Yesterday, Presiden Biden signed into law legislation (H.R. 1868) to extend the current temporary freeze on the 2% Medicare sequestration cut. H.R. 1868 extends the deadline of the freeze from today until December 31. Contractors had been holding Medicare claims to avoid any issues but will again start processing claims. The AAA as well as other national EMS and fire organizations had pushed for the extension of the freeze.
Last week, the Senate by a vote of 90 to 2 passed legislation (H.R. 1868) to further extend the suspension of the 2% Medicare sequestration cut. H.R. 1868 would extend the suspension from March 31 to December 31. The Senate amended the bill so it goes back to the House which will likely consider the legislation the week of April 12 when it returns from the Easter holiday break. The House is expected to easily pass the bill. CMS will hold claims until the House passes the bill to avoid any retroactivity issues.
The House had previously passed a version of H.R. 1868 which would not only extend the sequestration suspension until December 31 but also prevent a potential 4% sequestration cut later this year. The additional cut is the result of a provision in the Budget Control Act which was triggered with passage of the American Rescue Plan. Senate Republicans objected to addressing the additional cut as part of the legislation and a compromise was reached to just extend the 2% cut suspension for the time being.
The AAA as well as the IAFC, IAFF, NVFC, CFSI and NAEMT had written to congressional leaders in support of passage of the House-passed version of H.R. 1868.
On Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed language for Medicare coverage of emergency treatment in place of lower acuity patients by ground ambulance services providers and suppliers during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). The language is from S. 149 by Senators Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Cassidy (R-LA) and passed as part of the $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan (H.R. 1319). The House is scheduled to vote and expected to pass the package tomorrow.
The American Ambulance Association along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters, National Association of EMTs and National Volunteer Fire Council pushed for passage of the bill language.
S. 149 would authorize the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to waive the transport requirement under Medicare for treatment in place for 9-1-1 or equivalent ambulance responses in which community EMS protocols dictate that the patient not be transported to a facility. The waiver would apply during the public health emergency.
Similar to other waivers provided by Congress for Medicare coverage during the pandemic, CMS would not be required to implement the policy. However, CMS has done so in all other situations and has also made the coverage retroactive to the beginning of the PHE. Upon passage of the language, the AAA will strongly advocate for CMS to implement the waiver and make it retroactive.
The AAA will be offering educational services to our members on the requirements of the proposed new policy and how to bill for covered services.
The Department of Treasury has announced that the $350 billion appropriated under the CARES Act for the Paycheck Protection Program has been exhausted. However, Congressional leaders are currently negotiating an economic stimulus package to act as a bridge between the CARES Act and the next comprehensive package stimulus package. A core provision of the bridge package is an allocation of an additional $250 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program. If your operation is in the process or plans to apply for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program, you should move forward with your efforts. The AAA is advocating that the bridge package or next comprehensive package include more funding for ambulance services.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMI) has released its initial list of applicants selected to participate in the ET3 pilot program. CMMI notes that the list is not final as it still needs to execute participation agreements with the applicants. CMMI will issue a final list once it completes the process.
Applicants from 36 states and the District of Columbia were selected to participate in the program. Approximately 200 applicants were approved with instances in which the same ambulance service organization submitted applications for multiple counties as well as more than one organization submitting an application for the same county. CMMI has sent notifications to each of the applicants letting them know to expect a follow up email with the partnership agreement, program guidance and additional details.
The ET3 program is a five-year voluntary pilot program designed to test the potential benefit to the Medicare program and patients of ambulance service providers and suppliers furnishing treatment in place as well as transport to alternative destinations. For more information about the ET3 program, please go the ET3 website.
This past Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, the House Ways & Means and Education & Labor Committees marked up their proposals on balance or “surprise” billing. As we reported on Monday of this week, the Ways & Means Committee proposal, the Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act (H.R. 5826), did not include a provision on ground ambulance services. The House Education & Labor proposal, The Ban Surprise Billing Act (H.R. 5800), however, included a provision to create a federal advisory committee to recommend restrictions on the ability of ground ambulance service providers and suppliers to balance bill.
