists should be able to dispense through appropriate channels, including regulated mail order and the Internet, a lower-priced generic equivalent for prescribed drugs where available and appropriate;

2. Vigorous regulatory action be undertaken on advertising drugs to eliminate deceptive and misleading efficacy claims.  Advertising and promotional materials should provide a fair balance of risk and benefit and independent resources for the consumer to obtain information about the product.  Such information should be in consumer-friendly language;

3. Written information that is understandable to the consumer be provided to consumers when they receive a prescription along with the offer to counsel by a pharmacist.  Such information should include use, directions, precautions and side effects, as well as indication of any possible hazards of mixing the prescribed medication with other drugs, food, dietary supplements, or alcohol.  Statements should include a list of inactive ingredients and the generic name of the drug;

4. Research be conducted on dietary supplements regarding their safety and efficacy;

5. FDA should be adequately funded to properly perform its public health and safety functions.  Resources should be available for post-market surveillance as well as pre-market approval of pharmaceuticals;

6. Post-market surveillance of drugs be carried on for as many years as needed, provided that such surveillance is not substituted by drug companies for pre-market testing, and provided that such surveillance is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of the drugs;

7. Payment of reasonable expenses to experts willing to represent public interest while studying and analyzing drug information or speaking on behalf of drug consumers be provided;

8. No drugs be permitted for export unless approved for use in the United States;

9. All adverse reaction data available to a drug company (including foreign adverse reaction data) continue to be required by the Food and Drug Administration when the company applies for a new drug application and thereafter, as long as the company’s drug is produced and marketed; and

10. Prescriptions for medications be typewritten or printed by computer on forms in order to reduce errors in dispensing.

––Adopted December 13, 2000




PRESCRIPTION DRUG IMPORTATION


The National Consumers League believes that all Americans should have access to safe, effective, and affordable prescription medications.  Re-importation of prescription drugs–while not a long-term policy solution–may represent a step in this direction so long as it is done in a way that does not create a two-tiered drug system where imports are not as safe and effective as those made domestically.

To this end, NCL supports an importation program that guarantees the FDA an
appropriate level of funding to research and implement a comprehensive drug tracking, monitoring, and surveillance system for all prescription medications.  Under this system, only those drugs manufactured in FDA-inspected facilities – and certified by the FDA as safe and effective for American consumers – could be imported from other countries.

Two additional measures that would facilitate the development of such a system include:

1. Adoption of available technologies to improve tracking processes, especially to address the issue of counterfeit drugs, and  

2. Establishment of uniform drug nomenclature, dosage and labeling for drugs that are currently marketed in multiple countries.

––Adopted November 5, 2004




PRIVACY

Privacy is a fundamental human right. As new technologies, products, and services are introduced into the marketplace and workplace, it is increasingly important to consider the privacy implications on consumers and workers. Government must be vigilant in assuring consumers and workers that their personal privacy is protected. The National Consumers League
believes that:

1. Government at all levels must address the need for a legal framework for basic privacy protection where self-regulatory measures alone are not sufficient;

2. There must be legal requirements to protect particularly sensitive personal information, as well as exceptions for national security, law enforcement or other very narrow circumstances;

3. The right to privacy must be guaranteed in the marketplace, the workplace, and in government;

4. Personal information about individuals should only be collected where appropriate and by fair and lawful means;

5. The collection of personal information, the purpose of such collection, and the uses of that information should be disclosed to the individuals about whom it pertains;

6. Individuals should be able to control whether and how their personal information may be used for purposes other than those for which it was originally obtained and collected;

7. Individuals should have full access to the information that has been collected about them and be able to correct or remove any information that is not accurate, relevant or complete;

8. Those who hold personal information about individuals must develop mechanisms that provide consumers and workers control over how that information is used;

9. Those who hold personal information about individuals must secure it from unauthorized access, disclosure or use, and from loss, destruction or tampering;

10. Individuals must have private rights of action to hold entities accountable for breaches of their privacy; and

11. Public education about the collection and use of personal information and how to assert control over its collection and use is critical in order for individuals to make informed decisions as they participate in the marketplace and workplace.

––Adopted October 6, 2000




SAFETY AND PERFORMANCE STANDARDS FOR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

The development of sound, adequate safety and performance standards for consumer products and services helps assure the physical and economic welfare of consumers.  NCL has pioneered, and continues to participate in, developing effective methods to assure a competent consumer contribution in the development of product and service standards.  These methods should be applied in the development of both mandatory and voluntary standards.  A major priority of NCL is to assure that all groups developing product standards include adequate consumer representation in their development.  The National Consumers League:

1. Supports strong and effective government regulatory and enforcement agencies to assure safety of services and products used by consumers and the environment in which they are used;

2. Supports both public and private standards activities that are directed at better informing consumers of product and service performance characteristics;

3. Encourages the federal government to take appropriate actions to assure that the voluntary standards community include adequate financing of, and meaningful consumer participation in, standards-setting activities, and to assure due process in setting of standards;

4. Supports interagency and international efforts to establish relevant, forceful, and far-reaching standards;

5. Believes that corporations have a responsibility to assure that safety and universal design be built into product and service design.  We support and urge continuation of objective product testing, such as Consumers Union conducts;

6. Supports consumer education and information to teach safe behavior but recognizes that consumer education is never an acceptable substitute for quality safety standards and careful design and production;

7. Urges that diligent enforcement of safety standards be carried out by private as well as public groups; and

8. Encourages prompt gathering of injury data by the public and private sectors in order to identify trends, inform consumers, and take appropriate actions to address safety concerns.

––Adopted December 13, 2000