Author: Kathy Lester

Congress Recognizes Ambulance Services as Health Care Services in “The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021”

Also Adds Dollars to the Provider Relief Fund to Support Rural Providers and Suppliers

March 10, 2021

Moments ago, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing “The American Rescue Plan.” Among the many provisions, this legislation includes waiver authority to allow the Medicare program to reimburse for ground ambulance services provided during the COVID-19 public health emergency when the beneficiary has not been transported under certain circumstances. It also increases the Provider Relief Fund by $8.5 billion, targeting the money to rural providers and suppliers, including ground ambulance services.

The American Ambulance Association (AAA) worked diligently with Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reimburse ground ambulance services when they provide health care services to a beneficiary, but because of the pandemic the beneficiary was not transported. CMS concluded and communicated in a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) that the Social Security Act requires the beneficiary to be transported in order for Medicare to reimburse the ground ambulance provider or supplier for the care provided.

To address this problem during the pandemic, Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced S. 149 that would allow CMS to waive the statutory provision creating the barrier to reimbursement during the pandemic. More specifically, it would allow CMS to reimburse ground ambulance services responding to a 9-1-1 or equivalent emergency call even when the beneficiary is not transported when a community-wide EMS protocol prohibiting the transport is in place. Reps. Cindy Axne (D-IA), John Larson (D-CT), and Bruce Westerman (R-AR) introduced the companion bill, H.R. 1609, in the House.

The Senate included S. 149 in “The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” which passed the Senate 50-49 on March 6. This amended version passed the House along party lines earlier today and the President is expected to sign the bill into law before March 14.

CMS must exercise its authority under the waiver for the provision to be implemented. The AAA has already begun working with CMS to urge it to act as quickly as possible and we are coordinating this effort with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of EMTs, National Volunteer Fire Council and the Congressional Fire Services Institute.

In addition to the waiver allowing for reimbursement for treatment in place, the final bill includes $8.5 billion additional dollars for the Provider Relief Fund directed to rural health care providers and suppliers. The funds can be used for health care related expenses and lost revenues that are attributable to COVID–19.  To be eligible for a payment, an eligible rural health care provider or supplier must be enrolled Medicare or Medicaid and submit to the Secretary an application that includes a justification statement, documentation of the expenses or losses, the tax identification number, assurance required by the Secretary, and any other information the Secretary requires.  The expenses and losses cannot have been reimbursed from another source or another source cannot already be obligated to reimburse.

“The American Rescue Act” marks an important step forward for ground ambulance organizations who have been on the front line of the pandemic and offers important relief recognizing the unique and essential role these organizations play in community response to the pandemic.

For more information on the provisions of the bill that impact ground ambulance services, please sign up for the webinar on “The American Rescue Plan and EMS” scheduled for this Friday, March 12, at 2:00 pm (eastern).

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 Rule with Comment (IFC) on Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID– 19 Public Health Emergency.  The new guidance memo states:

 

Entry of Health Care Workers and Other Providers of Services

Health care workers who are not employees of the facility but provide direct care to the facility’s residents, such as hospice workers, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel, dialysis technicians, laboratory technicians, radiology technicians, social workers, clergy etc., must be permitted to come into the facility as long as they are not subject to a work exclusion due to an exposure to COVID-19 or show signs or symptoms of COVID-19 after being screened. We note that EMS personnel do not need to be screened so they can attend to an emergency without delay. We remind facilities that all staff, including individuals providing services under arrangement as well as volunteers, should adhere to the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention and must comply with COVID-19 testing requirements.

 

CMS issued this guidance at the request of the American Ambulance Association (AAA) to address concerns our members had raised about some SNFs misinterpreting the requirements.  The guidance is also consistent with AAA’s interpretation of the IFC.   As we indicated in an earlier Member Advisory, the IFC requires SNFs to test certain individuals for COVID-19 before they enter the facility.  Specifically, it applies to employees, consultants, and contractors of a skilled nursing facility (SNF).  It does not apply to vendors, suppliers, attending physicians, family, or visitors. Providers, such as medical directors and hospice, that are under a contract or consultants to a SNF are subject to the rule.  EMS personnel do not come within the scope of the IFC.

