The title of this post is a play on words, but you won’t get it unless you read this entire thing. For a change, this attorney is going to be talking strictly about the law. Today I’m writing about some NEW laws that directly affect the community of older adults and their caregivers. I’ll try avoid the “legalese” to make it all more understandable (and not so boring) plus why, and how it affects you and your loved ones. The first law I’m going to share with you is the NOTICE Act. ”NOTICE” is an acronym (of course) that stands for: Notice of Observation Treatment and Implication for Care Eligibility. It’s a federal law, so it applies to anywhere in the U.S. But before I talk about the law, let me describe the problem it’s designed to fix… When you go to the hospital, if you have a heart attack, a stroke or a serious fall for example, you’ll likely find yourself in the E.R. From the E.R. you get moved to a room. For two days, you occupy a bed, eat hospital meals, have nurses and aides bustle in and out taking vitals, giving you pills, and charting everything; they help you bathe, or shave; doctors order tests and x-rays or images; a doctor comes to see you every morning. Unbeknownst to you however, it’s quite possible that even though you are: receiving hospital care, from hospital staff, in a hospital room, laying in a hospital bed, eating hospital food, even wearing a hospital gown with your rear-end exposed – yet – you have not been “admitted” to the hospital. It’s true! Instead, you are there on “observation” and you are NOT admitted as an inpatient. I have seen patients in local hospitals on “observation” for as much as a week. Why does it matter? You’re getting all the care described above right? Well, let’s expand the story a bit…. After two days, the doctors decide that you don’t have a broken hip, or, that you had a stroke or heart attack, but you are stable now. You are weak, maybe have issues with balance, but you no longer need acute (hospital) care. However, they say you could benefit from physical therapy and rehabilitation. So they discharge you to a rehab center. You stay in rehab for a week to get your strength back and work on the balance issues. So far, so good. Two months later, you get a bills from the hospital and 7 days in rehab for tens of thousands of dollars. Shocked and dismayed you just can’t figure out why Medicare didn’t pay part or all of your bills. The hospital bill, while on “observation” is covered by Medicare Part B and only as outpatient services. Unlike Medicare Part A, which covers inpatient hospitalization, Part B has a sizable deductible and very likely co-payments for every doctor, test, pill or technician who touched or saw you while in the hospital. Some of you may not have Part B Medicare and might be on the hook for the entire hospital bill. Worse, Medicare simply will deny payment for 100% of the rehabilitation unless you had a bona fide inpatient hospital stay for at least three days (not including the day of discharge). Observation days don’t count. That means that you might have been on “Observation” for two or more days, and then as an inpatient for just two, but without the required three day Inpatient status, there will be zero Medicare coverage for the rehab. You may want to know why hospitals do this. (if not, skip the next coupla’ paragraphs and read the good news about how the problem is being addressed). There’s a reason hospitals have adopted this observation status myth. The reason is that if they RE-admit patients too frequently, Medicare dings the hospital and takes back money they paid them for what Medicare thinks is too much ineffective hospital treatment. The theory is that if hospitals are effectively caring for patients, are reimbursed by Medicare for that care, then patients should not be going through a revolving door in and out of the hospital. In response to the re-admission penalties levied on hospitals, hospitals simply stopped admitting folks in the first place. Instead as described above they simply placed you on “observation.” When you later come back to hospital through the revolving door, you are not a “re-admit” – you’re either on observation again, or perhaps admitted for the first time. On paper. Here’s the rub. Hospital’s refusing to admit you so they can dodge the requirement to reduce re-admissions resulted in a situation where Medicare – instead of penalizing hospitals for insufficient care –are now was dinging (clobbering?) patients for the care and rehabilitation they desperately need. As if sick, frail elderly people needed more stress? The biggest problem of all was that patients and their caregivers had no idea what was happening until it was altogether too late. You found out only when the bills came! And even those patients who knew enough to inquire as to their admission status, found it extremely difficult – if not impossible – to pin the hospital down to tell you if you were an inpatient or on observation status. Enter Congress. Yeah, yeah I know. I can hear you groaning from here. But for once, they did a really good job. The NOTICE Act, first introduced in the House in February of 2015 sailed through both chambers and was signed by President Obama on August 6th of 2015 to become the law of the land. In short, the NOTICE Act, “require[s] hospitals to provide certain notifications to individuals classified by such hospitals