Leave Feedback

Older residents stuck with huge bills

Tom Jackson • Jan 19, 2014 at 1:10 PM

Older people admitted to the hospital for observation may find themselves “observing” unexpectedly large medical bills. So says U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is introducing a bill to help Medicare patients who have gotten large bills for necessary additional medical care after going to the hospital.

Brown explained in a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Medicare will pay for rehabilitation in a nursing home if a patient first spent at least three days in the hospital.

The problem is that patients admitted on observation status don’t count in that three-day tally, Brown said.

Brown has introduced a bill, the Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act, which would allow time spent in the hospital under observation status to count toward the three-day requirement for getting skilled nursing care covered by Medicare.

Sue Daugherty, executive director of Serving Our Seniors, said she knows the issue that Brown has raised has been a problem for local seniors.

“They don’t think to ask, ‘Am I being admitted to the hospital, or is it observation status?’” Daugherty said.

“When seniors are transferred from a hospital to a nursing home for further care, they should be able to focus on their recovery instead of technicalities that could lead to sky high medical bills,” Brown said. “My bipartisan legislation would help ensure that seniors receive the care they need without incurring unexpected and unfair costs.”

Brown said his measure has been endorsed by a number of organizations, including the AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Health Care Association, the American Nurses Association, and others.

Brown told reporters that observation is meant to allow doctors to decide whether someone needs to be admitted as an inpatient. Hospitals are under pressure not to admit anyone unless it’s necessary.

Medicare law is complicated, and “some things happen that were probably not intended,” Brown said. “I don’t think anybody had wrong intent here”

Recommended for You