Author: 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.

CMS Announces Timeline for National Expansion of Prior Authorization for Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergency Ambulance Transportation

On August 26, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced its proposed timeline for the national expansion of the Prior Authorization Model for Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transports (RSNAT).  The formal notice appeared in the Federal Register on August 27, 2021.

Background

In December 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented a prior authorization model for payment of repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation.  Under this Model, ambulance suppliers are required to seek and obtain prior authorization for the transportation of repetitive patients beyond the third round-trip in a 30-day period.  Absent prior authorization, the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) are required to subject further claims to prepayment review.

The Model was initially implemented in three states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.  These “Year 1” states were selected based on relatively high per-capita expenditures on RSNAT.  The Model was subsequently expanded in January 2016 to five additional states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) and to District of Columbia.  These “Year 2” states were selected based on their inclusion in the same MAC Jurisdiction as one or more of the Year 1 states.

The purpose of the RSNAT Model was to test whether prior authorization would be effective in reducing Medicare expenditures on RSNAT, without adversely impacting beneficiary access to medically necessary services.  CMS engaged Mathematica, a public health care research firm, to study the impact of prior authorization on ambulance utilization in the demonstration states.  Mathematica issued several reports that concluded that the Model was effective in reducing Medicare expenditures without any measurable impact on the quality of care available to Medicare beneficiaries.

On November 23, 2020, CMS published a notice in the Federal Register indicating that it intended to expand the Prior Authorization Model to all remaining states and U.S. territories.  However, citing the current Public Health Emergency, CMS elected not to set a timeline for that national expansion.

The current notice announces that timeline for national expansion

Expansion Timeline

CMS has indicated that the RSNAT Model will be expanded into new states on the following timeline:

Expansion Date Affected States
December 1, 2021 Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas
Not earlier than

February 1, 2022

Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, Tennessee, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands
Not earlier than

April 1, 2022

Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands
Not earlier than

June 1, 2022

Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont
Not earlier than

August 1, 2022

Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming

 

An analysis of the proposed timeline suggests that CMS has elected to expand the RSNAT Model based on existing Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) Jurisdictions.  For example, each of the states slated to be included in the December 1, 2021 expansion fall within MAC Jurisdiction H.  This MAC Jurisdiction is administered by Novitas Solutions, Inc.  Novitas also administers MAC Jurisdiction L, which has been operating under the RSNAT Model since 2014.  Thus, CMS likely selected MAC Jurisdiction H for the first stage of the national expansion due to Novitas’ experience in administering the RSNAT Model.

The second stage of the national expansion will occur no earlier than February 1, 2022.  This stage will include all states and territories located in MAC Jurisdiction J and MAC Jurisdiction E.  MAC Jurisdiction J is administered by Palmetto GBA, LLC, which has been administering the RSNAT Model in MAC Jurisdiction M since 2014.  MAC Jurisdiction E is administered by Noridian Healthcare Solutions, LLC.  This will be Noridian’s first experience with the RSNAT Model.

The third stage of the national expansion will occur no earlier than April 1, 2022.  This stage will include all states and territories located in MAC Jurisdiction 5 (Wisconsin Physicians Service Government Health Administrators), MAC Jurisdiction 6 (National Government Services, Inc.), and MAC Jurisdiction N (First Coast Service Options, Inc.)

The fourth stage of the national expansion will occur no earlier than June 1, 2022.  This stage will include all states and territories located in MAC Jurisdiction 8 (Wisconsin Physicians Service Government Health Administrators) and MAC Jurisdiction K (National Government Services, Inc.).

The final stage of the will occur no earlier than August 1, 2022.  This stage will include all states and territories located in MAC Jurisdiction 15 (CGS Administrators, LLC) and MAC Jurisdiction F (Noridian Healthcare Solutions, LLC).

Outreach and Education

With the formal announcement of CMS’ timeline for the national expansion of the RSNAT Model, the American Ambulance Association will be increasing its educational efforts related to prior authorization.  This will include webinars and other educational materials on the technical elements of the prior authorization process, the importance of third-party documentation, as well as basic best practices related to the transportation of repetitive patients.  We encourage all members that may be impacted by the expansion of prior authorization to take advantage of these educational materials.

