Condemnation from across the Iowa medical community has been relentless this week in the wake of Sen. Joni Ernst’s suggestion hospitals are inflating the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths for financial gain.
“These health care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they’re doing?” Ernst said Monday at an event in Black Hawk County.
The comments have angered Iowans regardless of their party affiliation during a time in American politics when few issues are capable of crossing partisan lines. Even the Iowa Medical Society called Ernst’s remarks “incredibly disappointing” and condemned the Republican senator for spreading “mistruths and distrust.”
Christopher Peters, a Coralville surgeon and small business owner, who twice ran on the Republican ticket to unseat Congressman Dave Loebsack, debunked the idea that doctors are purposely misdiagnosing patients in order to be reimbursed for services at a higher rate.
Fact-checkers repeatedly have disproven this theory, as well as the notion that the number of deaths in the United States is far lower than the reported 185,000.
“Yes, there is a financial component to consider with COVID-19. If a patient is hospitalized for COVID-19, or even presumed COVID-19 in some states, Medicare does reimburse hospitals at a higher rate. That was authorized in the CARES Act passed by Congress in the spring,” Peters wrote Tuesday morning on Facebook.
“But, those payments are to hospitals, not to providers,” Peters said. “And, it’s providers who determine what diagnoses are applicable, not hospital administrators. It’s conceivable that some hospitals are pressuring their providers to add a COVID-19 diagnosis, but I haven’t actually heard of that happening. And, physicians are pretty independent and stubborn, especially when it comes to dealing with hospital administrators.
“Bottom line,” he said, “I don’t think there is much concern that cases are being over-counted due to a financial incentive.”
Rossana Rosa, an infectious disease physician in Des Moines, called Ernst’s remarks “hurtful and offensive on many levels.”
Not only are the comments offensive to coronavirus patients and their families, Rosa said, but to “health care workers — every doctor, nurse, respiratory technician — and everyone at the hospitals and clinics who show up every day to work to tend to patients and see them through recovery or death. Our work and devotion are real, not merely performative acts of caring,” Rosa told Starting Line.
“And lastly, to hospital and health systems. Iowa hospitals and clinics have done tremendous sacrifices to ensure the safety of their workers and patients,” she said. “These sacrifices have meant the loss of millions of dollars, and for rural critical access and non-profit hospitals, it’s putting them in the brink of bankruptcy.”
We went from heroes to scammers apparently.
In the meantime people are dying from covid, rural and non profit hospitals are losing money to the tune of millions, and if elective surgeries get cancelled again many will go bankrupt.
— Rossana "MaskUpIA/FaceShieldsForAll" Rosa MD (@DrRossanaRosa) September 2, 2020
In an interview on CNN, Austin Baeth, a physician at UnityPoint Health in Des Moines, set the record straight on Ernst’s “false” claims.
“Physicians are not paid based on the diagnoses of their patients,” Baeth said. “They’re paid based on the services they provide.
“Secondly, it is insulting,” he said. “My colleagues and I risk our lives every single day that we come into the hospital to take care of the patients that we care about. We have colleagues who have gotten sick. We’ve had colleagues across the country who have died. While we are making these sacrifices, we’re being accused of insurance fraud. I can’t imagine a bigger insult. Not only that, it’s dangerous. It’s downplaying the severity of this pandemic and that gives free room for the deniers to act recklessly. Those who are downplaying this have blood on their hands.”
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst appears to have backtracked on her suggestion that fewer people have died of Covid-19 than official reports suggest. Iowa physician Dr. Austin Baeth says it's “insulting.”
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) September 3, 2020
Glenn Hurst, a family medicine physician from Minden and chair of Iowa Democrats’ rural caucus, told CNN Ernst was talking out both sides of her mouth when praising the medical community as heroes during the pandemic while also accusing them of inflating COVID-19 cases and making fraudulent insurance claims.
“It’s an offensive attack on some of the best Iowans out there on the front lines,” Hurst said. “The people that, on one side of her mouth she’ll refer to as heroes, and the next side of her mouth she’s just accused of Medicare and Medicaid fraud.”
— JSCordon (@js_cordon) September 3, 2020
By Elizabeth Meyer
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