The Ways & Means Committee reported out H.R 5826 favorably by voice vote. While the Education & Labor Committee also reported out H.R. 5800 favorably, the vote was 30 to 13 as a block of its Committee members preferred the approach of the Ways & Means proposal on how to address balance billing for other providers. It is now up to House leadership to determine next steps on how the chamber will approach a final package on balance billing.
While H.R. 5800 as reported out by the Education & Labor Committee still includes the provision on ground ambulance services, Chairman Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Foxx (R-NC) prior to mark up had removed the most problematic language in the bill. As introduced, H.R. 5800 would have given the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to issue regulations to restrict balance billing based on the findings of the advisory committee. This would have eliminated federal lawmakers from being able to evaluate the recommendations prior to the changes being implemented. The language was removed in the chairman’s mark of the bill, and thus the Congress would now have an opportunity to debate and craft legislation on the recommendations.
The AAA along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and National Association of EMTs (NAEMT) had advocated against the ground ambulance provision. We thank Chairman Scott, Ranking Member Foxx and members of the Committee for listening to our concerns and removing the regulation authority language.
Only one of the four pieces of legislation on balance billing reported out by congressional committees includes a provision on ground ambulance services. We will continue to advocate to preserve the ability of local governments to determine the rates and standards for their EMS systems and against the inclusion of a ground ambulance provision in a final package on balance billing.
We will keep you apprised of new developments on the issue.
CMS Releases List of Ambulance Organizations Selected for Data Collection
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the list of ambulance service providers and suppliers selected to provide data in the first year of data collection. CMS has published the data by National Provider Identifier (NPI) number and the AAA has also sorted the data by state in alphabetical order.
On Friday, CMS had made public the final rule on the Establishment of an Ambulance Data Collection System. The AAA will be issuing a Member Advisory tomorrow on the details of the final rule and changes from the proposed rule.
The AAA continues to press policy initiatives with Congress and the Administration that are important to our members. While not as high-profile as our successful efforts earlier this year on the five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance add-ons, the AAA is working hard on ambulance legislation and regulations that impact the EMS industry and ambulance services across the country. Here is a snapshot of those current efforts. Over the next month, we will be providing weekly in-depth updates highlighting these issues.
The AAA was successful in getting our preferred language of an ambulance cost data collection system using a survey and random sample methodology included with the extension of the add-ons in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. However, that was just the first key step in the process. We now need to ensure that CMS gets the details right as the agency develops the structural specifics and data elements for the system. It is critical that the system is designed in a way that ambulance service suppliers and providers will submit the most accurate data possible.
The data will ultimately provide the information necessary for Congress, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as well as the AAA and other stakeholders to reform the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. Reform will include potential reimbursement for services such as community paramedicine, treat and refer, and other items that don’t involve transporting the patient. However, in order to determine the reimbursement levels, we first need the data on what it could cost for these additional services. The AAA therefore has been working closely with officials at CMS on the development of the data collection system.
The five-year extension of the add-ons and authorization of data cost collection system were the first steps needed in the long-term goal of reforming the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. The AAA is now developing the next piece of legislation as step two of the process. The “Community Bill” would make the Medicare ambulance add-ons permanent, treat ambulance service suppliers like providers in three specific instances, direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMI) to do additional pilot programs on innovative services being done by ambulance agencies, reduce regulatory burdens, and implement a more accurate definition of what Goldsmith Modification zip codes should remain as rural. The AAA is currently developing the draft bill and reaching out to congressional offices regarding the introduction of the bill which will likely occur early next Congress.
The AAA is supporting the efforts of our members who would be significantly adversely affected by the upcoming reduction in dialysis transport reimbursement to restructure the cut. Congress included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 an offset to go along with the extension of the add-ons that will cut reimbursement for BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers by an additional 13%. This will be on top of the existing 10% reduction. The NEATSA Act (H.R.6269) by Congressman LaHood (R-IL) and Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL) would restructure the offset so that a majority of the additional reduction would be focused on those ambulance service agencies in which 50% or more of their volume are repetitive BLS nonemergency transports. The cut is currently scheduled to be implemented on October 1 and impacted AAA members and the AAA are working to get a Senate companion bill introduced shortly.
