You are in the hospital for tests after experiencing dizziness. You are nervous about what the tests will show, but at least you do not have to worry about hospital bills – you have Medicare, so you can relax about healthcare coverage. Or can you?
Not if you are in the hospital under “observation status” – a Medicare designation applied to patients deemed insufficiently ill for formal admission, but still too sick to be allowed to go home. Observation status can result in thousands of dollars in higher costs – especially if you need post-hospital nursing care.
Medicare covers care in skilled nursing facilities, but only for patients who were first formally admitted to a hospital for three consecutive days.
Federal data shows that the number of Medicare patients classified as under observation has jumped sharply in recent years, and it has stirred a great deal of pushback from Medicare enrollees and advocacy groups. A new law – the Notice Act – requires hospitals to at least notify patients if they stay in the hospital more than 24 hours without being formally admitted. Patients will receive the warnings starting in January, but advocates argue the new protection does not go far enough.