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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.

We rate the claim that hospitals make more money from COVID-19 patients as true.

It's True

We’ve reviewed information surrounding this topic and confirmed that It’s True.

What is the Trust Index?

Are hospitals falsely tagging patients with COVID-19 to make money?

“It is a possibility, any time you’re dealing with billing and coding, there is a possibility for error,” said Jennifer Salazar with the Better Business Bureau’s Texas Senior Medicare Patrol. She advises that patients be proactive in tracking their diagnoses and treatments.

“When you got to the hospital or you see your doctor, write it down, write down what you’ve had done,” Salazar said.

And always review your discharge papers.

“If you see anything that looks suspicious or incorrect, if your not sure about, call us at the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol,” she said.

But there’s no hard evidence that hospitals are fraudulently identifying patients as “COVID positive”.

“To my knowledge, and I’ve talked to several different hospitals, no doctor has ever been incentivized to add the COVID-19 diagnosis to any patient’s file,” Fry said.

There are protocols in place to prevent that, including frequent audits, and harsh penalties for those who are caught doing it.

We rate the claim that hospitals are falsely tagging patients with COVID-19 to make money as false.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?