 

Even though the testing requirements of the IFC do not extend to ground ambulance services that do not have a contractual relationship with a SNF, the AAA supports the efforts of all of our members to follow the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines to have EMT and paramedics use full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when they are engaging with any patient, not only those in SNFs.  We also want to recognize the best practices of many members who have worked with SNFs to establish outdoor locations where the SNF personnel, when possible, can bring a patient out of the building to transfer the patient to the ambulance.  These and other examples of safe practices can help control the spread of COVID-19, which is the paramount concern.

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 health emergency (PHE).

To start this effort, CMS has indicated that it will post a revised Participation Agreement (PA) to the ET3 Model Portal by mid-October 2020. Participants must upload signed PAs to the ET3 Model Portal by December 15, 2020. CMS will also post an Implementation Plan Template (IPT). Participants must submit their IPT CMS by November 15, 2020 to allow CMS to review and accept the IPT prior to beginning their participation in the Model.

CMS plans to provide additional guidance, including:  an Orientation Overview fact sheet, Billing and Payment fact sheets, Model Participation During the PHE fact sheet, a Who’s Who fact sheet, and an ET3 Model Portal User Guide. These documents will be available to participants through the ET3 Model Portal during the next several weeks.

The re-engagement on the ET3 Model prior to the end of the PHE is something that the American Ambulance Association (AAA) has supported in discussions with CMS. While it does not address some of the gaps in reimbursement and treatment that our members are seeing nationwide, for those who are participating in the model, it will be an enormous benefit.

The AAA also continues to work with CMS to identify new models that will allow other ground ambulance providers and suppliers to participate in innovative models, even though there were not able to meet the ET3 participation requirements.

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 the registration process will begin December 2021.

The topics covered in the FAQs include:

  • General questions related to the rationale for collecting data, definitions, and how the information will be used and reported;
  • Sampling and notification questions related to how ground ambulance organizations will be selected to participate in the data collection system;
  • Data collection and reporting timelines and effort questions, which focus on the timelines for collecting and reporting the information, as well as the projected effort required;
    • There are three new FAQs in this section about the impact of the delay due to the pandemic (the questions and answers are below)
  • Requirement to report questions, which focus on the types of information that must be reported and responding to requests from MACs;
    • There is a new FAQ in this section about applying for a hardship exemption (the questions and answers is below)
  • Reporting information questions, which include who within an organization should report the information, the data tool, and how to address technical problems;
    • There are two new FAQ in this section about the pause in data collection due to the pandemic (the questions and answers are below)
    • Importantly, CMS announces that the registration will begin December 2021
  • Data collection scope and principles questions, which discuss the specific type of information and level of specificity that is required;
    • There are several new FAQs in this section about using current accounting practices, municipality practices, and accounting good and services provided by another organization (the questions and answers are below)
  • Reporting information on staffing and labor costs questions, which address issues such as volunteer staff, staff with multiple duties, calculating hours worked;
    • There are three new FAQs in this section about total hours worked, staff training, and paid time off (the questions and answers are below)
  • Reporting other information, such as service area, service mix/service volume, facilities, vehicles, equipment/supplies, and revenue.


New FAQs

 Question: Will the modification listed in the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waiver issued by CMS on May 15, 2020 allow ground ambulance organizations selected in year 1 the 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? [Added 7/31/2020]

    • Answer: No. The ground ambulance organizations that were selected in year 1 do not have an option and must select a new data collection period starting in 2021. CMS cannot permit this option because the data collected in 2020 during the public health emergency may not be reflective of typical costs and revenue associated with providing ground ambulance services.
  • Question: When will sampled organizations report information? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Sampled organizations will report information within a 5-month reporting period that starts at the end of the organization’s collection period. For example, if your organization begins collecting information on January 1, 2021, your organization’s collection period will run until December 31, 2021 and your organization must report information during the 5- month period between January 1, 2022 and May 31, 2022.
  • Question: How are data collection and reporting dates adjusted for organizations selected in Year 1 given the modification listed in the CMS COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waiver? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: CMS issued a COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waiver delaying data collection and reporting requirements for ground ambulance organizations selected in Year 1 by one year. The organizations selected in Year 1 will now collect data during a continuous 12-month period starting in 2021 (rather than 2020) and will now report information during a 5-month period starting in 2022 (rather than 2021). As an example, a Year 1 organization that previously would have collected information from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 and reported information between January 1, 2021 to May 31, 2021 will now collect information from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021 and report information between January 1, 2022 and May 31, 2022. Organizations in the Year 1 sample will not report any information collected to date in 2020.
  • Question: Can you provide examples of different data collection periods and the data reporting periods depending on my accounting period start date? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Example of a Data Collection and Reporting Period for a Ground Ambulance Organization with a Calendar Year Accounting Period:

