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.

FAQs – HHS CARES Act Provider Relief Funding

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to HHS CARES Act Provider Relief Funding

By Brian S. Werfel, Esq.

In 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.  These funds will be used to fund healthcare-related expenses or to offset lost revenue attributable to COVID-10.  These funds will also be used to ensure that uninsured Americans have access to testing a treatment for COVID-19.  Collectively, this funding is referred to as the “CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.”

On April 9, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began the disbursement of the first $30 billion of this provider relief funding.  This disbursement was made to all healthcare providers and suppliers that were enrolled in the Medicare Program, and who received Medicare Fee-for-Service reimbursements during Calendar Year 2019.  For most ambulance providers and suppliers, these relief funds were automatically deposited into their bank accounts.

In this Frequently Asked Question (FAQ), the AAA will address some of the more common questions that have arisen with respect to the Cares Act Provider Relief Funds.

Question #1: My organization received relief funds through an ACH Transfer.  Is there anything our organization needs to do?

Answer #1: Yes.  Within thirty (30) days of receiving the payment, you must sign an attestation confirming your receipt of the provider relief funds.  As part of that attestation, you must also agree to accept certain Terms and Conditions.  The attestation can be signed electronically by clicking here.

Question #2: Am I required to accept these funds?  What happens if I am not willing to accept the Terms and Conditions imposed on the receipt of these funds?

 Answer #2: You are not obligated to accept the provider relief funds.  The purpose of these funds was to provide healthcare providers and suppliers with an immediate cash infusion in order to assist them in paying for COVID-related expenses and/or to offset lost revenues attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are not willing to abide by the Terms and Conditions associated with these funds, you must contact HHS within thirty (30) days of receipt of payment, and then return the full amount of the funds to HHS as instructed.  The CARES Act Provider Relief Fund Payment Attestation Portal provides instructions on the steps involved in rejecting the funds.  Please note that your failure to contact HHS within 30 days to arrange for the return of these funds will be deemed to be an acceptance of the Terms and Conditions. 

 Question #3: Our organization has elected to retain the provider relief funds.  Are there any major restrictions on how we can use these funds?

 Answer #3: Yes.  In the Terms and Conditions, HHS has indicated that you must certify that the funds will only be used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.  You are also required to certify that the funding will only be used for health-care related expenses and/or to offset lost revenues that are attributable to coronavirus.

You are specifically required to certify that you will not use the relief funding to reimburse expenses or losses that have been reimbursed from other sources or that other sources are obligated to reimburse.

While the language in the Terms and Conditions are somewhat ambiguous, the AAA interprets this to mean that you must certify that your organization’s operations have been impacted, in some way, by the national response to the coronavirus.  The AAA further interprets this language as requiring that, on net, the coronavirus pandemic has had an adverse impact on either your operations (in terms of added costs) or your revenues (in terms of decreased revenues).  At the present time, the AAA believes that most, if not all, of our members that are currently providing services in response to the coronavirus pandemic will meet this standard.

Note: one situation where a provider may not be eligible for provider relief funding would be a situation where the provider ceased operations prior to January 31, 2020.  For example, a provider that ceased operations on December 31, 2019.  Because the ambulance provider was paid for Medicare FFS services furnished in 2019, it may receive provider relief funding.  However, if the organization’s operations ceased prior to the onset of the current state of emergency, it would not be able to meet the requirement that it provided diagnoses, testing, or care for individuals with possible or actual cases of COVID-19.  In this situation, the ambulance provider would likely be obligated to reject the provider relief funding.

 Question #4: Are there any other restrictions on our use of provider relief funding?

 Answer #4: Yes.  In addition to the restrictions discussed in Answer #3 above, you are also restricted from using the provider relief funding for any of the following purposes:

  1. The provider relief funds may not be used to pay the salary of an individual at a rate in excess of Executive Level II (approximately $189,600);
  2. The provider relief funds may not be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control;
  3. The provider relief funds may not be used, in whole or in part, for lobbying activities;
  4. The provider relief funds may not be used to fund abortions (subject to certain exceptions);
  5. The provider relief funds may not be used for embryo research;
  6. The provider relief funds may not be used for the promotion of the legalization of controlled substances;
  7. The provider relief funds may not be used to maintain or establish a computer network, unless such network blocks the viewing, downloading, and exchanging of pornography;
  8. The provider relief funds may not be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors;
  9. The provider relief funds may not be used to purchase sterile needles or syringes for hypodermic injections of illegal drugs.

Question #5: How will HHS verify that the provider relief funding is being used for an appropriate purpose?

 Answer #5: HHS will require all recipients of provider relief funding to submit reports “as the Secretary determines are needed to ensure compliance with the conditions imposed.”  HHS indicated that it will provide future program instructions to recipients that specifies the form and content of these reports.  Recipients will also be required to maintain appropriate records and cost documentation to substantiate how provider relief funds were spent, and to provide copies of such records to HHS upon request.

In addition, ambulance providers and suppliers that receive, in the aggregate, more than $150,000 in funds under the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and any other legislation that makes appropriations for coronavirus response and related activities will be required to submit a report within 10 days of the end of each calendar quarter.  These reports must specify: (1) the total amount of funds received from HHS under each of these pieces of legislation, (2) the amount of funds received that was spent or obligated to be spend, and (3) a detailed list of all projects or activities for which large covered funds were expended or obligated.

Question #6: We understand that one of the conditions associated with the provider relief funding is that we agree not to balance bill patients.  Is our understanding correct?

 Answer #6:  The Terms and Conditions do contain provisions that would likely place restrictions on your ability to balance-bill patients.

In order to understand these restrictions, it is probably helpful to understand the underlying purpose of the restriction.  The actual language from the Terms and Conditions reads as follows:

The Secretary has concluded that the COVID-19 public health emergency has caused many healthcare providers to have capacity constraints. As a result, patients that would ordinarily be able to choose to receive all care from in-network healthcare providers may no longer be able to receive such care in-network. Accordingly, for all care for a presumptive or actual case of COVID-19, Recipient certifies that it will not seek to collect from the patient out-of-pocket expenses in an amount greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay if the care had been provided by an in-network Recipient.”

 As the language makes clear, HHS was not focused primarily on the practice of balance-billing.  Rather, HHS’ concern was that many healthcare providers would have capacity restraints.  As a result, patients may be restricted in their ability to receive care from their normal providers (who are presumably in-network with the patient’s insurer).   HHS’ intent was to ensure that the patient does not suffer any adverse financial consequences as a result of seeking care for presumptive or actual cases of COVID-19.  It accomplishes this goal by requiring the recipient of provider relief funds to agree not to collect from the patient out-of-pocket expenses that are greater than what the patient would have incurred has the care been provided by an in-network provider.

This is being interpreted as a ban on “balance-billing” because most commercial insurers require their contracted providers to accept the plan’s allowed amount as payment-in-full, i.e., to agree to only bill the patient for applicable copayments and deductibles.

Ambulance providers and suppliers should keep in mind that this will not impact the payment of claims from: (1) Medicare, Medicaid or other state and federal health care programs that already require you to accept the program’s allowed amount as payment-in-full, (2) commercial insurers with which the organization currently contracts, and (3) the uninsured.  In other words, this requirement only impacts payments from commercial insurers with which the organization currently does not contract.

At this point in time, it is expected that non-contracted commercial insurers will process your claim and make a determination as to whether the claim is related to the treatment and care of a presumptive or actual case of COVID-19.  If the plan determines that the services you furnished were COVID-related, they will likely pay you the in-network rate they have established with contracted providers in your services area.  The plan will likely then issue a remittance notice that indicates that you may not bill the patient for any balance over the insurer’s payment.  Note: many of the larger commercial insurers have indicated that they will waive the copayments and deductibles due from patients for COVID-related claims.  If the plan waives the copayment and deductibles, they will pay these amounts to you as part of their payment of the claim.  If they do not waive the copayment and deductible, you will be permitted to seek to collect these amounts from the patient.  If the plan determines that the services you furnished were not COVID-related, they will continue to pay your claims using their normal claims processing, and you would be permitted to balance bill the patient to the extent otherwise permitted under state and local law.

