Thursday, February 6, 2014

CMS' Two-Midnight Rule: Who Must Sign Off?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a clarification to the ‘Two-Midnight Rule’ this week that a physician must sign off on the admitting paperwork for Medicare beneficiaries. CMS published the two-midnight policy in an effort to explain when a Medicare beneficiary may qualify for overnight care versus outpatient care. This distinction is important to hospitals because the payment to the hospital is higher for overnight stays than for outpatient care. The rule initially established that a physician must have good reason to believe that a patient will require two nights in the hospital to qualify for the higher hospital rate from Medicare.

The clarification requires physicians to sign off on the admitting paperwork for Medicare beneficiaries before the patient is discharged. By signing the admitting paperwork the physicians are accepting responsibility for the determination that there is good reason the patient will require two nights in the hospital. Medicare's recovery auditors will not audit inpatient claims under the two-midnight rule until after Sept. 30, 2014.  

A hospital may still comply with the regulation if a non-physician staffer writes the admitting order into the medical record, even if the recording staffer does not have the independent authority to admit a patient. However, in all cases the physician must sign the admitting paperwork prior to the patient's release. 

For example, a hospital will be in compliance with the regulation if a nurse documents a physician's verbal order to admit a patient in the medical record if the physician signs the decision before the patient leaves the hospital. Similarly, residents, physician assistants and nurse practitioners may write the inpatient admitting order as a proxy for a physician so long as the physician signs the order before the patient is discharged. In every case the physician's signature represents that she approves and accepts responsibility for the admission decision.

Hospitals may still be compensated in cases when a doctor later refuses to sign the admitting order.  However, they will be compensated at outpatient rates. The hospitals must send the bills through Medicare's Part B system for outpatient care.  

CMS' Two-Midnight Policy can be found here

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