Fact Check: Trump Claims Doctors ‘Get More Money’ for Coronavirus Deaths

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 30: US President Donald Trump speaks to the press outside of the White House on October 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump will travel to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota for the campaign rallies ahead of the presidential election on Tuesday. (Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

CLAIM: “You know, our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID. You know that, right? I mean, our doctors are very smart people. So, what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, everybody dies of COVID,'” President Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Michigan on Friday, referring to the Chinese coronavirus.

Trump indicated that doctors and hospitals get paid more money if they say people died from the Chinese virus rather than other co-occurring significant health conditions (comorbidities) that may have contributed to the person’s demise, such as cancer or a heart attack.

“With us, when in doubt, choose COVID,” the president said, later adding, “This could only happen to us where cases are now surging.”

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield has suggested that doctors and hospitals have a financial incentive to inflate deaths attributed to the coronavirus.

Oversight Committee / YouTube

During a hearing by the House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on July 31, Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) asked Redfield, the director of the nation’s leading public health agency, to comment on the “perverse incentive” for medical personnel to claim someone died of the Chinese instead of other diseases.

“I think you’re correct in that we’ve seen this in other disease processes too, the CDC chief responded, noting that during the HIV epidemic, hospitals preferred the HIV classification over a heart attack “because there’s greater reimbursement.”

Redfield did not indicate all doctors and hospitals are overcounting virus deaths, but rather that there is a monetary incentive for them to do so. He suggested there is no way to know for sure to what extent doctors and hospitals are taking advantage of the incentive to classify the cause of death as the Chinese virus.

“When it comes to death reporting, though, ultimately, it’s how the physician defines it in the death certificate and … we review all of those death certificates,” Redfield said in responding to the “perverse incentive” question from the GOP lawmaker.

“So I think, it’s probably less operable in the cause of death, although I won’t say there are not some cases,” he added. “I do think though [that] when it comes to hospital reimbursement issues or individuals that get discharged, there could be some play in that for sure.”

Luetkemeyer asserted that Adm. Brett Giroir from the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Department also conceded that there is an economic incentive for hospitals to inflate their coronavirus fatalities.

Even fact-checkers at USA Today determined in April that hospitals get paid more money if they list patients as having the Chinese virus.

As part of the coronavirus relief legislation, hospitals received higher payments from Medicare if they were treating someone with the virus, the newspaper found.

Nevertheless, USA Today now reports, “[P]ublic health experts and independent fact checkers have noted that the higher reimbursement alone is not evidence of widespread fraud.”

Trump’s comments have drawn the ire of Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, his party’s mainstream media allies, and some medical community members.

Critics accuse Trump of peddling what they describe as a baseless conspiracy theory, stressing that Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before Congress back in May that coronavirus disease fatalities are “almost certainly higher” than reported.

Fauci, a prominent member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), attributed the potential tally discrepancy to officials missing many victims who die at home without a diagnosis.

There is a patchwork of guidelines for reporting deaths across America, with some jurisdictions and databases reporting probable fatalities while others do not.

As of Sunday morning, the U.S. had reported over 9 million virus cases and over 230,000 deaths, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed.

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