Are hospitals using COVID-19 causes of death as financial incentives?

Published: Jun. 3, 2020 at 1:38 PM CDT
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A big topic of discussion during the pandemic has been the cause of death listed on many patients’ death certificates.

“There's a lot of controversy about how many cases are actually attributed to COVID,” said Dr. David Holcombe, medical director of the Cenla Office of Public Health.

Many family members of those who have passed away in recent months have claimed that doctors have falsely listed the cause of death as COVID-19.

“The number of deaths related to COVID are probably underestimated, not overestimated,” Holcombe said.

Many saying this is because hospitals receive money for each virus death, but Holcombe says that “the hospitals are not using this as an incentive to earn more money.”

The CARES Act does provide money to hospitals for each patient whose cause of death is COVID-19, but although many hospitals have taken a financial hit during the pandemic, that money is not intended to be used for the hospitals themselves.

“The money will actually go to the hospitals because it's reimbursement,” Holcombe explained. “But it actually defends the clients from being left with a huge bill that they can't possibly assume. And through no fault of their own.”

It also creates the question: what should be on the death certificate of someone with pre-existing conditions who was also diagnosed with the virus?

“Having COVID on there [death certificate] if the person was COVID positive, there's nothing actually wrong with that,” Holcombe said. “Actually determining the cause of death - the cause of death may have been respiratory failure associated with COVID and so forth. So, it becomes a contributing factor anyway. So, there's nothing actually wrong with that if it allows for some additional reimbursements.”

Overall, funds that the hospital receives for COVID-19 deaths are more the greater good and the good of the patients' families.

“If that [COVID-19] appears as a diagnosis on a death certificate, I wouldn't make a big deal out of it because it's actually trying to be helpful,” Holcombe said. “It's also trying to determine the real impact of the disease in terms of preventing future deaths.”

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