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Hospitalized but 'under observation'? Seniors, beware

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By Mark Miller
CHICAGO Thu Jan 23, 2014

(Reuters) - A growing number of seniors who think they've been hospitalized are finding that they really weren't.

The problem isn't memory loss, confusion or dementia. Instead, seniors on Medicare who did in fact spend multiple nights in the hospital are learning later on that they weren't formally admitted. Instead, they had "observation status" - a Medicare classification that can cost seniors thousands of extra dollars if they need post-hospital nursing care.

Medicare covers the first 100 days of care in skilled nursing facilities, but only for patients who were first formally admitted to a hospital for three consecutive days.

But federal data shows that the number of Medicare patients classified as under observation has jumped sharply in recent years, to 1.4 million in 2011 from 920,000 in 2006. And the trend isn't limited to patients who spend short periods of time in the hospital: The number of observation stays lasting more than 48 hours stood at 112,000 in 2011, compared with just 27,600 in 2006.

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