On a snowy Tuesday January 21, SUN-B hosted its monthly meeting at the Bensonhurst Center for Rehabilitation and Healthcare. The guest speaker was Maria Alvarez, executive director of Brooklyn-Wide Interagency Council of Aging (BWICA) as well as the NY State-Wide Senior Action Council, who discussed the advocacy organization’s recent work helping seniors better comprehend the often confusing financial aspect of hospital care as well as defend their rights.
“A few years ago,” Alvarez told the crowd, “we got calls from seniors and patients saying, ‘I just received a bill. I was in the hospital and I got a bill and I don’t understand why because I’ve been in the hospital before with the same condition and Medicare or health insurances pays for it and now all of a sudden I have a $30,000 bill that I’m responsible for.’ They don’t know why.”
Alvarez recounted several similar stories, such as hospitals trying to discharge patients even if they didn’t feel ready to leave. “Somebody else was in a nursing home, and they got home and had a $90,000 bill,” she continued.
After some research, it was determined that hospitals weren’t actually admitting these patients. They were under observation. “That was the problem,” said Alvarez. “If you’re under observation, insurance treats you as an outpatient.” Observation status has become more common recently.
Up until last month, hospitals were not required to tell a patient whether he or she was an in-patient or out-patient, and hospital admissions had the right to change the status even after discharge.
BWICA and the State Wide Senior Action Council responded by attempting to change the law. “We got so many calls from people that didn’t know. So we went to our elected officials,” Alvarez said.
New York State officials claimed it was a federal problem. However, with the support of the organization, change was made. “We were able to get them to pass this law the governor signed in October and it just started (on January 19),” Alvarez noted. “The law says that patients being placed under observation in a hospital now must be informed verbally and in writing that they’re being place under observation and it will have a financial implication.”
Although it’s a step in the right direction, Alvarez and the organizations aren’t satisfied. “The hospitals should be able to do more,” she said.
The State Wide Senor Action Council also came to the aid of seniors by providing them with information to guide them through the recent change. “We decided that it might be a good idea to have a tool kit. It’s great for a senior if they’re in hospital or planning to visit one so they have a information they can refer to,” said Alvarez.
The kit includes a brochure that lists reminders of what a patient should bring to the hospital as well as information on how the hospital will bill Medicare during the stay. It also lists important phone numbers for seniors such as the Patient’s Rights Medicare Hotline.
BWICA was founded over 40 years ago to improve quality of life of seniors in Brooklyn through information and education. It has 17 interagency councils throughout Brooklyn that meet in their communities. To learn more about the group visit www.brooklynseniors.org. To learn about the NY State Wide Senior Action Council, visit www.nysenior.org.
To become a member of SUN-B and attend the group’s future meetings, visit www.sunb.org or contact SUN-B President/Chair Vicki Ellner at firstname.lastname@example.org.