Sen. Joni Ernst’s baseless comments followed by a refusal to firmly walk them back and apologize are another example showing she is not fit to represent Iowans in Washington, D.C.

Peddling conspiracy theories (which have no foundation in any reality) that doctors and hospitals are falsifying COVID-19 death certificates to get more money during a deadly pandemic is unconscionable.

More than 192,000 have died in the United States; of those 1,200 Iowans have died. Instead of spreading a consistent message of safety with her platform, Ernst is instead actively misleading the public with verified nonsense.

“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?” she asked the crowd, responding to a question at an Aug. 31 event in Black Hawk County.

Later, she met with doctors with the Iowa Medical Society. They released a joint statement where they acknowledged, “Let us be clear, it is without doubt that the vast majority of Iowa physicians and clinicians are responding appropriately to COVID-19 and doing so in a manner that is deserving the public trust.”

But further reporting by journalists shed more details into the meeting — which reportedly included a refusal by Ernst to publicly apologize or walk back the comments.

Medicare does, in fact, pay hospitals more for patients with COVID-19. Why? Because senators like Ernst approved the measure 96-0 to help keep hospitals afloat. The pay bump is about 20% more than the normal designated rate.

Hospitals aren’t getting rich here, let there be no mistake. That extra 20% gets lost pretty quick after considering the multiple additional precautions and expenses incurred when caring for COVID-19 patients, in addition to how low Medicare reimbursements are to begin with, and how much money the previous shutdown of elective services cost hospitals earlier this year.

We’d like Ernst to address why a proposal she supported is now something she uses as supporting evidence for this ridiculous theory — maybe she didn’t read the bill.

That a sitting senator is dealing a black eye to our great state and more importantly, our great doctors, nurses and health care workers, is a serious derelict of duty. She has actively furthered mistrust during a global pandemic and fueled the fire of naysayers who rely on conspiracy, false information and misinterpret data to deny the seriousness of COVID-19.

No one is perfect. We all make comments we regret. Perhaps Ernst regrets making this one, particularly in a year where she faces a tough bid for re-election against a Democratic challenger. We’re glad she met with the Iowa Medical Society to clear up her “skepticism.” But walking away with a joint statement that dances around the elephant in the room isn’t enough to clear the damage she’s done.

Iowa deserves better than a senator who peddles in the land of conspiracy. Senators shouldn’t be part of the disinformation problem. Voters can and should make their voices heard in November.

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