Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 4, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Doctors may not be making any more money from an increase in COVID-19 cases, but hospitals sure do.
President Trump’s recent comments that “doctors get more money if someone dies from COVID” have been widely criticized — from politicians to the usual suspects in mainstream media to physicians and health organizations. Gov. Tony Evers told Trump-hating CNN that the president’s assertion was a “stupid thing to say.” The American Medical Association called it an “outrageous and completely, misguided charge.”
But there is no denying the fact that hospitals receive more government funding for treating COVID-19 patients, and they certainly have been treating a lot of COVID-19 patients.
As Fox News reported in May, if a Medicare patient is diagnosed with — even presumed to have contracted coronavirus — U.S. hospitals receive as much as triple the payments they normally would.
Medicare reimbursement includes diagnosis-related (DRG) rates that are adjusted each year. Doug Badger, visiting fellow for domestic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Congress eliminated across-the-board cuts to Medicare at the outbreak of the pandemic.
“That translates to an across-the-board increase in Medicare payments to hospitals for any admission of any Medicare patient, whether or not they have COVID-19,” Badger said.
Sen. Scott Jensen, (R-Minn.), a long-time physician, told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in April that hospitals were getting a 20 percent premium, or additional Medicare funding, for COVID-19 Medicare patients — especially those who require a ventilator.
Even Politifact begrudgingly had to acknowledge the point.
“We rate the claim that hospitals get paid more if patients are listed as COVID-19 and on ventilators as TRUE,” USA Today declared on April 24.
“Hospitals and doctors do get paid more for Medicare patients diagnosed with COVID-19 or if it’s considered presumed they have COVID-19 absent a laboratory-confirmed test, and three times more if the patients are placed on a ventilator to cover the cost of care and loss of business resulting from a shift in focus to treat COVID-19 cases.”
There’s no evidence that we have found to show doctors manipulating medical records to incorrectly note a cause of death for medical gain, but there certainly have been “mistakes” — and plenty of them — on death certificates. That was a problem long before the pandemic.
As much as 30 percent of death certificates nationally were incorrect before COVID-19, Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch of the National Center for Health Statistics, told USA Today Network in April.
“I’m always worried about getting good data. I think this sort of thing can be an issue even in a pandemic,” Anderson told the media outlet.