Examples of Data Collection and Reporting Periods for a Ground Ambulance Organization with Accounting Period not based on a Calendar Year:

  • Question: Can my organization request a hardship exemption from the payment reduction? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Yes. Organizations that did not report sufficient data due to a significant hardship, such as a natural disaster, bankruptcy, or other similar situations may request a hardship exemption. To request a hardship exemption after the ground ambulance organization receives notification that it will be subject to the 10 percent payment reduction as a result of not sufficiently submitting information under the data collection system, organizations should complete a request form that will be available at the end of the data reporting period on CMS’s Ambulances Services Center website at https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider- Type/Ambulances-Services-Center.html. Organizations can request a hardship exemption within 90 calendar days of the date that CMS notified the organization that it would receive a 10 percent payment reduction as a result of not submitting sufficient information under the data collection system. Your organization will be asked to supply information such as reason for requesting a hardship exemption, evidence of the hardship (e.g., photographs, newspaper, other media articles, financial data, bankruptcy filing, etc.), and date when your organization would be able to begin reporting information. All hardship exemption requests will be evaluated based on the information submitted that clearly shows that they are unable to submit the required data.
  • Question: Where and how does my organization report information? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: No information will be reported until 2022. As we stated in the CY 2020 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule (84 FR 62867), a secure web-based data collection system will be available before the start of your data reporting period to allow time for users to register, receive their secure login information, and receive training from CMS on how to use the system. CMS will provide separate instructions on how to access the online Ground Ambulance Data Collection System. You can view a printable version of the ground ambulance data collection instrument at: https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider- Type/Ambulances-Services-Center for the data collection requirements.
  • Question: My organization was selected in the first group to collect and report cost and other required data. When will we be able to register for the data collection system? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Registration for the system will begin in December 2021. Please check the Medicare Ambulance Services Center website at https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider- Type/Ambulances-Services-Center.html for updates.
  • Question: Can my organization collect information using our current accounting practices? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: In general, you will be able to report information collected under your organization’s current accounting practices. CMS understands that some ground ambulance organizations use accrual-basis accounting while others use cash-basis accounting. Please follow the instructions in each instrument section.
  • Question: My ground ambulance organization is owned and/or operated by our local municipality. The municipality pays directly for some costs associated with our ground ambulance operations (e.g., facilities costs, utilities, fuel, benefits, etc.). Do we need to report on these costs? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Yes. You must work with your municipality to report the costs that are relevant to your ground ambulance service. Otherwise, the costs that you report will be incomplete and not reflect your organization’s total costs. This would also apply if your ground ambulance organization is part of a broader organization that pays directly for some of your organization’s costs (e.g., a hospital Medicare provider that also owns and provides ground ambulance services). The specific information that you will need to collect and report might include information on labor costs (Section 7); facilities costs (Section 8); Vehicle costs (Section 9); equipment, consumable, and supply costs (Section 10), and other costs (Section 11). If you are a fire, police, or other public safety-based ground ambulance organization, please report labor hours and compensation associated with both ground ambulance and other public safety roles per the data collection instrument instructions.
  • Question: How should we account for goods or services provided by another organization (e.g., hospital, local government)? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Whether and how to account for costs realized by an entity other than your ground ambulance organization depends on the nature of the relationship with the other entity. CMS has heard that it is relatively common for some costs – for example dispatch, vehicle maintenance, or administrative costs – to be borne by an organization’s local municipality or a part of a local municipal government (such as a police department):
    • If your ground ambulance organization is part of or associated with a local municipality, you need to report these costs. For example, if dispatch services are provided by your municipality’s police department and your ground ambulance organization is part of or associated with the same municipality, then you must collect and report a share of dispatch costs associated with ground ambulance operations. See the related question “My ground ambulance organization is owned and/or operated by our local municipality. The municipality pays directly for some costs associated with our ground ambulance operations (e.g., facilities costs, utilities, ambulance fuel, benefits, etc.). Do we need to report on these costs?”
    • If your ground ambulance organization is NOT part of (i.e., owned or operated by) a local municipality, you do NOT need to report costs associated with services provided by your local municipality other than costs (if any) paid directly by your organizations for the service. If your municipality provides dispatch services for your community and your organization does not pay for this service, then no costs related to dispatch are reported. See the related question “My organization received donations during the data collection period (e.g., an ambulance donated by the community, medicines or medical consumables provided by hospitals, or cash donations). How should these donations be reported?” If your organization makes a payment in exchange for a service, report the payment as a cost under the appropriate section of the data collection instrument.

