As of a recent federal court decision, Medicare beneficiaries can now appeal previous patient status decisions.
The Underlying Issue
When Medicare patients go to a hospital, they often enter through the emergency department. The physician who attends to them must decide whether to admit them into the hospital as an inpatient, discharge them, or keep them in the hospital under observation status. A patient under observation services receives care virtually identical to inpatient care but is classified as an outpatient to qualify for traditional Medicare coverage.
If the patient receiving observation services must go to a nursing home to continue their recovery, traditional Medicare won’t cover the nursing home care because they were not classified as an inpatient for at least three consecutive days when they were in the hospital. This can have a serious financial effect on the patient since they must pay for the services on their own. What made the situation worse is that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would not allow patients to appeal the decision.
A patient in observation status is in limbo since a physician has determined that they are too sick to go home but not sick enough to be admitted into the hospital as an inpatient. They receive basically the same level of care as a patient who is classified as an inpatient, including mental and physical assessments, diagnostic tests, short-term treatments, medications, and feedings.
In 2015, then-President Barack Obama signed the Notice of Observation Treatment and Implication for Care Eligibility Act, a.k.a. Notice Act. The Notice Act requires hospitals to notify patients if they have been receiving hospital services under observation status for more than 24 hours. Patients must be given both written and oral notifications if their observation status exceeds 36 hours.
The written notice must explain why the patient is not classified as an inpatient. It must explain how their observation status may affect the cost of their hospital care and their eligibility for skilled nursing facility care coverage. The written notice must be signed by the patient or someone acting on the patient’s behalf. If they refuse to sign the notice, then a staff member of the hospital must sign it.
Alexander v. Azar
A recent federal court decision in the Alexander v. Azar case sided with Medicare beneficiaries who had been admitted to hospitals as inpatients but then changed to observation status. If you were a patient in a hospital and switched from inpatient status to observation status, you may have the right to appeal Medicare’s decision. To appeal your observation status decision, you must have been:
- Hospitalized since January 1, 2009
- A Medicare beneficiary with traditional Medicare (not Medicare Advantage) during your hospitalization
- Admitted to the hospital as an inpatient before your status was changed to observation status
- Notified of Medicare Outpatient Observation status from the hospital or have a Medicare Summary Notice stating that you will, or did, receive observation services that are not covered by Medicare part A
- Qualified for either both Medicare Part A and Part B or only Medicare Part A
- Hospitalized for at least three consecutive days but fewer than three days as an inpatient
- Admitted to a skilled nursing facility within 30 days of discharge from the hospital.
Stay up to date as this situation develops by checking in with the Center for Medicare Advocacy.
Help with Medicare and Medicaid
Navigating the complicated Medicare and Medicaid systems can be difficult and time-consuming. It is all too easy to make mistakes that will cause coverage to be denied. An experienced elder law attorney can guide you through the process to get the benefits you need.