There is still a good deal of confusion related to this aspect of the CARES Act Provider Relief Funding.  It is expected that HHS will be issuing further clarification in the days to come.  The AAA will update this FAQ to reflect any updated guidance from HHS.

CMS: Medical Necessity & Patient Signature Requirements During COVID-19

CMS Clarifies Medicare Requirements Related to Medical Necessity and the Patient Signature Requirement during Current National State of Emergency

By Brian S. Werfel, Esq.

On April 9, 2020, CMS updated its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for billing Medicare Fee-For-Service Claims during the current national state of emergency.  This document includes guidance for numerous industry types, including ambulance services.  The ambulance-specific questions start on page 11.

Two of the more common questions that A.A.A. members have asked during the current crisis are:

  1. Whether the transportation of a patient known or suspected to be infected with the COVID-19 virus would automatically justify medical necessity for the ambulance? And,
  2. Whether CMS will be waiving the requirement that ambulance providers and suppliers obtain the patient’s signature (or an acceptable alternative signature) to consent to the submission of a claim?

CMS did provide some guidance on both of these issues.

CMS addressed the issue of medical necessity in its answer to Question #9 on page 13.  The question posed to CMS was whether an ambulance provider/supplier could consider any COVID-19 positive patient to meet the medical necessity requirements for an ambulance.  CMS responded as follows:

“Answer: The medical necessity requirements for coverage of ambulance services have not been changed. For both emergency and non-emergency ambulance transportation, Medicare pays for ground (land and water) and air ambulance transport services only if they are furnished to a Medicare beneficiary whose medical condition is such that other forms of transportation are contraindicated. The beneficiary’s condition must require both the ambulance transportation itself and the level of service provided for the billed services to be considered medically necessary.”

Basically, CMS declined to offer a blanket waiver of the medical necessity requirements for COVID-19 patients.  In doing so, CMS seems to be suggesting that COVID-19 status, in and of itself, is not sufficient to establish Medicare coverage for an ambulance transport.

Fortunately, CMS did offer specific relief on the Medicare patient signature requirement.  The question posed to CMS on page 16 (Question #14) was whether an ambulance provider/supplier could sign on the patient’s behalf to the extent the patient was known or suspected to be infected with COVID-19, and, as a result, asking the patient (or an authorized representative) to sign the Tablet would risk contaminating the device for future patients and/or ambulance personnel.  CMS responded as follows:

Answer: Yes, but only under specific, limited circumstances. CMS will accept the signature of the ambulance provider’s or supplier’s transport staff if that beneficiary or an authorized representative gives verbal consent. CMS has determined that there is good cause to accept transport staff signatures under these circumstances. See 42 CFR 424.36(e). CMS recommends that ambulance providers and suppliers follow the Centers for Disease Control’s Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID-19 in the United States, which can be found at the following link: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-for-ems.html. This guidance includes general guidelines for cleaning or maintaining EMS transport vehicles and equipment after transporting a patient with known or suspected COVID-19. However, in cases where it would not be possible or practical (such as a difficult to clean surface) to disinfect the electronic device after being touched by a beneficiary with known or suspected COVID-19, documentation should note the verbal consent.”

Essentially, CMS is indicating that you can accept a patient’s verbal consent to the submission of a claim in lieu of a written signature.  In these instances, CMS is indicating that the crew must clearly document that they have obtained the patient’s (or the authorized representative’s) verbal consent.

HHS Announces Release of Initial Tranche of CARES Act Provider Relief Funding

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.  These funds will be used to fund healthcare-related expenses or to offset lost revenue attributable to COVID-10.  These funds will also be used to ensure that uninsured Americans have access to testing a treatment for COVID-19.  Collectively, this funding is referred to as the “CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.”

On April 9, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicated that it would be disbursing the first $30 billion of relief funding to eligible providers and suppliers starting on April 10, 2020.  This money will be disbursed via direct deposit into eligible providers and supplier bank accounts.  Please note that these are outright payments, i.e., these are not loans that will need to be repaid. 

Who is Eligible to Receive Relief Fund Payments?

HHS indicated that any healthcare provider or supplier that received Medicare Fee-For-Service reimbursements in 2019 will be eligible for the initial allocation.  Payments to practices that are part of larger medical groups will be sent to the group’s central billing office (based on Medicare enrollment information).  HHS indicated that billing organizations will be identified by their Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs).

Are There Any Conditions to Receipt of this Funding?

Yes.  As a condition to receiving relief funding, a healthcare provider or supplier must agree not to seek to collection out-of-pocket payments from COVID-19 patients that are greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay if the care had been provided by an in-network provider.

How is the Amount of Relief Funding an Entity will Receive Determined?

HHS indicated that the amounts healthcare providers and suppliers will receive will be based on their pro-rata share of total Medicare FFS expenditures in 2019.  HHS indicated that Medicare FFS payments totaled $484 billion in 2019.

Providers and suppliers can estimate their initial relief payment amount by dividing their 2019 Medicare FFS reimbursement by $484 billion, and then multiplying that “ratio” by $30 billion.  Note: payments from Medicare Advantage plans are not included in the calculation of a provider’s/supplier’s total 2019 Medicare payments.

As an example, HHS cited a community hospital that received $121 million in Medicare payments in 2019.  HHS indicated that this hospital’s ratio would be 0.00025.  That amount is then multiplied by $30 billion to come up with its initial relief fund payment of $7.5 million.

The AAA has created a CARES Act Provider Relief Calculator
that you can use to estimate your initial relief payment.  |
USE DOWNLOADABLE EXCEL CALCULATOR►

Do I Need to do Anything to Receive Relief Funds?

No.  You do not need to do anything to receive your relief funding.  HHS has partnered with UnitedHealth Group (UHG) to disburse these monies using the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system.  Payments will be made automatically to the ACH account information on file with UHG or CMS.

Providers and suppliers that are normally paid by CMS through paper checks will receive a check from CMS within the next few weeks.

How Will I Know if I Received My Relief Funds?

The ACH deposit will come to you via Optum Bank.  The payment description will read “HHSPayment.”

Do I Need to do Anything Once I Receive My Relief Funds?

Yes.  You will need to sign an attestation statement confirming relief of the funds within 30 days.  These attestations will be made through a webportal that HHS anticipates opening the week of April 13, 2020.  The portal will need to be accessed through the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund webpage, which can be accessed by clicking here.

You will also be required to accept the Terms and Conditions within 30 days.  Providers and suppliers that do not wish to accept these terms and conditions are required to notify HHS within 30 days, and then remit full repayment of the relief funds.  The Terms and Conditions can be reviewed by clicking here.

How will HHS Distribute the Remaining $70 Billion in Relief Funds?

HHS has indicated that it intends to use the remaining relief funds to make targeted distributions to providers in areas particularly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, rural providers, providers of services with lower shares of Medicare reimbursement or who predominantly serve Medicaid populations, and providers requesting reimbursement for the treatment of uninsured Americans.

CMS Announces Delay to ET3 Start Date

On April 8, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will be delaying the start of the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model until Fall 2020.  The ET3 Model was previously set to start on May 1, 2020.  CMS cited the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for this delay.

In its delay notice, CMS also reminded the EMS industry that it has issued a number of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules that are designed to give health care providers and suppliers maximum flexibility to respond to the current national emergency.  This includes a number of flexibilities offered specifically to the ambulance industry.

CMS “Pauses” Prior Authorization Model for Scheduled, Repetitive Non-Emergency Ambulance Transportation

CMS released published a guidance document summarizing some of the steps that it has taken to relieve the administrative burden on health care providers and suppliers during the current public health emergency.  As part of that document, CMS indicated that it will be “pausing” the Prior Authorization Model for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency ambulance transports.  Under this program, 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, claims will be stopped for pre-payment review.  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.

CMS indicated that this pause went into effect as of March 29, 2020, and will continue for as long as the current public health emergency continues.  During this pause, claims for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency transports will not be stopped for pre-payment review if the prior authorization has not been requested and obtained prior to the fourth round-trip.  However, CMS indicated that claims submitted and paid during the pause without prior authorization will be subject to postpayment review.

CMS further indicated that during this period: (1) the MACs will continue to review any prior authorization requests that have previously been submitted and (2) that ambulance suppliers may continue to submit new prior authorization requests.

