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The Health 202: Doctors, hospitals blast Trump’s baseless claims they inflate coronavirus deaths for money

“You know that, right?” Trump said at a Michigan rally on Friday. “I mean our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, ‘I’m sorry, but everybody dies of covid.’” 

Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, said “it is so offensive.” 

There is no evidence that hospitals and doctors are lying about the number of covid-19 patients. 

That would be fraud and something the Department of Justice could prosecute. “It’s unethical, it’s illegal and it’s inappropriate,” Kahn said.

Without naming the president, the American Medical Association called Trump’s statement a “malicious, outrageous and completely misguided charge” and defended front-line health care workers. “They did it because duty called and because of the sacred oath they took,” said AMA President Susan Bailey.

The pandemic has actually cost medical facilities money, although by how much is unclear. 

Elective surgical procedures, which hospitals were forced to cancel or postpone for much of the spring, generate the most revenue for them. In contrast, carrying for severely ill coronavirus patients for weeks on end consumes lots of staffing hours and bed space for hospitals.

“Frankly, these are very expensive cases on average … the hospitalizations are long and so even the reimbursement is probably way below cost,” Kahn said. 

And hospitals don’t get extra money if a coronavirus patient dies. 

Hospitals bill the government and private insurers for specific services related to specific illnesses, regardless of the outcome.

“Hospitals do not receive extra funds when patients die from covid-19,” the American Hospital Association wrote in a blog post yesterday addressing the claims. “They are not over-reporting covid-19 cases. And, they are not making money on treating covid-19.”

Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health:

However, there is a coronavirus “bonus” for uninsured covid-19 patients.

The coronavirus relief package passed by Congress includes money to pay hospitals for treating uninsured covid-19 patients. The package allows hospitals to be paid 120 percent of typical Medicare rates. 

Yet Kahn feels that, if anything, hospitals aren’t getting paid as much as they need for caring for coronavirus patients. Trump’s comments, he feels, reflected little-to-no understanding of how the coding system works. 

Hospitals can only submit claims for the payments that list covid-19 as a patient’s primary diagnosis. For example, a patient admitted with sepsis due to the coronavirus would be given “sepsis” as a primary diagnosis and “covid-19” as a secondary diagnosis — even though the virus caused the sepsis to begin with. 

Hospitals have asked the Department of Health and Human Services to loosen those rules, charging that the majority of claims for coronavirus testing and treatment would be rejected and ineligible for reimbursement under the program.

Trump’s claim was just the tip of the iceberg in how he talked about the pandemic.

The president switched between blaming others for focusing on the pandemic while simultaneously promising a widespread vaccine within weeks.

He offered extreme depictions of a pandemic response might look like under a Biden administration.

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