May 5, 2014
by Congressman Joe Courtney
In 2010, my office received a call from a Norwich, Conn., family whose 89-year-old father had fallen and broken his hip. After he was treated in the local hospital for four days, his doctor prescribed follow-on skilled nursing facility (SNF) care. Upon his arrival at the nursing home, his family was informed that they would have to pay more than $10,000 up front to cover the cost of his care: Because he had never been admitted to the hospital as an inpatient, Medicare would not cover the prescribed rehabilitative care that he needed to return home safely. I know that hospitalists are already far too familiar with stories like this. Together, we can work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Support Is Growing
For me, that family’s story was a call for action. Shortly after speaking with the family, I introduced the Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act (H.R. 1179). The bill is simple: It would restore the three-day hospital stay standard for SNF coverage, whether the stay is coded as inpatient under Part A or outpatient observation under Part B. Two Congresses later, support for the proposal is growing. In the 113th Congress, the bill has 137 bipartisan cosponsors, an indication of how widespread this problem is for Medicare beneficiaries.
The outdated Medicare law on skilled nursing care coverage is creating financial and healthcare dilemmas for families across the country. Under current law, beneficiaries must have a hospital inpatient stay of at least three days in order to qualify for Medicare coverage SNF benefits; however, more and more patients are being coded under observation status, and access to post-acute SNF care is diminishing. Patients are suffering, and healthcare providers are caught in the middle.
In fact, the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services released a report last fall that showed that Medicare beneficiaries in 2012 had more than 600,000 hospital stays that lasted three nights, yet none were admitted as inpatients. Even though these beneficiaries likely received the same care inpatients received, their observation status designation disqualified them from Medicare coverage of the SNF benefit. For their families, prescribed follow-on SNF care would have an out-of-pocket cost averaging more than $10,000. For seniors on fixed incomes, that is a devastating financial penalty for a service that should be covered by their health plans.May 5th, 2014