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House panel opens inquiry into online businesses over ‘questionable’ coronavirus treatments and misinformation

SpeakWithAnMD.com and America’s Frontline Doctors have prescribed thousands of doses of unauthorized coronavirus treatments, lawmakers say

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) chairs a House panel that has launched an inquiry of two companies it contends promotes ineffective and dangerous coronavirus treatments. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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A House panel is demanding documents from a pair of online businesses as part of an inquiry into whether they pushed what it calls ineffective and dangerous coronavirus treatments, according to letters made public Friday.

According to a letter signed by Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the telemedicine provider SpeakWithAnMD.com has collected millions of dollars in fees from prescribing such treatments as the animal parasite drug ivermectin and the malaria medication hydroxychloroquine for the coronavirus, even though neither is authorized for that use by the Food and Drug Administration. Clyburn said many of the consultations were arranged through referrals from America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLD), a separate business that is also a subject of the congressional investigation.

Clyburn said he is concerned that the two companies are endangering lives while profiting from a public health crisis.

“I am deeply concerned that SpeakWithAnMD.com is profiting from the provision of questionable treatments and dangerous prescriptions, which may be putting American lives at risk and setting back our nation’s efforts to end the pandemic,” Clyburn wrote to Jerome Corsi, the founder of SpeakWithAnMD.com.

David Gray, an attorney representing Jerome Corsi, said in a Monday, Nov. 1 response to Clyburn’s letter that his client is not the founder of SpeakWithAnMD.com and has never held any equity in it. He also defended the telemedicine business and said Jerome Corsi himself does not prescribe medication. Gray accused Clyburn of making “outrageous and slanderous accusations” against his client.

“A cursory review of SpeakWithAnMD.com’s website and marketing materials clearly show that this company does not prescribe any medication to any patient, but rather this company makes it easy for people to communicate with doctors quickly and efficiently without leaving their home,” Gray wrote, adding that “any doctor’s individualized treatment program of any individual person is highly protected information and Dr. Corsi is 1) not privy to any of it and 2) not in control of telling doctors how to treat patients.”

Corstet.com, a website for Jerome Corsi’s wife, describes SpeakWithAnMD.com as an independent business and marketing affiliate.

The committee requested detailed records from both SpeakWithAnMD.com and America’s Frontline Doctors, including ownership documents, any contracts between the two companies, revenue figures, the size of their workforces, the number of prescriptions they have issued for certain treatments, and details about their doctors’ training and qualifications.

The investigation represents the latest attempt by a government body to crack down on what it calls coronavirus misinformation, which has proliferated online since the pandemic began more than 18 months ago. Public health experts contend that unproven treatments are harmful because some people view them as viable alternatives to vaccines or medical treatment.

The Federal Trade Commission has sent hundreds of warning letters to other organizations for promoting a range of bogus coronavirus treatments. The agency has accused a number of organizations of false advertising and ordered them to stop. Under the FTC Act, false advertising is subject to fines of as much as $43,792 per violation, according to one of its letters.

The House committee has also asked the FTC to open an investigation into SpeakWithAnMD.com and America’s Frontline Doctors and “appropriately exercise its oversight authority.” In a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan, Clyburn said the companies “are reportedly profiting from the promotion and sale of treatments falsely advertised as cures for coronavirus infection.” He also said they might be in violation of the FTC Act, the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act and possibly other federal laws.

Neither company responded to emailed requests for comment on Friday. A spokesman for AFLD founder Simone Gold did not respond to a request for comment.

According to a report published in August by Time magazine, hundreds of AFLD customers have accused the company of promising prescriptions of ivermectin that were never delivered. Others described being charged exorbitant prices for the cheap medication or watching family members’ conditions worsen while waiting for a “wonder drug” they found online, according to Time.

Gold is a Los Angeles-based physician who was an early champion of the online movement behind hydroxychloroquine, which former president Donald Trump also promoted as a coronavirus treatment. She gained national attention last July when she and other physicians held a news conference to decry pandemic lockdowns and criticize the government’s efforts to fight the pandemic.

In an October 2020 interview with the film producer Del Bigtree, Gold said she has been fired from two hospital jobs over related issues. She said both dismissals were “all political” and had nothing to do with the drug itself.

The exact nature of the relationship between the two organizations is unclear. Corsi, a conservative author who founded SpeakWithAnMD.com, said in an October 2020 interview that he had set up a program allowing people to order hydroxychloroquine in states where it is legal to do so, after speaking with a licensed medical doctor.

“We designed it for states where, for instance, the state pharmacy board has told pharmacies not to fill prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine,” Corsi said, adding that prescribing it is “completely legal.”

Neena Satija contributed to this report.

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