Provider Relief Fund Reporting Requirement Deadline is Approaching

The American Ambulance Association wants to remind our members that the deadline to submit your initial report on your use of HHS Provider Relief Funds is fast approaching.  Any ambulance provider or supplier that received more than $10,000 in aggregate funds from the first two rounds of General Distribution funding will need to submit a report on their use of such funds by September 30, 2021.  This initial report will detail the expenditure of PRF funds through June 30, 2021.

Relevant Background

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  As part of that Act, Congress allocated $100 billion to the creation of a “CARES Act Provider Relief Fund,” which will be used to support hospitals and other healthcare providers on the front lines of the nation’s coronavirus response.  An additional $75 billion was allocated as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, with subsequent legislation adding further amounts to this fund.  In total, the Provider Relief Fund (PRF) will distribute $178 billion to health care providers and suppliers to fund healthcare-related expenses or to offset lost revenue attributable to COVID-10.

To date, HHS has distributed approximately $148.4 billion through three rounds of General Distribution funds ($92.5 billion) and multiple smaller Targeted Distributions.  A portion of the PRF is also being used to reimburse health care providers for the costs of testing, treating, and vaccinating the uninsured.

Summary of Final Reporting Requirements

On June 11, 2021, HHS issued its final PRF Reporting Requirements.  Under these new guidelines, health care providers will be required to report for any “Payment Received Period” in which they received one or more PRF payments that, in the aggregate, exceed $10,000.  Providers meeting this threshold for any Payment Received Period will report on their use of such funds during the corresponding “Reporting Time Period.”

The following table sets forth the applicable Payment Received Periods and corresponding Reporting Time Periods.  The table also sets forth the deadline to use funds received within each Payment Receiving Period.

 

Period Payment Received Period Deadline for use of Funds Reporting Time Period
1 April 10, 2020 – June 30, 2020 June 30, 2021 July 1, 2021 – September 30, 2021
2 July 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020 December 31, 2021 January 1, 2022 – March 31, 2022
3 January 1, 2021 – June 30, 2021 June 30, 2022 July 1, 2022 – September 30, 2022
4 July 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021 December 31, 2022 January 1, 2023 – March 31, 2023

 

PRF payments received in the first two rounds of General Distribution funding will fall within the first reporting period.  PRF payments received in the third round of General Distribution funding will fall within either the second or third reporting periods, depending on when the funds were actually received.

As a result, ambulance providers and suppliers that received more than $10,000 in the aggregate from the first two rounds of General Distribution funding will need to submit an initial report during the 90-day period starting on July 1, 2021.  This initial report will detail all expenditures of PRF funds through June 30, 2021.

Ambulance providers and suppliers that received between $10,001 and $499,999 in aggregated PRF funds during each Payment Received Period are required to report on their use of such funds in two categories: (1) General and Administrative Expenses and (2) Health Care Related Expenses.  Ambulance providers and suppliers that received $500,000 or more in aggregated PRF funds during each Payment Received Period will be required to submit more detailed information for each of these general categories.

Specific Instructions Related to Reporting of Lost Revenues

The American Ambulance Association has received numerous questions from members regarding the appropriate methodology to report lost revenues attributable to the coronavirus.  Specifically, many members have inquired as to the appropriate methodology for calculating their lost revenues.

HHS has indicated that health care providers must report their lost revenues using one of three methodologies:

  1. The difference between actual patient care revenues;
  2. The difference between budgeted patient care revenues and actual patient care revenues; or
  3. An alternative methodology selected by the provider for estimating lost revenues.

Based on HHS guidance, it appears that the default methodology is to measure the difference between actual patient care revenues for each calendar quarter during the applicable period.  The provider will also be asked to further break down patient care revenues by applicable payer.  In basic terms, the first methodology will compare: (i) your actual calendar year 2019 patient care revenues to (ii) your actual calendar year 2020 patient care revenues.  The A.A.A. suggests that all members start by conducting this basic revenue analysis.  To the extent your lost revenues in 2020 equal or exceed (in combination with your increased expenses, if any) the total PRF funds received during the first Payment Received Period, no additional revenue analysis is required. 

In some instances, you may find that your actual revenue losses for calendar year 2020 do not fully offset the PRF funds received during the First Payment Received Period.  In that event, it may be beneficial to conduct a separate revenue analysis using the budgeted vs. actual methodology.  Note: you are only eligible to use this methodology to the extent you had a formal budget approved prior to March 27, 2020. 

