Consumer Services Division

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday

703-222-8435
TTY 711

12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 433
Fairfax, VA 22030

Rebecca L. Makely,
Director

eNewsletter Winter 2020

consumer enewsletter

In this Issue:

Joining a Gym

It’s the New Year, and number one on a lot of people’s resolutions lists is getting fit. Whether it be a gym, fitness center, health spa, or sports club, memberships often mean signing a contract, and not every contract is the same. It is important to find out what you’re committing to before you sign the contract; especially since the Federal Trade Commission has reported issues with high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentations about facilities and services, broken cancellation policies, and lost membership fees when gyms go out of business or change names. So how do you protect yourself? Follow these simple steps to get informed:

  • Check out the facility: plan a visit at a time you would normally be using the gym to see how crowded it is, whether the facilities are clean and well maintained, and whether the equipment is in good shape.
  • Find out the number of members: many gyms set no membership limits so it might not be crowded when you visit, but it could be packed during peak hours or after a promotion that drives up memberships.
  • Inquire about classes: it’s important to find out if classes or other activities cost extra, or if they’re included with your membership fee. Maybe there are different levels of memberships such as basic to premium and you want to make sure you know which one will suit your needs best.
  • Look into their hours of operation: you may want to find out if they fit your schedule and alternate schedules. Some fitness centers actually restrict men’s and women’s days/hours and some may limit lower cost memberships that don’t include classes or personal training to certain times.
  • Research their instructors and trainers: some places hire trainers and instructors who have special qualifications. If you’re looking for a professional to help you, ask about their qualifications and how long they’ve been on the staff.
  • Ask for a free trial: some gyms offer free trials for potential new members, or maybe you know someone who already attends the gym who can give you a guest pass.

Important Items to Review in the Contract
When it comes to contracts, you want to make sure you know the basics. The Federal Trade Commission recommends taking the contract home and reading it carefully before you sign, even if the facility is offering special rates or incentives to join on the spot. Here’s what’s important in a contract:

  • Make certain all the salesperson’s promises are written into the contract, especially if you are getting a special rate or incentive. The contract may be a generic one and your deal needs to be written in.
  • Ask about a “cooling off period.” Some gyms allot a certain number of days for a member to cancel after signing the contract without any penalty or fee. That way if you joined on the spot because of the incentives or special rate and later discover you can’t afford it or it doesn’t fit your lifestyle, you can cancel without issue.
  • With that said, ask about the cancellation policy outside of the cooling off period. You want to find out how to cancel in general, due to an injury, or because of a relocation.
  • Finally, request a breakdown of the price. Seeing the weekly or daily figures of your membership will give you a better idea of what you will pay to use the facility. If you auto debit from a credit card, make sure this breakdown includes possible additional processing fees. In addition, if you signed up for an introductory rate, make sure you are informed of the increase in cost once the introductory period expires.
  • Making the choice to exercise and stay or get fit is always a great one, just make sure you’re an informed consumer while doing it!

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Generic and Low-Cost Prescriptions

It’s that time of year where everyone seems to be coming down with something. Several people will visit a doctor for relief and will be given a prescription. Prescriptions can be pricey, especially if you take several on a regular basis. Buying generic drugs is one way to save money. Generic drugs have the same active ingredients as the brand name drugs they’re based on, but according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they cost 20-70% less. If you want to make sure you’re getting generics when possible, talk to your doctor and pharmacist. You can ask your doctor to write a prescription allowing a generic drug product if they deem it appropriate. Here are a few questions about generic drugs:

Do all drugs have a generic version?

Not all of them, but a lot do. New drugs are protected by patents, so only the company that developed the drug can sell it. Patents generally last 17 years, giving companies that put a lot of money into developing and promoting a drug time to recoup those costs. Once the patent expires, other companies can get a generic version approved and start selling it.

How can I get generic drugs?

