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A SNF delay presents a major issue for those looking to access care in a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) services through Medicare. Here we will explore strategies to understand and improve Medicare SNF coverage. SNF delays are a concern for Medicare beneficiaries, as they create frustration and obstacles in receiving essential healthcare services.

A doctor checks the papers for a SNF delay.
A SNF delay is troublesome not just for residents but also for staff and healthcare providers.

SNF delay occurs when individuals with health conditions encounter difficulties obtaining timely access to the SNF services that Medicare covers. These delays have far-reaching consequences, impacting not only the health and well-being of seniors and disabled individuals but also their families and caregivers who witness their struggles.

A SNF delay may occur because of budgetary restrictions, funding issues, overly complex plans, organizational changes, or disadvantages for a particular subset of society. Through collaboration, though, healthcare workers can find solutions to these problems, aid the caretakers in moving past them, and ensure that everyone receives the most effective care.

CMS Сhapter 8 

CMS Chapter 8 is a regulatory document that influences Medicare SNF coverage and related issues of SNF delay. Understanding CMS Chapter 8 is the first step to addressing SNF delay challenges effectively. 

Chapter 8 of the Medicare Managed Care Manual primarily focuses on payments to Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations, though there are other elements related to SNF services and Medicare SNF coverage that may have an impact:

CMS Chapter 8 is a regulatory document that influences Medicare SNF coverage.
CMS Chapter 8 is a governing document with a significant impact on Medicare SNF coverage and the associated challenges related to SNF delays.

1. Inadequate payment for SNF Services: If Medicare Advantage (MA) organizations receive insufficient payments or find their reimbursement rates for SNF services inadequate, they may become less inclined to provide access to SNF care due to financial constraints. 

One potential solution is to focus advocacy efforts on ensuring that MA organizations are compensated for SNF services. This can mean advocating for improvements in reimbursement rates or removing barriers that impede access to SNF care.

2.  Inaccurate risk adjustment: Risk adjustment, which determines how funding is allocated based on the health status of beneficiaries could potentially cause delays in accessing services at Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) if it doesn’t accurately account for the needs of patients eligible for SNF care.

One possible solution involves advocating for a risk adjustment system that takes into consideration the health conditions and requirements of SNF-eligible individuals. Working with policymakers to review and improve the existing risk adjustment models can contribute to finding a resolution for this issue.

3. Quality Measures: High-quality Medicare Advantage (MA) plans have the potential to draw in more beneficiaries, which could result in delays in accessing Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) care when there’s a surge in demand for these plans. 

Advocacy efforts can be directed toward enhancing the capacity within these high-quality plans to manage the increased demand for SNF services. This strategy may encompass incentivizing the expansion of SNF networks or fostering coordination between MA plans and SNF providers.

4. Enrollment-Related Payments: Fluctuations in enrollment within Medicare Advantage (MA) plans can disrupt the stability required to guarantee consistent access to Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) services.

A viable solution involves advocating for measures that promote enrollment stability. It could include encouraging beneficiaries to maintain continuous enrollment in MA plans, thus ensuring uninterrupted access to SNF benefits.

5. Special Payment Provisions: Special payment provisions have the potential to introduce disparities in the accessibility of Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) services among specific populations, potentially resulting in unequal access. A constructive approach involves advocating for more equitable special payment provisions to ensure that SNF care remains accessible to all beneficiaries.

Medicare SNF coverage

Understanding Medicare SNF coverage is the first step in addressing  SNF delay. Medicare provides coverage for skilled nursing facility (SNF) services, but receiving those services means meeting eligibility requirements, being within coverage limitations, and having the right parts of Medicare. In this breakdown, we will provide some insights to navigate the complex landscape of Medicare SNF coverage.

Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) care is high-quality medical treatment provided by skilled professionals like doctors, nurses, and therapists. It’s different from custodial care, which provides support with daily activities.

Medicare’s coverage for Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) care is typically daily and short-term. It includes up to 100 days of care in a single benefit period so long as you meet the eligibility criteria. Here’s what Original Medicare covers:

  • Days 1–20 – Medicare fully covers the expenses for services without requiring any out-of-pocket payments.
  •  Days 21–100 – Medicare pays for most of the costs associated with services while residents are responsible for paying a daily coinsurance amount.
  •  Beyond 100 days – Medicare does not provide coverage anymore. Residents will be responsible for covering all costs associated with services.

