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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Chances are pretty good that you or a loved one may have spent some time in a hospital. They can be places where miracles happen.

Some of the smartest and most compassionate people on our planet can be found there, treating injuries, illnesses, diseases and more. It's a caring business.

Small surprise that many hospitals and the people who run them like to keep reminding us of that fact. Typical is a recent ad for Community Health Systems. “We walk in the shoes of our patients,” it proudly proclaims.

This message and others like it are pretty clear: Nothing matters more to hospitals than the wellbeing of the people they serve. Well, there may be one thing — money.

Maybe that's why you're unlikely to find any hospital commercials touting the remarkably loose ways they often define “observation status.” 

You might be under the impression that a person who spends days in a hospital hooked up to machines while receiving treatments from doctors and nurses is automatically considered an inpatient. You might also be wrong.

Like many head-scratching loopholes, this one helps hospitals stay more solvent. And that's OK, except for what it can do to care recipients and their families. Namely, it may deny the latter access to Medicare Part A coverage.

But there are some hopeful developments concerning this unfortunate reality. Earlier this year, federal legislation kicked in that requires hospitals to at least let people know they are not inpatients. 

And it looks like those who share our shoes may soon have an additional headache to contend with. A federal judge in Connecticut recently certified a class in a lawsuit that basically calls the “observational status” maneuver a sham. 

It is somewhat remarkable that the same people who spend so many marketing dollars telling us how much they care would be acting this way. But if nothing else, they have made their top priority abundantly clear.