Ambulance suppliers in these areas will have to make a business decision on whether to continue to request prior authorization during the current crisis.   Please note that there are significant benefits to obtaining prior authorization for your repetitive patient population.  Specifically, claims that are submitted based on an affirmative prior authorization decision are excluded from future medical review.

The existing Prior Authorization Model is scheduled to expire on December 1, 2020.  CMS has indicated that, at the present time, it does not plan an extension beyond December 1, 2020.  CMS further indicated that the Prior Authorization Model will not be expanded beyond the current states and territories during the public health emergency.

CMS Releases Update Guidance on Hospital EMTALA Obligations Related to COVID-19

On March 9, 2020, CMS published a memorandum to State Survey Agency Directors that provides updated guidance on the obligations of hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA).  This guidance was issued in response to numerous inquiries regarding the EMTALA obligations of these facilities as they struggle to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under EMTALA, hospitals and CAHs with emergency departments have an obligation to provide an appropriate medical screening examination to any individual that comes into the emergency department seeking examination or treatment of an emergency medical condition.  Hospitals and CAHs are further required to make a determination as to whether the patient actually has an emergency medical condition, and, if so, to provide stabilizing treatment within the hospital’s capabilities, or make appropriate arrangements to transfer the patient to a facility that does have the necessary capabilities.

The hospitals and CAHs had requested guidance on how they can fulfill their basic EMTALA obligations while minimizing the risks of exposure from COVID-19 infected individuals to their staff and other patients in their emergency departments.

Note: in summarizing the CMS guidance document, references to a “hospital” will include both hospitals and CAHs.

Acceptance of Patients Suspected or Confirmed to be Infected with COVID-19

 CMS indicated that hospitals with the capacity and the specialized capabilities needed to provide stabilizing treatments are required to accept transfers from hospitals without the necessary capabilities. CMS indicated that it would take into account the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in assessing a hospital’s capabilities and capacity.  CMS further indicated that the presence or absence of negative pressure rooms (Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR)) would not be the sole determining factor related to determining when an EMTALA transfer is required.  CMS is advising hospitals to coordinate with their state and local public health officials regarding the appropriate placement of individuals who meet specific COVID-19 assessment criteria, as well as the most current standards for treating patients confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.

CMS is further confirming that hospitals have the ability to set up alternative screening sites on the hospital campus, i.e., the initial medical screening exam does not need to take place in the emergency department.  CMS is confirming that individuals may be redirected to an alternative screening site after being logged into the emergency department.  This redirection can even take place outside the entrance to the emergency department.  Medical screening exams conducted in alternative screening sites must still be conducted by qualifying personnel (i.e., physicians, NPs, Pas, or RNs).

CMS is also indicating that hospitals may set up screening sites at “off-campus, hospital-controlled” sites.  Hospitals and community officials may encourage the public to go to these sites instead of the hospital for screening for influenza-like illnesses.  However, a hospital cannot tell an individual that has already presented at their emergency department to go to an off-site location for their medical screening exam.  Unless the off-campus site is already considered to be a dedicated ED (e.g., a free-standing ED) under EMTALA regulations, the EMTALA regulations would not apply to these off-site screening areas; however, the hospital would be required under its Medicare Conditions of Participation to arrange a referral/transfer to an appropriate hospital if the patient has a need for emergency medical attention. 

 Finally, communities may set up screening clinics at sites not under the control of a hospital.  These sites would not be subject to EMTALA.

EMTALA Obligations when a Screening Suggests Possible COVID-19 Infection

 To the extent a hospital determines, following a medical screening exam that a patient may be a possible COVID-19 case, the hospital is expected to isolate the patient immediately.  CMS indicated that it expects that all hospitals will be able to provide medical screening exams and initiate stabilizing treatment while maintaining isolation requirements.

Once an individual is admitted to the hospital or the emergency medical condition ends, the hospital has no further obligations under EMTALA.

CMS is further reminding hospitals that the latest screening guidance from the CDC calls for hospitals to contact their State or local public health officials when they have a case of suspected COVID-19.

CMS Grants State of Florida’s 1135 Waiver Request for Coronavirus Response

On March 16, 2020, CMS approved an 1135 Waiver request submitted by the State of Florida. The State had requested the flexibility to waive prior authorization requirements, streamline its Medicaid enrollment process, and allow care to be provided in alternative settings to the extent an existing health care facility needs to be evacuated. The key provisions of the waiver are summarized below:

1. Payments to Out-of-State Providers: Under current CMS coverage guidelines, the Florida Medicaid Program had the authority to reimburse out-of-state providers that were not enrolled in the Florida Medicaid Program provided certain criteria were met. However, this authority was limited to situations involving: (a) a single instance of care furnished over a 180-day period or (b) multiple instances of care furnished to a single Florida Medicaid beneficiary over a 180-day period. Under the waiver, CMS is removing the 180-day restriction for the duration of the emergency.

2. Expedited Enrollments: With respect to providers that are not currently enrolled in the Medicare Program or with another State Medicaid Agency, CMS is waiving the following screening requirements: (a) the payment of the application fee, (b) the fingerprint-based criminal background checks, (c) the required site visits, and (d) the in-state/territorial licensing requirements. Under the waiver, the state would still be required to check enrolling providers against the OIG exclusion list, and confirm that the out-of-state provider is properly licensed in their home state.

3. Cessation of Revalidation Efforts: CMS granted Florida the authority to temporarily cease the revalidation of enrolled in-state Medicaid providers and suppliers who are directly impacted by the emergency.

4. Waiver of Prior Authorization Requirements: CMS has granted Florida the right to waive any prior authorization requirements that are currently part of the State Medicaid Plan. This waiver applies to services provided on or after March 1, 2020, and will continue through the termination of the emergency declaration.

5. Waiver Allowing Evacuating Facilities to Provide Services in Alternative Settings: CMS will allow facilities, including nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, and hospitals to be reimbursed for services rendered during an emergency evacuation to an otherwise unlicensed facility. This waiver will extend for the duration of the declared emergency; however, CMS will require the unlicensed facility to seek licensure with the state after 30 days.

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.

CMS Announces New Healthy Adult Opportunity Initiative

On January 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the roll-out of its “Healthy Adult Opportunity” (HAO) initiative.  Under the initiative, participating states will have a portion of their current federal Medicaid funding converted to block grants.  In return, the states will gain greater flexibility in providing for the health care needs of certain portions of their existing Medicaid populations.

In a letter directed to State Medicaid Directors, CMS outlined the details of how the HAO initiative would operate.  The initiative will be operated under CMS’ 1115 waiver authority.  In order to participate, a state must submit an application setting forth the specific demonstration projects it intends to implement.  CMS reiterated that participation in the HAO initiative is voluntary.  CMS further indicated that it will review state applications on a case-by-case basis and make an independent decision on whether the proposed policies merit approval.  States with existing Section 1115 waivers that cover eligible populations will be permitted to transition existing demonstrations into the HAO initiative.

CMS indicated that HAO demonstrations will generally be approved for an initial 5-year period, and successful demonstrations may be renewed for a period of up to 10 years.

A summary of some of the major provisions of this initiative is provided below.

Federal Funding

The Medicaid Program is a joint federal and state program that provides free or low-cost health coverage to nearly 65 million Americans.  The Program is administered by each state, with the federal government reimbursing states for a percentage of their qualifying Medicaid expenditures.  The amount of federal matching funds is based on a statutory formula that compares a state’s per capita income to the national average.  States with lower per capita incomes receive a higher Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).  FMAPs range from 50% to a maximum of 83%.  In addition, the federal government provides higher matching rate (called an Enhanced FMAP) for certain services or populations.  For example, the federal government currently pays 90% of the costs of providing health care to those covered by the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act.

Under the HAO initiative, participating states would forego the FMAP for certain Medicaid populations.  Instead, these states would receive a fixed amount of federal funding (i.e., a block-grant), which will be calculated based on either a total expenses or per-enrollee basis.  To the extent the state spends more than its budgeted amount, it would not be eligible for additional federal matching funds.  To the extent the state ends up spending less than its budgeted amount, the state would participate in the cost-savings.

