Sen. Joni Ernst speaks during a video her office produced about her tele-town hall on May 20, 2020.
During a campaign stop in Black Hawk County, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said she was “skeptical” of the COVID-19 death numbers that have been reported and said health care providers are being reimbursed at higher rates for coronavirus-related cases, according to a report from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.
Following the Monday campaign stop, Ernst said she doesn’t have the ability to fact check if COVID-19 numbers are actually inflated. She said she heard from health care providers they are receiving higher reimbursements for COVID-related care, due to the added mitigation measures, according to audio of Ernst published by the Courier.
“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 said, according to the Courier.
While elected officials like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump have questioned the accuracy of COVID-19 death totals, public health officials have said the numbers are more likely under-reported than inflated, according to the New York Times.
Most data analysts and public health experts said the COVID-19 death toll is under-reported because people with the virus may have died at home or in nursing homes without ever receiving a test.
Early deaths were also misidentified as influenza or pneumonia, according to the New York Times.
However, a fact check by USA Today showed it is true hospitals receive higher payments if cases are COVID-19 related because of a Medicare 20% add-on that was created under the CARES Act.
Ernst’s comments were made after an attendee at her rural Waterloo event said he believed the death toll was inflated. The senator told the Courier she did not have the ability to fact check the claim.
Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield condemned Ernst’s comments and said she is “peddling dangerous conspiracy theories.”
I can’t tell you why @joniernst is peddling dangerous conspiracy theories.
But I can tell you that I know Iowans are tough, and we’re playing our part to get through this.
We need our leaders to do the same. Heck, we need our leaders to trust scientists.https://t.co/GB0AalKhTM
— Theresa Greenfield (@GreenfieldIowa) September 2, 2020
With just two months left before the general election, the response to COVID-19 has become a major campaign platform for both Ernst and Greenfield as Republicans and Democrats in Congress differ in their responses to the pandemic.
In an ad released this summer, Greenfield critiqued “Washington” and the GOP, claiming Senate Republicans initial COVID-19 relief package provided a $500 billion “slush fund” for corporations.
Meanwhile, Ernst has been campaigning on her congressional work during the COVID-19 crisis, including her role with the Paycheck Protection Program as a member of the Senate Small Business Committee.
In a letter to the editor, Ernst said that while the CARES Act may not be perfect, she said her support of the bill provided millions in aid during the pandemic, according to the Mason City Globe-Gazette.
“Ms. Greenfield is so out-of-touch that she is running ads attacking my vote in support of the bipartisan CARES Act that unanimously passed the U.S. Senate,” Ernst said in her letter.
In a poll of the Senate race taken Aug. 13-14, Public Policy Polling showed Greenfield with a narrow edge over Ernst by 3 percentage points.
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