This methodology is likely to be beneficial to ambulance providers or suppliers that, pre-pandemic, were projecting significant revenue growth in calendar year 2020.  For example, consider the case of a hypothetical “ABC Ambulance Service, Inc.”  ABC Ambulance had $1 million in patient care revenues in calendar year 2019.  However, in November 2019, the company signed an agreement to be the preferred provider of a major hospital system in its service area.  As a result, the company was projecting significant revenue growth in calendar year 2020.  Specifically, when it created its 2020 budget in December 2019, it projected that its patient care revenues would rise to $1.5 million in 2020.

When the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020, the company saw a significant slowdown in its transport volume.  Like many ambulance providers, it saw its transport volume rebound somewhat in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2020.  As a result, it ended the year with $1.2 million in patient care revenues.

A revenue analysis using the default methodology would show an increase in revenues, i.e., its revenues increased by $200,000 over 2019.  However, its 2020 actual revenues were $300,000 less than it projected in its 2020 budget.  Using this second methodology, the company would be able to claim $300,000 in lost revenues to offset against its PRF funds.

Please note that any ambulance provider or supplier using this second methodology will be required to submit additional documentation with its initial PRF report.  Specifically, you will be required to submit a copy of the 2020 budget relied upon to show the lost revenue, together with an attestation from its CEO, CFO, or other authorized official attesting to the fact that this budget was formally established prior to March 27, 2020.

HHS will also permit ambulance providers or suppliers to utilize an alternative methodology created by the entity for calculating their lost revenues.  However, to utilize an alternative methodology, the provider or supplier will be required to submit additional documentation explaining not only the methodology, but also the justification for why this methodology was reasonable.  HHS has indicated that providers or suppliers electing to use an alternative methodology will face an increased risk of audit.  As a good rule of thumb, the use of an alternative methodology is likely to limited to situations where the EMS agency’s business is extremely seasonal, or where there was some major change in their operations during the 2020 calendar year (e.g., a partial sale of the company, a large acquisition, etc.).

Further Information Related to PRF Reporting

HHS updated its instructions for how ambulance providers and suppliers should complete their PRF Reporting obligations.  These updated instructions start on Page 4 of the Revised Reporting Requirements.

HHS also recently updated its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) associated with the PRF Reporting Program.

 

 

Preliminary Calculation of 2022 Ambulance Inflation Update

Section 1834(l)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act mandates that the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule be updated each year to reflect inflation.  This update is referred to as the “Ambulance Inflation Factor” or “AIF”.

The AIF is calculated by measuring the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) for the 12-month period ending with June of the previous year.  Starting in calendar year 2011, the change in the CPI-U is now reduced by a so-called “productivity adjustment”, which is equal to the 10-year moving average of changes in the economy-wide private nonfarm business multi-factor productivity index (MFP).  The MFP reduction may result in a negative AIF for any calendar year.  The resulting AIF is then added to the conversion factor used to calculate Medicare payments under the Ambulance Fee Schedule.

For the 12-month period ending in June 2021, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 5.39%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2022.  However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the number is likely to be in the 0.4% range.

Accordingly, the AAA is currently projecting that the 2022 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be approximately 5.0%. 

Cautionary Note Regarding these Estimates

Members should be advised that the BLS’ calculations of the CPI-U are preliminary, and may be subject to later adjustment.  The AAA further cautions members that CMS has not officially announced the MFP for CY 2022.  Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change.  The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2022 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

CMS | Sequestration | Claims Hold Lifted

CMS Confirms Suspension of Medicare Sequester Through End of 2021; Announces Lifting of Claims Hold

On April 16, 2021, CMS published a notice on the MLNConnects webpage announcing the passage of the Act to Prevent Across-the-Board Direct Spending Cuts, and for Other Purposes. The law, enacted on April 14, 2021 extends the suspension of the Medicare “sequester” through December 31, 2021.

In anticipation of the legislation’s passage, CMS announced on March 30, 2021 that it had instructed its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to hold Medicare Fee-For-Service claims with dates of service on or after April 1, 2021. With the passage of the bill, CMS further indicated that it has instructed its MACs to release any claims currently being held, and to reprocess any claims paid with the sequester applied. CMS indicated that no action is required on the part of health care providers and suppliers.

