The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) held its latest Open Door Forum on Wednesday, March 28, 2019.  As with past Open Door Forums, CMS started the call with the following announcements:

  1. Ambulance Cost Data Collection – CMS reminded the industry that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, enacted on February 9, 2018, requires CMS to create a new cost data collection system by December 31, 2019.
  2. Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport Model – A representative from the Innovation Center within CMS provided an overview of the “Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport Model” or “ET3.” This is a 5-year pilot program intended to provide ambulance providers with greater flexibility to handle low-acuity 911 calls, by providing Medicare payment for: (a) ambulance transportation to alternative treatment destinations and (b) treatment at the scene. The CMS representative indicated that CMS is in possession of data that suggests that 16% of emergency ambulance transports to a hospital emergency department could have been resolved by transporting the patient to an alternative treatment site, e.g., an urgent care center. CMS estimates that had all of these patients elected to receive care in the lower-acuity setting, it would have saved the Medicare Program approximately $560 million each year. With respect to the operation of the model itself, CMS essentially repeated the information that had been previously provided on its webinars. You can view the AAA Member Advisory on the ET3 Model by clicking here.
  3. Ambulance Inflation Factor – CMS reiterated that the 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor is 2.3%.

Following the announcements, CMS moved into a Question & Answer period. The majority of the questions related to the ET3 pilot program. As is typical, many questions were not answered on the call; instead, CMS asked the individual to submit their question in writing. However, the following questions were answered on the call:

  1. Payment Rates under ET3 – CMS was asked whether the BLS base rate payment would be the BLS emergency base rate. It was not clear that the CMS representative fully understood the question, although she indicated that it would.
  2. Eligibility for Government Agencies – CMS was asked whether governmental agencies that operate 911 centers would submit applications to participate as part of the RFA process in the Summer of 2019. CMS responded that governmental agencies that operate 911 centers would not submit RFAs, but would rather wait for the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), which will be issued after the ambulance providers and suppliers are selected for participation (expected to be the late Fall/Winter of 2019). CMS further confirmed that if the governmental agency also operated its own ambulance service that it would be eligible to apply for both aspects of the ET3 Model.
  3. Limit on Ambulance Providers – CMS was asked whether it would cap the number of ambulance providers and suppliers selected to participate in the program. CMS responded that, at the present time, it has no intent to cap the number of participating ambulance providers and suppliers at any specific number.
  4. Return Transports from Alternative Treatment Destinations – CMS was asked whether the model would provide for ambulance payment for the return transport after a patient was transported to an alternative treatment site. CMS indicated that the model does not provide for payment for the return transport.
  5. Definition of “Telehealth” – CMS confirmed that the model will use the same definition of “telehealth” used in other areas of the Medicare Program. CMS further confirmed that telehealth encounters require both audio and video connections.
  6. Approval of Alternative Treatment Sites – CMS confirmed that state and local regulatory agencies would have final approval over acceptable alternative treatment sites.
  7. Qualified Health Care Practitioner – CMS confirmed that a “qualified health care practitioner” would be an individually enrolled Medicare practitioner, which includes physicians and nurse practitioners. In some instances, it can also include physician’s assistants. CMS confirmed that the definition would not include registered nurses or advance scope paramedics.
  8. NOFO Funding – CMS indicated that, at the present time, it is not prepared to release additional details on the nature or size of the funding opportunities available to governmental agencies and their designees that operate or have authority over 911 centers.
  9. Medicare Advantage and Other Payers – CMS confirmed that the ET3 Model applies only to Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in FFS Medicare. It does not apply to Medicare Advantage enrollees, Medicaid recipients, etc.

Questions? Email Brian at bwerfel@aol.com

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