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CMS Improperly Paid Millions of Dollars for Skilled Nursing Facility Services When the Medicare 3-Day Inpatient Hospital Stay Requirement Was Not Met

According to Federal law, to be eligible for coverage of posthospital extended care services, a Medicare beneficiary must be an inpatient in a hospital for not less than 3 consecutive calendar days (3-day rule) before being discharged from the hospital. CMS improperly paid 65 of the 99 skilled nursing facility (SNF) claims we sampled when the 3-day rule was not met. Improper payments associated with these 65 claims totaled $481,034. On the basis of our sample results, we estimated that CMS improperly paid $84 million for SNF services that did not meet the 3-day rule during 2013 through 2015.

We attribute the improper payments to the absence of a coordinated notification mechanism among the hospitals, beneficiaries, and SNFs to ensure compliance with the 3-day rule. We noted that hospitals did not always provide correct inpatient stay information to SNFs, and SNFs knowingly or unknowingly reported erroneous hospital stay information on their Medicare claims to meet the 3-day rule. We determined that the SNFs used a combination of inpatient and non-inpatient hospital days to determine whether the 3-day rule was met. In addition, because CMS allowed SNF claims to bypass the Common Working File (CWF) qualifying stay edit during our audit period, these SNF claims were not matched with the associated hospital claims that reported inpatient stays of less than 3 days.

We recommended that CMS ensure that the CWF qualifying inpatient hospital stay edit for SNF claims is enabled when SNF claims are processed for payment. In addition, CMS should require hospitals to provide beneficiaries a written notification of the number of inpatient days of care provided during the hospital stay and whether the hospital stay qualifies subsequent SNF care for Medicare reimbursement so that beneficiaries are aware of their potential financial responsibility before consenting to receive SNF services. CMS should require SNFs to obtain a written notification from the hospital and retain it as a condition of payment for their claims. Further, CMS should educate both hospitals and SNFs about verifying and documenting the 3-day inpatient hospital stay relative to supporting a Medicare claim for SNF reimbursement.

CMS concurred with our recommendations concerning the CWF qualifying inpatient hospital stay edit and educating hospitals and SNFs but did not concur with the remaining recommendations related to a coordinated notification mechanism among hospitals, beneficiaries, and SNFs. After reviewing CMS's comments, we maintain that our findings and recommendations are valid.

Filed under: Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services