CMS Increases Medicare Payment for COVID-19 Vaccinations

CMS Increases Medicare Payment for COVID-19 Vaccinations

 

                                                                        By Brian S. Werfel, Esq.

On March 15, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it would be increasing the Medicare payment amount for administrations of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The original Medicare reimbursement rate depended, in part, on whether the vaccine being administered required a two-dose regimen (as is the case for the Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna vaccines), or a single dose (Johnson & Johnson vaccine).  For vaccinations that require a two-dose regime, CMS initially paid: (1) $16.04 for the administration of the first dose and (2) $28.39 for the administration of the second dose.  For vaccines that require only a single dose, Medicare paid $28.39 for the administration of that single dose.

Effective for vaccinations administered on or after March 15, 2021, CMS has increased these payments to $40 per administration.  Thus, the total reimbursement for a vaccine requiring a single dose will be $40, while the total reimbursement for a vaccine requiring a two-dose regimen will be $80.

CMS: Revised Repayment Terms for Medicare Accelerated Payments

On October 8, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Fact Sheet setting forth the repayment terms for advances made under the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments Program (AAPP).  These changes were mandated by the passage of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act, which was enacted on October 1, 2020.

Background

On March 28, 2020, CMS expanded the existing Accelerated and Advance Payments Program to provide relief to Medicare providers and suppliers that were experiencing cash flow disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated economic lockdowns.  Under the AAPP, Medicare providers and suppliers were eligible to receive an advance of up to three months of their historic Medicare payments.  These advances are structured as “loans,” and are required to be repaid through the offset of future Medicare payments.

CMS began accepting applications for Medicare advances in mid-March 2020, before ending the program in late April following the passage of the CARES Act.  CMS ultimately approved more than 45,000 applications for advances totaling approximately $100 billion, before it suspended the program in late April 2020.

Under the pre-existing terms of the AAPP, repayment through offset was required to commence on the 121st day following the provider or supplier’s receipt of the advance funds.  The program also called for a 100% offset until all advanced funds had been repaid.

Revised Payment Terms

Under the revised payment terms announced by CMS, providers and suppliers will not be subject to recoupment of their Medicare payments for a period of one year from the date they received their AAPP payment.  Starting on the date that is one year from their receipt of the AAPP payment, repayment will be made out of the provider’s or supplier’s future Medicare payments.  The schedule for such repayments will be as follows:

  • 25% of the provider’s or supplier’s Medicare payments will be offset against the outstanding AAPP balance for the next eleven (5) months; and
  • 50% of the provider’s or supplier’s Medicare payments will be offset against the outstanding AAPP balance for the next six (6) months

To the extent there remains an outstanding AAPP balance after that 17 month period (i.e., 29 months after the date the provider or supplier received its AAPP payment, the provider or supplier will receive a letter setting forth their remaining balance.  The provider or supplier will have 30 days from the date of that letter to repay the AAPP balance in full.  To the extent the AAPP balance is not repaid in full within that 30-day period, interest will begin to accrue on the unpaid balance at a rate of 4%, starting from the date of the letter.

Medicare providers and suppliers are also permitted to repay their accelerated or advance payments at any time by contacting their Medicare Administrative Contractor.

 

CMS: COVID Testing and Screening Guidance for SNF and Long-Term Care Facilities

On August 25, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published an interim final rule with a comment period titled “Medicare and Medicaid Programs, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA), and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”  The interim final rule sets forth a number of new requirements designed to limit the COVID-19 exposure and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within nursing homes.

Specifically, the interim final rule requires skilled nursing and other long-term care facilities to test residents and staff for COVID-19.  The frequency of such testing is based on the positivity rate in which the facility is located, and can require COVID-19 testing as frequently as twice per week.  Regardless of the frequency of required COVID-19 tests, facilities must also screen all staff, residents, and persons entering the facility for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

These requirements extend to individuals that provide services to nursing homes under arrangements, including health care personnel rendering care to residents within the facility.  In subsequent guidance, CMS clarified that these testing and screening requirements apply to EMS personnel and other health care providers that render care to residents within the facility.  However, in that same guidance, CMS indicated that EMS personnel must be permitted to enter the facility provided that: (1) they are not subject to a work exclusion as a result of to an exposure to COVID-19 or (2) showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 after being screened.”  CMS further indicated that “EMS personnel do not need to be screened so they can attend to an emergency without delay.”

