First Charges Filed Under the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act
A St. Louis, Missouri based chiropractor has become the first person charged under the new COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, with the government alleging numerous civil violations and seeking civil monetary penalties. The allegations serve as a cautionary tale for healthcare providers marketing and selling goods and services relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act was enacted in December 2020 and makes it unlawful, for the duration of the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency, for any person, partnership, or corporation to engage in unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce that are associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID-19. The Act is similar to Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, but adds increased penalties for violations relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act authorizes injunctive relief and Civil Monetary Penalties of up to $42,792 per violation.
In this case, the first under the Act, the government alleged that the chiropractor and his company violated the Act by making claims about the efficacy of their products that were not supported by scientific literature. Specifically, that the chiropractor sold various vitamin supplements and claimed that they prevented or treated COVID-19. The government also alleged that the chiropractor claimed the vitamin supplements were more effective that the available COVID-19 vaccines. The government alleged that the chiropractor made these claims in numerous videos posted on various social media and other websites and misrepresented the results of studies concerning the efficacy of the vitamin supplements in treating or preventing COVID-19. According to the allegations, these claims constituted violations of the Act because, even though there are studies showing correlation between vitamin deficiencies and elevated risk from the virus, there are no randomized clinical trials that establish the vitamin supplements caused positive health outcomes in connection with COVID-19.
This case illustrates some of the pitfalls providers face doing business during the pandemic and the potential consequences. Providers should always be conscious of claims concerning the ability of their products to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, government scrutiny is increased regarding all aspects of the response to the pandemic by the healthcare industry.
For over 35 years, Wachler & Associates has represented healthcare providers and suppliers nationwide in a variety of health law matters, and our attorneys can assist providers and suppliers in understanding new developments in COVID-19 regulation. If you or your healthcare entity has any questions pertaining to healthcare compliance, please contact an experienced healthcare attorney at 248-544-0888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.