Trump officials reportedly dispute the US COVID-19 death toll, floating a far-fetched theory that hospitals may be inflating cases to get more funding

Evan Vucci/APPresident Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday.
  • President Donald Trump believes that the US coronavirus death count is being exaggerated, Axios reported Wednesday, citing unnamed senior administration officials.
  • The sources said some of the president’s aides believed that hospitals might be misdiagnosing patients with the novel coronavirus to get a 20% bonus from Medicare.
  • Medicare is offering the bonus to hospitals treating coronavirus patients because they have had to postpone a lot of the normal care that contributes to a health system’s revenue.
  • Misdiagnosing a patient is fraud, and there is no public evidence to show hospitals have been abusing this system.
  • Experts believe that the coronavirus death toll is being underreported, if anything.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump believes that the coronavirus death toll is being exaggerated, Axios reported Wednesday.

The news site further quoted two anonymous senior administration officials as speculating that hospitals might be misdiagnosing patients with the novel coronavirus to get extra money from Medicare.

Medicare is offering a 20% bonus for coronavirus patients because hospitals have had to pause a lot of their routine care and procedures that bring in revenue.

Dr. Scott Jensen, a physician and Minnesota senator, had suggested to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in early April that this was a possible “avenue” to securing more Medicare funds and that administrators might feel the pressure to diagnose run-of-the-mill pneumonia cases as coronavirus because of it.

There is no public evidence that hospitals have been abusing this system, USA Today reported.

Misdiagnosing a patient is fraud, and while no one in the administration has publicly leveled that accusation, a senior official told Axios he expected the president to start speaking publicly soon about his misgivings with the data.

Hart island mass graveJohn Minchillo/APWorkers burying the bodies of coronavirus victims in a mass grave on New York City’s Hart Island on April 9.

Experts say that if anything the coronavirus death toll is being underreported because many people are dying without being tested, and some states are not counting “probable” coronavirus deaths in their totals. Coroners have even been asking for test kits to get more accurate coronavirus numbers on the dead.

As of Thursday, there were more than 1.2 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US, in addition to 73,431 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

It marks yet another example of Trump disagreeing with experts during the outbreak, from his recent speculation that the virus could just “disappear” to his constant pushing of a theory that the virus originated in a Chinese lab.

Business Insider reached out to the White House for comment on the Axios report on Thursday morning but did not immediately receive a response.

Trump coronavirusDrew Angerer/Getty ImagesTrump and Vice President Mike Pence at a White House coronavirus press briefing.

A senior White House official defended the president’s thinking to Axios.

“Scepticism isn’t the right way to frame it. The numbers have been revised up to include presumptive cases – meaning deaths that are believed to be related to COVID but not known for sure,” the official said.

“So he’s expressed the need to properly convey that to American people so they’re not startled by why numbers ticked up.”

The Axios report follows an analysis from The Washington Post on Monday that pointed to how Fox News pundits and Trump allies were beginning to question the coronavirus numbers in an attempt to defend the president’s handling of the crisis.

In one example, the Fox News analyst Brit Hume pushed a theory of an inflated death count, saying people with underlying conditions who died quickly after contracting the coronavirus might have been killed by their own previous issues rather than the disease.

But Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the leading physicians advising the Trump administration during the outbreak, said that idea was wrong.

“Those individuals will have an underlying condition, but that underlying condition did not cause their acute death when it’s related to a COVID infection,” Birx said. “In fact, it’s the opposite.”

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