Eligible Medicaid Populations

The HAO initiative is focused on the non-mandatory adult Medicaid populations, i.e., individuals that are under the age of 65, and who are not eligible for Medicaid on the basis of disability, or their need for long term care, and who are not otherwise eligible under a State Medicaid Plan.  In other words, this initiative is largely targeted at those individuals that become eligible for Medicaid as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Benefit Package Design

Under the HAO initiative, states will have the ability to design benefit packages that closely resemble the benefit packages provided by private insurers.  At a minimum, this would include benefit packages that cover all of the Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) required for commercial insurances sold on the State ACA Exchanges.  States may also design federally qualified health center coverages that facilitate the use of value-based payment design among safety-net providers.

Beneficiaries that are shifted into HAO demonstration projects will retain certain beneficiary protections, including all federal disability and civil rights laws, fair hearing rights, and limits on their mandatory cost-sharing amounts.

Coverage of Prescription Drugs

One major change would be to state’s coverage of prescription drugs.  The initiative would give states the flexibility to offer formularies under an HAO demonstration project similar to those provided in commercial health insurance markets.  This would remove the current mandate that states provide a so-called “open formulary.”  States that elect to establish their own formulary would be required to comply with the EHB requirements regarding prescription drug benefits.  States would also be required to cover substantially all drugs used to treat: (1) mental health disorders (i.e., antipsychotics and antidepressants), (2) HIV (i.e., antiretroviral drugs), and (3) opioid use disorders (i.e., all forms, formulations, and delivery mechanisms) where there are rebate agreements in place with the manufacturers.

In theory, this would permit states to cover only a single drug for many pharmaceutical classes.

Cost-Sharing Amounts

States would have the flexibility to impose additional cost-sharing obligations on beneficiaries covered under a demonstration program, subject to two broad limitations:

  1. Aggregate out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries covered under an HAO demonstration must not exceed 5% of the beneficiary’s household income, measured on a monthly or quarterly basis; and
  2. Premiums and cost-sharing charges for tribal beneficiaries, those beneficiaries living with HIV, those beneficiaries needing treatment for substance use disorders, and the cost-sharing charges for prescription drugs used to treat mental health conditions must not exceed amounts permitted under the implementing regulations. States would also not be permitted to suspend enrollment for these individuals if they fail to pay their premiums or cost-sharing amounts.

Wrap-Around Services (Including NEMT)

States would be given the flexibility to discontinue the coverage of Alternative Benefit Plan wrap-around services, including non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) and early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment services (EPSDT) for individuals aged 19-20.

CMS Posts 2020 Public Use File

On December 2, 2019, CMS posted the 2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files. These files contain the amounts that will be allowed by Medicare in calendar year 2020 for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage. These allowables reflect a 0.9% inflation adjustment over the 2018 rates.

The 2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use File can be downloaded from the CMS website by clicking here.

Unfortunately, CMS has elected in recent years to release its Public Use Files without state and payment locality headings. As a result, in order to look up the rates in your service area, you would need to know the CMS contract number assigned to your state. This is not something the typical ambulance service would necessarily have on hand. For this reason, the AAA has created a reformatted version of the CMS Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule, which includes the state and payment locality headings. AAA members can access this reformatted fee schedule at the link below.

2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule▶

 

2018 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2018 Medicare Payment Data Report. This report is based on the “Early Edition” of the 2018 Part B National Summary Data File (previously known as the Bess Report). The report consists of an overview of total Medicare spending nationwide, and then a separate breakdown of Medicare spending in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the various other U.S. Territories.

For each jurisdiction, the report contains two charts: the first reflects data for all ambulance services, with the second limited to dialysis transports. Each chart is further broken down by HCPCS code. The charts provide information on the total number of allows services and the total Medicare payments for CYs 2017 and 2018. Percentage changes will allow members to view payment trends over the past year.

2018 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

Questions? Contact Brian Werfel at bwerfel@aol.com.

 

CMS Announces 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor

On October 4, 2019, CMS issued Transmittal 4407 (Change Request 11497), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2020.

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 2018, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased 1.6%. CMS further indicated that the CY 2020 MFP will be 0.7%. Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for calendar year 2019 will be 0.9%.

CMS Announces Comment Period for National Expansion of Prior Authorization Process

On October 29, 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted a notice in the Federal Register announcing an opportunity for the public to provide comments on the proposed national expansion of the prior authorization process for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ground ambulance transportation.  CMS refers to this process as its “RSNAT Prior Authorization Model.”  The CMS Notice can be viewed in its entirety at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-10-29/pdf/2019-23584.pdf.

Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, federal agencies are required to publish a notice in the Federal Register concerning each proposed collection of information, and to allow 60 days for the public to comment on the proposed action.  Interested parties are encouraged to provide comments regarding the agency’s burden estimates and other aspects of the proposed collection of information, including the necessity and utility of the proposed information for the proper performance of the agency’s functions, and ways in which the collection of such information can be enhanced.

In this instance, CMS is indicating that it is pursuing approval to potentially expand the existing RSNAT Prior Authorization Model nationwide.  Currently, the RSNAT Prior Authorization Model is in place in 8 states (DE, MD, NJ, NC, PA, SC, VA, and WV) and the District of Columbia.  National expansion is contingent upon CMS’ determination that certain expansion criteria have been met.  CMS is indicating that if the decision is made to expand the program, such expansion may occur in multiple phases.  CMS intends to use the information collected pursuant to this notice to determine the proper payment for repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation.

In plain English, CMS is soliciting comments from stakeholders as to the efficacy of the current process, including whether the existing paperwork requirements are sufficient to ensure that approved patients meet the medical necessity requirements for an ambulance.  CMS is also seeking suggestions for how to best expand the program nationally, e.g., whether it makes sense to expand the program in phases, etc.

The AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee has been monitoring the current model for several years.  As a result, the AAA is in a good position to provide constructive feedback to CMS regarding the potential national expansion of the RSNAT Prior Authorization Model.  These suggestions will be included in the AAA’s comment letter.  The AAA also encourages members to offer their own comments.  The AAA anticipates providing members with a sample comment letter in early December that members can use to submit their own comments.

To be considered, comments must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on December 30, 2019.  Comments may be submitted electronically by going to: http://www.regulations.gov.  Commenters would then need to click the link for “Comment or Submission,” and follow the instructions from there.  Comments may also be submitted by regular mail to the following address: CMS, Office of Strategic Operations and Regulatory Affairs, Division of Regulations Development, Attention: Document Identifier: CMS-10708, Room C4-26-05, 7500 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21244-1850.

HHS OIG Issues Proposed AKS Safe Harbor Rule

On Thursday, October 17, 2019, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a proposed rule titled “Medicare and State Health Care Programs: Fraud and Abuse; Revisions to Safe Harbors Under the Anti-Kickback Statute, and Civil Monetary Penalties Regarding Beneficiary Inducements.”  The proposed rule would amend the existing safe harbors to the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the civil monetary penalty rules (CMPs).  These changes are part of HHS’ Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care.  The stated purpose of these changes is to reduce the regulatory barriers and accelerate the transformation of the healthcare system away from the traditional fee-for-service payment model, and towards a value-based system that rewards healthcare providers for better outcomes.  The proposed rule can be viewed in its entirety at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-10-17/pdf/2019-22027.pdf.

The proposed rule makes nearly a dozen major changes to the safe harbors under the AKS and the rules related to CMPs.  Among these are revisions to the recently created safe harbor for local transportation.  The proposed change to the safe harbor for free or discounted local transportation is discussed in greater detail below.

The OIG is soliciting comments on a wide range of topics raised in the proposed rule. The AAA is not taking any formal position with respect to the proposed changes or the requests for additional information set forth in this proposed rule.  However, we encourage any member that wishes to comment to do so. 

To be considered, comments must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on December 31, 2019.  Comments may be submitted electronically by going to: http://www.regulations.gov. Commenters would then need to click the link for “Submit a comment” and follow the instructions from there.  Comments may also be submitted by courier or by regular, express, or overnight mail to the following address: Office of Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: OIG-0936-AA10-P, Room 5521, Cohen Building, 330 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20201.

