AARP Endorses Bipartisan Bill to Improve Care for People in Medicare

WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–April 14, 2011.  AARP today announced its endorsement of the Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act, a bipartisan bill in the House and Senate to help confront the large out-of-pocket costs people in Medicare can face as the result of a hospital observation stay.

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Reps. Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Tom Latham (R-IA), aims to make it easier for patients to qualify for Medicare coverage of skilled nursing care once they leave the hospital so they may receive essential follow-up care.

“Too many seniors are caught off guard by sky-high medical bills or risk being denied coverage altogether because of the little-known distinction between an inpatient hospital stay and hospital observation,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. “These costs add an unnecessary burden to people in Medicare who need vital follow-up care.”

To receive Medicare coverage of skilled nursing facility care, patients must have been admitted to the hospital as an inpatient for at least three consecutive days. Increasingly, however, hospitals are choosing to “observe” patients, rather than admit them. As a result, some patients have been saddled with high out-of-pocket costs for follow-up care, or have gone without care altogether. The legislation aims to offer patients relief by applying time in the hospital under observation toward the three-day requirement for Medicare coverage of skilled nursing care and would establish a 90-day appeal period for people who have a qualifying hospital stay and have been denied skilled nursing facility care after January 1, 2011.

In a letter to the lawmakers sponsoring the bill, AARP noted the legislation would help some people in Medicare receive the services they need and reduce their out-of-pocket expenses.

“We’re pleased to see these members of Congress work collaboratively to ease the burden on Medicare patients and overcome the partisanship that has too often stalled progress in Washington,” said LeaMond. “We are happy to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to improve health care delivery for older Americans.”