Understanding Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Coverage of Ambulance Services under a Declared National State of Emergency

On March 13, 2020, President Donald J. Trump announced a national state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, HHS Secretary Alex Azar had declared a public health emergency under Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act in response to COVID-19.

This has prompted many AAA members to ask what impact, if any, these declarations have on the coverage of ambulance services under federal health care programs?

The short answer is that these declarations give CMS the authority under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act to waive certain Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Program requirements. This waiver authority includes, but is not necessarily limited to:

• Waiving certain conditions of participation and/or certification requirements;
• Waiving certain pre-approval requirements;
• Waiving the requirements that a provider or supplier be licensed in the state in which they are providing services;
• Waiving EMTALA requirements related to medical screening examinations and transfers; and
• Waiving certain limitations on payments for services provided to Medicare Advantage enrollees by out-of-network providers.

One situation where an 1135 waiver may be of use to an ambulance provider or supplier would be where the ambulance provider or supplier is sending vehicles and crews to a state that is outside its normal service area. The ambulance provider or supplier is unlikely to be licensed by the state in which it is responding. As a result, under normal circumstances, it would be ineligible for payment under federal health care program rules. The 1135 waiver would permit it to submit claims for the services it furnishes in the other state.

Of more immediate significance to the current national emergency, an 1135 waiver may permit hospitals and other institutional health care providers to establish an off-site treatment center for initial screenings of patients. For example, hospitals may establish triage sites in parking lots and other open spaces for the initial intake of patients suspected of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. In theory, this waiver could also extend to drive-thru testing sites to the extent they are operated by the hospital or another health care provider. When a hospital has obtained an 1135 waiver to operate an off-site treatment center, the off-site area becomes a part of the hospital for Medicare payment purposes. Therefore, ambulance transports to an approved off-site treatment area should be submitted to Medicare using the “H” modifier for the destination.

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2020, coronavirus, COVID-19, Medicaid, Medicare


Brian Werfel

Brian S. Werfel, Esq. is a partner in Werfel & Werfel, PLLC, a New York based law firm specializing in Medicare issues related to the ambulance industry. Brian is a Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association, and has authored numerous articles on Medicare reimbursement, most recently on issues such as the beneficiary signature requirement, repeat admissions and interrupted stays. He is a frequent lecturer on issues of ambulance coverage and reimbursement. Brian is co-author of the AAA’s Medicare Reference Manual for Ambulance, as well as the author of the AAA’s HIPAA Reference Manual. Brian is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia School of Law. Prior to joining the firm in 2005, he specialized in mergers & acquisitions and commercial real estate at a prominent New York law firm. Werfel & Werfel, PLLC was founded by David M. Werfel, who has been the Medicare Consultant to the American Ambulance Association for over 20 years.

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