The same principles apply to similar cases, for example when the other entity is a hospital, non-profit organization, or other type of entity.

  • Question: Should hours on call be included in total hours worked? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: When reporting hours worked, whether for paid or volunteer staff, do not include hours on call toward hours worked.
  • Question: How should we report staff training in the data collection instrument? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: There are two ways that you can report training. If training is conducted by your organization’s staff, you would include hours worked and compensation for training staff in your calculations of total hours worked and total compensation. Employees would report hours spent and compensation (if any) for attending trainings. If the training is not just on ground ambulance topics, the reported total hours and compensation would reflect an estimate the percent of time related to ground ambulance. If you have other training expenses or pay money to an outside organization for training activities, these can be listed in Section 11, Question 3 under the category “Training and continuing education costs (e.g., costs for materials, travel, training fees, and labor).” Costs related to collecting and reporting data to the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System should not be reported.
  • Question: How should we report paid time off (PTO) in the data collection instrument? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Paid time off (PTO) is not included in the hours worked section in the labor portion of the data collection instrument. However, PTO is a benefit that should be included in the total compensation questions of the labor section.
  • Service Area: Question: How should our organization define the primary and secondary service area for our particular circumstances? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: For the purposes of this data collection effort, use your best judgement. In general, your primary service area is the area in which you are exclusively or primarily responsible for providing service at one or more levels and where it is highly likely that the majority of your transport pickups occur. A secondary service area is outside your primary service area, but one where you regularly provide services through mutual or auto-aid arrangements or at a different level of service compared to your primary service area. When reporting service areas using ZIP codes, it is possible that you will report the same ZIP code as belonging to both your primary and secondary service area, for example in a case where a town and a township share a ZIP code and your organization is primarily responsible for service within the town but has mutual or auto aid agreements with the surrounding township. Please list all ZIP codes in your service area, even if they cross over into another county or municipality. For the service volume section of the instrument, responses, transports, etc. to both primary and secondary service areas should be included in the totals reported.
  • Service Mix/Service Volume: Question: How should my organization count ground ambulance responses and/or transports if more than one vehicle is sent to the scene or if more than one patient is transported? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: If more than one vehicle is sent to the scene, count this as one response. Organizations should count the total number of patients transported. A single response may result in multiple transports in cases where multiple ambulances are deployed or when multiple patients are transported by the same ambulance.
  • Question: How should our organization report on situations where we respond to calls for service in conjunction with staff from another organization? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: In Section 5, Question 3, you can report that your organization responds to calls for service in conjunction with vehicles and/or staff from another organization. You must report payments that you make to the other organization (as “other costs” in Section 11) and payments received by your organization (as revenue in Section 13). You will not need to report specific labor or other costs from the other organization. Report the total revenue that your organization receives from payers and other sources, even if you later share the revenue with the other organization.
  • Facilities: Question: My organization does not record buildings as assets or calculate depreciation for buildings. Do we need to report depreciation for buildings? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: No.
  • Vehicles: Question: How should we calculate annual depreciation expenses for vehicles and capitalized equipment? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: In general, you will be able to use your organization’s standard approach to calculating depreciation expenses. If your organization calculates depreciation expense for multiple purposes (e.g. depreciation for tax incentive purposes vs. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for standard auditing purposes), please report the depreciation expense captured for standard auditing purposes. There are several presentations, such as the December 5, 2019 National Provider Call, that provide examples of reporting annual depreciation expenses in Section 8 (Facilities Costs), Section 9 (Vehicle Costs), and Section 10 (Equipment, Consumable, and Supply Costs) of the data collection instrument. These presentations are available on the Ambulances Services Center website at https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider-Type/Ambulances-Services-Center.html.
  • Equipment: Question: My organization uses a cash basis for accounting and does not depreciate equipment or supplies. Do we need to start calculating annual depreciation? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: No. If your department is a cash basis entity and doesn’t calculate depreciation, you do not have to report depreciation. Please report the entire purchase costs in the relevant sections.
  • Revenue: Question: How is revenue defined for the purposes of collecting and reporting data? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Report gross/total revenue received from all sources during the data collection period. You may need to collect information from a billing company or your municipality in order to report this information. Do not report charges, billed amounts, or bad debt. Depending on your organization’s accounting practices, CMS understands that the revenue received during the data collection period may not perfectly align with the services provided during the data collection period.
  • Question: My organization is unable to separate revenue from payers related to transports and non-transport services. How should we report revenue for non-transport services? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: If possible, report only revenue from transports in Section 13, Questions 2-4. Report revenue from non-transport EMS and ground ambulance services in Section 13, Question 5.
  • Question: My organization shares revenue from billed service with another organization. Should we report the revenue we receive from payers or the share we retain? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Report the revenue that you initially receive from payers. Do not subtract the amount that you share with another organization. Report the amount you do share in Section 11 (“Other Costs”) as a cost.

