By Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, DO, AOBNMM, ABIHM
Dear President Trump:
I am a big fan and worked diligently to support your election. Not only did I financially contribute to your campaign, we promoted your work and actively campaigned against your competitor. We grew my Facebook page to more than 200,000 followers, most of whom support your agenda to Make America Great Again, especially your willingness to question vaccine safety.
But to Make America Great Again, we have to Make America Healthy Again.
What is happening now – with the Repeal and Replace of the Affordable Healthcare Act – will not move the needle to help Americans be healthy, meaning to be robust, productive and active without swallowing a handful of daily pharmaceuticals.
Something has to change.
For all other industries—automotive, energy, financial—you met with the CEOs, industry leaders, and experts to listen to their suggestions on how to solve their industry’s problems. Before a new ACA Platform can be finalized, you need take on this behemoth medical delivery system. It is very complex to understand being outside looking in. After 32 years as a practicing physician, and about half of those years as the Director of an Emergency Department, I know first hand the problems of what we collectively refer to as Healthcare.
Mr. President, please consider these ideas. I am asking you to put them at the top of your priority list. Change the system for the betterment of all Americans:
1. Save Medicare by eliminating the billions lost through fraud.
In fiscal year 2015, Medicare paid out $568.9 billion for medical services. It is anticipated that total spending on Medicare will reach a staggering $1.1 trillion by 2024 – that’s only seven years away.
Between 2011 and 2015, Medicare spending on drugs was $537 billion – more than half a trillion dollars, to medicate our seniors. Are they better off taking all those drugs?
At CMS, there is a phenomenal amount of waste. CMS and the GAO estimate that in fiscal year 2014, $59.6 billion – nearly 10% of total payments – was paid in fraudulent Medicare claims and $17.5 billion in fraudulent Medicaid claims. That’s in ONE YEAR. We must plug that hole, Mr. President – fire those who are responsible for the lack of oversight. Investigate and shut down fraudulent accounts. Simplify and streamline the billing procedures for all participants. That would immediately put more than $77 billion back into the budget for REAL changes in health.
Medicare and the Vaccine Industry.
We not only over medicate our seniors, but we also over vaccinate them, at great personal and government cost. In that same five-year timespan, the US government paid drug companies and doctors $4,256,233,887 – $4.25 billion – to purchase and administer vaccines paid for by Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D.
The U.S. Government is the top purchaser of vaccines from the pharmaceutical industry. The government buys more than $1.4B worth of flu shots per year through Medicare Part B. An entire white paper can be written on the failure of the influenza vaccine to prevent the flu. But what is rarely discussed is the amount of actual harm and illness being inflicted on our elderly through this worthless vaccine. And when flu shot side effects occur, government expenses go up through outlays of through Medicare Part A and Part C. It’s a vicious cycle – and only Pharma wins.
Here’s one specific example: Zostavax. Commonly referred to as the shingles shot, this vaccine pulled in $749 million in global sales last year for Merck. Nearly 30% of those revenues ($219M) came from the coffers of the U.S. government through Medicare Part D. Quite a coup for a product that doesn’t work and when it causes harm, costs the government even more money.
Seniors are targeted to receive Zostavax and it is not a benign shot, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine:
Persons over 60 have a 36% increased incidence of serious adverse events within the first 42 days, a number determined by combining the data from FDA safety study with data from the Shingles Prevention Study. In persons over 80, the ability of the vaccine to prevent shingles, or its most serious complication, post-herpetic neuralgia, was no better than placebo. And seniors in this age group had nearly double the rate of serious adverse events in the first 42 days after the vaccination.
In fact, the Zostavax package insert gives further details:
The relative risk of dying from cardiovascular disease within 6 weeks of (ZOSTVAX) vaccination was actually 25% higher in the vaccinated group.
Does Zostavax save the healthcare system money?
The zoster shot has not lessened the burden of disease; in fact, it has significantly increased the cost of care. Prior to 1993, and during the first 5 years of using the chickenpox vaccine, the rate of hospitalizations due to shingles did not change. Beginning in 2001, hospitalizations began to increase, and by 2004 the overall rate of hospitalization was 2.5 cases of shingles per 10,000 U.S. population, significantly higher than any year prior to 2002. Hospital fees increased by more than $700 million annually by 2004; in particular, persons aged 60 years or older accounted for 74% of the total annual hospital charges in 2004.
Zostavax doesn’t work. It’s expensive. It causes harm – and adds more cost – to seniors. Currently, plaintiff attorneys are going after Merck for these travesties. Lawsuits have been filed in both state and federal courts in Pennsylvania, alleging that Zostavax has caused serious side effects, including death.