As an amendment to the Farm Bill (S. 3042) that passed the Senate, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) included language similar to the SIREN Act (S. 2830, H.R. 5429) to reauthorize the Rural EMS Grant program. However, in an effort to ensure the funding would go to the most needy, small, and rural EMS providers, the language of the amendment and SIREN Act would change the eligibility to just governmental and non-profit EMS agencies. Therefore, small rural for-profit ambulance service providers would no longer be eligible to apply for grants.
The AAA is pressing Senator Durbin as well as other members supportive of the reauthorization to revise the language to ensure small rural for-profit providers would still be able to apply for grants. In the next few weeks, the AAA will be asking AAA members to reach out to their members of Congress in support of the final Farm Bill including the reauthorization language and that it continues to also apply to for-profit providers as well.
Over the last year, the AAA has responded to several requests for information from CMS as well as Congress on how to ease regulatory burdens for Medicare providers and suppliers. In addition to these broader opportunities, representatives of the AAA and our members have been meeting with CMS officials to reduce burdens for our industry. As a specific example, we are pushing for the elimination of the PCS for interfacility transports and to expand the categories of facility personnel eligible to sign the form.
The AAA continues to educate members of Congress and congressional staff about the importance of non-emergency ambulance services. We are providing congressional offices with a clearer picture as to the vital role of these transports as part of the overall health care system. We are also looking to ensure that changes in federal payor policies strengthen the role and distinction of non-emergency ambulance transports from non-medical transportation services to health care facilities.
The current use of Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCA) as the basis of the Goldsmith Modification for determining rural areas in larger urban counties needs to be reformed. There are numerous examples of zip codes that are designated as urban under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule that are clearly rural. The AAA Rural Task Force is leading the way on both short-term and long-term efforts to more accurately capture rural zip codes in large urban counties. The AAA will include the ultimate reform provision crafted by the Task Force within the Community Bill as well as look at other legislative opportunities to make the changes.
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
firstname.lastname@example.org | (703) 610-0216
Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
email@example.com | (703) 610-5821
Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
firstname.lastname@example.org | (703) 610-9039
Thank you for your continued membership and support.
Although the most prominent ambulance provision passed in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (H.R. 1892) was the five-year extension of the Medicare add-ons, the Act also included important language directing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to collect cost and other financial data from ambulance service suppliers and providers.
This week, an editorial from AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North was featured in the June issue of JEMS‘s “EMS Insider”. Read the full article►
This is the first of a two part Member Advisory by Tristan North and Kathy Lester on ACA Repeal & Reform. To continue reading, see Part Two: ACA Repeal & Reform – What It Means for Ambulance Services (Pt. 2).
A top priority of President Trump and congressional Republicans is to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Since Republicans retook control of Congress in 2012 after passage of the ACA in 2010, they have sought to repeal the ACA. However, they had not developed a consensus on a replacement package, as they knew then-President Obama would veto the repeal bill. Now with President Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling the House and Senate, Republicans in the House have agreed upon a package and moved it through three Committees of jurisdiction: the Ways and Means Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Budget Committee. Republicans in the Senate are less aligned and are said to be working on their own package, which is likely to differ in important ways from the House version.
For ambulance services, there are several key components to watch. These are:
In addition, there are a few other provisions that the current bills being considered do not modify, but potential could be part of the discussions at some point or in subsequent Medicare legislation. Of these, there are three that would directly impact ambulance services.
The ACA also established a permanent GPCI floor of 1.0 for “frontier” States which took effect in 2011. The designation of a “frontier” applies to those states in which 50 percent of the counties are frontier which have less than 6 people per square mile. The designation is updated with the original frontier states consisting of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Utah is no longer deemed frontier and Nevada has been added to the list. While a complete repeal of the ACA would not impact the temporary GPCI increases as the provisions were temporary, it would eliminate frontier status.
