COVID-19 death certificate issue could affect burial reimbursement: What you need to know

NEW YORK (WABC) -- If someone you loved died of COVID-19, 7 On Your Side Investigates has a warning regarding a death certificate issue that could prevent families from applying for federal burial reimbursement.

After more than 40 years of marriage, Nicholas Rivera's beloved wife Rose died of the novel coronavirus earlier this year.

"I miss my Rose," he said from his Queens home. "I can't take it. Every day, I cry."

When he received his wife's death certificate, he was surprised by what wasn't included on the official document -- it doesn't state she died of complications due to COVID-19.

Instead, it states she died of natural causes.

"We want the truth to come," Rivera said. "That's not right."

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And he's not the only one. The same thing happened with his neighbor's family.

When John Gerardi's mother died earlier this year after being diagnosed with COVID, her death certificate also states "natural causes."

"We can't figure out why," Gerardi said.

It's not just a matter of principle. As of this week, FEMA is offering people up to $9,000 in burial reimbursement (CLICK HERE for information on how to apply) if a loved one died of COVID-19. But the death certificate has to list COVID-19 as a cause.

7 On Your Side Investigates found that many cities and states in the northeast have not just one, but two versions of death certificates -- and they can change depending on where you live and who's filling out the form.

For example, in New York City, there's a death certificate that does not give an exact cause, and another that a family member can request that's called a death certificate that "includes a confidential medical report of the cause of death."

You can find more information on that by CLICKING HERE.

In addition, the states of New York and New Jersey have their own laws and versions, and families have to know what to request.

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The COVID pandemic has put a financial strain on thousands of families in the Tri-State area when it comes to burying their loved ones.


In New Jersey, there are "certifications" that typically don't have an exact cause and "certified copies" that do. Often times, a funeral home gives families a more generic death certificate without the exact cause unless specifically requested.

"They're legitimate concerns," said Bob Anderson, Chief of Mortality Statistics for the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

Anderson said some cities and regions only release general information like "natural causes" due to confidentiality reasons, but a copy can be requested with specific causes.

"There's really no barrier for the family members to get that information," Anderson said. "They really just have to go through some extra hoops."

He said that as for counting the deaths in the COVID-19 death toll, they are being counted because it's based on what's in a patient's confidential record, not what's on the initial piece of paper.

"They are being counted, yes, assuming that COVID 19 was determined to be the cause of death," he said.

More than 80,000 people died of COVID-19 in the Tri-State area alone.

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