Revisions to Safe Harbor for Free or Local Transportation

In 2014, the OIG created a new safe harbor for free or discounted local transportation provided to Federal health care program beneficiaries. This safe harbor applied to non-ambulance transportation (e.g., wheelchair van, bus and shuttle services, taxis, etc.) provided under the following conditions:

  1. The free or discounted transportation was provided by an “Eligible Entity.” For these purposes, an “Eligible Entity” is any individual or entity, other than individuals or entities (or family members or others acting on their behalf) that primarily supply health care items;
  2. The free or discounted transportation was provided pursuant to an existing policy of the Eligible Entity, and which is applied in a uniform and consistent manner;
  3. The transportation services are not air, luxury, or ambulance transportation;
  4. The Eligible Entity does not publicly market or advertise the free or discounted local transportation services, and no cross-marketing of other health care services occurs during the course of transportation, or at any time by the drivers providing such transportation. In addition, the drivers and anyone arranging the transportation cannot be paid on a per-beneficiary-transported basis;
  5. The transportation services are limited only to “established patients” of the Eligible Entity; and
  6. The transportation is limited to 25 miles in urban areas, or 50 miles in rural areas.

 The safe harbor also permitted the use of “shuttle services” (i.e., a vehicle that runs on a set route, on a set schedule) if the following conditions are met:

  1. The shuttle service is not air, luxury, or ambulance-level transportation;
  2. The shuttle service is not marketed or advertised, and no cross-marketing occurs during the transportation, or at any time by the driver providing such transportation. In addition, the driver and anyone else arranging the transportation cannot be paid on a per-beneficiary-transported basis;
  3. The shuttle services has no stop that is more than 25 miles from any stop on the route where health care items or services are provided, except that this mileage restriction is expanded to 50 miles in rural areas.

In either situation, the safe harbor also requires the Eligible Entity to bear all costs of furnishing such transportation, i.e., they cannot shift that cost onto any Federal health care program, any other payer, or the individual.

In the current proposed rule, the OIG indicated that it received numerous comments from stakeholders that suggested that the 50-mile limit for residents of rural areas was insufficient, as many rural residents might need to routinely travel more than 50 miles to obtain certain medical services.  As a result, the OIG is proposing to expand this limit to 75 miles.

The OIG is also soliciting comments on whether the proposed 75-mile is sufficient, or whether an even larger expansion is warranted.  To the extent you intend to submit comments arguing for a greater mileage limit, the OIG is asking that you submit data or other evidence to support a more appropriate mileage limitation for the safe harbor.  The OIG is also specifically requesting information on how an Eligible Entity would provide transportation over distances in excess of 50 miles (e.g., shuttle services, bus or taxi fare, ride-sharing programs, mileage reimbursement programs, etc.).

Expansion of Safe Harbor for Transportation of Patients Being Discharged After an Inpatient Stay

The OIG is also proposing to eliminate any mileage restriction on transportation of patients back to their residence after being discharged from a facility where that patient had been admitted as an inpatient, regardless of whether the patient resides in an urban or rural area.  The OIG is also proposing to eliminate the mileage restrictions on discharges to another residence of the patient’s choice (such as a friend or relative who will care for the patient post-discharge).

The OIG further indicated that it is considering protecting transportation to other locations of the patient’s choice, including another health care facility.  The OIG is soliciting comments on the potential fraud and abuse risks associated with permitting free or discounted transportation to other health care facilities, and whether transportation should be protected (and, if so, under what circumstances) when the patient has not previously been admitted to an inpatient facility (e.g., where the patient had been seen as an outpatient in a hospital emergency department).  Finally, the OIG is soliciting comments on whether the transportation of patients being discharged beyond the applicable safe harbor mileage limitations should be limited to patients with demonstrated financial or transportation needs, and, if so, what standards should apply to such demonstration of need.

Possible Expansion to Include Transportation to Non-Medical Services

In the 2014 final rule creating the new safe harbor for local transportation, the OIG declined to extend the safe harbor protections to transportation for purposes other than obtaining medically necessary services or items (although they permitted a qualifying shuttle service to make stops at locations that do not relate to a particular patient’s medical needs).  The OIG has since received numerous comments suggesting that the safe harbor should protect transportation for non-medical purposes that may nevertheless improve or maintain health, e.g., transportation to food banks, social services, exercise facilities, support groups, etc.  The OIG indicated that it considering a further expansion of the safe harbor to include such non-medical needs, and is therefore seeking comments on how the safe harbor could be expanded to such needs without creating an unacceptable risk of fraud and abuse. 

 Clarification of Policy Regarding the Use of Ride-Sharing Services

 Finally, the OIG is clarifying its interpretation of the applicability of the existing safe harbor to the use of ride-sharing services.  In the preamble to the 2014 final rule, the OIG discussed the possibility that patient transportation might be provided via taxi.  In the proposed rule, the OIG indicates that, while it did not explicitly reference ride-sharing services, it views these services are being similar to taxi services for the purposes of the safe harbor.  Specifically, the OIG noted that nothing in the language of the safe harbor expressly precludes their use (or the use of self-driving cars or other similar technology that may become available at some point in the future).  The OIG is inviting anyone that disagrees with this approach to explain the possible basis for exclusion of ride-sharing services.

The OIG did reiterate that the prohibition of the marketing of such free or discounted transportation would still apply.  The OIG indicated that it would be permissible for ride-sharing services to advertise that they provide transportation to medical appointments, and to recommend that patients contact their medical providers to determine if they qualified for free or discounted transportation.  By contrast, the OIG indicated that it would not be appropriate for the ride-sharing service to advertise that it provided free or discounted transportation to particular health care providers.

Other Changes in the Proposed Rule

 In addition to the revisions to the existing safe harbor for free or discounted transportation, the OIG is proposing:

  1. The creation of three new safe harbors for participants in value-based arrangements that promote better coordinated and managed patient care. These include: (i) a safe harbor for Care Coordination Arrangements to Improve Quality, Health Outcomes, and Efficiency, (ii) Value-Based Arrangements with Substantial Downside Financial Risk, and (iii) Value-Based Arrangements with Full Financial Risk.
  2. The creation of a new safe harbor for certain tools and support furnished to patients to improve quality, health outcomes, and efficiency.
  3. The creation of a new safe harbor for remuneration provided in connection with CMS-sponsored models. The purpose of this new safe harbor is to eliminate the need for the OIG and CMS to issue model-specific waivers.
  4. The creation of a new safe harbor for donations of cybersecurity technology and services.
  5. Proposed modifications to the existing safe harbor for electronic health records items and services.
  6. Proposed modifications to the existing safe harbor for personal services and management contractors, in order to add flexibility with respect to outcomes-based payments and part-time arrangements.
  7. Proposed modifications to the existing safe harbor for warranties, to better address bundled warranties covering multiple health care items or services.
  8. The codification of the existing statutory exception for ACO Beneficiary Incentive Programs under the Medicare Shared Savings Program.
  9. A proposed amendment to the definition of “remuneration” under the CMP rules for certain telehealth technologies furnished to in-home dialysis patients.

CMS Announces Extension of Prior Authorization Program

On September 16, 2019, CMS published a notice in the Federal Register that it would be extending the prior authorization demonstration project for another year. The extension is limited to those states where prior authorization was in effect for calendar year 2019. The affected states are Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. The extension will run through December 1, 2020. 

In its notice, CMS indicated that the prior authorization demonstration project is being extended “while we continue to work towards nationwide expansion.”  This strongly suggests that CMS believes the program has met the statutory requirements for nationwide expansion under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.  However, CMS indicated that it would use the additional year to continue to test whether prior authorization helps reduce expenditures, while maintaining or improving the quality of care offered to Medicare beneficiaries.

CMS has also updated its CMS Ambulance Prior Authorization webpage to reflect the expansion of prior authorization in the existing states through December 1, 2020.

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 2019, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 1.65%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2020. However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the number is likely to be in the 0.6% range.

Accordingly, the AAA is currently projecting that the 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be approximately 1.1%. 

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 2020. Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change. The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits: FAQs

On April 1, 2019, CMS implemented a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits that it stated would better identify ground ambulance transports that were furnished in connection with an outpatient hospital service that would be bundled to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these new edits has been anything but seamless. Over the past few weeks, I have received numerous phone calls, texts, and emails from AAA members reporting an increase in the number of Medicare claims being denied for SNF Consolidated Billing.

This FAQ will try to explain why you may be seeing these denials.  I will also try to provide some practical solutions that can: (1) reduce the number of claims denied by the edits and (2) help you collect from the SNFs, when necessary.

