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A congressman is expressing confidence that a bill he sponsored — to fix a problem faced by many Medicare patients who are left without coverage for skilled nursing care — will pass this year.

medicare-pillRep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., who introduced the bill with Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, told reporters in a conference call that the legislation has picked up 137 cosponsors.

“This is not happening in a vacuum,” Courtney said, according to the Connecticut Mirror. “It’s happening because there is an intensifying effect here in terms of the numbers of patients who are being affected.”

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Medicare rules say patients are not covered for skilled nursing care after a hospital stay unless they were inpatients for at least three days. But hundreds of thousands of patients each year are classified as under “observation status” in the hospital instead of as admitted patients. The bill would entitle them to skilled nursing care.

According to a recent AARP report, Medicare claims for observation status increased more than 100 percent from 2001 to 2009, with an even greater percentage increase in the length of time spent in observation.

Too many patients don’t even know their stay in the hospital was not considered inpatient, Joyce Rogers, AARP senior vice president for government affairs, said in a letter endorsing the Senate version of the bill. When patients find their skilled nursing care isn’t covered, some forgo needed treatments, while others end up paying the bills themselves, she said.

“Unfortunately, the financial impact for Medicare beneficiaries who spend time in observation can be burdensome and significant,” she said.

Courtney has 100 more House sponsors for the bill than he did during the last session of Congress, while the number of Senate backers has increased to 25.

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