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October 9, 2013

The 3-Night Hospital Stay and Medicare Coverage for Skilled Nursing Care

Author Affiliations
  • 1Hebrew SeniorLife, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2013;310(14):1441-1442. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.254845

According to current Medicare coverage policies, Medicare requires a patient to have been a hospital inpatient for at least 3 consecutive days to receive coverage for rehabilitation in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) after hospital discharge.

Consider the following 2 clinical scenarios. In the first, an 80-year-old man who falls at home and can no longer walk independently is evaluated in the emergency department but does not meet criteria for hospitalization. He needs rehabilitation in an SNF to regain his ability to walk but must be admitted to a hospital for 3 nights to qualify for Medicare payment for this rehabilitation. Without a 3-night stay, the patient or his family must either pay the cost of SNF care (about $430 per day), admit him to a nursing home (about $300 per day), or hire caregivers to support him at home ($20-$30 per hour). In the second scenario, a 90-year-old nursing home resident develops pneumonia and dehydration. The licensed practical nurse responsible for her care is overwhelmed by many sick residents and moreover cannot administer intravenous fluids. She asks the covering physician for a hospital transfer. If the resident is transferred to the hospital for 3 nights, costing Medicare about $12 300,1 she can return to the same nursing home under the SNF benefit for an additional $430 per day.

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