The Rise and Fall of the People's Medical Society
and Charles Inlander

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

The People's Medical Society (PMS), headquartered in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was launched in 1983 with the announced intention of helping people become better medical consumers [1]. It was a brainchild of the late Robert Rodale, board chairman of Rodale Press and publisher of Prevention magazine. During 1982, he ran a series of editorials criticizing the medical establishment and promising "a grassroots campaign that will turn America's medical system on its head." In 1983, Rodale Press provided start-up funds and hired Charles K. Inlander as executive director. In 1986, Inlander assumed the title of president and Robert Rodale stopped serving as PMS's board chairman.

Over the years, PMS listed the following goals:

Although some of these goals sounded good, much of its advice was untrustworthy—so much so that Rodale Press terminated its affiliation in the late 1980s. PMS stopped functioning as a membership organization in 2002, but Inlander continued to garner publicity that suggested that the organization was still active [2].

Promotion of Unscientific Methods

PMS produced many books, booklets, reading lists, and other special reports. Some contain valuable information, but others promote unscientific methods and/or portray them as equivalent to scientific ones. For example:

Political Activities

During the 1980s, PMS encouraged its members to write to legislators or other officials. Some campaigns involved antiquackery legislation (opposed by PMS), funds for organic farming (favored), licensing of nutritionists (opposed), and food irradiation (opposed). In recent years I saw no letter-writing campaigns, but the dues renewal notice for 1999 stated:

PMS gives you a bigger stick. PMS goes to bat for its members and all health care consumers when government threatens to cut back on your medical care rights. We've appealed to Congress and congressional committees, to the Department of Health and Human Services, to the Food and Drug Administration, to the Environmental Protection Agency and to many other government bodies to protect your rights and your pocketbook.

Advisory Board Documents

In 1986, one of PMS's advisers became upset with some of Inlander's activities and sent me a set of the reports that the board had received during its first three years. In a letter accompanying the 2-inch-thick packet, the member stated that "the advisory committee is a farce and had never met."

The most interesting documents in the packet were written by Tom Belford, a communications consultant who later became PMS's treasurer. In 1985 memo, he recommended posturing PMS as "independent, feisty, willing and able to arouse a public outcry against the AMA" and what he called "its protection of incompetent, dangerous practitioners." He also recommended portraying the AMA as "a guild determined to protect its own, even in the face of incompetence and patient abuse" and recommended developing legislative proposals "so common-sensical that opposition is tantamount to foisting dangerous practitioners upon the public." There's no question that the AMA is interested in protecting its members in various ways, but I have seen no evidence that it supports incompetence and patient abuse.

The packet also contained a complete set of monthly reports that Inlander had sent to PMS's board of directors. The report I found most interesting was issued in July 1986. Inlander had attended a meeting of the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) at which representatives of over 100 "consumer and victims" groups discussed creating a network organization particularly aimed at "fighting ort reforms that were not in the best interest of consumers and victims rights." Following the meeting, Inlander said, a committee was formed to create a "People's Justice Alliance"—which he had offered to make a PMS project—and that he was elected chairperson. In August 1986 report, Inlander said that PMS had received a $5,000 grant in support of the project from the Civil Justice Trust, "a new foundation established by the American Trial Lawyers Association." In other words, ATLA had spawned an organization whose aims would include opposition to legislative attempts to stop the runaway cost of medical malpractice insurance with Inlander as its leader. A In 1993, a PMS report on the organization's history mentioned that 40 groups had joined the alliance, but I have not seen it mentioned anywhere else.

Thinking that this might be of interest to physicians, I reported this to Medical Economics magazine. During the interview that followed, Inlander learned that the reporter had a copy of the July board report. In the September report, Inlander warned the board to be careful about where they passed copies of his report—and he joked about Medical Economics and the AMA probably reading what he wrote. In October, however, he announced that PMS's board of directors had abolished the advisory board.

Phony Membership Numbers?

Publicity materials described PMS as "the largest consumer health organization in America" and stated that it was run "by the people" and "for the people." However, neither its officers nor its board members were elected, and its activities and policies appeared to be determined solely by Inlander. At various times, PMS publications and press reports stated that the group has 80,000 members, 120,000 members [2], 125,000 members, "150,000 supporters," and 125,000 "contributors and members." In 1992, when testifying against nutritionist licensing in Pennsylvania, Inlander told a legislative committee that since 1983, over 200,000 individuals had been members of his group. However, PMS's tax reports do not support such figures. In 1994, when I first noted the discrepancy, PMS's Federal Form 990 listed membership fees of $209,231. Since membership costs $20 per year, this translated to about 10,500 members. The group's Form 990s for 1995 through 2003 listed no membership dues income. However, a financial statement submitted with the California CT-2 form stated that membership fees were $148,664 for 1997 and $152,523 for 1998, which would translate to about 7,500 members.

Shrinking Support

PMS's publications described Charles Inlander as "America's leading health advocate," "America's foremost consumer health advocate," and the like. PMS itself now appears to be defunct. It hasn't published a new book since 1998; its Web site has not been updated for since November 2002; and, since 2000, its income from all sources has dropped sharply. Its Form 990 tax reports indicate the following:

Year Gifts, Grants,
Contributions
Publications Electronic Rights Total PMS Income Inlander's
Compensation
1994 349,520 1,200,701   1,750,598 128,633
1995 535,841     1,955,224  
1996 477,167     1,960,292  
1997 232,749 1,457,251   1,698,498  
1998 233,578 789,847   1,030,683 150,867
1999 180,179 391,557 293,972    866,562 137,793
2000   72,406   857,974   1,019,346 142,500
2001   86,753     70,253   65,500    234,975 110,618
2002   23,965     91,372   48,000    164,407  
2004   34,485          59,617  36,000
2004             14,509  

In 2006, a local newspaper noted that PMS stopped renewing memberships after 2001; closed its office in 2002; and no longer had members, employees, or an active board of directors [1]. Despite these facts, its Web site was still describing PMS as "the largest medical consumer advocacy organization in the United States." [3]

In 2010, the Internal Revenue Service revoked PMS's federal tax-exempt status for failing to file an annual information return or notice with the IRS for three consecutive years.

References

  1. Wlazelek A. Consumer group is down to its last man. The Morning Call, Aug 23, 2006.
  2. Patient safety: Little leaps. Healthleaders magazine, June 2003.
  3. About the society. People's Medical Society Web site, accessed Aug 23, 2006.

This article was revised on June 17, 2011.

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