Republican Sen. Joni Ernst pushed a conspiracy theory that coronavirus deaths in the US are being drastically overcounted because healthcare providers want to be paid more.
During a campaign stop in Iowa, her home state, Ernst said she was "so skeptical" of the reported national figures and noted that medical professionals are compensated at higher rates for COVID cases.
The unsubstantiated claim has been promoted by the far-right conspiracy group QAnon and President Donald Trump.
Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, pushed a baseless conspiracy theory on Monday claiming that US deaths from the coronavirus have been vastly over-reported by medical professionals.
During a Monday campaign stop in Black Hawk County, an attendee told Ernst he believed coronavirus cases and deaths are being overcounted in the US, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.
Ernst replied that she's similarly "so skeptical" of the official figures, which are currently at 6 million infections and 185,000 deaths in the US, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. And the senator baselessly suggested the numbers have been vastly inflated by medical professionals, who receive more money from the federal government for handling COVID-19 patients.
"These health-care providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they're doing?" Ernst told the crowd.
"They do get reimbursed higher amounts if it's a COVID-related illness or death," she told the Falls Courier after the event. "I heard the same thing on the news. ... They're thinking there may be 10,000 or less deaths that were actually singularly COVID-19. ... I'm just really curious. It would be interesting to know that."
The claim that case counts and deaths are fraudulently tallied has been widely debunked by medical professionals and public health experts.
The official coronavirus numbers are most likely significantly undercounted, according to experts. Researchers at Yale University reported in July that nearly 30,000 likely coronavirus deaths in the US had not been reported.
Ernst, who's facing a competitive race for reelection this year, made these comments a day after the White House announced Iowa is currently suffering from the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the country.
"Rural and urban counties in Iowa continue to have increases in case and test positivity. Common sense preventive measures must be implemented to stop further spread," White House coronavirus task force officials wrote.
President Donald Trump promoted the same conspiracy over the weekend in a tweet that was later removed by Twitter for violating the platform's rules about spreading misinformation.
On Sunday, the president retweeted QAnon follower "Mel Q," who shared a message falsely claiming that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported only 9,000 people — or just 6% of the more than 180,000 reported deaths — were actually killed by the virus.
In reality, the CDC reported that 94% of those who've died of COVID-19 in the US also suffered from another disease that contributed to their death. These so-called "co-morbidities" include obesity, diabetes, and asthma.
Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci fact-checked the conspiracy this week, explaining that while the vast majority of people who've died from the coronavirus in the US had underlying conditions, it was COVID-19 that killed them.
"That does not mean that someone who has hypertension or diabetes who dies of COVID didn't die of COVID-19. They did," Fauci said. "It's not 9,000 deaths from COVID-19, it's 180-plus thousand deaths."
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