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 continuous 12-month data collection period that begins between January 1, 2021 and ends December 31, 2021.  This modification means that such organizations will collect and report data during the same time period as the ground organizations that CMS will select for Year 2 of the cost collection program. From the summary of the waiver, it appears that organizations will have the choice of submitting data in Year 1 or Year 2.  CMS has not moved the timeline for any other data collection year, so there is the potential for a substantial number of organizations to report in Year 2, which would increase the amount of data available. The AAA has supported the data collection system to make sure that CMS and the Congress have valid and reliable data to support maintaining the geographic add-ons to the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule and to support efforts to...

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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 and suppliers to transport patients both on an emergency or non-emergency basis to any destination that is equipped to treat the condition of the patient consistent with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) protocols established by state and/or local laws where the services will be furnished.  In related guidance, CMS has suspended most Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) medical review during the emergency period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, waived patient signature requirements, and is pausing the Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model. The policies of the IFC are effective retroactively to March 1, 2020. On March 11, the AAA sent CMS a letter specifically requesting for the agency to waive during the COVID-19 pandemic the regulatory restrictions that prevent coverage for transport to alternative destinations.  Separately, the AAA has been pressing CMS to provide relief from signature requirements. The AAA had also been working with CMS to...

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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 within 180 days immediately prior to the date of signature on the provider’s/supplier’s request form; (2) Not be in bankruptcy; (3) Not be under active medical review or program integrity investigation; and (4) Not have any outstanding delinquent Medicare overpayments. Qualified providers/suppliers will be asked to request a specific amount using an Accelerated or Advance Payment Request form provided on each MAC’s website. Most providers and suppliers will be able to request up to 100% of the Medicare payment amount for a three-month period. All non-hospital Part A providers and Part B suppliers will have 210 days from the date of the accelerated or advance payment was made to repay the balance. The provider/supplier can continue to submit claims as usual after the issuance of the accelerated or advance payment; however, recoupment will not begin for 120 days. Providers/ suppliers will receive full payments for...

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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 been completed or are in progress. Medicare Part B Payments for Ambulance Services Subject to Part A Skilled Nursing Facility Consolidated Billing Requirements (expected release 2019). In this work, the OIG  seeking to determine whether ambulance services paid by Medicare Part B were subject to Part A SNF consolidated billing requirements. The OIG will also assess the effectiveness of edits in CMS’s Common Working File to prevent and detect Part B overpayments for ambulance transportation subject to consolidated billing. Prior OIG reports have identified high error rates and significant overpayments for services subject to SNF consolidated billing. Ambulance Services – Supplier Compliance with Payment Requirements (partially completed; remainder expected release 2019). Prior OIG work has found that Medicare made inappropriate payments for advanced life support emergency transports. The OIG seeks to determine whether Medicare payments for ambulance services were made in accordance with Medicare requirements. ...

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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 the caucuses, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), this in-depth letter highlights the critical work that our members do every day around the country and raises important issues affecting the industry. Issues covered in the letter include: Stabilizing the Ambulance Fee Schedule Make the add-ons permanent and build them into the base rate Use new data from the ambulance cost collection program to ensure reimbursement is adequate going forward New data should be used to assess the problems with the current ZIP-code methodology for determining rural and super-rural services Ambulance Fee Schedule Reform Proposed alternative models for rural ambulance services Encouraging Congress to look at alternative destination options for ambulance service providers Recognizing Ambulance Services as Providers of Health Care Moving non-fire-based ambulance services from suppliers to providers under Medicare The letter also highlights...

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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 than that of physician offices.  At the same time, the share of ED visits that are coded as high acuity has increased. The Commission is exploring Medicare beneficiaries’ use of EDs and UCCs for non-urgent services. In addition, the Commission is analyzing ED coding to determine if the increase in coding high-acuity visits reflects real change in the patients treated in EDs. This slide deck shows the potential savings Medicare could realize if beneficiaries shift certain care to the UCC setting. During the meeting, the staff sought feedback from Commissioners for developing next steps. This topic will likely continue to be addressed in future meetings. From the perspective of ambulance payment reform, the observations made by the Commissioners and staff would also seem to support incorporating scope-appropriate ambulance services in the context of community paramedicine or treatment at the scene with referral. While additional work...

