When a loved one goes into the hospital, our concerns are focused on his or her health and making sure that he or she gets better. However, admission to the hospital carries with it legal and financial obligations which are difficult to think about in the midst of a medical crisis. It is important that when signing admission documents that the patient sign for himself. If that is not physically possible, then a family member can sign, but he or she should do so only in a representative capacity. Even if your spouse is being admitted, you should be sure to sign as “Attorney-in-Fact” or “Agent” under a Durable Power of Attorney. Obviously, this document needs to be in place prior to the admission. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that a spouse is not liable for the medical bills of a patient, unless he or she chooses to become liable by personally signing the contract.
Once a loved one is admitted as an inpatient, he may have certain Medicare rights, such as the right to needed rehabilitative services after a 3 night stay. If you believe that you or a loved one are being discharged prematurely and such discharge will impair your or your loved one’s ability to obtain rehabilitation, you may be able to appeal your discharge to a Medicare intermediary. However, the deadline on the right to appeal comes very quickly so fast action is required.
Recently it has come to our attention that hospitals throughout the country are choosing not to admit patients as “inpatients” but instead to hold them in “observation status.” If you are admitted to the hospital under “observation status” you are not entitled to rehabilitation services even if you stay in the hospital 3 nights or more. Most patients do not even know if they are an “inpatient” or on “observation.” Ironically, there is no appeal right when a patient is caught in this quagmire because there is no Medicare discharge to appeal. We are working to try to change this hospital practice and have been in communication with the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington D.C. to try to effect a change on a national basis. Until such change can be implemented, we recommend that you clarify with your doctor the type of admission that is being ordered and question carefully any “observation status” admission. It is appropriate to question how long you will be under observation, what is being observed, and when a decision will be made to admit as an inpatient.The patient should know the status of admission as it may have adverse health and financial ramifications.
*We would like to remind you that your life care plan covers this type of advocacy and we want to make sure that you let us know about any hospital admissions so that we can work with you to obtain the best care possible.