Medicare benefit period

Benefit Period (Spell of Illness)

A benefit period is a period of time for measuring the use of hospital insurance benefits. It is a period of consecutive days during which covered services furnished to a patient, up to certain specified maximum amounts, may be paid for by the hospital insurance plan. For example, a patient is eligible for 90 days of hospital care in a benefit period and 100 days of extended care services during the same benefit period. A patient may be eligible for as many as l50 days of hospital care in a benefit period if he/she draws on his/her lifetime reserve. As long as a person continues to be entitled to hospital insurance, there is no limit on the number of benefit periods he/she may have. The term "benefit period" is synonymous with spell of illness. Since the term "spell of illness" could connote a single illness or a particular "spell" of sickness, the term benefit period is used in communications with the public.

Starting a Benefit Period

A benefit period begins with the first day (not included in a previous benefit period) on which a patient is furnished inpatient hospital or extended care services by a qualified provider in a month for which the patient is entitled to hospital insurance benefits.

A provider qualified to start a benefit period is a hospital (including a psychiatric hospital) or SNF that meets all the requirements of the definition of such an institution. A hospital which meets all requirements in Chapter 5, §20 of this manual is also a qualified hospital for purposes of beginning a benefit period when it furnishes the patient covered inpatient emergency services. Thus, generally, the benefit period begins when covered inpatient services are initially furnished to an entitled individual. However, the noncovered services furnished by a nonparticipating provider can begin a spell of illness only if the provider is a qualified provider. A qualified provider is a hospital (including a psychiatric hospital) or a SNF which meets all requirements in the definition of such an institution even though it may not be participating.. A qualified hospital in Canada or Mexico is also a qualified provider for purposes of beginning a benefit period when it furnishes covered inpatient hospital services. If a person is in a nonqualified institution and is subsequently transferred to a qualified hospital (general or psychiatric), his/her benefit period begins on admission to the qualified hospital.

Admission to a qualified SNF or to the SNF level of care in a swing bed hospital begins a benefit period even though payment for the services cannot be made because the prior hospitalization or transfer requirement has not been met. Inpatient care in a Religious Non-Medical Health Care Institution (whether as hospital or extended care services) can begin or prolong a benefit period.

Ending a Benefit Period
The benefit period ends with the close of a period of 60 consecutive days during which the patient was neither an inpatient of a hospital nor of a SNF. To determine the 60 consecutive day period, begin counting with the day the individual was discharged. (See § of this chapter for determining the end of a benefit period when an individual remains in a SNF.)

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