Author: Kathy Lester

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.

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. 

The first report of this project found that Medicare made improper payments of $8.7 million to providers for nonemergency ambulance transports to destinations not covered by Medicare, including the identified ground mileage associated with the transports.  The report identified that the majority of the improperly billed claim lines (59 percent) were for transports to diagnostic or therapeutic sites, other than a physician’s office or a hospital, that did not originate from SNFs.

In this report, the OIG recommended that the CMS: (1) direct the Medicare contractors to recover the portion of the $8.7 million in improper payments made to providers for claim lines that are within the claim-reopening period; (2) for the remaining portion of the $8.7 million, which is outside of the Medicare reopening and recovery periods, instruct the Medicare contractors to notify providers of potential improper payments so that those providers can exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and return any identified similar improper payments, and identify and track any returned improper payments; (3) direct the Medicare contractors to review claim lines for nonemergency ambulance transports to destinations not covered by Medicare after the audit period and recover any improper payments identified; and (4) require the Medicare contractors to implement nation-wide prepayment edits to ensure that payments to providers for nonemergency ambulance transports comply with Federal requirements.

  • The third report is linked to a case study of the closure of the Rosebud Hospital Emergency Department. Rosebud is an Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital that discontinued emergency services. The closure of the Rosebud emergency department (ED) followed a notice of intent by the CMS to terminate Rosebud Hospital from the Medicare program. Representatives of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe raised concerns to OIG about the Rosebud ED closure and linked that closure to several patient deaths that occurred during ambulance transports to other facilities when emergency care was unavailable locally. In response to these concerns, the OIG seeks to examine factors considered and procedures involved in IHS’s decisions to close and later reopen the Rosebud ED. The OIG will also assess IHS’s management, coordination, and communication related to the closure and will identify lessons learned that IHS could apply to similar situations in the future.  The report was expected to be published in 2018, but has not as of this date. 

The AAA continues to monitor the OIG work plan and engage as appropriate with key officials.  Our goal is to provide educational background to address any misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions that may exist. 

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 some of the burdensome regulations facing ambulance service providers that the AAA has recommended Congress address through its Red Tape initiative. These include:

Removing Unnecessary Regulatory Burdens:
  • Reduce the burdens created by the Physician Certificate Statement
  • Simplify the 855B Ambulance Enrollment Form
  • Address burdensome requirements of the patient signature on claims and the strict application of the revocation of billing authority

This letter from the AAA to Congressional leaders is just one part of the AAA’s ongoing effort to educate Congress on the crucial role ambulance service providers play in America’s healthcare system. The AAA wants Congress to know that in many rural areas of the country, ambulances are the medical safety net, yet face extreme challenges to staying in business thanks to below cost reimbursement and burdensome regulations. The AAA will continue to pursue this list of priorities with our members next year and going forward.

Read the Full Letter

Again, Happy Rural Health Day to our members – thanks for all that you do!

If you have any questions about our letter or rural advocacy, please contact us:

Questions?: Contact Us

If you have questions about the legislation or regulatory initiatives being undertaken by the AAA, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the AAA Government Affairs Team.

Tristan North – Senior Vice President of Government Affairs
tnorth@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9025

Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
rhazdovac@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9027

Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
acamas@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9026

Thank you for your continued membership and support.

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 needs to be done by the ambulance community before these services can be incorporated into the Medicare reimbursement program, discussions like the one at MedPAC last week, show the importance of getting the details right so that ambulance services can be part of new payment models likely to be considered.

The American Ambulance Association is leading the effort with the Medicare program to develop appropriate models that account for the cost of providing services through sustainable reimbursement rates, rather than the use of temporary grants. We are also focused on ensuring services align with the scope of practice laws. Led by the Payment Reform and the Medicare Regulatory Committees, our efforts include regular meetings and discussions with leaders at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as well as key Members of Congress. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our ongoing efforts.

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 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.  The call-in information is:

  • Participant Dial-In Number: 1-(888)-989-4575
  • Conference ID: 3068545

We have shared our concern about the short notice about the call and CMS has indicated it will continue to take comments on the documents after the call as well. The AAA is in the process of reviewing these documents closely and will develop a written comment letter to provide to CMS after the call on Thursday. We welcome input from all our members as part of this process.