The top legislative priority this year for the American Ambulance Association is to extend, or hopefully make permanent, the temporary Medicare ambulance add-on payments. The temporary increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus expire at the end of this year. The 2% urban and 3% rural increases have been in place since 2008 and the super rural bonus payment since 2004. While the AAA and our members have been successful in getting the payments extended numerous times, 2017 is not a typical year and we need everyone to be prepared to help push to make the increases permanent or extended for the longest possible duration.
The other top priorities for the AAA are for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to recognize ambulance services more like providers of medical services instead of merely suppliers of transportation. In addition, it is critical that Congress direct CMS to collect cost data from ambulance service providers using a method, which will result in usable and meaningful data from everyone, but also not be overly burdensome on extremely low volume providers. Finally, Congress needs to target fraud and abuse with the transport of dialysis patients through a prior authorization program instead an arbitrary payment cut that impacts all providers.
The AAA is pushing its agenda again through a version of the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act which we hope to have introduced in the next few weeks. We are working with our champions on Capitol Hill on a different approach to being treated more like providers to mitigate issues raised about the provision last Congress. Instead of being listed in the Social Security Act as having provider status, we are looking to a hybrid model similar to dialysis facilities. This will clarify that we are not seeking to be treated like providers to achieve Medicare coverage because we are already reimbursed under the Medicare program. It will however still set the foundation for future legislative and regulatory changes to the Medicare fee schedule such as reimbursement for transporting to an alternate destination or treat and referral.
We are also making potential modifications to the House bill on our proposed data collection system. These changes would help with possible Committee consideration of the provision but still hopefully achieve or goal of obtaining useable data that is not overly burdensome to 73% of our industry which is composed of providers that do less than 1,000 Medicare transports a year of less. It is vital that we have meaningful data to make data-driven decisions as to changes to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.
We will let you know as soon as the revised legislation is introduced for the new Congress. In the meantime, we encourage you to register for the upcoming AAA webinar on the Ambulance Advocacy Action Plan with AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North and AAA Government Affairs Coordinator Aidan Camas. Tristan and Aidan will provide you the latest information on our advocacy efforts and let you know how you can help. To register for the webinar which is free to AAA members, please go to: https://ambulance.org/product/ambulance-advocacy-action-plan/.
Also read Tristan and Kathy Lester’s recent Member Advisory on ACA Repeal & Reform:
Find out how to get involved with AAA’s advocacy efforts in this short video featuring Tristan North, the American Ambulance Association’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.
Get the scoop on AAA’s advocacy priorities in this short video featuring Tristan North, the American Ambulance Association’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.
The AAA 2016 Congressional Ride-Along Toolkit is now available.
Congress adjourned on July 15 for their August congressional recess with members of Congress returning home to their districts and states. This is the perfect opportunity for you to educate your members of Congress about those issues, in particular Medicare ambulance relief and reform, which are important to your operation. The most effective way to deliver these key messages is to host your member of Congress or their staff on a tour of your operation and an ambulance ride-along. If you cannot host a tour and ride-along, we strongly encourage you to arrange local meetings with your members of Congress during August. The AAA has made the process of arranging a ride-long or scheduling a meeting easy for you with our 2016 Congressional Ride-Along Toolkit.
While the current temporary Medicare ambulance relief increases don’t expire unit December 31, 2017, meet with your members of Congress now to gain their support for making the relief permanent. Also, there is a potential opportunity this year to make progress on provisions to change our status from “suppliers” to “providers” of health care services and to direct CMS to collect ambulance cost data. Enactment of these two provisions is necessary to set the stage for future reform of the Medicare fee schedule and reimbursement for services other than a transport. During the tours or meetings, please therefore request your members of Congress to cosponsor the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Relief Act (S. 377, H.R. 745) and support moving the provider status and cost data provisions of the bill this year.
Everything you need to arrange the ride-along or schedule a meeting is included on the AAA Website.
Email the AAA at email@example.com if you need any assistance.
