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Waiving The Three-Day Rule Admissions And Length-Of-Stay At Hospitals And Skilled Nursing Facilities Did Not Increase

Author: Regina C. Grebla, Laura Keohane, Yoojin Lee, Lewis A. Lipsitz, Momotazur Rahman, Amal N. Trivedi
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The traditional Medicare program requires an enrollee to have a hospital stay of at least three consecutive calendar days to qualify for coverage of subsequent postacute care in a skilled nursing facility. This long-standing policy, implemented to discourage premature discharges from hospitals, might now be inappropriately lengthening hospital stays for patients who could be transferred sooner. To assess the implications of eliminating the three-day qualifying stay requirement, we compared hospital and postacute skilled nursing facility utilization among Medicare Advantage enrollees in matched plans that did or did not eliminate that requirement in 2006–10. Among hospitalized enrollees with a skilled nursing facility admission, the mean hospital length-of-stay declined from 6.9 days to 6.7 days for those no longer subject to the qualifying stay but increased from 6.1 to 6.6 days among those still subject to it, for a net decline of 0.7 day when the three-day stay requirement was eliminated. The elimination was not associated with more hospital or skilled nursing facility admissions or with longer lengths-of-stay in a skilled nursing facility. These findings suggest that eliminating the three-day stay requirement conferred savings on Medicare Advantage plans and that study of the requirement in traditional Medicare plans is warranted.

The traditional Medicare program requires an enrollee to have a hospital stay of at least three consecutive calendar days to qualify for coverage of subsequent postacute care in a skilled nursing facility. This long-standing policy, implemented to discourage premature discharges from hospitals, might now be inappropriately lengthening hospital stays for patients who could be transferred sooner. To assess the implications of eliminating the three-day qualifying stay requirement, we compared hospital and postacute skilled nursing facility utilization among Medicare Advantage enrollees in matched plans that did or did not eliminate that requirement in 2006–10. Among hospitalized enrollees with a skilled nursing facility admission, the mean hospital length-of-stay declined from 6.9 days to 6.7 days for those no longer subject to the qualifying stay but increased from 6.1 to 6.6 days among those still subject to it, for a net decline of 0.7 day when the three-day stay requirement was eliminated. The elimination was not associated with more hospital or skilled nursing facility admissions or with longer lengths-of-stay in a skilled nursing facility. These findings suggest that eliminating the three-day stay requirement conferred savings on Medicare Advantage plans and that study of the requirement in traditional Medicare plans is warranted.

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