To find out if there’s a generic version of your prescription that will work, talk to your doctor or pharmacists. Each state has a law allowing pharmacist to substitute generic drugs for many brand-name products if your doctor doesn’t specify that the brand name drug is required.

Also centered around the prescription of drugs is low cost prescription alternatives. Some consumers will receive emails saying free or low-cost prescriptions are just a phone call or click away – these are scams. However, many prescription drug companies offer free or low-cost drugs for people who don’t have prescription drug coverage, can’t afford to pay for medication out of pocket, or have used their insurance’s annual allowance – but, the programs have qualification standards. Maybe your income and the cost of the prescriptions you need can affect whether you qualify. Information on these programs is free and publicly available from your physician and pharmacists.

For more information on generic drugs, visit the FDA website at www.fda.gov/drugs, or call the FDA’s toll-free hotline to answer questions about drug safety and efficacy: 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332). You can also look up information on specific generic and brand-name drugs on the Drugs and Supplements page at MedlinePlus.gov.

For more information on assistance programs for people who don’t have prescription drug coverage, visit www.pparx.org, a “one-stop” website sponsored by a drug company trade group, you can apply for free or low-cost prescription programs or medicines, or you can ask your health care provider to do it for you. A computer program determines whether there's a match for you among the various programs. Health care providers have to approve most applications for these assistance programs.

For more information on the federal government’s Medicare, visit medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE. You also can learn more about applying for help with Medicare prescription drug costs at ssa.gov/prescriptionhelp.

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Your Community, You're Connected-Replay Days, Videos on Demand, Archived Episodes

The most recent episode of Your Community, You’re Connected – Reasonable Rules and Compliance can be viewed 24/7 by Video on Demand and on Fairfax County Government Channel 16 on the following days and times:

  • Monday at 8 p.m.
  • Tuesday at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Friday at 8 p.m.
  • Saturday at 8:00 a.m.

If you are looking for previously recorded programs, please visit the Your Community, You’re Connected Archives.

Your Community, Your Connected is now available on Facebook Live!

LIKE the Fairfax County Consumer Affairs Branch Facebook page to view the most recent Facebook Live video of Your Community, You’re Connected. Do you want to receive notification of our next Facebook Live event and other educational opportunities? Volunteer leaders and members of homeowners’ and condominium associations can email ycyc@fairfaxcounty.gov to be added to the email subscriber list.

2020 General Assembly Session

The 2020 Virginia General Assembly Session convened on Wednesday, January 8, 2020. Citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia can take an active role in the legislative process. The Virginia General Assembly website offers online resources to keep the public informed. The Legislative Information System allows individuals to follow the status of bills. To receive email notifications about specific bills, sign up for the free Lobbyist-in-a-Box service, and track up to five bills without charge. Search for proposed bills specifically related to common interest communities, the Property Owners’ Association Act, or the Condominium Act. Volunteer leaders and members in common interest communities are encouraged to stay informed and engaged.

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Educational Opportunity: WMCCAI Conference and Expo Evolution 2020 - Focus on the Future-February 21-22, 2020

Attend the largest community association industry event in the Washington metro area hosted by the Washington Metropolitan Chapter Community Associations Institute (WMCCAI)! The 2020 WMCCAI Conference and Expo will feature pre-conference trainings on Friday, February 21, 2020. These sessions will be developed to provide senior level community association managers the higher-level education needed to continue their industry education and maintain professional certifications. As in the past, 15 education sessions will be offered to all conference attendees on Saturday, February 22. Join more than 2,000 community association professionals involved in your community to:

  • Learn tips and best practices to get more involved in your community
  • Network with other volunteer association leaders
  • Earn Continuing Education Credits
  • Visit with businesses and management companies that cater to your needs
  • Meet community association industry leaders

Looking for Homeowner and Condominium Resources?

Visit the Consumer Affairs Homeowners’ and Condominium Association Web site for resources such as education, publications, and laws related to living in and managing a common interest community. Feel free to contact the Homeowners’ and Condominium Association Liaison at 703-222-8435

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