Public Policy

CMS modifies the inpatient admission order requirement, or did it?


These are the first two sentences of 42 CFR 412.3(a), the regulation that defines the inpatient order requirement. On Oct. 1, 2018, the second sentence was removed, but the first sentence still remains. That’s the only change for this section. Does removal of the second sentence absolve providers of the requirement to document inpatient admission orders? Does it absolve providers of the requirement to cosign a resident’s admission order prior to discharge? The Medicare Benefit Policy Manual (MBPM) Chapter 1, Section 10(B) still reads “if the order is not properly documented in the medical record prior to discharge, the hospital should not submit a claim for Part A payment.”

Understanding what changed and what did not change in the CFR is key to understanding why, in this year’s IPPS Final Rule, the CMS repeatedly responded to providers that an inpatient order is still a requirement for a Part A stay and that none of the MBPM guidance regarding the inpatient order, such as the excerpt above, is changing.

At this point, we can only be reasonably certain that if a claim a hospital submits for Part A payment happens to get audited and found to have only one deficiency which is related to the inpatient order, per this guidance it probably won’t get denied. That is very different from saying the attending physician no longer has to provide a signed (or cosigned) inpatient admission order prior to discharge, or at all.

Providers actually did ask the CMS if a hospital could still submit a claim the hospital knows has a missing or incomplete inpatient admission order at the time of discharge. The CMS responded that Medicare contractors have the discretion in extremely rare circumstances to approve cases where an order to admit may be missing or defective, and yet the intent, decision, and recommendation of the ordering practitioner to admit as inpatient can be clearly derived from the medical record. However, note that the discretion belongs to the Medicare contractor, not the provider.

The American College of Physician Advisors (ACPA) asked the CMS the following question about the inpatient order policy change during the 2019 IPPS Final Rule Open Door Forum held on Sept. 11, 2018: “Can providers thus submit a claim, that the provider believes meets all other requirements for Part A payment, in the rare circumstance of an inpatient order deficiency, such as an inpatient order that was cosigned shortly after discharge?”

The CMS declined to answer the question on the call, asking us to submit the question to the Open Door Forum electronic mailbox. If the inpatient order was truly no longer being required for the CMS to pay for inpatient hospital stays, the answer would have been an easy “yes,” but it was not. Subsequently, the CMS responded in writing to the ACPA that “the responsibilities of providers regarding inpatient admission orders is unchanged.” In other words, Medicare auditors have been given discretion to overlook an inpatient order flaw, but providers have not.

At this time, our recommendation is to continue your processes to ensure that the inpatient admission order is completed and signed (or cosigned) prior to discharge by the attending physician for every Medicare patient. This will not only help make sure that the decision to make a hospitalized Medicare beneficiary an inpatient remains with the attending physician, but it will also reduce the risk of nonpayment.

Dr. Hu is executive director of physician advisor services of University of North Carolina Health Care System in Chapel Hill, N.C., and president of the ACPA. Dr. Locke is senior physician advisor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and president-elect of the ACPA.


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