On July 12, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on “Strengthening our National Trauma System.” As part of the hearing, the Subcommittee heard from witnesses about the Preserving Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act (H.R. 4365). The AAA strongly supports H.R. 4365 which would ensure that EMS personnel can continue to administer controlled substances to patients. The AAA submitted written testimony for the hearing record which can be accessed here and read below.
The American Ambulance Association (AAA) thanks the Chairman, Ranking Member, and Members of the Subcommittee on Health for holding a hearing to consider proposals to improve and strengthen the national trauma system. The AAA represents hundreds of ambulance services across the United States that participate in emergency and nonemergency health care and medical transportation. The Association serves as a voice and clearinghouse for ambulance services, and views prehospital care not only as a public service, but also as an essential part of the total public health care system. To that end, we urge Congress to pass the Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2016 (H.R. 4365) by Congressman Hudson (R-NC). This legislation is necessary to ensure that patients in need of emergency medical care have access to life-saving medications.
A longstanding practice has allowed Emergency Medical Services (EMS) practitioners to administer and deliver controlled substances under the oversight of physicians through directional guidelines known as standing orders. The use of standing orders allows EMS personnel who are the often the entry point into the health care system to administer potentially life-saving drugs as quickly as possible to patients in emergency situations. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration has determined that the Controlled Substances Act as currently written prohibits EMS personnel from administering such medications to patients through standing orders. This endangers lives by limiting access to emergency medications that seriously ill or injured patients may need.
Congressman Hudson’s legislation would remedy this situation by clarifying that EMS agencies are allowed to use standing orders from their medical director to administer controlled substances to patients. Codifying this current practice will ensure that EMS practitioners and patients do not see any disruption in the provision of emergency care. H.R. 4365 would also permit EMS agencies to register directly with the DEA; require each EMS agency to have one or more medical directors; allow a single registration for an EMS agency, not a separate registration for each location; and update requirements for EMS agencies’ receipt, storage, and tracking of controlled substances.
The unique nature of mobile emergency medical services sets us apart from other health care services governed by the Controlled Substances Act. H.R. 4365 is needed to ensure that regulatory oversight to prevent abuse of controlled substances does not threaten the provision of time-sensitive emergency medical care to those with critical injuries and illnesses. The AAA respectfully requests that the Committee move expeditiously to support this vital legislation so that our nation’s EMS practitioners can care effectively for patients in need.
In an effort to better determine a pattern of Medicare audit issues facing our members, the AAA has launched a survey to identify the different types of audit activity. The AAA will use the survey to inform federal policymakers about problems identified with the audits and how best to address the issues to reduce the burden of the audits on AAA members. It is therefore critical that you complete the survey to help us determine what audit issues your operation is facing.
The survey is comprised of only 14 questions including contact, demographic and characteristic information about your organization and requests data about your claim denial and audit activity. The information will be kept confidential and privileged and will only be reported in the aggregate with no organization identifying information. Contact information will be used only to follow up should we have any questions.
Thank you in advance for completing this important survey.
On May 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Claim Review Programs Could Be Improved with Additional Prepayment Reviews and Better Data“. In the report, the GAO recommended that CMS be provided legislative authority to allow Recovery Auditors to use prepayment claims reviews to address improper Medicare payments. CMS fortunately disagreed with the GAO on the recommendation and cited better options such as prior authorization to address potentially improper payments.
The AAA has now issued a Formal Statement in response to the GAO report noting the problems with prepayment claims review for ambulance services and promoting the better alternative of prior authorization for nonemergency BLS transports of dialysis patients. The statement is in follow up to our Member Advisory providing an in-depth review of the report. Please feel free to share the statement if you receive questions about the report.
On June 26, 2015, the AAA had participated in a conference call with the GAO officials conducting the report in which AAA representatives had pushed for recommendations in line with our statement. The AAA will continue to advocate for policies to address improper payments that address the issue but are also the least burdensome to AAA members and help ensure our ability to continue to provide high-quality emergency and nonemergency ambulance services to patients.