When the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services make a significant change to the inpatient hospital rules, hospitalists are among the first to feel the effects.
You probably remember that, starting in October 2013, when a resident, nurse practitioner (NP), or physician assistant (PA) entered an inpatient admission order on your behalf, you were told to cosign that order before discharge or the hospital would forfeit payment for the entire stay. This policy was put in place by an annual piece of governmental policy known as the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) Final Rule – the same one, in fact, that established the Two Midnight Rule.
The CMS felt that the decision to admit a Medicare beneficiary to inpatient care is such a significant event that it was appropriate to require the attending physician to complete a series of certification requirements to justify every inpatient stay. If not completed and finalized prior to discharge, the CMS would not pay for the stay. After 15 months of enforcing that policy, the CMS backed off on most of the certification requirements for most stays. However, the requirement for an authenticated inpatient order prior to discharge was kept in place for all stays. (“Authenticated” is CMS-speak for signed, or, in the case of inpatient orders initially placed by a resident/NP/PA without admitting privileges, cosigned, by a practitioner with admitting privileges.)
In the spring of 2018, the CMS proposed a change to “revise the admission order documentation requirements by removing the requirement that written inpatient admission orders are a specific requirement for Medicare Part A [inpatient hospital] payment.” The CMS also stated that it did not intend for Medicare auditors to deny hospital inpatient claims based solely on a deficiency in the inpatient order, such as a missing order or one signed after discharge, which the CMS found out was happening.
The description sounded great. In comments to the CMS, many providers assumed that they, too, would be provided similar discretion if they discovered the order defect. Are inpatient orders now optional? What rate of inpatient order technical deficiencies is acceptable to still submit inpatient claims for payment? Can 2-day observation stays where medical necessity for hospital care was present, but no inpatient order given, be billed as an inpatient now?
But these providers had not read the fine print. Consider that the annual IPPS Final Rule has a length of about 2,000 pages. Of those, only about 30 pages represent changes to a group of policies known as the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR carries the weight of law (as long as it does not contradict law). When you appeal a Medicare denial to a judge, she will ask what portion of the CFR supports your viewpoint. The other 1,970 pages can be thought of as supporting analysis and reasoning to justify the 30 pages of changes. What changes were actually made to the CFR?
Consider the following two sentences.
- “For purposes of payment under Medicare Part A, an individual is considered an inpatient of a hospital, including a critical access hospital, if formally admitted as an inpatient pursuant to an order for inpatient admission by a physician or other qualified practitioner.”
- “This physician order must be present in the medical record and be supported by the physician admission and progress notes, in order for the hospital to be paid for hospital inpatient services under Medicare Part A.”