Trump has made the claim twice in the past week, most recently on Friday at a campaign rally in Waterford Township, Mich.
“You know our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID(-19),” he told the crowd, explaining how Germany and other countries attribute deaths of some coronavirus patients to other causes if those patients are suffering from additional health issues.
“With us, when in doubt, (doctors) choose COVID,” he said. “It’s like $2,000 more, so you get more money. This could only happen to us.”
Experts at the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention have said the official national death toll, which now stands at over 229,000, is likely an undercount.
Cases have also escalated dramatically, reaching around 100,000 on Friday alone — setting a world record for a country’s single-day case load. Infections are surging in a majority of states, along with hospitalizations, according to the CDC.
On Friday, 16 U.S. states reported their highest one-day coronavirus infections while 13 states were at record levels of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, according to Reuters.
A statement from the American Medical Association issued Friday said Trump’s “suggestion that doctors — in the midst of a public health crisis — are overcounting COVID-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous, and completely misguided charge.”
“Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing,” the association’s president Susan Bailey said in the statement.
Trump’s claim about “more money” may refer to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by the U.S. Congress, which Trump himself signed into law in March. The bill reimburses hospitals for treating uninsured patients and seniors covered by Medicare.
But there is nothing in the bill about bonus payments to doctors for classifying deaths as being related to COVID-19.
Trump also sparked outcry when he made that same claim at another campaign stop in Wisconsin on Oct. 24. The American College of Emergency Physicians said it was “appalled” by Trump’s “reckless and false assertions.”
“Emergency physicians and other health care workers have risked their lives day in and day out for almost a year battling the greatest public health crisis in a generation,” the college’s statement read, “all while watching countless patients die alone, going to work without sufficient protection equipment, and struggling with crushing anxiety about getting sick or spreading the virus to their loved ones.”
The Council of Medical Specialty Societies released a statement that was backed by the Society of Hospital Medicine, calling Trump’s claims “baseless” and “an affront” to physicians and other health workers.
“Many physicians have taken pay cuts to ensure that struggling medical practices and healthcare facilities remain open for their patients,” the statement read.
Trump has ramped up false assertions about the virus in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, repeatedly claiming the country is “rounding the turn” on the pandemic as cases rise.
Earlier this week, the president — who contracted the virus himself in early October, requiring three days of hospital care — claimed COVID-19 is a “media conspiracy” against him.
On Friday, House Democrats released a report condemning the Trump administration’s pandemic response as being “among the worst failures of leadership in American history.” At least six million Americans have been thrust into poverty and millions more are jobless, it said.
The 71-page interim report also said investigators identified more than 60 instances in which Trump administration officials overruled or sidelined top scientists to advance the president’s political interests.
“The administration’s response to this economic crisis has benefited larger companies and wealthy Americans, while leaving behind many disadvantaged communities and struggling small businesses,” the report said.
—With files from Reuters