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 Fee Schedule in the Proposed Rule is because the temporary add-ons were built into the regulations themselves.  Thus, the governing regulations already indicate that the temporary add-on payments for ground ambulance transports are effective for services furnished through December 31, 2022.  The regulations are at 42 CFR §414.610 (c)(1)(ii) and 42 CFR §414.610 (c)(5)(ii).

The Proposed Rule also seeks to extend or make permanent several of the telehealth waivers CMS has implemented during the public health emergency.  Because CMS does not believe it has the authority to reimburse ambulance providers or suppliers for services provided without transportation also occurring, these waivers have not applied to ground ambulance.  However, we will review these provisions of the rule closely to identify potential opportunities to include ground ambulance providers and suppliers in these policies.

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 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 address the chronic underfunding of the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule.

The complete FAQ is below and also available at: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/summary-covid-19-emergency-declaration-waivers.pdf (on page 29).

“CMS is modifying the data collection period and data reporting period, as defined at 42 CFR § 414.626(a), for ground ambulance organizations (as defined at 42 CFR § 414.605) that were selected by CMS under 42 CFR § 414.626(c) to collect data beginning between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 (year 1) for purposes of complying with the data reporting requirements described at 42 CFR § 414.626. Under this modification, these ground ambulance organizations can select a new continuous 12-month data collection period that begins between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, collect data necessary to complete the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection Instrument during their selected data collection period, and submit a completed Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection Instrument 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 and 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 42 CFR § 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 42 CFR § 414.626.”

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 by a physician or other authorized professional. The question and answer below indicates that CMS (and its contractors by extension) will not deny claims during a future medical audit even if there is no signature for non-emergency ambulance transports, absent an indication of fraud or abuse. Ambulance service providers and suppliers should indicate in the documentation that a signature was not able to be obtained because of COVID-19. The AAA advises completing the PCS form and then indicating if a physician, or other appropriate personnel, has not signed it by writing “COVID-19 Public Health Emergency” on the signature line. CMS also reminds providers and suppliers that medical necessity still needs to be met.

The American Ambulance Association has been advocating for CMS to ease its restrictions on signature requirements during the COVID-19 PHE. The FAQ posted by CMS is consistent with our recommendations.

The specific Q&A is below:

Q. For ambulance services that require a physician, or, in lieu of that, certain non-physician personnel, to sign and certify that a non-emergency ambulance transport is medically necessary, are these signature requirements not required during the COVID-19 PHE? 

A. We understand that in certain situations during the COVID-19 PHE it may not be feasible to obtain the practitioner signature. Therefore, for claims with dates of service during the COVID- 19 PHE (January 27, 2020 until expiration), CMS will not review for compliance with appropriate signature requirements for non-emergency ambulance transports during medical review, absent indication of fraud or abuse. Ambulance providers and suppliers should indicate in the documentation that a signature was not able to be obtained because of COVID-19. However, we note that Medicare Part B covers ambulance transport services only if they are furnished to a Medicare beneficiary whose medical condition is such that other means of transportation are contraindicated, and the beneficiary’s condition must require both the ambulance transportation itself and the level of service provided in order for the billed service to be considered medically necessary.

The full Q&A document can be accessed here.

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 lifting of these restrictions and others to eliminate barriers the current Medicare regulations in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Paying for Transports to Alternative Destinations.  During the duration of the crisis, CMS has expanded the list of destinations for which Medicare covers ambulance transportation to include all destinations, from any point of origin, that are 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.

