Aging Parent Hospitalizations and Observation Status

Just when you think that you have settled the most significant adult child-aging parent issues — when you and your parents have spoken about medical care support, finances, and the range of their end-of-life wishes — along comes another concern to worry about, and it’s one that may be completely out of our control.

Medicare ObservationWe now need to be concerned about the possibility of a parent entering a hospital and assigned to observation status for several days. Observation means that, rather than being officially admitted as a patient, the person is there to be watched, sort of like an out-patient, but not really an out-patient. The problem is, it’s difficult to discover what status a hospital assigns a patient  — the two look almost alike with nurses, doctors, hospital rooms, blood pressure checks, etc.  Admission and observation do not look that different to the patient and family, and apparently many hospitals are not especially  forthcoming with the information.

Why is patient status significant? It’s simple, really. If your parent needs to enter a skilled nursing facility or nursing home after three days of observation status, Medicare will not pay and the family will be required to pay all of the bills, including the hospital costs. For Medicare to pay the bills, a family member must be admitted as a patient for at least three days and not assigned observation status.

Over the past year newspapers and medical or health journals have carried stories about elders and observation, and I share them here so that you can learn as much as you can.

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