How Billions in COVID Stimulus Funds Led Hospitals to Prioritize 'Treatments' That Killed, Rather Than Cured, Patients
In the second half of an interview this month on Del Bigtree’s “The Highwire” — “COVID-19: Following the Money” — policy analyst A.J. DePriest reported on the impact of billions in COVID stimulus funds, which, according to some doctors and lawyers, turned hospitals and medical staff into “bounty hunters,” and COVID patients into “virtual prisoners.”
As reported last week by The Defender, federal monies from the 2020 and 2021 COVID stimulus bills dramatically reshaped K-12 educational priorities, turning American school officials into lackeys for federal agencies more intent on masking and vaccinating every last child than on supporting meaningful education.
So, too, with the stimulus-induced reshaping of hospital priorities.
In the second half of a January interview on Del Bigtree’s “The Highwire” — “COVID-19: Following the Money” — policy analyst A.J. DePriest reported on the untoward consequences set into motion as a result of COVID funds provided to hospitals.
Managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the federal government allocated a total of $186.5 billion to the Provider Relief Fund (PRF), with two-thirds ($121.3 billion) disbursed as of January 2022.
The first tranche of $50 billion for hospitals and other Medicare providers — “for healthcare-related expenses or lost revenues … attributable to COVID-19” — began flying out the door in April 2020.
Almost immediately, alert doctors and astute journalists warned the Medicare add-on payments built into the relief package created perverse incentives unfriendly to patients’ interests.
As summarized by Dr. Scott Jensen — former Minnesota state senator and current gubernatorial candidate — “anytime healthcare intersects with dollars it gets awkward.”
Nearly two years down the road, the “awkwardness” is increasingly difficult to hide.
In the view of DePriest and many others, HHS’s stimulus slush fund has been every bit as dangerous for hospital patients as the U.S. Department of Education’s handouts have been for the nation’s schoolchildren.
Making out like bandits
Dr. Elizabeth Lee Vliet and Ali Shultz, J.D., who wrote a widely distributed op-ed in late 2021 for the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), summed up the disturbing situation prevailing in hospitals. The AAPS’s professional calling card is its “dedication to the highest ethical standards of the Oath of Hippocrates.”
Not mincing their words, the two argued that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) payment directives turned hospitals and medical staff into “bounty hunters,” and COVID patients into “virtual prisoners.”
Highlighting the slew of CMS add-ons and other incentives established with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act — and also the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PPPHCEA) — they emphasized the payments hinge on hospitals’ willingness to slavishly follow the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) guidelines “for all things related to COVID-19.”
As itemized by Vliet and Shultz, compliant hospitals garner CMS payments for:
Each completed diagnostic test (required in the emergency room or upon admission).
Each COVID-19 diagnosis.
Each COVID admission.
Use of the intravenously administered Gilead drug remdesivir (brand name Veklury), which yields a 20% bonus payment on the entire hospital bill.
COVID-19 listed as cause of death.