How hospital administrators were implicated in a right-wing COVID-19 conspiracy

At a campaign stop in rural Waterloo, Iowa in late August, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst told a crowd of nearly 100 people that she believed healthcare providers were inflating COVID-19 death counts for profit. "These healthcare providers and others are reimbursed at a higher rate if COVID is tied to it, so what do you think they're doing?" she said, according to a report by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Ernst is fighting to keep her seat in one of a handful of competitive races that will determine control of the Senate in November. Her comment is the most prominent instance yet of Republican politicians parroting politicized misinformation about healthcare providers' reporting of COVID-19 cases. Medicare payment policy enacted by Congress to help struggling providers has become distorted as conspiracy theorists, including QAnon followers, tried to undermine COVID-19 death counts. American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack in a blog post denied that hospitals are over-reporting COVID-19 cases for profit. "The professionals of America's hospitals and health systems are focused on saving lives and treating illnesses – period. They shouldn't have to waste precious time debunking theories that are offensive and untrue," Pollack said.