Medical community pressured to add COVID to death certificates

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By Mark Ellis —

(Screenshot Project Veritas investigation)

Doctors and medical examiners in New York, Illinois, and other parts of the country are being pressured or incentivized to designate COVID-19 as a cause of death on death certificates, even if the cause is unclear.

“To me, all you’re doing is padding the statistics. You’re putting people on that had COVID-19 even if they didn’t have it. You’re making the death rate a lot higher for New York City than it should be.” Joseph Antioco, funeral director at Schaeffer Funeral Home in Brooklyn, New York, told Project Veritas.

If people had symptoms remotely similar to COVID, it is listed as a cause of death. “Basically every (death) certificate that comes across our desk right now has COVID on it, even if they haven’t been tested, if they have a cough, if they have flu symptom, it’s considered COVID,” the funeral director for Weigand Brothers Funeral Home in Williston Park, New York, explained to Project Veritas.

While some may want to make the pandemic appear more deadly than it is for political reasons, there are also economic incentives involved. “To be honest with you, they’re writing COVID on all the death certificates, whether they had a positive test, whether they didn’t,” Michael Lanza, the funeral director at Colonial Funeral Home in Staten Island, New York, told Project Veritas.

“I think the mayor in our city, they’re looking for federal funding and the more they put COVID on the death certificate, the more they can ask for federal funds. So, I think it’s political,” he said.

Last week, Drs. Dan Erickson and Dr. Artin Massihi of Accelerated Urgent Care in California held a press conference, urging policymakers to reopen the state’s economy based on data that reveals the pandemic is not as deadly as once feared. A YouTube video of the longtime ER doctors’ briefing went viral, but was subsequently removed from YouTube because it was said to contain misleading information.

During their discussion, Dr. Erickson noted he has spoken to many physicians who say they are being pressured to add COVID-19 to death certificates and diagnostic lists—even when the novel coronavirus appears to have no relation to the victim’s cause of death.

“They say, ‘You know, it’s interesting. When I’m writing up my death report I’m being pressured to add COVID,’” Erickson said. “Why is that? Why are we being pressured to add COVID? To maybe increase the numbers, and make it look a little bit worse than it is?”

One Minnesota lawmaker and physician, Dr. Scott Jensen, believes the CARES Act is responsible for the problem, because it increases Medicare payments to hospitals treating COVID-19 victims.

“Hospital administrators might well want to see COVID-19 attached to a discharge summary or a death certificate. Why? Because if it’s a straightforward, garden-variety pneumonia that a person is admitted to the hospital for—if they’re Medicare—typically, the diagnosis-related group lump sum payment would be $5,000,” Jensen told The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE).

“But if it’s COVID-19 pneumonia, then it’s $13,000, and if that COVID-19 pneumonia patient ends up on a ventilator, it goes up to $39,000.”

Earlier in March, Illinois’s top health official stated that any fatality diagnosed with the novel coronavirus would be classified as a COVID-19 death—regardless of whether it contributed to the patient’s death.

“If you died of a clear alternate cause, but you had COVID at the same time, it’s still listed as a COVID death,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of Illinois’s Department of Public Health, said.

In one case in New York, the death certificate was challenged by the family. “I had one that was autopsied because the sister was furious…and she says I know my sister didn’t die of COVID-19,” Josephine Dimicelli, president of Dimicelli & Sons Funeral Home told Project Veritas.

“She had Alzheimer’s and they didn’t suction her. You have to suction because they forget how to swallow. Right away they put down COVID-19 on her death certificate…they did an independent autopsy and bingo, no COVID-19,” she said.

“The guy I just buried a little while ago…they called from the nursing home (in Dutchess County). We said, ‘Did Raymond have COVID-19?’ She said, ‘No, it was failure to thrive, but we’re assuming they all have it (COVID)’ I said, ‘Why would you assume, why aren’t they in the hospital?’ She had no answer. They put it down on Raymond’s death certificate and he didn’t have it.”

The problem gets murkier if someone happens to die at his or her own house. “A lot of people are dying at home. If you don’t have a private doctor and you weren’t under any care, they are automatically putting on the death certificates COVID-19 because they’re so overwhelmed and they’re not going to houses anymore,” Joseph Antioco, funeral director at Schaeffer Funeral Home in Brooklyn explained to Project Veritas.

“Now they’re putting everything as COVID-19. Two weeks ago I had a 40-year-old man that died in his house. They didn’t even go to the house. The guy had no underlying causes, no medical conditions. They released him from the house without even going saying he had COVID-19 because he had a fever. But how do you know that’s what he had? You don’t.”

Jon Miltimore with FEE believes these perverse incentives must be changed. “By creating a massive federal program that links goosed Medicare payments to COVID-19 treatments, the feds incentivized hospitals to add COVID-19 to diagnostic lists and death certificates. It also incentivized hospitals to get patients on ventilators, which may have done more harm than good, as hospitals have reported unusually high fatality rates for COVID-19 patients on ventilators.”