Judith Stein got a call from her mother recently, reporting that a friend was in the hospital. “Be sure she’s admitted,” Ms. Stein said.
As executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, she has gotten all too savvy about this stuff.
“Of course she’s admitted,” her mother said. “Didn’t I just tell you she was in the hospital?”
But like a sharply growing number of Medicare beneficiaries, her mother’s friend would soon learn that she could spend a day or three in a hospital bed, could be monitored and treated by doctors and nurses — and never be formally admitted to the hospital. She was on observation status and therefore an outpatient. As I wrote last year, the distinction can have serious consequences.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tried to clarify this confusing situation in the spring with a policy popularly known as the “two-midnight rule.” When a physician expects a patient’s stay to include at least two midnights, that person is an inpatient whose care is covered under Medicare Part A, which pays for hospitals. If it doesn’t last two midnights, Medicare expects the person to be an outpatient, and Part B, which pays for doctors, takes over.
It’s rare to have hospital and nursing home administrators, physicians and patient advocates all agreeing about a Medicare policy, but in this case “there’s unanimity of dislike,” said ...