Opinion: the pandemic and its incentives – beds and coffins

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By Paula Schmitt*

(Opinion) The Rolling Stone magazine published an article accusing the actor Woody Harrelson of “spreading anti-vax conspiracies” after he delivered a monologue on Saturday Night Live.

In his speech, Harrelson jokes about a stupid and unbelievable script that should be thrown out before being made into a movie.

The film-that-wasn’t had the following plot: “The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes, and people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs — and keep taking them, over and over.”

The Rolling Stone journalist didn’t like the joke; I suspect it was because he saw himself in it.

(Woody Harrelson in action)

But he may not have liked it because he didn’t understand it. That’s what happens to people who are paid not to understand — they end up not understanding for real.

This is a well-known psychological phenomenon.

Take the case of a placebo: an inert substance without any active component, which can still treat and even cure an illness if the person is convinced of its power.

But there is an idea that could help the Rolling Stone journalist understand both the joke and the pandemic: “Show me the incentives, and I’ll show you the results.”

Today’s article is the first in a series that will lay out a list of crucial incentives in determining the direction this pandemic will take and the results it will achieve.

I will draw the explanation on behalf of those paid not to understand.

Then I’ll explain the drawing — my humble homage to Woody Harrelson (an old crush) and Rolling Stone (a magazine that published two of my articles in its Brazilian edition: one about Lebanon and another about the CERN laboratory).

First, an important warning: the joke I’m about to explain is not funny.

The first thing to understand about this pandemic is that Covid has literally been rewarded. The more Covid, the bigger the prize.

One of those incentives started by setting the trend from the bottom in hospitals: beds reserved for Covid received much more public money than beds reserved for any other disease.

“If a Medicare patient is diagnosed with – or even presumed to have contracted — coronavirus, hospitals across the United States are given more money from the federal government to treat that patient, economic assessments show […].”

“The amount paid can triple if the patient needs a ventilator,” says Fox News in an article from May 2020, when the president was Donald Trump, not Biden.

The scheme, admits the report, makes “some wonder whether there is a financial impetus to overstate coronavirus numbers.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, official Trump administration rates determined that beds for Covid should receive at least 20% more tax-payer money.

“Imagine two Medicare patients, one with Covid-19 and another not, with pneumonia in the same ICU.”

“Medicare will pay, for example, US$10,000 for the pneumonia patient who doesn’t have Covid-19 and US$12,000 for the patient who does,” says Doug Badger, visiting fellow for domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.

“Our verdict: True,” says the USA Today fact-checking piece on the topic.

“Hospitals and doctors do get paid more for Medicare patients diagnosed with Covid-19 or if it’s considered presumed they have Covid-19 absent a laboratory-confirmed test, and three times more if the patients are placed on a ventilator to cover the cost of care and loss of business resulting from a shift in focus to treat COVID-19 cases.”

In Brazil, it was no different. As this article from Gazeta do Povo says, in the state of Paraná, “each bed reserved for Covid-19 yields to the hospital an “indemnity” of R$800 per day for the commitment not to occupy it, leaving it free for Covid patients.”

“When the bed is occupied [with a Covid patient], the daily rate increases to R$1,600.” In other words, hospitals were paid not to receive people with any illness other than Covid.

The faith in the Covidian sect graced even those who did not have any Covid patients at all because hope in Covid never dies.

“The state [of Paraná] still pays a daily rate of R$300 for infirmary beds activated for patients infected or simply suspected of having the coronavirus, regardless of whether they occupy them or not.”

As we can see, what counts in these examples is not the patient nor even the bed the patient does (not) occupy. What really matters is the Covid record in the official statistics.

That number is priceless. Or pricey, as it so happens.

There was another advantage for hospitals that favored covid over other diseases: “While the average occupancy time of a general ICU is 4.5 days per patient, confirmed cases of Covid-19 have required intensive care for, on average, 13.5 days.”

In São Paulo, private hospitals had no reason to complain — the pandemic was very profitable.

According to a report by G1, mayor Bruno Covas announced that he would quadruple the ICU beds for Covid and pay R$2,100 per day for each bed. For context, the minimum monthly salary in Brazil is R$1,320.

In other regions of Brazil, Coronapalooza was also a success.

The Diário do Nordeste newspaper reported in March 2021 that “the cost to maintain a Covid ICU bed is R$2,666.67 per day, so the monthly investment in this type of equipment varies from R$80,000 to R$82,600.

The amount is double what is needed to maintain a ward vacancy, whose daily expenditure is R$1,233.33, totaling between R$37,000 and R$38,200 per month.”

If you think it’s odd that a respiratory illness pays more per bed than a car accident or cancer, wait until you find out what you get if you are lucky enough to die from it.

In the United States, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) pays up to US$9,000 in assistance for those who die of Covid (or with Covid – – a “detail” I intend to write about one day).

According to several local reports, no serpentine bureaucratic meandering is required to release that financial assistance — one needs a relative, a doctor, or a funeral director to certify the cause of death as Covid.

In São Paulo, the government of João Doria did something similar: six monthly installments of R$300 to families who lost at least one member due to Covid.

The official government website has a page explaining how it works, but it appears offline. I made a print of the excerpt that appears in the duckduckgo search, where it is possible to see João Doria’s generosity in all its splendor.

The first thing to understand about this pandemic is that Covid has literally been rewarded. The more covid, the bigger the prize. (Photo internet reproduction)
The first thing to understand about this pandemic is that Covid has literally been rewarded. The more covid, the bigger the prize. (Photo internet reproduction)

As reported by G1, the benefit is cumulative, and the more deaths in the family, the higher the payment.

It is reasonable to imagine that fraud and forgery must have taken place.

Ingenious minds certainly had no problem finding moral justifications to lie about the cause of death — what’s the harm in inventing a disease in someone who has already died if that lie makes the situation easier for those still alive?

Why not honor the dead with a better coffin or more flowers at the wake? And if “taxation is theft,” why not recover some of what has been stolen?

All indications point to one conclusion: the truth didn’t matter.

Government, authorities, and vaccine pushers needed a statistical justification from the dead and their relatives, and they rewarded those who gave it to them.

I personally know of several dozen, perhaps more than a hundred, cases in which relatives were pressured to accept “Covid” as the cause of death of someone who did not have covid, much less died from it.

In at least ten cases, the family had to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit to correct the death certificate and ensure that the cause of death entered on the document was the actual cause, not the preferred cause.

I’ll finish this article with some excellent news.

In the first year of the Covid pandemic, deaths from influenza in the United States had the most significant drop in history.

Check this out: In the 2019 to 2020 flu season, there were 22,000 deaths. The year before, there were more than 34,000 deaths.

But in the first year of the pandemic, the influenza virus got scared by Covid and disappeared almost completely, killing only 600 people. What a relief.

, Opinion: Brazil, a democracy under Attack

* Paula Schmitt is a journalist and writer with an MA in Political Science and Middle  Eastern Studies from the American University of Beirut. She is the author of the fiction book “Eudemonia” and the non-fiction “Spies”.

She won the Bandeirantes Radiojournalism Award, was a Middle East correspondent for SBT and Radio France, and was a political columnist for Folha de S.Paulo and Estado de S. Paulo.

*This article was originally published in Portuguese on the political website Poder360.com

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