Author: Kathy Lester

Bipartisan, Bicameral Members of Congress Reach Agreement on “Surprise” Billing Legislation

It appears that members of Congress on the House Ways & Means, Energy & Commerce, and Education & Labor Committees along with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Committee have reached a compromise agreement that will allow “surprise” billing legislation to be considered for passage before the end of the year.  While the details of the legislation have yet to be unveiled, the American Ambulance Association has learned that it is likely to include provisions related to ground ambulance service and air ambulance service providers and suppliers.

Earlier legislation moved forward by the House Education & Labor Committee included a requirement for the Administration to create a Federal Advisory Committee to review ways to increase transparency around fees and charges for ground ambulance services and to better inform consumers about their treatment options.  We believe that this language will be included in the compromise, but that there may be an opportunity to suggest modifications to make it more balanced and fairer in terms of the charge of the Committee and the types of individuals and organizations who will be selected to participate on it.  The AAA is recommending that the Advisory Committee have at least a year to study and report on issues related to balance billing by ground ambulance service providers and suppliers, including the role of local and state governments in EMS systems amongst other considerations.  It is also important that the Committee members include representatives from all types, sizes, and geographical areas of ground ambulance service providers and suppliers, as well as state EMS officials, and paramedics and EMTs.

It is likely that if the congressional leadership agree to move this legislation forward, it would be attached to the end of the year packages that may also include COVID-19 relief, Medicare extenders, and the annual spending bills.

CDC Advisory Committee Recommends EMS for Phase 1 Vaccine Distribution

As reported in various media outlets, on December 1 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted 13-1 to recommend that health care providers, expressly including EMS personnel, be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccines during Phase 1a of the vaccine distribution plan. The complicating factor is that State and local governments have the final say in whether these recommendations are incorporated into their own distribution plans. Thus, we encourage all AAA members to engage actively with their State and local governments to urge the adoption of the CDC recommendation. The AAA has developed a toolkit for members to use in reaching out to their state and local government officials.

View and Download Toolkit Here

The AAA has been engaging with ACIP and other federal policy makers to urge them to prioritize EMS in the vaccine distribution plan. On November 19, the AAA submitted a comment letter to the ACIP advocating that the advisory committee specifically include EMS personnel in their recommendation of groups in the first phase of receiving the vaccination. Even though States and local governments will create their own list, having EMS listed in Phase 1a CDC recommendations is a critically important step toward influencing the State and local process.

During its second emergency meeting in less than a month, ACIP met to develop recommendations on the prioritization of vaccines, given that it will be impossible to provide access to everyone in the United States immediately after the vaccines are approved. In both virtual meetings, Committee members noted the importance of EMS personnel having access to the vaccine in the very top tier for prioritization. Other health care personnel on this list are defined as hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient clinics, home health care, pharmacies, and public health. The Phase 1a tier also includes residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other residential care settings, given that approximately 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in these settings. The final recommendation approved states:

When a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized by FDA and recommended by ACIP, vaccination in the initial phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program (Phase 1a) should be offered to both 1) health care personnel§ and 2) residents of long-term care facilities.

Health care personnel are defined as paid and unpaid persons serving in health care settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials.

Long-term care facility residents are defined as adults who reside in facilities that provide a variety of services, including medical and personal care, to persons who are unable to live independently.

The CDC plans to publish this recommendation in the Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report as well.

The only controversial issue related to whether long-term care facility residents should receive the vaccine given the limited information available about its effectiveness and safety in these populations.

Because President Trump has indicated that State and local governments do not have to follow the CDC recommendations, it is critically important that AAA members work closely with their State and local governments to ensure that the CDC recommendations with regard to EMS are adopted by them as well. The AAA has posted a tool kit on our website to help our members provide the necessary information to their State and local governments as they are making these decision.

ACIP will continue to evaluate the distribution prioritization for Phase 1b, which will likely be non-health care essential workers, and Phase 1c, which will include adults with high-risk medical conditions and adults 65 years or older.

America First Healthcare Executive Order on Surprise Coverage

President Trump’s “An America-First Healthcare Plan” Executive Order on Surprise Billing Policy

by Kathy Lester, J.D., M.P.H.

As the American Ambulance Association (AAA) reported yesterday, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) “An America-First Healthcare Plan.”  The EO includes several provisions, including related to drug importation generally and for insulin specifically.  It also includes statements that indicate if the Congress does not act before the end of the year, the President will have the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “take administrative action to prevent a patient from receiving a bill for out-of-pocket expenses that the patient could not have reasonably foreseen.”  It does not mention ground ambulances.

In addition to suggesting action if the Congress does not pass legislation, the EO also states that within 180 days, the Secretary will update the Medicare.gov Hospital Compare website to inform beneficiaries of hospital billing quality, including:

  • Whether the hospital is in compliance with the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule;
  • Whether, upon discharge, the hospital provides patients with a receipt that includes a list of itemized services received during a hospital stay; and
  • How often the hospital pursues legal action against patients, including to garnish wages, to place a lien on a patient’s home, or to withdraw money from a patient’s income tax refund.

The narrative related to balance billing (surprise coverage) reads as follows:

My Administration is transforming the black-box hospital and insurance pricing systems to be transparent about price and quality.  Regardless of health-insurance coverage, two‑thirds of adults in America still worry about the threat of unexpected medical bills.  This fear is the result of a system under which individuals and employers are unable to see how insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, insurance brokers, and providers are or will be paid.  One major culprit is the practice of “surprise billing,” in which a patient receives unexpected bills at highly inflated prices from providers who are not part of the patient’s insurance network, even if the patient was treated at a hospital that was part of the patient’s network.  Patients can receive these bills despite having no opportunity to select around an out-of-network provider in advance.

On May 9, 2019, I announced four principles to guide congressional efforts to prohibit exorbitant bills resulting from patients’ accidentally or unknowingly receiving services from out-of-network physicians.  Unfortunately, the Congress has failed to act, and patients remain vulnerable to surprise billing.

In the absence of congressional action, my Administration has already taken strong and decisive action to make healthcare prices more transparent.  On June 24, 2019, I signed Executive Order 13877 (Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First), directing certain agencies — for the first time ever — to make sure patients have access to meaningful price and quality information prior to the delivery of care.  Beginning January 1, 2021, hospitals will be required to publish their real price for every service, and publicly display in a consumer-friendly, easy-to-understand format the prices of at least 300 different common services that are able to be shopped for in advance.

We have also taken some concrete steps to eliminate surprise out‑of-network bills.  For example, on April 10, 2020, my Administration required providers to certify, as a condition of receiving supplemental COVID-19 funding, that they would not seek to collect out-of-pocket expenses from a patient for treatment related to COVID-19 in an amount greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay for care by an in-network provider.  These initiatives have made important progress, although additional efforts are necessary.

Not all hospitals allow for surprise bills.  But many do.  Unfortunately, surprise billing has become sufficiently pervasive that the fear of receiving a surprise bill may dissuade patients from seeking appropriate care.  And research suggests a correlation between hospitals that frequently allow surprise billing and increases in hospital admissions and imaging procedures, putting patients at risk of receiving unnecessary services, which can lead to physical harm and threatens the long-term financial sustainability of Medicare.

Efforts to limit surprise billing and increase the number of providers participating in the same insurance network as the hospital in which they work would correspondingly streamline the ability of patients to receive care and reduce time spent on billing disputes.

The AAA will continue to advocate for the resources necessary to sustain life-saving mobile healthcare.

Update – SNF COVID-19 Testing Does Not Apply to EMS

CMS Clarify in Guidance that EMS Personnel Are Not Required To Be Tested under Skilled Nursing Facility Testing Interim Final Rule The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have issued guidance clarifying the types of personnel who are subject to the testing requirements when entering a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) in the Interim Final…

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ET3 Model Moves Forward Starting January 1, 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that the first performance period for the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) Model will begin on January 1, 2021. As we reported previously, CMS delayed the start of ET3 Model, consistent with its delaying or pausing other payment models, because of the COVID-19 public…

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CMS Updates Cost Data Collection FAQs and Data Collection Instrument

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released printable version of the ground ambulance data collection instrument and an expanded FAQ. Both updated documents address some of the more common questions that CMS has heard over the past months, many of which the American Ambulance Association raised.  Importantly, CMS announces through the FAQs…

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CMS Releases CY 2021 Physician Fee Schedule

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule for Calendar Year (CY) 2021 which has traditionally included proposed changes to the Ambulance Fee Schedule for the same year. The American Ambulance Association (AAA) has confirmed with CMS that the reason there are no references to the Ambulance…

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Updated CMS FAQs on the Ambulance Data Collection

Updated CMS FAQs on the Ambulance Data Collection System and Reporting Requirement Delay

As we recently reported, CMS announced that it will be delaying the implementation of the statutorily mandated ambulance data collection system.  CMS has released a new set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) clarifying the delay.  In sum, ambulance organizations selected to provide cost data for 2020 will now be required to report 2021 data in Year 2.  CMS will also add a new set of ambulance organizations for Year 2 reporting as well.  This means that twice as many ambulance organizations will be reporting 2021 data in Year 2 and there will be no data reported for 2020.  Any organization selected that does not report data will be subject to the 10 percent penalty, unless an exception applies.  In addition to addressing concerns about reporting during the pandemic, the FAQs suggest that CMS is concerned that 2020 data “may not be reflective of typical costs and revenue associated with providing ground ambulance services.”

The complete list of these questions, as well as previous ambulance FAQs for COVID-19 on Medicare Fee-for-Service (FFS) Billing can be found here.  The new data collections are below.

Data Collection and Reporting Requirements for the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System

 1. Question: CMS requires selected ground ambulance organizations to collect cost, revenue, utilization, and other information through the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System. The collected information will be provided to MedPAC, which is required to submit a report to Congress on the adequacy of Medicare payment rates for ground ambulance services and geographic variations in the cost of furnishing such services. Will the data collection and reporting requirements for the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System be delayed due to COVID-19?

Answer: Yes. CMS has issued a blanket waiver: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/summary-covid-19-emergency-declaration- waivers.pdf due to the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic. CMS is modifying the data collection period and data reporting period, as defined at 42 CFR §414.626(a), for ground ambulance organizations that were selected by CMS to collect data beginning between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020 (Year 1).

Under this modification, these ground ambulance organizations can select a new data collection period that begins between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021; collect the necessary data during their selected data collection period; and submit the data during the data reporting period that corresponds to their selected data collection period.

CMS is modifying this data collection and reporting period to increase flexibilities for ground ambulance organizations that would otherwise be required to collect data in 2020–2021 so that they can focus on their operations in support of patient care.

As a result of this modification, ground ambulance organizations selected for year 1 data collection and reporting will collect and report data during the same period of time that will apply to ground ambulance organizations selected by CMS under §414.626(c) to collect data beginning between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021 (year 2) for purposes of complying with the data reporting requirements described at §414.626.

For additional information on the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System, please visit the Ambulances Services Center website at

https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider-Type/Ambulances-Services-Center.

New: 6/16/20

2. Question: Will the 10 percent payment reduction still apply to ground ambulance organizations that are now required to collect and report data under the modified data collection and reporting period but do not sufficiently report the required data?

Answer: Yes. The 10 percent payment reduction described at 42 CFR §414.610(c)(9) will still apply if a ground ambulance organization is selected to collect and report data under the modified data collection and reporting timeframe, but does not sufficiently submit the required data according to the modified timeframe and is not granted a hardship exemption. The payment reduction will be applied to payments made under the Medicare Part B Ambulance Fee Schedule for services furnished during the calendar year that begins following the date that CMS provides written notification that the ground ambulance organization did not submit the required data.

New: 6/16/20

3. Question: The modification states that the ground ambulance organizations that were selected by CMS to collect data beginning between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020 (year 1) can select a new continuous 12-month data collection period that begins between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021. Do the ground ambulance organizations that were selected in year 1 have an option to continue with their current data collection period that started in early 2020 or choose to select a new data collection period starting in 2021?

Answer: No. The ground ambulance organizations that were selected for year 1 do not have an option and must select a new data collection period that begins in 2021. CMS cannot permit this option because the data collected in 2020 during the PHE may not be reflective of typical costs and revenue associated with providing ground ambulance services. New: 6/16/20

4. Question: Does the guidance mean that there will be no data reporting in 2021 and that both the ground ambulance organizations that were selected for year 1 and the ground ambulance organizations that will be selected for year 2 will collect and report data during the same time periods?

Answer: Yes. Under the modification, ground ambulance organizations that are selected for year 1 will not collect data in 2020. These ground ambulance organizations will select a new data collection period that begins in 2021 and must submit a completed Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection Instrument during the data reporting period that corresponds to their selected data collection period. As a result of the modification, year 1 and year 2 selected ground ambulance organizations will collect and report data during the same time periods. New: 6/16/20

CMS Modifies the Cost Data Collection System Year 1 Data Collection

CMS has issued a blanket waiver modifying the data collection period for the ground ambulance services that were selected to report in Year 1.  Under the current law, these organizations would have been required to collect data beginning January 1, 2020, and through December 31, 2020.  The waiver allows these organizations to select a new…

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CMS Relaxes Physician Certification Statement Signature Requirements During Public Health Emergency for COVID-19

CMS Relaxes Physician Certification Statement Signature Requirements During Public Health Emergency for COVID-19  By Kathy Lester, J.D., M.P.H.   The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released guidance that recognizes the difficulty ambulance service providers and suppliers may have during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) in obtaining a physician certification statement (PCS) signed…

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CMS Waives Restrictions on Ground Ambulances During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promulgated an interim final rule with comment period (IFC) entitled “Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”  Consistent with the recommendations the AAA made to CMS, for the duration of the public health emergency (PHE), the IFC allows ground ambulance service providers…

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Accelerated Payment Program Highlights

CMS announced at the end of last week that it is expanding its Accelerated Payment Program.  The goal of the program is to address cash flow problems arising from the public health emergency.  The program functions as a short-term loan with no interest. To qualify for advance/accelerated payments the provider/supplier must: (1) Have billed Medicare for claims…

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Ambulance Cost Collection Rule Summary

The proposed rule sets the foundation for the data collection system for ground ambulances.  It proposes a stratified random sample method, that is very similar to the one the AAA proposed via the work we commissioned through The Moran Company. We are working through the stratification categories, which are slightly different than those we identified. CMS…

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Update on HHS OIG Reports on Ambulance Services

Update on HHS Office of the Inspector General Reports on Ambulance Services The HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an update to the Work Plan as the year comes to a close.  There are no new projects specific to ambulance services, but the update does provide a summary of three projects that have…

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Rural Health Day Advocacy Update

Happy National Rural Health Day! Thank you to all of the ambulance service providers who work hard providing life-saving treatment in rural areas every day. In part of our ongoing advocacy efforts, the AAA sent a letter today to the Rural Caucuses in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Addressed to leadership of…

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