Please note that, at the present time, there is no perfect solution to this issue, i.e., there is nothing that you can do to completely eliminate these claim denials.  The solutions discussed herein are intended only to minimize the disruption to your operations caused by these denials.  

I am new to Medicare ambulance billing. Can you explain what the SNF Consolidated Billing regime is, and how it operates?

Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that the SNF’s per diem payment generally the cost of all health care provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay, whether provided by the SNF directly, or by a third-party.  This also includes the majority of medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during that period.  For these purposes, the “Part A Period” refers to the first 100 days of a qualified SNF stay.

However, medically necessary ambulance transportation is exempted from SNF Consolidated Billing (referred to hereafter as “SNF PPS”) in certain situations.  This includes medically necessary ambulance transportation to and from a Medicare-enrolled dialysis provider (whether free-standing or hospital-based).  Also excluded are ambulance transportations:

  • To an SNF for an initial admission;
  • From the SNF to the patient’s residence for a final discharge (assuming the patient does not return to that SNF on the same day);
  • To and from a hospital for an inpatient admission;
  • To and from a hospital for certain outpatient procedures, including, without limitation, emergency room visits, cardiac catheterizations, CT scans, MRIs, certain types of ambulatory surgery, angiographies (including PEG tube procedures), lymphatic and venous procedures, and radiation therapy.

For a fuller description of the SNF Consolidated Billing Regime, including a discussion of when ambulance services may be separately payable by Medicare Part B, I encourage members to consult the AAA Medicare Reference Manual.

Purchase the 2019 Medicare Reference Manual

Can you explain what prompted CMS to implement these new edits? 

In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. The OIG’s investigation consisted of a review of all SNF beneficiary days from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016 to determine whether the beneficiary day contained a ground ambulance claim line. The OIG excluded beneficiary days where the only ambulance claim line related to: (1) certain emergency or intensive outpatient hospital services or (2) dialysis services, as such ambulance transportation would be excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.

The OIG determined that there were 58,006 qualifying beneficiary days during this period, corresponding to $25.3 million in Medicare payments to ambulance suppliers. The OIG then selected a random sample of 100 beneficiary days for review.  The OIG determined that 78 of these 100 beneficiary days contained an overpayment for the associated ambulance claims, as the services the beneficiary received did not suspend or end their SNF resident status, nor was the transport for dialysis. The OIG determined that ambulance providers were overpaid a total of $41,456 for these ambulance transports.  The OIG further determined that beneficiaries (or their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $10,723 in incorrect coinsurance and deductibles. Based on the results of its review, the OIG estimates that Medicare made a total of $19.9 million in Part B overpayments to ambulance suppliers for transports that should have been bundled to the SNFs under SNF Consolidated Billing regime.  The OIG estimated that beneficiaries (and their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $5.2 million in coinsurance and deductibles related to these incorrect payments.

The OIG concluded that the existing edits were inadequate to identify ambulance claims for services associated with hospital outpatient services that did not suspend or end the beneficiary’s SNF resident status, and which were not related to dialysis. The OIG recommended that CMS implement additional edits to identify such ambulance claims.

The OIG’s report prompted CMS to issue Transmittal 2176 in November 2018.  This transmittal instructed the CWF Maintainer and the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to implement a new series of edits, effective April 1, 2019.

Can you provide a simple overview of how these new CWF edits operate?

Before we turn to the new edits, I think it is important to understand that CMS has had long-standing edits to identify outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF under SNF PPS.  These edits work by comparing the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes on the outpatient hospital claim to applicable lists of excluded codes.  To the extent the HCPCS or CPT code appears on the applicable list of excluded codes, the outpatient hospital claim will bypass the edit for SNF PPS, and be separately payable by the MAC.  To the extent the HCPCS or CPT code on the outpatient hospital claim does not appear on the applicable list of excluded codes, the claim will be denied as the responsibility of the SNF.  The new CWF edits for ambulance claims simply extend the existing process one step further, i.e., they compare the ambulance claim to the associated hospital claim.

Conceptually, the new edits “staple” the ambulance claim to the outpatient hospital claim, with our coverage piggybacked on whether the outpatient hospital claim is determined to be bundled or unbundled.

How would I identify a claim that is denied for SNF Consolidated Billing?

Typically, the denial will be evidenced by a Claim Adjustment Reason Code on the Medicare Remittance Advice.  The denial will typically appear as an “OA-190” code, with the following additional explanation: “Payment is included in the allowance for a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) qualified stay.  The “OA” stands for “Other Adjustment,” and is intended to notify you that the SNF is the correct payer.  Note: in some instances, the denial may appear as “CO-190” on the remittance advice.  However, the effect of the denial is the same, i.e., they are indicating that the SNF is financially responsible for payment.

Frequently, the denial will be accompanied by Remittance Advice Remark Code “N106,” which indicates “Payment for services furnished to Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) inpatients (except for excluded services) can only be made to the SNF.  You must request payment from the SNF rather than the patient for this service.”

I have heard you refer to the new CWF edits as over-inclusive.  What do you mean by that?

When CMS elects to implement a new edit to the CWF, it has to make some decisions on how to structure the edit.  Two typical decisions that must be made are:

  1. Will the edit be conditional based on the submission of other Medicare claims? And
  2. Is the edit designed to be under- or over-inclusive?

For these purposes, a conditional edit is one where the coverage or lack of coverage depends, in part, on the claims submitted by other health care providers that furnished services to the same beneficiary (typically on the same date).  As you are probably aware, the Medicare rules for all Part B payments prohibit payment whenever the service has been paid for, directly or indirectly, under Medicare Part A.  Thus, all edits for hospital and SNF bundling are conditioned, in part, on the patient’s Part A inpatient status at the time of transport.

By contrast, an unconditional edit is one that operates the same regardless of other types of claims for the same patient.  For example, with respect to ambulance claims, the MACs medical necessity edits are unconditional, i.e., they apply to all ambulance claims, regardless of the patient’s inpatient status at a Part A facility.  The edits for origin/destination modifiers are another example of an edit that is typically unconditional.

In addition, CMS has to decide whether to make an edit under- or over-inclusive.  This is because no edit can be perfectly tailored to be applied to all qualifying claims, but no non-qualifying claims.  An “underinclusive” edit is one that is designed to identify the majority – – but not all – – of the claims that should be denied based on the edit criteria.  By contrast, an “overinclusive” edit is one that would deny not only all of the qualifying claims, but also some non-qualifying claims.

In many instances related to EMS coverage, the underlying facts and circumstances of the transport are ultimately what determines the coverage.  It is frequently difficult – – if not impossible – – to fully describe these circumstances with enough specificity on the electronic claim for CMS to perfectly apply its edits.  For that reason, CMS has historically elected to design its ambulance edits to be underinclusive.

Unfortunately, the new SNF edits are both conditional AND overinclusive.  To further complicate matters, they are not only conditioned on the claim of a single Part A provider, but two separate Part A providers, i.e., in order for the new edits to work properly, CMS is reliant upon information from both the SNF and the hospital to properly apply its new edits.

I recently received a denial for an emergency transport from an SNF to the hospital for an emergency room visit.  I thought emergency ambulance transports were excluded from SNF PPS?

They are. The denial was likely the result of your claim being submitted prior to Medicare’s receipt of the associated outpatient hospital claim.

As noted above, the new edits are both conditional and overinclusive.  In this context, they are designed to deny the ambulance claim UNLESS there is a hospital outpatient claim for that same patient with the same date of service.  If there is no hospital outpatient claim on file when your ambulance claim hits the system, the edit indicates that the MAC should deny your claim for SNF PPS.

OK, that makes some sense.  Does that mean I have to appeal the denial?

In theory, no.  The instructions in Transmittal 2176 make clear that the CWF should “adjust” the ambulance claim upon receipt of the associated hospital claim.  For these purposes, that adjustment should take the form of re-processing the ambulance claim through the edits to compare it to the associated hospital claim, and to bypass the new CWF edits if the hospital claim contains an excluded code.

However, there is no timeframe for how quickly these adjustments should take place.  Most ambulance providers are reporting that they are seeing few, if any claims, being reprocessed.

