Are Doctors Profiting by Reporting That ‘Everybody Dies of COVID’?

Hospitals do get a premium for treating COVID patients but there is no evidence deaths are being inflated.

At a campaign rally in Waterford Township, Michigan, on October 30, Trump claimed that doctors were profiting from COVID-19 deaths, saying the following:

Our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID. You know that, right? I mean, our doctors, they’re very smart people. So what they do is they say, I’m sorry, but everybody dies of COVID.”

It’s hard to know the source for the president’s claim. There is no evidence that “doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID” or that doctors are saying “everybody dies of COVID.” Through the CARES Act, which passed with bipartisan support in late March and was signed by President Trump, hospitals get a 20 percent premium or add-on to treat Medicare patients admitted with COVID-19. However, there has been no evidence to suggest that this has caused fraudulent COVID-19 death reports. 

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb discussed Trump’s allegation in an interview Sunday on Face the Nation. Gottlieb explained that the CARES Act provides 20 percent more money to hospitals treating coronavirus patients because it’s expensive to treat these patients. He also explained the circumstances under which hospitals could claim that extra money.

The CARES Act, which the president signed, provides for additional money, about 20 percent more money for a COVID-pneumonia case than a regular pneumonia case.  …  But you have to have COVID and you have to have pneumonia and it has to be documented. Any doctor that would be documenting COVID-pneumonia in a case where the patient doesn’t have pneumonia, that’s fraud. 

The medical community quickly responded to Trump’s claims as well.

On October 25, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) released a statement in response to Trump’s claims about miscounting deaths and financial gain from COVID-19 deaths: 

“To imply that emergency physicians would inflate the number of deaths from this pandemic to gain financially is offensive, especially as many are actually under unprecedented financial strain as they continue to bear the brunt of COVID-19. These baseless claims not only do a disservice to our health care heroes but promulgate the dangerous wave of misinformation which continues to hinder our nation’s efforts to get the pandemic under control and allow our nation to return to normalcy.”

Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association also pushed back on Trump’s claim in the following statement:

“The suggestion that doctors—in the midst of a public health crisis—are overcounting COVID-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge.”

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Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.