While these new documents may be helpful for many services, the AAA also remains committed to move its recommendations which would result in some changes in the PCS and other ambulance provider and supplier requirements.

 

 

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 add-ons.  The Proposed Rule would codify the extension of the add-ons through December 31, 2022.

The Proposed Rule would implement the increase in the reduction in rates for non-emergency ambulance transports to/from dialysis facilities for services furnished on or after October 1, 2018. The 10 percent reduction applies for these transports furnished during the period beginning on October 1, 2013 and ending on September 30, 2018. The reduction will increase to 23 percent to conform the regulations to the statutory requirement for services furnished on or after October 1, 2018.

CMS does not request any information about the cost collection system in the Proposed Rule, but has been soliciting comments and recommendations through informal provider/supplier calls.  Additionally, the AAA has been in regular contact with CMS on the structure, design, and data elements to ensure the successful implementation of this critically important system as well.

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 data elements that CMS would need to collect to establish accurate information about the cost of providing ground ambulance services.  We have also developed educational materials that we will share with Members to help ensure a smooth transition into this system.

General

The core components of the new cost collection system for providers and suppliers of ground ambulance services are:

  • A requirement that the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through notice-and-comment rulemaking, must develop a data collection system to collect:           (1) cost; (2) revenue; (3) utilization; and (4) other information determined appropriate by the Secretary;
  • This system may use a cost survey; and
  • The data collect should include information: (1) needed to evaluate the extent to which costs are related to payment rates; (2) on the utilization of capital equipment and ambulance capacity; and (3) on different types of ground ambulance services furnished in different geographic locations and low population density areas.

Representative Sample

Under the statute, the Secretary must select a representative sample of providers and suppliers from whom to collect data.  The sample will be determined based on the type of providers and suppliers (such as those that are part of a governmental organization, fire, hospital-based, etc) and the geographic locations (such as urban, rural, and low-population density areas).  An individual provider or supplier (defined most likely by National Provider Identifier) may not be requested to submit data in two consecutive years, to the extent practicable.

Reporting Requirements

A provider or supplier selected to report data must do so in the form and manner and at the time specified by the Secretary.  If a provider or supplier that has been selected to report does not do so, then the provider or supplier may be subject to a 10 percent payment reduction, unless the hardship exemption applies.  Providers or suppliers that are penalized may seek a review of the application of the penalty.  The Secretary does have the authority to take into consideration certain hardships as to why a provider or supplier was unable to submit their data and waive the penalty.

Modification Over Time

The Secretary may revise the system over time.

Public Availability of the Data

The Secretary will provide the information collected available through the CMS Website, similar to the process used for other data CMS collects.

MedPAC Report

In addition, the language includes a study/studies from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC).  MedPAC is required to issue at least one report, and potential subsequent reports, on the following:

  • An analysis of the information submitted by providers and suppliers through the data collection system;
  • An analysis of any burden on providers and suppliers associated with the data collection system;
  • A recommendation as to whether information should continue to be submitted through such data collection system or if it should be revised;
  • The adequacy of payments for ground ambulance services;
  • Geographic variations in the cost of furnishing ground ambulance services; and
  • Other information determined appropriate by the Commission.

Timeline

The Secretary must implement the data collection system according to the following timeline:

The AAA will continue to keep you informed as the development and implementation of the ambulance cost data collection system moves forward.

12/31/2019
  • Specify the data collection system
  • Identify providers and suppliers that would be required to submit information for the representative sample

2020 – 2024

 

  • Collect data each year from a representative sample of providers and suppliers
 2022  

  • First year a provider or supplier that has been asked to submit data and has not sufficiently submitted the data may be subject to a 10 percent payment reduction.
 2023  

  • MedPAC report due
 2025+  

  • Collect data as the Secretary determines appropriate but no less often than once every 3 years

The AAA will continue to work with The Moran Company and other experts to make sure data collection system works for all ambulance service providers and suppliers and leads to information that the industry needs to move toward making the add-ons permanent and modernizing the benefit to include new payment models, including transports to alternative destinations, treatment with referral and no transport, and mobile integrated health.

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 until legislation extending the add-ons has passed both chambers of Congress and the President has signed the bill into law.  CMS will make similar statements relative to the other Medicare extenders as well.