And Mr. President, flu shots and Zostavax are not the only vaccines costing the government big dollars. Treating millions of vaccine-induced side effects are staggering, no doubt in the hundreds of billions, maybe more. There is a relatively simple way to assess the high cost of vaccine injuries but no one in the government – not the CDC, FDA, CBER, HHS or even the GAO – has bothered to calculate the cost of adverse reactions. Hint: this can be done using the government’s own Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) database.
Are seniors better off from vaccination, Mr. President? Is the rest of the country?
It has become heresy to even discuss the necessity of all these vaccines, their side effects, and even their manufacturing foibles. Our public health policy must be more than high vaccination rates and low infection rates of a very short list of mostly benign infections. We have been sold a bill of goods about vaccine efficacy and the harm they are causing has been ignored.
Please fund and push forth the Independent Vaccine Safety Commission to be headed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. We need this, Mr. President, now more than ever.
2. Don’t expand the insurance industry. Completely overhaul it.
Mr. President, from the time Bill and Hillary Clinton first attempted to overhaul the healthcare industry in 1993, what needed the most attention – the most fixing – was the insurance industry. For example, if 20 people are sitting in a room and they all have insurance coverage through BlueCross/BlueShield, there can be 20 different plans. Each company has its own forms, its own criteria, with thousands of employees just to keep it straight.
Instead of expanding the bottom line of insurance companies by allowing them to market and sell their products across state lines, force them to work together to create products that help American people.The insurance system is broken and Americans are suffering because of it.Give people the option to be cared for by Integrative and Holistic health practitioners. People want to get off their drugs, but the insurance industry prohibits their options. Mr. President, instruct them to work out products that will provide coverage for health, not just for disease management.
3. Stop Feeding Pharma. Repeal 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 34)
The 21st Century Cures Act (Public Law No: 114-255), was pushed through by Congress, passing 94 to 5, and signed into law on December 13, 2016, one of 72 bills that were signed by the outgoing president over three days, from December 13 to 16, 2016.
H.R. 34 is a threat to public health and once again, allows the drug companies to gorge at the government money trough. How many times is Congress going to hand the liability-free vaccine industry another free pass to make unlimited profits by exploiting the American taxpayer funds on vaccines and experimental drugs?
The 996 page Act was promoted as a bill to fund medical research and to make new prescription drugs and medical devices more quickly available. Do we really need more drugs and medical devices? Aren’t Americans becoming less healthy by swallowing more pills, being injected with more solutions, and being tinkered with new devices?
Stop Wasting Money through Discretionary Spending
The billions allocated through the Congressional budgets that go directly or indirectly into Pharma’s pockets would shock most Americans. Check out a few of these line-items from the 2016 Department of HHS appropriations bill (pg. 185), one of many budgets funded by Congress each year:
- $15M – Lead poisoning prevention (isn’t lead out of most paints these days?)
- $20M – Oral health promotion (don’t most people already know the importance of brushing and flossing?)
- $3.1 – Folic acid (The connection with spina bifida prevention and folic acid has long been known. Don’t most supplements and food companies use folic acid in their products? Does folic acid need to be subsidized by the government?)
- $14M – Health Career Opportunity program (isn’t this addressed in high school and college?)
- $39.9M – Nursing Work Force Development (is this the responsibility of the federal government?)
- $59M – Rural Health Outreach (what the heck is that?)
This short list – 6 items of literally hundreds of items in the 2016 HHS budget adds up to $151,000,000 dollars. Please instruct your new director of HHS, Dr. Tom Price, to red-line the waste, line item by line item. Then you’ll have real money to spend on things that matter.
It’s a Big Swamp To Drain
Mr. President, the waste inside of Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies and congressional appropriations will continue to soar until deep areas of the Swamp are drained. This will be difficult to do unless you get the to the root of the problem: lobbying dollars that line the pockets of those in Congress.
The combined buying power the pharmaceutical and insurance industries have over our lawmakers is staggering. According to OpenSecrets.org, these two industries spent more than $2.6 billion and $1.8 billion respectively on lobbying activities from 1998 through 2012. That is more money spent on lobbying than oil/gas, defense and aerospace sectors combined. The manipulations and additional pork bloating to the cost of healthcare by these two industries have filled hundreds of pages, in many books.
Meaningful reform will only occur when powerful lobbying firms are neutered. When is something going to be done to handcuff the drug companies and keep them out of the pockets of our government and our citizens?
Mr. President, if these three items are seriously addressed – stopping Medicare and Medicaid fraud by eliminating theft and incompetence, working to create meaningful insurance industry reform and removing the pharmaceutical industry from the money trough – America will be well on its way to being great – and healthy – again.
Read Make America Great Again, part 2 here