These destinations may include, but are not limited to: any location that is an alternative site determined to be part of a hospital, critical access hospital (CAH) or skilled nursing facility (SNF), community mental health centers, federal qualified health clinic (FQHCs), rural health clinics (RHCs), physicians’ offices, urgent care facilities, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), any location furnishing dialysis services outside of an ESRD facility when an ESRD facility is not available, and the beneficiary’s home.

This expanded list of destinations applies to medically necessary emergency and non-emergency ground ambulance transports of beneficiaries during the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic.  The IFC does not waive the medically necessary requirements for ground ambulance transport of a patient in order for an ambulance service to be covered.

The AAA is working closely with CMS to confirm that patients who require isolation meet the medical necessity requirements.

Suspension of Audits and Relief on Patient Signatures.  In guidance released separately, CMS indicates that it is suspending nearly all audits of providers and suppliers for the duration of the PHE.

CMS has suspended most Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) medical review during the emergency period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes pre-payment medical reviews conducted by Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) under the Targeted Probe and Educate program, and post-payment reviews conducted by the MACs, Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC) reviews and Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC). No additional documentation requests will be issued for the duration of the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic. Targeted Probe and Educate reviews that are in process will be suspended and claims will be released and paid. Current postpayment MAC, SMRC, and RAC reviews will be suspended and released from review. This suspension of medical review activities is for the duration of the PHE. However, CMS may conduct medical reviews during or after the PHE if there is an indication of potential fraud.

CMS also indicates in this guidance that a beneficiary’s signature will not be required for proof of delivery, as it relates to durable medical equipment services, during the PHE.  In a follow-up exchange with CMS, the AAA has confirmed that this policy of not requiring a beneficiary’s signature also applies to ground ambulance providers and suppliers. The AAA has requested that this clarification for ground ambulances also be provided in a written FAQ.

Pause in the Non-Emergency Prior Authorization Model.  CMS has paused the claims processing requirements for the Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model, effective March 29 until the end of the PHE.  During this pause, claims for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ground ambulance transports for the COVID-19 pandemic in States in which the model operates will not be stopped for pre-payment review if prior authorization has not been requested by the fourth round trip in a 30-day period. During the pause, the MAC will continue to review any prior authorization requests that have already been submitted, and ambulance suppliers may continue to submit new prior authorization requests for review during the pause. Claims that have received a provisional affirmative prior authorization decision and are submitted with an affirmed unique tracking number (UTN) will continue to be excluded from future medical review. Following the end of the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic, the MACs will conduct postpayment review on claims otherwise subject to the model that were submitted and paid during the pause.

Telehealth Services.  While CMS does not provide authority for ambulance organizations to bill directly for telehealth services, it does modify for the duration of the PHE the “direct supervision” requirements to allow physicians enter into a contractual arrangement with an entity that provides ambulance services to allow the physician to use the ambulance organization’s personnel as auxiliary personnel under a leased agreement.  Under such circumstances, the provider or supplier would seek payment for any services it provided from the billing physician and would not submit claims to Medicare for such services directly.

Ongoing work of the AAA.  The rule does not address two critical issues:  (1) reimbursement for treatment in place and (2) direct reimbursement for telehealth services.  The AAA will continue to work with CMS and the Congress to address these issues that are critical to meeting the needs of patients and your community during the epidemic.

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 their claims during the 120-day delay period. At the end of the 120-day period, the recoupment process will begin and every claim submitted by the provider/supplier will be offset from the new claims to repay the accelerated/advanced payment. Thus, instead of receiving payment for newly submitted claims, the provider’s/supplier’s outstanding accelerated/advance payment balance is reduced by the claim payment amount. This process is automatic.

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 also proposes the cost and revenue data elements it plans to use.  There are some details in the proposed rule text and others will be in the proposed tool that will be posted the CMS website today.

CMS also proposes the collection period and penalties for failing to report.

While the data collection provision was the key component for ground ambulance services, CMS also proposed changes to the PCS requirement sought by the AAA. CMS is proposing to reference the PCS also as non-physician certification agreements. The agency is further proposing to clarify that the focus is on the certification of the medical necessity provisions and the form of the certification statement is not prescribed.  As part of the non-physician statement, CMS is proposing expanding the staff of you may sign the statement when an attending physician is unable to sign.

Download Full PDF Summary by Kathy Lester, Esq.

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