Second, prepare. To the extent you are able to do so, you may hold your claims. Medicare requires providers to files claims no later than 12 months after the date when the services were provided. (See Medicare: File a Claim; see also section 6404 of the Affordable Care Act). While this may not work for all claims, holding claims will reduce the number that would have to be reprocessed once the add-ons become law. If CMS believes at some point the legislation will pass, it may also break with its own precedent and indicate that has asked the contractors to hold claims for a short period of time as well. It did this in 2014 when it discovered errors in a final fee schedule rule. Once the claims are processed, so long as the add-ons have been extended by law, the add-on dollars will appear in the reimbursement amounts sent to providers and suppliers.

Third, retroactivity can be expensive, but CMS can mitigate the costs. CMS did this most recently in May of 2017. Then, CMS announced that it would implement the retroactive extension of a transitional payment for durable medical equipment suppliers by having the contractors automatically reprocess claims from the period when the transitional payment was made retroactive. This approach reduced the burden on providers and suppliers by eliminating the need to resubmit claims.

Despite the fact that there are ways to mitigate the problem, the American Ambulance Association (AAA) remains deeply concerned that the Congress did not extend the add-ons before they left for the holidays. We understand that for ambulance services across the country receiving timely payments from Medicare can be the difference between being able to make payroll or not. Having the dollars from the add-ons is also crucial to ensuring adequate cash flow. Therefore, while we advise you to think through your options and take the steps that best meet your needs and the needs of your employees, patients, partners, and businesses, we also ask that you reach out to the Congress and let them know how important it is to get the add-ons extended as early in January as possible. Make your voice heard by going to the AAA’s grassroots page. There you can send an email or reach out through social media to your Members of Congress.  We need everyone, including your employees, patients, and others who support high quality ambulance services, to reach out today.

Write to Your Members of Congress

The AAA will continue our direct efforts on Capitol Hill to make sure these add-ons are extended and overly burdensome new requirements are not placed on ambulance services. With your help, we can get the add-ons extended. For more information please visit https://ambulance.org/advocacy/.

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 them to enroll outside of these dates.

CMS would increase the States’ pre-enrollment verification from 50 percent to 100 percent beginning June 1, 2017, and require consumers’ enrollment requests to be “pended” until verification is complete. CMS encourages State-based Exchanges to adopt a similar policy. The Proposed Rule would also limit the ability of existing Exchange enrollees to change plan metal levels during the coverage year.  It would allow Exchanges to require enrollees that qualify for a special enrollment period because of a dependent to be add only to the current Qualified Health Plan (QHP) or allow the enrollee and the new dependent to enroll in another QHP within the same level of coverage.[2]

The Proposed Rule would also require that if an enrollee or the dependent is not enrolled in a silver level QHP and becomes newly eligible for cost-sharing reductions and qualifies for the special enrollment periods, the Exchange may allow the enrollee and dependent to enroll in only a QHP at the silver level.[3] CMS also proposes a new restriction that would allow the Exchange only to allow an enrollee and dependents who qualify for remaining special enrollment periods to make changes to their enrollment in the same QHP or to change to another QHP within the same level of coverage, if other QHPs at that metal level are available.[4]

CMS would allow consumers to start their coverage one month later than their effective date would ordinarily have been, if the special enrollment period verification process results in a delay in their enrollment such that they would be required to pay two or more months of retroactive premium to effectuate coverage or avoid termination for non- payment. [5]

Additionally, CMS would permit the issuer to reject an enrollment for which the issuer has a record of termination due to non-payment of premiums unless the individual fulfills obligations for premiums due for previous coverage.

The Proposed Rule also expresses concern that some consumers not seeking coverage until they are married. CMS proposes that if consumers are newly enrolling in QHP coverage through the Exchange through the special enrollment period for marriage, at least one spouse must demonstrate having had minimum essential coverage for 1 or more days during the 60 days preceding the date of marriage. There is a special rule for individuals who may not have been living in the United States prior to their marriage.[6]

The Proposed Rule would also significantly limit the use of the exceptional circumstances special enrollment period. In previous years, this special enrollment period has been used to address eligibility or enrollment issues that affect large cohorts of individuals where they had made reasonable efforts to enroll, but were hindered by outside events. If the proposal were adopted, CMS would apply a more rigorous test for future uses of the exceptional circumstances special enrollment period, including requiring supporting documentation where practicable. It would grant this special enrollment period only if provided with sufficient evidence to conclude that the consumer’s situation was truly exceptional and in instances where it is verifiable that consumers were directly impacted by the circumstance, as practicable.[7]

CMS is also exploring ways to incentivize consumers to maintain continuous coverage.

