Perhaps the only thing Americans agree on when it comes to health care today is that something’s gotta give. Electronic records are a nightmare for many doctors, and patients hate fighting with insurers as much as doctors do. It’s natural to want to just nuke it all. AAPS presents an extreme vision of that: What would happen if the government didn’t make doctors do, well, anything? I’ve met with some doctors who see anti-vaccine patients and who also don’t accept insurance, and I was taken by how free, self-actualized, and otherwise perky they were. Many doctors might readily swap an overcrowded primary-care practice for a concierge gig like that.
AAPS seems to have pushed this vision of the unfettered doctor too far, though. Over time, it has taken a puzzling turn toward unconventional medical views, as exemplified by its legal tangle with Schiff. To Orient, the government should not even dictate essential medications that protect public health. Asked whether vaccines increase the risk of autism, she said, “I think that the definitive research has not been done.” (The overwhelming scientific consensus is that vaccines do not cause autism.)
In 2015, after measles broke out at Disneyland, AAPS put out a press release questioning the safety of vaccines. The group has suggested that women who have abortions are at a higher risk of breast cancer, though mainstream scientists say this is false. In 2008, an article on AAPS’s website suggested that President Barack Obama was covertly hypnotizing people with his speeches, and that this might explain why Jews voted for him. AAPS’s journal, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, has published articles raising doubts that HIV causes AIDS and questioning the wisdom of urging people to quit smoking, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.
Orient told me that the articles in the group’s journal don’t necessarily represent the official policy of AAPS. She called the story from the Louisville Courier Journal a “hit piece,” saying that the smoking article was arguing simply that “constantly telling [people] that nicotine is addictive might give them an excuse not to try” to quit. Regarding the abortion–breast cancer link, she said in an email that “there is a large and growing number of articles supporting this, although ‘mainstream’ American researchers deny it and focus on a small number of articles with negative findings.” She denied the suggestion about Jews and said that the entire AAPS article was referencing an article from another source.
Orient disagrees with the premise of this article, too. She said that AAPS cares most about patients, not doctors. Rather than being backwards-looking, she said, the group is “looking forward to a future in which there’s more innovation and more freedom, instead of one in which there’s tighter government control.” With such freedom, Orient told me, “we could have a thriving, innovative, friendly medical practice where when you call the doctor’s office on the phone, instead of saying, ‘What insurance do you have?’ the doctor’s office will say, ‘How can we help you?’”