U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield agreed that some hospitals have a monetary incentive to overcount coronavirus deaths as they do deaths for other diseases.
“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 said during a House panel hearing Friday when asked by Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer about potential “perverse incentives.”
Redfield continued: “So, I do think there’s some reality to that. When it comes to death reporting, though, ultimately, it’s how the physician defines it in the death certificate, and … we review all of those death certificates. So I think, probably it is less operable in the cause of death, although I won’t say there are not some cases. I do think though [that] when it comes to hospital reimbursement issues or individuals that get discharged, there could be some play in that for sure.”
Questions have been raised about coronavirus counting in hospitals across the country, and conflicting conclusions have been raised about whether or not deaths are being accurately counted.
A Yale study concluded that the overall coronavirus death toll in the United States is a “substantial undercount” of the actual number; White House coronavirus response team member Dr. Deborah Birx suggested in May that deaths are being overcounted by 25%.
There appear to be cases where the opposite has happened. An investigation in Florida found that several deaths were wrongly attributed to the virus, including the case of a man who died from a gunshot wound to the head.
The CDC’s website lists over 3,700 coronavirus deaths characterized as “intentional and unintentional injury, poisoning and other adverse events.” In Texas, more than 3,000 people were recently removed from the overall coronavirus count because they were never actually tested but considered “probable” cases.