These proposed special enrollment changes would not apply to special enrollment periods under the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).[8]

Network Adequacy

CMS proposes changes to the oversight of network adequacy requirements to “affirm the traditional role of States in overseeing their health insurance markets while reducing the regulatory burden of participating in Exchanges for issuers.”[9]

CMS proposes to rely on State reviews for network adequacy in States in which an FFE is operating, provided the State has a sufficient network adequacy review process, rather than performing a time and distance evaluation. Beginning in plan year 2018, it would defer to the States’ reviews in States with the authority that is at least equal to the “reasonable access standard” and means to assess issuer network adequacy, regardless of whether the Exchange is a State-based Exchange or federally facilitated, and regardless of whether the State performs plan management functions.

In States without the authority or means to conduct sufficient network adequacy reviews, CMS would rely on an issuer’s accreditation (commercial or Medicaid) from an HHS-recognized accrediting entity. HHS has previously recognized 3 accrediting entities for the accreditation of QHPs: the National Committee for Quality Assurance, URAC, and Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. An unaccredited issuer would have to submit an access plan.

Interpretation of the Guaranteed Availability Requirement

CMS proposes revising the interpretation of the guaranteed availability requirement to allow issuers to apply a premium payment to an individual’s past debt owed for coverage from the same issuer enrolled in within the prior 12 month. CMS argues this change is necessary to “remov[e] economic incentives individuals may have had to pay premiums only when they were in need of health care services and to encourag[e] individuals to maintain continuous coverage throughout the year and prevent gaming.”[10]

De Minimis Variation in the Actuarial Values

CMS proposes increasing the de minimis variation in the actuarial values (AVs) used to determine metal levels of coverage for the 2018 plan year to “allow issuers greater flexibility in designing new plans and to provide additional options for issuers to keep cost sharing the same from year to year.”[11]

Essential Community Providers

CMS proposes allowing issuers to use a write-in process to identify essential community providers (ECPs) who are not on the HHS list of available ECPs for the 2018 plan year; and lower the ECP standard to 20 percent (rather than 30 percent).[12] 

[1] CMS Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Market Stabilization Proposed Rule.

[2]Id.

[3]Id.

[4]Id.

[5]Id.

[6]Id.

[7]Id.

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10]Id.

[11]Id.

[12]Id.

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 also consults with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) when identifying potential areas and providers/suppliers that should be subject to a temporary moratorium.  Finally, CMS also considers whether imposing a moratorium would have a negative impact on beneficiary access to care.  In areas where there is a temporary moratorium, the policy does not apply to changes in practice location, changes to provider/supplier information (e.g., phone number, address), or change in ownership.  Temporary moratoria remain in place for six months, unless CMS extends the policy through notice in the Federal Register.

CMS may lift a moratorium at any time if the President declares an area a disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, if circumstances warranting the imposition of a moratorium have abated, if the Secretary of HHS has declared a public health emergency, or if, in the judgment of the Secretary of HHS, the moratorium is no longer needed.  After a moratorium is lifted, providers/suppliers previously subject to it will be designated to CMS’s “high screening level” for six months from the date on which the moratorium was lifted.

CMS has announced it will lift the moratoria on new Part B emergency ambulance suppliers in all geographic locations because the Agency’s evaluation has shown the primary risk of fraud, waste, and abuse comes from the non-emergency ambulance supplier category and that there are potential access to care issues for emergency ambulance services in the areas with moratoria.  New emergency ambulance suppliers seeking to enroll as Medicare suppliers will be subject to “high risk” screening.  If enrolled, these suppliers will be permitted to bill only for emergency transportation services.  They will not be permitted to bill for non-emergency services.

The moratoria remain in place for Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers for all counties in which moratoria already are in place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.