I submitted several claims without knowing the patient was in the Part A Period of an SNF stay.  These claims were initially paid, but a few days later, I received a recoupment request from the MAC indicating that the claim was the responsibility of the SNF under SNF PPS. 

As noted above, the edits were designed to deny claims to the extent CMS was unable to determine whether they should be bundled to the SNF, i.e., to deny if the associated hospital claim was not already in the system.  Therefore, in theory, it should be impossible for the ambulance provider to receive a payment and then a recoupment for SNF PPS.

I suspect the situation described above is one where the ambulance claim is submitted prior to CMS’ receipt of the associated SNF claim for the patient.  As noted above, in order for the edits to work properly, both the associated hospital and SNF claims must be in the system.  While CMS clearly contemplated the possibility that the ambulance claim might be submitted prior to the associated hospital claim, they do not appear to have considered the possibility that the ambulance claim might beat the associated SNF claim into the system.

When that happens, there is nothing in the CWF to indicate that the patient was in a Part A SNF Stay.  As a result, the claim bypasses these new edits entirely, and frequently ends up being paid by the MAC.  I suspect what happens next is that the SNF claim hits the system, and triggers CMS to automatically recoup the payment for the ambulance claim.

What should happen at that point is the ambulance claim should then be run through the new edits.  If the hospital claim is already in the system, the ambulance claim gets “stapled” to that claim, and then either passes the edit or gets denied based on the information on the hospital claim.  If the hospital claim is not in the system, the ambulance provider gets the “interim” denial discussed above, and the claim should be further adjusted if and when the hospital claim is submitted.

However, at this point, it is entirely possible that these claims are not being put through the edit.  The AAA has asked CMS to look into whether the new edits are working as intended in these situations.

This sounds like a complete mess:  

Not really a question, but you are not wrong.

This sounds extremely complicated.  Is there anything I can do to reduce the possibility that my claims get denied?

I think it is important to distinguish between: (1) denials that are correct based on the HCPCS or CPT codes on the associated hospital claim and (2) denials that are based solely on the timing of your claim, i.e., denials based on your claim being submitted prior to the submission of the associated hospital claim.  For these purposes, I will refer to the latter category as “interim denials.”

At the onset, I think all members should recognize that there is nothing you can do to eliminate denials for claims that are properly bundled to the SNF based on the HCPCS or CPT codes on the associated hospital claim.

For numerous reasons, I think the proper focus should be on reducing the interim denials.  First and foremost, the difficulty with an interim denial is that you don’t know whether that denial will ultimately prove to be correct, or whether the claim will ultimately be reprocessed and paid by the MAC.  Second, even if the claim will be reprocessed, there currently appears to be a significant delay in “when” that reprocessing takes place.  Finally, without knowing whether the claim will be reprocessed (and whether that reprocessing will result in a payment), you can’t know whether you should be billing the SNF.

What information would be helpful in reducing these interim denials?

You would need to know the following data points prior to the submission of your claim:

  1. Whether the patient was in a Part A SNF Stay on the date of transport?
  2. What was the specific procedure/service the patient received at the hospital?

If you knew with certainty that the patient was not in the Part A Period of their SNF stay, you would know that the new edits would be inapplicable to your claim, and you could submit it to Medicare as part of your normal billing workflow.

If you also knew the specific procedure/service the patient received at the hospital, you would also be in a position to know whether the service was the financial responsibility of the SNF, assuming the patient was in the Part A Period.  When you know the claim is the financial responsibility of the SNF, you could then immediately invoice the claim to the SNF.  If your arrangement with the SNF requires you to first obtain a Medicare denial, you would also have the option of submitting the claim and getting the proper OA-190 denial, and then invoicing the SNF. Note: in these situations, you would receive the oA-190 denial regardless of whether your claim was submitted prior to the hospital claim.

By contrast, when you know the patient is in the Part A Period AND the procedure/service is one that would be excluded from SNF PPS, you can avoid the interim denial by ensuring that your claim is not submitted until after the associated hospital claim. In other words, this is a situation where holding your claim for a reasonable period of time might be beneficial.

We currently ask the SNF to provide information on the patient’s Part A status.  However, they frequently tell us that they don’t know, or that we are not entitled to this information.  What can we do?

First, they are absolutely permitted to share this information with you.  Both you and the SNF are “covered entities” under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.  In this instance, information on the patient’s Part A status would be helpful to you in managing your payment practices.  The regulations at 45 C.F.R. 164.506(c)(3) permit one covered entity to share protected health information with another covered entity for the payment activities of that entity.

However, it is important to note that, while the SNF may share that information with you, the Privacy Rule does not require them to provide you with this information absent a written authorization from the patient.

This information is critical to navigating the new edits.  If you haven’t been asking for it up until this point, I would strongly encourage you to consider having a discussion with the local SNFs to explain why you will be asking for this information in the future.  You may also want to consider developing a specific form that they must complete (similar to the PCS form) that would provide this information.

We have asked for this information in the past, and are typically told that if we continue to ask, the SNF will consider using our competitor, who doesn’t ask too many questions. 

I understand.  I would try to explain to the SNF that the reason you are asking for this information is to be able to make an intelligent determination on whether the transport is likely to the be financial responsibility of the SNF.  This information allows you to avoid denials in certain instances where they would otherwise not be responsible.  If they don’t provide you with this information, the foreseeable consequence is that you will end up getting interim denials from Medicare, which may leave you no choice but to bill the SNF for the transport.

I feel bad for the person that asked the previous question.  Fortunately for me, we are the only ambulance provider in the area, so the threat of going to a competitor rings a bit hollow.  Do I have any additional options to get this information?

You do.  I would try to insert language into your agreements with the SNFs that obligate them to provide you with this information.  You could also try to insert language that makes them financially responsible whenever they fail to provide this information.

We don’t have agreements with the local SNFs.  Do we need an agreement?

One of the foreseeable consequences of this new edit is that it will increase the frequency with which you bill the SNFs.  One of the most common complaints I hear is that SNFs refuse to pay their bills.  In most instances, the problem is that the ambulance service lacks a written agreement with the SNF, and, as a result, they frequently end up in disputes about when the SNF is responsible.  A written agreement that clearly spells out when the SNF is responsible can not only minimize the potential for misunderstandings, but also afford you greater remedies when the SNF refuses to pay.

With respect to the new edits, what should that agreement say?

You should consult with your local attorney regarding the applicable language.  However, conceptually, you want to include language that indicates that a Medicare denial is conclusive evidence that the SNF is financially responsible.  This provision could then go on to provide that, in the event Medicare should reprocess and pay a particular claim, then you would refund the SNF’s payment.

What can I do to help the AAA in minimizing the administrative burden associated with these new edits?

The AAA is currently conducting a survey of members to help get a sense of the magnitude of the issues created by these new edits. If you would like to participate in the survey, you can click here.

Take the Survey

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog?  Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

ET3 Model Application Portal Now Open

Emergency Triage, Treatment and Transport (ET3) Model Application Portal is Now Open!

On August 5, 2019, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) announced that it had opened its Request for Application (RFA) Online Portal. The Online Portal can be found on the ET3 Model website. The Online Portal can also be accessed directly by clicking here.

As a reminder, CMMI will be hosting a webinar about the Online Portal on Thursday, August 8, 2019.  This webinar will take place from 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. EDT. If you are interested in participating in this webinar, you can register by clicking here.

CMMI Releases Preview of ET3 RFA

On May 22, 2019, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) released a preview of the Request for Applications (RFAs). This documentation will be used by ambulance providers and suppliers to apply for inclusion as “Participants” in the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) pilot program.

Webinar: Learn More About the RFA

June 13, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Kathy Lester, Rebecca Williamson, Asbel Montes
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Register Now

Relevant Background

On February 14, 2019, CMMI announced the creation of a new 5-year pilot program designed to give participating EMS agencies greater flexibility to address the needs of Medicare beneficiaries following a 911 call. The ET3 model would create a new payment model under which participating EMS agencies will be eligible for Medicare reimbursement for: (1) transportation to alternative treatment destinations and (2) treatment at the scene. At the time, CMMI indicated that it anticipated starting the ET3 model in early 2020. To that end, CMMI anticipated soliciting Requests for Participation in the Summer of 2019.

Participation in this pilot program is voluntary. Regardless of whether an ambulance provider or supplier participates in the pilot program, payment for ambulance transportation currently covered under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule will not be affected.

