Observation Stays in the National Spotlight

The complex, yet very real, problem of observation stays continues to garner national attention from the American public. It its January 9 broadcast, NBC Nightly News aired a segment covering the Medicare issue. The piece, titled “The Two Words that Cost Medicare Patients Thousands,” warned of the financial implications for Medicare beneficiaries when a hospital stay is classified as “outpatient observation.”


The segment began with a cautionary statement for Medicare recipients: “[NBC Nightly News] is back with this new warning for everyone on Medicare. Specifically, it is about the words that appear on hospital forms and small differences in the fine print that could mean thousands of dollars in payments down the line.”


The news story comes on the heels of a recent opinion-editorial piece in The Hill, “Don’t Deny Seniors Nursing Care,” penned by AHCA/NCAL President and CEO Mark Parkinson on behalf of the observation stays coalition.


Both pieces address the observation stay “loophole:” Acute care hospitals are increasingly classifying patients as receiving care referred to as observation services, which keeps them in an “outpatient” status, rather than admitting them as inpatients. Patients under observation are considered outpatients despite the fact that they may stay in a hospital bed for many days and nights receiving the same medical care that is provided to inpatients. Before Medicare will pay for skilled nursing care, a patient must first spend three days in an inpatient hospital stay. Time spent under observation in a hospital currently does not count toward that three-day minimum.


“At long last it seems that this complex issue is getting attention outside of the DC political sphere,” said Parkinson. “We will not tire of educating the public and policymakers on an issue that can impact beneficiaries everywhere.”


For more information about observation stays and the three-day stay requirement, visit the AHCA/NCAL website.