Casey pushes plan to broaden Medicare coverage

Patients in skilled nursing facilities are likely footing their own bills – sometimes racking up thousands of dollars – if they were previously hospitalized under an “outpatient observation status.” Medicare currently covers only those patients who commit to a three-day inpatient hospital stay, but U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., is pushing legislation to broaden medical coverage.

The Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act, a bipartisan plan, would allow “observation” stays to count toward the three-day mandatory inpatient stay. The goal of the legislation, according to Casey, is to reduce out-of-pocket costs for Pennsylvania Medicare beneficiaries.

“Beneficiaries shouldn’t have to face thousands of dollars of bills because the hospital happens to classify them as so-called outpatient observation status,” Casey said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.

He added that the sole focus of a patient should be getting well, “not worrying about having to deal with an exorbitant bill or the technicalities with how they’re classified.”

Hospitals incurred a 25 percent increase in the number of observation stays between 2007 and 2009, and there were nearly a million Medicare beneficiaries placed under observation status in 2009 alone, according to Casey.

Casey said that because this legislation focuses on a particular aspect of Medicare, it would not have any implications for the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m of the belief that this can be dealt with within the existing Medicare budget,” Casey said.

Casey said the proposed legislation has been endorsed by “virtually any organization that focuses on health care, especially health care for older citizens,” including the AARP and American Health Care Association.

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