In plain terms, CMS has created an affirmative obligation on nursing homes to ensure that any individual that provides services under a contractual arrangement with the nursing home comply with these testing and screening requirements.  CMS has expressly waived the screening requirements for EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies at a nursing home.  However, CMS has not specifically addressed the testing and screening requirements applicable to EMS personnel responding to nursing homes in non-emergency situations. 

The A.A.A. is aware that a handful of State Health Agencies have issued their own guidance on this issue.  The A.A.A. is also aware that individual nursing homes have started to require proof that EMS personnel have been tested for COVID-19 prior to allowing these individuals to enter the nursing home in a non-emergency situation.

EMS agencies may already be subject to state and local testing mandates.  EMS agencies may also have their own internal policies that require employees to be periodically tested for COVID-19.  As a result, there exists the potential for conflict where these existing testing policies conflict with the testing requirements of your local nursing homes.

The A.A.A. has been engaged in an ongoing conversation with CMS on these issues since the issuance of the interim final rule in August.  As part of that conversation, the A.A.A. pushed for the exclusion of EMS personnel from the screening requirement when responding to medical emergencies, which was included in the recent CMS guidance document.  The A.A.A. also continues to push for additional funding for COVID-19 testing for EMS agencies.  CMS has recognized that the frequent testing of health care workers is essential to reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.  CMS has allocated funding for these purposes to other industries, including hospitals and nursing homes.  As front-line health care workers, EMS agencies should have similar access to testing funds.  The A.A.A. will continue to push for funding equity for the EMS industry.

In the interim, we strongly encourage our members to work with their state associations and other stakeholders to advocate for reasonable rules related to testing on the state and local levels.  To the extent the applicable state or local agency has determined the appropriate frequency for the testing of EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies, those rules should also apply to EMS personnel responding to scheduled transports and other non-emergencies that start or end at a nursing home.  Requiring more frequent testing in these situations would impose an undue burden on EMS agencies that provide these services.  More frequent testing may also prove counterproductive, as it may discourage EMS agencies that cannot meet these higher requirements from responding in these situations.  We also encourage our members to continue to push for state and local funding for the testing of their employees.

 

U.S. House of Representatives Approves Continuing Resolution

On September 22, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through December 11, 2020.  Under current law, government funding is set to expire at midnight on September 30, 2020.

The House resolution is a stopgap measure that would maintain funding for most government programs at their current Fiscal Year 2020 levels.  However, the Continuing Resolution omits $30 billion in agricultural aid sought by the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans.  As of last week, it appeared that a compromise had been struck between the Administration and Speaker Pelosi under which the agricultural aid would be tied to the extension of special food benefits to recipients of free or reduced-price school lunches authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  The Continuing Resolution also does not include new spending on economic aid for those impacted by the coronavirus.

The Continuing Resolution will now go to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

Impact on Repayment of Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS announced that it would be opening the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program (AAPP) to all health care providers and suppliers that were impacted financially by the pandemic.  Under the AAPP, Medicare-enrolled providers and suppliers were eligible to receive an advance of up to three months of their historic Medicare payments.  These advances were structured as “loans,” and were required to be repaid through the offset of future Medicare payments.  CMS began accepting applications for Medicare advances in mid-March 2020, before ending the program in late April following the passage of the CARES Act.  CMS ultimately approved more than 45,000 applications for advances totaling approximately $100 billion, before it suspended the program in late April 2020.

Under the existing terms of the AAPP, repayment through offset was required to commence on the 121st day following the provider or supplier’s receipt of the advance funds.  The program also called for a 100% offset until all advanced funds had been repaid.

The American Ambulance Association, the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and numerous other advocacy groups have advocated that the AAPP be revised to give health care providers and suppliers greater flexibility to repay the advanced funds.  The AAA and others argued that these changes were necessary to avoid a financial crisis when CMS began offsetting Medicare payments to repay the advanced funds.  A copy of the AAA’s letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma can be viewed by clicking here.