under observation status rather than admitted as inpatients of such hospitals.” (You can read the entire bill and the Congressional Research Service Summary here.) The details of the law are great. It requires hospitals to provide this notice to all patients that are there on more than 24 hours of observation status, the notice must be a written and oral explanation of their status, in a way that you understand and they have to explain the consequences of that status (see above!). Never the less, it will probably be a while before hospitals step up to this requirement. If you or a loved one lands in the hospital and you find yourself in a room, or in the E.R. for more than 24 hours, ASK what your status is. They have to tell you. Meanwhile in VIRGINIA, there’s a new law on the books that attempts to help slow down that revolving door that so often results in return trips to the hospital. Initially called the CARE Act but now enacted in the Virginia Code as § 32.1-137.03. Discharge planning; designation of individual to provide care (you can read the entire law here). This law (enrolled July 2015) is designed to force hospital discharge planners (they used to be social workers) to provide critical information to the family or designated caregiver and allows caregiver to ask questions and receive training so have the tools needed to see to the necessary follow up care. This must take place before the patient is discharged. I cannot tell you the countless number of times I’ve encountered elderly patients, too sick and completely overwhelmed to have any understanding of what’s happening to them when hospitalized; Likewise, family members are completely dazed, emotionally drained, on edge and not truly understanding a darn thing that’s happening when a discharge planner calls them to tell them “we’re discharging your mom this afternoon.” Then they are given a pile of papers to sign (which they do not have time to read, much less understand), mom is loaded into a wheelchair and off they are pushed to the revolving door out front. Small wonder, when Mom or Dad are not adequately cared for at home – for instance a medication error is made, a missed appointment for needed tests or therapy results in another trip to the E.R – yep, yep, yep. A “Re-Admit” and back through the revolving door of the hospital (see above). When the family or paid caregiver makes such a mistake, it’s hard to blame them. They have a pile of unintelligible discharge paperwork that they didn’t understand at the time, and they don’t remember what (if anything) was said either. They are still tired and stressed. The CARE Act was designed to address this problem by sending patients home with a properly informed caregiver who has all the information and ability to carry out needed care tasks. Key elements of the law (notice the placements of “must” “shall” and “will” – they got to do it!): Each hospital inpatient can designate someone who will care for, or assist the patient in his/her residence (home, not another hospital, rehab or nursing facility). I will call that person the “caregiver” though the law refers to them as “designated person”. The hospital will consult with the caregiver regarding his/her ability to provide the care, treatment, or services. The caregiver’s name and contact information is charted at the time of admission. The patient can change the caregiver at any time and the hospital must chart it within 24 hours of the change. The hospital must give information regarding the patient’s discharge plan and any follow-up care, treatment, and services the patient requires prior to discharging the patient. The hospital must provide the caregiver the opportunity for a demonstration of specific follow-up care tasks that they will need to perform based on the patient’s discharge plan before the patient’s discharge They must also have an opportunity to ask questions regarding how to perform care tasks. Hospitals must communicate this information in a “culturally competent manner” and in the caregiver’s native language. The hospital shall notify the caregiver of discharge and shall provide the caregiver with a copy of the patient’s discharge plan and instructions and information regarding any follow-up care, treatment, or services that caregiver may need. The discharge plan shall include a description of the follow-up care, treatment, and services that the patient requires; that must include contact information about any health care, long-term care, or other community-based services and supports to carry out the plan. This new law, which we’ll call the CARE Act, is a basis for holding hospital discharge planner’s feet to the fire. Their job can no longer just be a matter of filling out forms and shoving patients out the door. They must now ensure that discharged patients and their caregivers have the necessary information and tools to make sure their patients can go home and get better. Together, these two laws are tools we can use to make sure you get the care you need during and after a hospital stay and ensuring that Medicare will properly put the emphasis on hospitals to provide quality care so that we can stop the revolving door. I hope that’s made some important new laws understandable for readers who are “frequent flyers” at hospitals and that is most of my elderly clients. For now, that’s enough law from this attorney. Stay safe and healthy!