The RFA provides a good deal of additional information regarding the proposed operation of the ET3 Model. These additional details are summarized below.

Eligibility Criteria/Application Process

To be eligible to participate, you must be a Medicare-enrolled ambulance provider or supplier.  In addition, CMMI is limiting eligibility to ambulance providers and suppliers that are located in a state or state in which at least 15,000 Medicare FFS emergency ambulances took place in calendar year 2017.  Note: based on this restriction, ambulance providers and suppliers in the State of Alaska would not be eligible for participation in the ET3 Model.

Medical Necessity Requirement

CMMI previously indicated that the existing medical necessity requirements would apply to ambulance transportation to alternative treatment destinations. In the RFA, CMMI reiterated this requirement. As a result, EMS agencies will only be eligible for reimbursement for transportation to alternative treatment destinations to the extent the beneficiary’s condition is such that safe transport by other means is contraindicated.

CMMI indicated that beneficiaries that do not meet the medical necessity requirements for ambulance transportation may still meet the medical necessity requirements for a Medicare-covered item or service furnished by a qualified health care practitioner, and, therefore, may allow an EMS agency to receive payment for treatment at the scene under the ET3 Model.

Payments under the ET3 Model

The ET3 Model provides for a number of new payment streams.  The two payment streams being made available to participating EMS agencies are: (1) payment for transportation of Medicare beneficiaries to alternative treatment destinations and (2) payment for treatment of the Medicare beneficiary at the scene, where such care was rendered by a qualified health care practitioner either at the scene or via telehealth.

Payment for Transportation to Alternative Treatment Destinations

When the ET3 Model was first announced, CMS indicated that the reimbursement to EMS agencies for providing transportation to alternative treatment destinations would be based on the corresponding BLS “base rate” in the area. However, in the RFA, CMMI indicates that the payment for transportation to an alternative treatment destination will now be made at either the applicable BLS emergency or ALS emergency base rate.  In order to qualify for payment at the applicable ALS emergency rate, the EMS agency must meet Medicare’s definition of “Advanced Life Support” (i.e., the provision of valid ALS intervention and/or the provision of a qualifying ALS assessment).  The payment for this base rate would include the current adjustments for transports provided in urban, rural, or super-rural areas.

The EMS agency would also be eligible for payment for all loaded mileage, at the applicable Medicare mileage rate. This payment would include all current adjustments, including the “bonus” paid for the first 17 rural miles.

Note: CMMI indicated that it would be creating an exception to general Medicare requirement that patients be transported to the nearest appropriate facility. Based on the language in the RFA, it appears clear that CMMI would cover all of the mileage to an alternative treatment destination, even where transportation to the nearest hospital ED would have been shorter.

Based on the language in the RFA, it appears that claims for transportation to alternative treatment destinations will be submitted using the normal ambulance HCPCS codes (i.e., A0427 for an ALS emergency and A0429 for a BLS emergency).

Payment for Treatment at the Scene

When the EMS agency facilitates in-person treatment by a qualified health care practitioner (QHP), the EMS agency will be paid an amount equivalent to the BLS emergency or ALS emergency base rate.  In order to qualify for payment at the applicable ALS emergency rate, the EMS agency must provide medically necessary supplies and services and either a qualifying ALS assessment or the provision of at least one ALS intervention. When the EMS agency facilitates treatment in pace via telehealth, the EMS agency will be paid a modified “telehealth originating site facility fee” equivalent to the applicable BLS emergency or ALS emergency base rate.

Claims submitted for treatment at the scene, whether by the QHP in person or via telehealth, will be submitted using a model-specific code (yet to be announced).

Performance-Based Payment Adjustment for EMS Agencies

EMS agencies that provide transportation to alternative treatment destinations and/or treatment at the scene may be eligible for performance-based payment adjustments of up to 5%, based upon meeting certain performance and reporting metrics. These adjustments will become available no earlier than Year 3 of the ET3 Model, and are not guaranteed.  Performance-based payment adjustments would be based on performance during the previous year (e.g., if the EMS agency meets the performance criteria in Year 3, it would see an increase in Year 4). These performance-based payment adjustments apply only to payments under the ET3 Model, i.e., they do not apply to Medicare payments made under the current Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule.

Payment for Non-Participant Partners

When an EMS agency transports a patient to an alternative treatment destination, that facility will bill Medicare for the services it renders to the beneficiary using its normal claims submission procedures.

Payment for Qualified Health Care Practitioners

A QHP that partners with an EMS agency to provide treatment at the scene will bill Medicare using the applicable HCPCS code for the services it furnished under existing Medicare FFS rules.  When that service is furnished via telehealth, the QHP must submit a claim to Medicare for telehealth services furnished from the distant site.  QHPs that provide services to Medicare beneficiaries during non-business hours (defined as being from 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. local time) will be eligible for a 15% increase in the payment rates normally applicable to their in-person or telehealth services.

Notice of Funding Opportunity for 911 Dispatch Centers

Separate from the RFA process, CMMI expects to allocate funding to governmental entities and their designees that operate 911 dispatch centers.  The purpose of this funding is to support the successful implementation of medical triage lines integrated into the local 911 system.  These Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) will be released following the first round of Participant selection (i.e., likely in the Fall/Winter of 2019).

Application Timelines

The RFA is the first of up to three potential RFAs that will be used to select EMS agencies to participate in the ET3 Model as “Participants.” CMMI is indicating that it hopes to select enough EMS agencies to participate to capture up to 30% of the existing volume of Medicare FFS emergency ground ambulance transports. Additional RFAs will be considered based on available funding and evidence that the ET3 Model is working as intended.

CMMI is not currently accepting applications. Round 1 applications will be accepted via an application portal that will be opened at a later date. Information on the applicable process, including the date the application portal will be opened will be posted on the ET3 Model website: https://innovation.cms.gov/initiatives/et3

Application Submission Process

If you elect to apply for participation in the ET3 Model, you will be required to identify a “region” in which you propose to implement the model. CMMI indicates that this region should be a county or equivalent entity, or multiple counties or equivalent entities.

In selecting Participants, CMMI indicated that it will give preference to applicants who propose a region that includes at least one county (or county-equivalent) where at least 7,500 Medicare FFS emergency ground ambulance transports occurred in 2017. CMMI provided a list of the number of Medicare FFS emergency ground ambulance transports that occurred in each county (organized by state)  That list can be obtained by clicking here.

Applicants will be required to participate in the transportation to alternative treatment destination (ATD) portion of the program. Applicants will have the option – – but not be required – – to propose the creation of a program to provide treatment at the scene in conjunction with QHPs.  Note: CMMI indicated that applicants that elect to implement the treatment at the scene intervention will earn additional points towards their overall application score.

In order to implement the ATD portion, you will be required to partner with alternative destination sites (e.g., Urgent Care Centers), which must be enrolled in Medicare or employ or contract with Medicare-enrolled practitioners, and which must be able to accept and treat Medicare FFS beneficiaries.  If you elect to implement the treatment at the scene portion, you must also partner with QHPs to provide treatment at the scene. These contractual partners are referred to in the RFA as “Non-Participant Partners” (NPPs). To qualify, you must contract with NPPs that can ensure the availability of services for ET3 Model beneficiaries on a 24 hours per day, 7 days a week basis. CMMI will have the right to accept or reject a proposed Non-Participant Partner.

Applicants will also be required to describe their strategy for engaging other payers in their proposed service area, or explain how they can successfully implement the model for Medicare FFS beneficiaries only.

Accountability and Performance Metrics/Ongoing Educational Commitments

Participants in the ET3 will be required to report certain metrics to CMMI and its contractors. You will also be required to participate in what CMMI is calling a “Learning System.”  This is a structured approach to sharing, integrating, and actively applying quality improvement concepts, tactics, and lessons designed to improve the likelihood of success of the model. At a minimum, this will include consistent participation in monthly ET3 Model learning activities, and participation in at least one in-person event, with the location to be determined by CMMI at a later date.

The above is a brief summary of the new information available regarding the ET3 Model. It is not intended to be a complete discussion of all of the requirements for participation. AAA Members are strongly encouraged to read the RFA for themselves to determine whether they want to participate in the ET3 Model.