In the Continuing Resolution, the House addressed this issue by making the following changes to the AAPP:

  • Hospitals and Other Part A Providers: Upon request of the hospital or other Part A provider: (1) provide for 1 year before claims are offset to recoup the advanced funds, (2) limit the offset to not more than 25% of the payment on a future claim for the first 11 months during which offsets are required, (3) limit the offset to not more than 50% during the next 6 months, (4) provide for up to 29 months (from the date the advanced payments were first received) before requiring that the outstanding balance be paid-in-full, and (5) limit the interest charged on the unpaid principal balance of any advanced funds to 4%.
  • Part B Suppliers: Upon request of the supplier: (1) provide for 1 year before claims are offset to recoup the advanced funds, (2) limit the offset to not more than 25% of the payment on a future claim for the first 11 months during which offsets are required, (3) limit the offset to not more than 50% during the next 6 months, (4) provide for up to 29 months (from the date the advanced payments were first received) before requiring that the outstanding balance be paid-in-full, and (5) limit the interest charged on the unpaid principal balance of any advanced funds to 4%.

The Continuing Resolution would require the HHS Secretary to post within 2 weeks of enactment (and updated every 2 weeks thereafter) the following information related to the AAPP on the CMS website:

  • The total amount of such payments under each part of the program, including the specific percentage of such payments made out of the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Supplementary Insurance Trust Fund;
  • The total amount of payments under each part of the program, by industry type;
  • The CMS identifier and the amounts received by each health care provider or supplier.

HHS would also be required to post periodic reports, starting in July 2021 and every six months thereafter until all AAPP amounts have been repaid, that contain the following:

  • The total amounts yet to be repaid;
  • The total amounts yet to be repaid, by industry type;
  • The total amounts repaid under each program, including the specific percentage of such repayments deposited back to the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplementary Insurance Trust Fund; and
  • The total interest collected on all repayments

The Senate will most likely approve the House CR before the September 30, 2020 deadline.

 

Preliminary Calculation of 2020 Ambulance Inflation Update

Section 1834(l)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act mandates that the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule be updated each year to reflect inflation.  This update is referred to as the “Ambulance Inflation Factor” or “AIF”.

The AIF is calculated by measuring the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) for the 12-month period ending with June of the previous year.  Starting in calendar year 2011, the change in the CPI-U is now reduced by a so-called “productivity adjustment”, which is equal to the 10-year moving average of changes in the economy-wide private nonfarm business multi-factor productivity index (MFP).  The MFP reduction may result in a negative AIF for any calendar year.  The resulting AIF is then added to the conversion factor used to calculate Medicare payments under the Ambulance Fee Schedule.

For the 12-month period ending in June 2020, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 0.646%.

Cautionary Note Regarding CPI-U.  Members should be advised that the BLS’ calculations of the CPI-U are preliminary, and may be subject to later adjustment.  Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP for calendar year 2021.  Since its inception, this number has fluctuated between 0.3% and 1.2%.  For calendar year 2020, the MFP was 0.7%.  Under normal circumstances, it would be reasonable to expect the 2021 MFP to be within a percentage point or two of the 2020 MFP.  However, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic makes predictions on the MFP difficult at this point.

Accordingly, the AAA is not in a position to confidently project the 2021 Ambulance Inflation Factor at this point in time.  However, the relative low increase in the CPI-U strongly suggests that the 2021 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be significantly lower than last year’s increase of 0.9%.

The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2021 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

 

 

Department of Health and Human Services Extends Deadline to Apply for Provider Relief Funds

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced that it would be extending the deadline for health care providers to apply to receive general distribution funding from the HHS Provider Relief Fund.  The deadline to apply for these funds was previously June 3, 2020.

Relevant Background

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  As part of that Act, Congress allocated $100 billion to the creation of a “CARES Act Provider Relief Fund,” which will be used to support hospitals and other healthcare providers on the front lines of the nation’s coronavirus response.  An additional $75 billion was allocated as part of the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, bringing the total “Provider Relief Fund” up to $175 billion.  This $175 billion will be distributed to health care providers and suppliers to fund healthcare-related expenses or to offset lost revenue attributable to COVID-10.

HHS ultimately elected to allocate these funds through a $50 billion “general allocation,” and multiple smaller “targeted allocations.”

