There is a financial incentive for hospitals to inflate their counts of deaths due to COVID-19, U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Robert Redfield acknowledged Friday in congressional testimony.
"I think you're correct in that we've seen this in other disease processes, too, really in the HIV epidemic, somebody may have a heart attack, but also have HIV — the hospital would prefer the [classification] for HIV because there's greater reimbursement," Redfield told the House Oversight and Reform Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
Redfield maintained that "probably it is less operable in the cause of death" and assured lawmakers that "we review all of those death certificates" but admitted, "When it comes to hospital reimbursement issues or individuals that get discharged, there could be some play in that for sure."
The federal CARES Act, the $2-trillion emergency relief package Congress passed in March, increases per-patient Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals by 20% for patients listed with a "principal or secondary diagnosis of COVID-19."
As of August 4, the United States is estimated to have seen more than 4.9 million cases of COVID-19, with more than 160,000 deaths and 2.4 million recoveries. For months, however, debate has raged over the accuracy of those numbers.