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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 (more…)

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 Ambulance Association has been actively engaged in these efforts, highlighting the recommendations we submitted to CMS and the House Ways & Means Committee last year. These recommendations included suggestions as to how CMS could streamline regulatory requirements to eliminate duplicative requirements and reduce regulatory burdens.  In addition to these efforts, CMS has been working to standardize documentation data elements and establish templates that providers and suppliers can use to help make the current documentation processes less burdensome as well. On July 24, CMS released draft documentation-related clinical data elements and clinical templates that could be used for the Physician Certification Statement, Progress Notes, and Prior Authorization requests. View the Documents. These documents are not intended to change current law. CMS also announced yesterday that it will discuss the templates on a Special Open Door Forum which is scheduled for July 26 at 2-3 pm ET. ...

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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 Association worked closely with the Congress to ensure passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA) (Pub. L. 115-123, enacted on February 9, 2018). The BBA not only extended the ambulance add-ons for 5 years, but also authorized a cost collection system that would not be overly burdensome on ambulance providers and suppliers, but would provide sufficient information ideally to support the permanent extension of the add-ons and set the basis for new payment models, including alternative destinations, treatment/assessment without transport, and community paramedicine. After passage of the BBA, the AAA engaged immediate with CMS to ensure the smooth implementation of these provisions. Those contacts resulted in guidance earlier this year implementing the add-ons retroactively to January 1, 2019. Consistent with the statute and already-released guidance, the Proposed Rule extends the three add-ons: the 2 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and 22.6 percent super-rural...

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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 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to develop and implement a new cost data collection system for ambulance service providers and suppliers.  While cost collection may sound difficult, the process outlined in the new authority strikes the appropriate balance and will minimize the burden on ambulance service providers and suppliers, while allowing the federal government to collect meaningful data that can be used to address the inadequate reimbursement rates and modernize Medicare ambulance payment policies. Knowing some time ago that the industry would need to provide CMS with cost information, the AAA for the past six years has been working with The Moran Company, a well-respected health care analytical firm in DC, on the best way to collect ambulance cost data.  Most recently, the AAA Payment Reform Committee has been working with the cost collection experts at The Moran Company to identify the...

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Alert: Medicare Increases Will Expire For Now: What You Need to Know

While the Congress succeeded in passing the Republican tax bill and keeping the federal government open with a short-term continuing resolution that included a temporary extension for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it did not act upon the several Medicare extenders that expire on December 31, 2017. This extenders package includes the ambulance add-ons for urban, rural, and super-rural areas, as well as a moratorium on therapy caps, extenders for hospitals, and several other extenders important to other Medicare providers. Despite the fact that the Congress left town, there is still strong bipartisan support for reinstating these extenders – including the ambulance extenders – early in January 2018. The most likely time frame will be for the extenders to be added to the next government funding legislation, which must be passed by January 19. First, do not panic. As you may have already heard, CMS is telling providers and suppliers that the add-ons will expire at the end of the month. Technically that is true. The Agency is simply stating the obvious; but no one should imply from such statements that the Congress will not fix them or not make them retroactive. Historically, CMS has followed this pattern of indicating the add-ons have expired (more…)

Administration’s Proposed Rule on Marketplace Stabilization

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the “Marketplace Stabilization Proposed Rule” (Proposed Rule). Overall, the rule proposes a series of modifications to the Marketplaces that align with requests made by issuers in an attempt to keep them in the Marketplaces. The background section of the Proposed Rule emphasizes the concerns of issuers and the Agency’s interest in making sure that consumers have more plan options for 2018. Comments are due March 7. While ambulance services are not directly mentioned, the Proposed Rule could affect the ability of individuals in the marketplace to enroll and remain enrolled in plans. Another provision that could impact the ambulance industry is the proposal to rely more upon the States to enforce the network adequacy requirements of the ACA.   Changes to Open Enrollment/Special Enrollment Periods CMS proposes to tighten the enrollment rules in several ways. First, the Proposed Rule would change the open enrollment period to November 1 – December 15 to “increase the incentives for individuals to maintain enrollment in health coverage and decrease the incentives for individuals to enroll only after they discover they require services.”[1]  Individuals may still be eligible for a special enrollment period that would allow...

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CMS Moratoria Update

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Lifts Moratoria on Enrollment of Part B Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers in All Geographic Locations; Moratoria for Part B Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers Extended Effective July 29, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has lifted the temporary moratoria in all geographic locations for Part B emergency ground ambulance suppliers.  Beginning in 2013, CMS placed moratoria on Medicare Part B ground ambulance suppliers in Harris County, Texas, and surrounding counties (Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller).  In February 2014, CMS announced it would add six more months to these moratoria and add Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and surrounding counties (Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery), as well as the New Jersey counties of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester.  Since that date, CMS extended the moratoria four additional times, most recently in February of this year. CMS considers qualitative and quantitative factors when determining if there is a high risk of fraud, waste, and abuse in a particular area and whether or not it should establish a moratorium.  If CMS identifies an area as posing an increased risk to the Medicaid program, the State Medicaid agency must impose a similar temporary moratorium as well.  CMS...

