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Medicare Hospital Outpatient and Observation Status: The Three-Day Stay Problem

Medicare benefits for skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) hinge on a complicated concept, the three-day rule. This rule requires beneficiaries to be hospital inpatients for three consecutive days before Medicare will cover SNF admittance. But Medicare beneficiaries needing hospital care often find themselves classified as “outpatients,” and/or in “Observation Status” rather than admitted as inpatients. Observation Status patients often receive care that is indistinguishable from the care provided to individuals who have been formally admitted as inpatients, and observation stays can last for several days. This penalizes patients who have no control over how they will be classified and makes the Medicare distinction between the two statuses illogical and punitive.  

Policy Issues: Coverage and Benefits
Protect & Strengthen Medicare

Any changes to the Medicare program must aim for healthier people, better care, and smarter spending—not paying more for less. As policymakers debate the future of health care, we will provide our insights here.

30 Policy Goals

Thinking ahead to Medicare's future, it’s important to modernize benefits and pursue changes that improve how people with Medicare navigate their coverage on a daily basis. Here are our evolving 30 policy goals for Medicare’s future.

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