As many hospitalists are probably acutely aware, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is putting a new rule into effect that will greatly impact how inpatient admission decisions are made. The rule, known as the “two-midnight rule,” states that if the admitting practitioner admits a Medicare beneficiary as an inpatient with the reasonable expectation that the beneficiary will require care that “crosses two midnights” and this decision is justified in the medical record, Medicare Part A payment is “generally appropriate.”
While there are multiple caveats, exceptions, and details, this rule can be simply articulated: If the admitting physician feels a patient will be in the hospital for a period longer than two midnights and the medical record supports this determination, the patient is an inpatient. Stays expected to be shorter than two midnights should be under observation status.
This new policy is an attempt to respond both to hospital calls for more guidance about when a beneficiary is appropriately treated as an inpatient—and paid by Medicare—and concerns about increasingly long hospital stays under observation status. Most hospitalists wrestle with status determination issues on a daily basis.
SHM is aware of the struggle and has been advocating on behalf of hospitalists to help shape observation status and the two-midnight rule. When the rule was first proposed, SHM voiced serious concerns about its utility and how it was unlikely to solve the overall confusion surrounding inpatient status determinations. Nevertheless, CMS finalized the rule as an attempt to begin addressing the problem.
Faced with an increasingly loud chorus of providers and hospitals concerned about the implementation of the new policy, CMS agreed to delay full enforcement from the original date of Oct. 1, 2013, until March 31, 2014.
During the delayed enforcement period, hospitals will be expected to begin implementing the two-midnight rule, and auditors will be giving hospitals non-punitive feedback on their application of the policy. To accomplish this, CMS is instructing Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to review a sample of 10 to 25 inpatient hospital claims spanning less than two midnights after admission for each hospital. This probe sample will be used to assist hospitals with implementing the new requirements correctly. To give an additional level of comfort during this adjustment period, CMS has announced that it will not conduct post-payment patient status reviews for claims with dates of admission Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014.
Unfortunately, beyond the vague guidance CMS has offered thus far, there is no foolproof guide to establishing new hospital admissions policies that comply with the rule. As a result, there likely will be wide variation among hospitals.
To assist in sorting out the confusion, SHM will be hosting a webinar this month with case studies from several hospitals. The focus will be on the internal processes each hospital is using to implement the rule and how they were developed. Sharing and learning from national implementation experiences is a valuable way for hospitalists to gain new perspectives and to bring those experiences to their home institutions when considering their own roles in meeting the new admissions criteria head on.
For more information about the webinar and to register, visit www.hospitalmedicine.org today.
Josh Boswell is SHM’s senior manager of government relations.