Trump has claimed bizarrely that doctors get kickbacks from COVID deaths. It's a lie.
Doctors are hitting back after Donald Trump claimed at several campaign rallies last week that they were deliberately mischaracterizing COVID-19 deaths because they were getting a financial kickback to do so.
At a Wisconsin rally, Trump suggested that the coronavirus death toll — upwards of 225,000 in the United States — had been artificially inflated by medical professionals for profit.
"You know some countries they report differently," he said. "If somebody's sick with a heart problem, and they die of COVID they say they die of a heart problem. If somebody's terminally ill with cancer and they have COVID, we report them. And you know doctors get more money and hospitals get more money. Think of this incentive."
Trump repeated his outlandish remarks at Friday's rally in Waterford Township, Michigan.
"Our doctors get more money if someone dies from COVID," he said. "You know that, right? I mean, our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, 'I'm sorry, but everybody dies of COVID.'"
There's zero evidence to support Trump's claim.
In an interview with the American Independent Foundation, Dr. Rob Davidson, a West Michigan emergency physician and executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare, said that it was "ridiculous to even consider that doctors would gin up numbers or falsely attribute deaths to COVID-19."
Such claims are just Trump's attempt to deflect responsibility for the pandemic's death toll, he said.
"The number of cases, number of deaths [in the United States] have far outpaced really ... anywhere else, and we can directly attribute that to a really poor federal response," Davidson said. "It feels like he's just looking for a scapegoat."
Davidson added that every doctor he knows has taken a financial cut because of coronavirus, and hospitals have suffered financially as well. "If anything, the opposite [of what Trump claims] is true," he said. "We're all making less."
He noted that the level of conspiracy it would require for doctors nationwide to collude to lie about COVID deaths would be absurd.
Trump's accusations were also insulting to the medical professionals who have contracted the virus and died, he said, as well as those who have died by suicide during the pandemic.
"It's baseless and it's damaging to the reputation of those of us out there taking care of people," he said.
Trump is also incorrect in his claims that if a person tests positive for coronavirus but has another preexisting condition, the death certificate will only list COVID-19 as a cause of death.
Both are listed, Davidson said.
"When I fill out a death certificate, I list the proximate causes of that person’s death, and then any underlying reasons as well," he said.
Trump is correct that an extra 20% Medicare premium is given to hospitals for Medicare patients in treatment for coronavirus. But this is simply part of the coronavirus relief bill signed into law by Trump himself. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that hospitals have been inflating coronavirus numbers to receive this additional Medicare money.
In fact, Davidson said, to do so would be Medicare fraud — and the premium was largely put in place to help hospitals already struggling with resources during the pandemic.
"There's a component of shifting blame, there's a component of mixing things up that people have told him about preexisting conditions, confusion about how Medicare works," Davidson said. "All of that gets mixed up in a slurry in his brain and what comes out is, 'Oh, they're cooking the books to make more money and they're doing it to make me look bad.'"
To misinterpret complex data and broadcast it to the general public like Trump does can be disastrous.
"The end result is that it's extremely damaging to us and our profession and the trust people have in our profession," Davidson said.
In a Monday press call with members of the Committee to Protect Medicare, Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a board member and board-certified Michigan family physician, also criticized Trump for "spreading a widely debunked conspiracy theory that doctors are inflating COVID-19 deaths, when the reality is we are working longer hours with less pay."
Bhatti said that Trump's desperate bid to minimize the severity of the virus and the lives lost to it is a deliberate deflection attempt.
"The president is trying to minimize the extent of the spread of this disease across the country, so instead of acknowledging that the disease is spreading and the country needs to buckle down and take precautions in order to slow the rise of this wave," he said.
He added, "He's minimizing it altogether because it hurts his reelection prospects. It hurts his bottom line."
Bhatti dismissed Trump's claims that in other countries, COVID-19 is reported differently, so U.S. numbers only look worse on paper.
"Objectively, that’s not true. The test positive rates [here] are higher. And they're approaching thresholds that are very concerning," Bhatti said. "The problem is that if President Trump acknowledges that, then he simultaneously has to acknowledge that he didn't do enough to prevent it from getting this extent."
Dr. Harland Holman, a family physician in Grand Rapids, Michigan, agreed that Trump's disinformation is a problem.
"The president is making things worse when he ... continues to spread medical inaccuracies," Holman said. "It was very frustrating to hear him go after the healthcare system when really we want to stay out of the politics as much as we can and just treat our patients."
At a drive-in campaign event in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday, Democratic nominee Joe Biden also condemned Trump's remarks.
"The president of the United States is accusing the medical profession of making up COVID deaths so they make more money," he said. "Doctors and nurses go to work every day to save lives. They do their jobs. Donald Trump should stop attacking them and do his job."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.