Trust Index: Do hospitals get more money from Medicare for COVID-19 patients?

HOUSTON – You’ve probably seen the headlines making the social media rounds. Claims that “hospitals get paid more to treat COVID-19 patients” and “is medicare paying hospitals $13,000 for patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and $39,000 for those on ventilators?”

In a recent post to the KPRC 2 Facebook page, a woman claimed discharge papers showed her mom had COVID-19 when she “absolutely did not have it,” and her husband told her hospitals get $30,000 per patient.

She’s not alone in asking Channel 2 Investigates about this, so we decided to put two claims through our Trust Index.

Is Medicare paying hospitals more for COVID-19 patients?

Here’s how Medicare, which is funded through your tax dollars, works.

When patients are discharged, hospitals assign them a code on their diagnosis and treatment, and Medicare pays hospitals a set amount based on that code. But when Congress drew up the CARES Act, it created a 20% “add on” for treatment of COVID-19 patients.

“The key component of it was an additional reimbursement for patients who had COVID to offset the revenue the would’ve made for their typical procedures,” explained hospital billing expert Shawn Fry. “Depending on the severity of the patient, you could make double, or even four or five times as much on that COVID patient.”

Politifact looked at an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found the average Medicare payment for a less severe COVID-19 hospitalization was just over $13,000, and for a hospitalization requiring a ventilator it was just over $40,000. This includes the 20% “add on” through the CARES Act. That increases the hospital’s standard payment for similar treatment of non-COVID patients.