Ernst Privately Apologized For COVID Comments, Declines Public Apology

By Pat Rynard

September 10, 2020

Sen. Joni Ernst privately apologized to an Iowa medical organization for her comments two weeks ago where she implied health care workers were inflating COVID-19 totals and gave credence to pandemic conspiracy theories. However, she declined to issue a public apology to further walk back the statements that doctors have worried would lead Iowans to not take the coronavirus seriously.

“The Senator apologized on the call for what she described as misstatements on her behalf but stopped short of committing to a public apology,” the Iowa Medical Society said in an email to their members this week. “She did commit to further clarification to begin rebuilding patient trust in the provider community.”

According to emails obtained by Starting Line, Ernst had a meeting last Friday with the executive board of the Iowa Medical Society, which represents 6,000 Iowa physicians, residents and medical students, to discuss her comments at an Aug. 31 event in Waterloo. The IMS had put out a statement after Ernst’s remarks drew significant media coverage, calling them “incredibly disappointing” and saying, “Now is not the time to spread mistruths and distrust.”

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The purpose of the meeting was “to convey the concerns of Iowa’s medical community” and to emphasize to Ernst the “danger of furthering mistruths” about Iowa health care workers.

“During this conversation, IMS leadership were able to educate the senator and her staff in response to the questions she posed in her initial interview, illuminating the truths around billing, coding, and diagnosis classifications, as well as the immediate misunderstandings and concerns articulated at her Waterloo event,” IMS wrote in an email. “We discussed the true state of the financial impact of COVID-19 throughout the healthcare community, and acknowledged that while grateful for the federal supports provided for currently, our physicians and health systems are still suffering great financial losses.”

Ernst drew widespread condemnation for suggesting in Waterloo that Iowa health care workers may be intentionally miscoding COVID-19 cases in their patients in order to receive more funding for their care.

“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 mused on Aug. 31.

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After meeting with Ernst, the IMS and Ernst’s office sent out a joint statement on their meeting to IMS members. However, the initial emailed statement was oddly phrased in a way that almost seemed to validate some of Ernst’s insinuations, noting that Ernst and IMS “fully support existing and additional oversight measures to ensure that taxpayer dollars are utilized in the most efficient, effective, and appropriate way possible.” Nowhere in the initial email did it say that Ernst had backed off her claims or apologized for the comments.

That seemed to lead to some pushback from members, as IMS then sent out a clarifying statement after receiving “a number of questions and concerns” from their members and apologized that the initial message lacked “critical context.”

“Let us be clear, IMS does not condone the implications that Iowa physicians are intentionally misreporting COVID-19 patient data or in any way seeking to personally benefit from this pandemic,” the second email read. “What we do believe is that patient trust and safety is paramount. A message with Senator Ernst, as a currently-elected federal representative for Iowa, is a first step in reassuring patients that they can trust Iowa physicians. By no means do we intend for it to be the last.”

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Meanwhile today, Ernst continued to dodge questions over Donald Trump’s interview from March where he said he intentionally downplayed the virus to the American public.

You can see the first joint statement from IMS and Ernst here, and the follow-up clarification from IMS here.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 9/10/20

Iowa Starting Line is an independently owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.



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