Under its general allocation program, HHS intended to provide health care providers with funds roughly equal to 2% of the provider’s 2018 “net patient revenue,” i.e., the provider’s total revenues from patient care minus provisions for bad debt, contractual write-offs, and certain other adjustments.   This general allocation was made in two tranches, with the first tranche being distributed to all providers in mid-April.  This first tranche was made based on provider’s 2019 Medicare revenues.  As a result, any provider that received payments from the Medicare Fee-for-Service Program in 2019 automatically received an initial relief payment.  However, HHS required providers to submit an application to receive relief funding as part of the second tranche.  The deadline for applying for the second tranche of relief funding was June 3, 2020.

Scope of New Extension

 HHS indicated that the new extension is limited to health care providers that missed the June 3, 2020 deadline to apply for the second tranche of relief funding.  The extension also applies to providers that were ineligible for the first tranche of relief funding due to a recent change of ownership.  The specific situations that HHS indicated would meet the requirements for the extension include:

  • Health care providers who were ineligible for the first tranche of relief funding because: (1) they underwent a change in ownership in calendar year 2019 or 2020 under Medicare Part A and (2) did not have Medicare Fee-for-Service revenues in calendar year 2019;
  • Health care providers who received a payment in the first tranche of funding but: (1) missed the June 3, 2020 deadline to submit revenue information or (2) did not receive funds in the first tranche that total approximately 2% of their net patient revenue; or
  • Health care providers who received a payment in the first tranche of funding, but who ultimately elected to refund that payment (e.g., because they did not believe they met the eligibility requirements), and who are now interested in reapplying.

Health care providers that meet one of the requirements listed above will have until August 28, 2020 to submit an application for additional relief funds.  This deadline aligns with the extended deadline for other eligible Phase 2 providers, such as Medicaid, Medicaid Managed Care, CHIP, and dental providers.

Applications should be submitted through the CARES Provider Relief Fund webpage, which can be found at: https://cares.linkhealth.com/#/.

CMS Announces Resumption of Program Integrity Functions

On July 7, 2020, CMS updated its Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Provider Burden Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).  As part of this update, CMS indicated that it would resume several program integrity functions, starting on August 3, 2020.  This includes pre-payment and post-payment medical reviews by its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), and the Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs).  This also includes the resumption of the Prior Authorization Model for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency ambulance transports.  These programs had been suspended by CMS in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resumption of Medicare Fee-For-Service Medical Reviews

 CMS suspended most Medicare FFS medical reviews on March 30, 2020.  This included pre-payment medical reviews conducted by its MACs under the Targeted Probe and Educate program, as well as post-payment reviews by its MACs, the SMRC, and the RACs.  CMS indicated that, given the importance of medical review activities to CMS’ program integrity efforts, it expects to discontinue its “enforcement discretion” beginning on August 3, 2020.

CMS indicated that providers selected for review should discuss any COVID-related hardships that might affect the provider’s ability to respond to the audit in a timely fashion with their contractor.

CMS further indicated that its contractors will be required to consider any waivers and flexibilities in place at the time of the dates of service of claims selected for future review.

Resumption of Prior Authorization Model

 Under the Repetitive, Scheduled, Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model, ground ambulance providers in affected states are required to seek and obtain prior authorization for the transportation of repetitive patients beyond the third round-trip in a 30-day period.  The Prior Authorization Model is currently in place in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

On March 29, 2020, CMS suspended certain claims processing requirements under the Prior Authorization Model.  During this “pause,” claims for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency transports were not be stopped for pre-payment review to the extent prior authorization had not been requested prior to the fourth round trip in a 30-day period.  However, CMS continued to permit ambulance providers to submit prior authorization requests to their MACs.

CMS indicated that full model operations and pre-payment review would resume for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation submitted in the model states on or after August 3, 2020.  CMS stated that the MACs will be required to conduct postpayment review on claims that were subject to the model, and which were submitted and paid during the pause.  CMS further indicated that it would work with the affected providers to develop a schedule for postpayment reviews that does not significantly increase the burden on providers.

CMS stated that claims that received a provision affirmation prior authorization review decision, and which were submitted with an affirmed Unique Tracking Number (UTN) will continue to be excluded from most future medical review.