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MedPAC Issues June 2016 Report to the Congress

MedPAC Issues June 2016 Report to the Congress with Chapter on Improving Efficiency and Preserving Access to Emergency Care in Rural Areas Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC or the Commission) has issued its June 2016 Report to the Congress.   The June report includes recommended refinements to Medicare payment systems and identifies issues affecting the Medicare program, broader changes in health care delivery, and the market for health care services. Chapter 7 focuses on preserving access to emergency care in rural areas.  The Commission recognizes that access to inpatient and emergency services in rural areas is threatened because of the dwindling populations.  Declining populations can lead to fewer hospital admissions and reduced efficiencies that can create financial and staff problems for hospitals.  The Report notes that “[d]eclining volume is a concern because low-volume rural hospitals tend to have worse mortality metrics and worse performance on some process measures.” In addition, “low-volume CAHs have the difficult job of competing with each other for a shrinking pool of clinicians who want the lifestyle of operating an outpatient practice during the day, covering inpatient issues that arise at night, and covering the emergency department.” Under current policies, most rural hospitals are critical access hospitals (CAHs). ...

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The GAO Releases New Report on Claims Review Programs, Recommending Additional Prepayment Review Authority and Written Guidance on Calculating Savings from Prepayment Review

On Friday, May 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a new Medicare report entitled, “Claim Review Programs Could Be Improved with Additional Prepayment Reviews and Better Data,” which it shared with the Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in April. The report is addressed to the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in response to his request. The Report examines: 1. The differences, if any, between prepayment and post-payment reviews, and the extent to which the contractors utilize these types of reviews; 2. The extent to which the Medicare claim review contractors focus their reviews on different types of claims; and 3. CMS’s cost per review and the amount of improper payments identified by the claim review contractors per dollar paid by CMS. In compiling the Report, the GAO reviewed Administration documents, interviewed CMS officials, Recovery Auditors (RAs), and Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). The GAO also interviewed representatives from 10 Medicare provider/supplier organizations that have experienced claim reviews on both a pre- and post-payment review basis. The AAA worked the GAO by participating in a telephone interview and providing written comments. The GAO examined three types of contractors – the RAs, the MACs,...

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The Importance of Ambulance Cost Survey Data

By Kathy Lester, JD, MPH | Updated November 9, 2015 Tomorrow is in your hands today. This statement is especially true when we think about the evolution of ambulance services. Today, care once reserved for the hospital setting is now delivered at the scene, resulting in better patient outcomes. Yet, despite these advances, the Medicare payment system lags behind. Current rates are based upon a negotiated rulemaking process that did not take the cost of providing services into accounts. While many in the industry strive to further expand the delivery of high-quality care, the inflexibility of the current payment system makes it difficult to compensate the next generation of ambulance service providers appropriately. To prepare for tomorrow, ambulances services must act today. The AAA has taken a leadership role by setting the groundwork needed to reform the payment system so that it recognizes the continued evolution of ambulance services. The two game changers are (1) designating ambulance suppliers as “providers” of care; and (2) implementing a federal data collection system. “Emergency care has made important advances in recent decades: emergency 9-1-1 service now links virtually all ill and injured Americans to immediate medical response; organized trauma systems transport patients to...

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Prior Auth Expansion to MD, DE, DC, NC, VA, WV

CMS Announces Expansion of Prior Authorization Program for Repetitive Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transports October 26, 2015 CMS has announced that consistent with the requirements of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), it will expand the current prior authorization demonstration program for repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transports beginning on January 1, 2016, to Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The current demonstration program is operating in three states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina). The demonstration seeks “to test whether prior authorization helps reduce expenditures, while maintaining or improving quality of care, using the established prior authorization process for repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transport to reduce utilization of services that do not comply with Medicare policy.” The Agency reiterates that the prior authorization process does not create new clinical documentation requirements. Requesting a prior authorization is not mandatory, but CMS encourages ambulance services to submit a request for prior authorization to their MACs along with the relevant documentation to support coverage. If an ambulance service does not request prior authorization, by the fourth round-trip in a 30-day period, the claims will be stopped for pre-payment review. To be approved, the request...

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