In 2023, the coinsurance was as high as $400 per day, and it may increase in 2024. If you have Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) or a Medicare Advantage Plan, your costs and coverage may differ.

A physician explains Medicare SNF coverage to a patient.
Gaining insight into Medicare SNF coverage is the initial step in tackling SNF delays.

The conditions for qualifying for Medicare coverage of SNF care:

  • The resident should have Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and available days within their benefit period.
  • The resident must have had a qualifying hospital stay of 3 consecutive days due to medical necessity (excluding the day of discharge). It is recommended to enter the SNF within 30 days of leaving the hospital.
  • The payment terms established by Medicare necessitate a physician’s endorsement and, if outlined, a subsequent reconfirmation for services rendered in SNFs. 
  • You need to receive care or therapy daily (five to seven days a week), which can only be provided while you are an inpatient at an SNF
  • For individuals enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, the requirement for a three-day hospital stay may vary. Therefore it is crucial for residents to review their plans and details regarding costs associated with staying at a SNF.
  • Delayed certification and recertification demand an explanation for delays, aiding Medicare in understanding the underlying causes. This is because processing delayed certification or recertification for Skilled Nursing Facility under Medicare goes beyond paperwork and also requires understanding and preserving eligibility.
  • As part of the intricate guidelines, mentioned in CMS Chapter 8, SNFs should be transparent and provide pertinent medical evidence so that Medicare authorities may take the lead in specifying the format and process for acquiring these documents, orchestrating a meticulous evaluation rooted in the reasons behind any delays.

Another condition for Medicare coverage is meeting certification and recertification prerequisites signed by physicians. Providers are prompted to provide this documentation promptly when requested by reviewing contractors. This is essential in fulfilling payment terms. SNF certification and recertification must adhere to the CMS regulations and be signed within the stipulated time frame.

Medicare coverage includes:

  • A semi-private room
  • Meals
  • Skilled nursing care
  • Medical services and supplies
  • Ambulance transportation if needed
  • Dietary counseling
  • Therapy services to help residents achieve their health goals.

What are Medicare Skilled Nursing Facility Reimbursement Rates?

Medicare reimburses Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) for the care they provide to Medicare beneficiaries. These reimbursement rates are determined through a system and are based on various factors. Here are some points to know about Medicare SNF reimbursement rates:

  • Prospective Payment System (PPS) Medicare uses a Payment System to calculate the reimbursement rates for SNFs. This system determines payments based on a predetermined rate per patient considering factors.
  • Case Mix Classification – SNFs classify patients according to Resource Utilization Groups (RUGs) based on their characteristics and care needs. The RUG level assigned to a patient then determines the reimbursement rate.
  • Therapy Services – Reimbursement rates also depend on the amount of therapy provided to each patient. Different reimbursement categories exist based on the level of therapy required.
  • Geographic Location – The location of a skilled nursing facility (SNF) can influence its reimbursement rate, as rural facilities may have different rates as urban areas.
  • Length of Stay – Medicare may pay different rates for the initial days compared to the later days of a patient’s stay, following a variable, per diem approach.

Medicare reimbursement rates undergo adjustments that can be the result of changes in laws, regulations, or economic conditions. Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs) also offer care to residents who are not eligible for Medicare. In these instances, the reimbursement is usually agreed upon with insurance providers or paid directly by the residents.

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SNF delay: Advocating for Timely Care Delivery

A SNF delay can present challenges under Medicare Advantage (MA) plans by impacting the timely availability of essential care for beneficiaries. These challenges, though, can be surmounted by way of changes in payment structures, risk adjustment models, increasing capacity in high-quality plans, implementing measures to stabilize enrollment, and ensuring payment provisions.

Through advocacy and collaborative efforts with policymakers, healthcare providers, and beneficiaries, it is entirely possible to minimize delays. The goal for caregivers and leaders is to ensure that every individual in need of skilled nursing care receives it promptly and without delay or hassle. This, in turn, will ultimately enhance the quality of care provided within the MA system.

For more insights and information on SNF delay, be sure to explore our blog and subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast