Author: Kathy Lester

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.

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 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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MedPAC Examines Beneficiary Use of Emergency Departments

During its October meeting, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), reviewed Medicare’s current policies related to non-urgent and emergency care, as these topics relate to the use of hospital emergency departments (EDs) and urgent care centers (UCCs). The Commission is examining this topic because the use of ED services in recent years has grown faster…

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CMS Launches Outreach Effort to Ambulance Providers & Suppliers

As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA 2018), the Congress instructed CMS to develop a cost collection system to collect cost and revenue data related to the provision of ambulance services. Ambulance services are defined by federal law to include all levels of emergency and non-emergency services. 

CMS is in the first phase of this process. The Congress instructed the Agency to engage with stakeholders before specifying through notice and comment rulemaking the data collection system. By law, CMS is required to specify the final system by December 31, 2019. CMS must also identify the first group of providers and suppliers selected for the first representative sample by that date as well. It appears that the goal is to have the contractor develop a proposal before the 2019 rulemaking cycle which will begin next summer.

To engage with the stakeholders, CMS, through its contractor the RAND Corporation, is reaching out providers and suppliers to learn more about the costs and revenues associated with providing ambulance services.

During the American Ambulance Association’s annual meeting earlier this month, CMS through the RAND Corporation, convened a focus group where they selected several AAA members who were able to talk directly with the contractor. The discussion centered around characteristics of ambulance services that matter for determining costs. The group also talked about how data is currently captured at the state and local levels, as well as how data is tracked within ambulance services. There was also a lot of discussion about the importance of standardizing data elements and not relying upon different state or local definitions, which could confound the data and make it impossible to compare costs across states.

As we have reported previously, it is critically important that the data collected through this process is standardized and reflects the actual cost of providing ambulance services. It is important to make sure that the data is useable not only for supporting the ambulance add-ons after they next expire in 2023, but also to help implement broader reforms and innovative payment models.

CMS is now reaching out to others in the industry. If you receive an email or a phone call from RAND Corporation, please respond. 

If you have questions about, or would like assistance with regard to, this project, please contact Tristan North at tnorth@ambulance.org.

CMS Non-Emergency Ambulance Transport Open Door Forum 7/26

CMS Issues Data Elements and Templates for Non-Emergency Ambulance Transports (NEAT): Open Door Forum for Thursday, July 26, 2018 Just Announced As part of its Patients Over Paperwork Project, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Provider Compliance Group (PCG) has been hosting quarterly listening sessions and reviewing the Request for Information submissions. The American…

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Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule 2018

On Thursday, July 12, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the “Revisions to Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2019; Medicare Shared Savings Program Requirements; Quality Payment Program; and Medicaid Promoting Interoperability Program” Proposed Rule (Proposed Rule). As you know, the American Ambulance…

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Collecting Data for the Future

Collecting Data for the Future:  Understanding the New Statutory Cost Collection Requirement By Kathy Lester, JD, MPH, Lester Health Law PLLC On February 9, the President signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 which thankfully included a five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons.  Along with the add-ons extension, the Congress included language requiring…

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