Right-wing physicians profit off of fake COVID-19 treatments, report finds

A person holds out a bag of money
Behind the vast operation is right-wing group America’s Frontline Doctors, which was founded last year and has been spreading misinformation about COVID-19. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

A network of right-wing health providers has profited at least $15 million off of tens of thousands of patients seeking consultations for and buying ineffective COVID-19 treatments including hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, The Intercept reported Tuesday.

The Intercept obtained the data from an anonymous hacker, who got the records from CadenceHealth.us and Ravkoo and said the sites were “hilariously easy” to hack. The data included records from 281,000 patients, some of whose files contained protected health information. Other data provided to The Intercept included records of 340,000 prescriptions. 

Behind the vast operation is right-wing group America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS), which was created last year and has been spreading misinformation about COVID-19. It refers its numerous followers to telemedicine service SpeakWithAnMD.com, which uses the Cadence Health platform and charges $90 per consultation, according to The Intercept. Patients must reportedly submit payment first and then wait for a phone call, which for many does not come.

Those who are able to speak with an “AFLDS-trained physician” then get prescribed the malaria and de-worming medications, both of which U.S. government agencies and the World Health Organization have said repeatedly not to use, as well as zinc or azithromycin, also shown to be ineffective. The prescriptions were reportedly delivered by Ravkoo, which works with local pharmacies.

According to the records obtained by The Intercept, 72,000 people paid for $90 phone consultations, many of whom also had follow-up appointments for $59.99. More than half of those who received consultations were women, while more than a third were men. Older patients were more likely than other age groups to engage.

Cadence Health said it shut its platform down after it was alerted to this news, The Intercept reported, effectively shuttering SpeakWithAnMD’s telemedicine platform. AFLDS’ founder was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct following her involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The group has continually argued against vaccines, mask mandates and restrictions on businesses as effective measures to stem the spread of COVID-19. The vast majority of deaths from the virus in the U.S. are preventable, according to health experts

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A researcher of online vaccine misinformation at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public told The Intercept that “misinformation can be really powerful to swindle people into buying products.” At least one of the prescribers knew the medications were highly not recommended by medical experts, and, starting last week the intake form for all patients required the same acknowledgment. 

Earlier this month, several major medical certifying entities announced that physicians risk losing their license if they spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Since then, it is not yet clear whether any doctor has been disciplined.