Rep. Sewell Introduces Legislation to Protect Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services for Rural and Underserved Communities
Washington, D.C. – This Congress, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07), along with Reps. Devin Nunes (CA-22), Peter Welch (VT-AL), and Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), introduced H.R. 2454, the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021. The bill would ensure that ambulance service providers, including rural providers and those in underserved communities, are able to continue delivering quality critical first responder and health care services.
“When tragedy strikes and medical emergencies happen, we should feel confident that our first responders have the resources they need to deliver life-saving care,” said Rep. Sewell. “Unfortunately, inadequate Medicare reimbursement rates are putting a strain on ambulance service providers in the most vulnerable communities across the country and making it harder for them to care for our neighbors.”
“The problem is particularly severe for rural communities and has been worsened by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic,” continued Sewell. “That is why I am proud to introduce the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021. This bill would permanently adjust Medicare reimbursement practices so that vital ambulance services remain vibrant and available to all Americans.”
“This bipartisan bill includes key reforms to ensure that rural Americans are not harmed by the delay in updating the Medicare ground ambulance fee schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Nunes, Lead Republican Co-Sponsor. “Extending these temporary Medicare ground ambulance add-on payments for another five years and expanding coverage for those who live in zip codes with fewer than 1,000 people per square mile will keep ambulance costs affordable for Americans when they need ground ambulance transportation.”
“Rural ambulance services save lives and provide needed care in underserved areas every day,” said Rep. Peter Welch, Lead Democratic Co-Sponsor. “This bipartisan bill will ensure that patients in rural areas have access to critical ambulance services and that the providers of these services receive fair, consistent reimbursement for their important work. It’s time for Congress to pass this bill and give ambulance services the certainty they need to continue serving all Americans.”
“Ambulance services are critically important to rural Americans who may live close to an hour away from the nearest emergency room,” said Rep. Mullin, Lead Republican Co-Sponsor. “Providing this care literally means the difference between life and death for many people. As we continue to battle the closures of critical access hospitals across Oklahoma, ambulance services are more important now than ever before. We must ensure that rural Americans receive the care they need. I’m proud to join my colleagues in support of this bill which would enhance and increase resources for first responders in Oklahoma.”
Currently, ambulance service providers across the country are reimbursed by Medicare at rates below the cost of providing services, as determined by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Consequently, providers rely on “add-on” payments to continue providing services. Add-on payments vary depending on whether a provider is located in an urban, rural, or “super rural” ZIP Code.
Congress has extended current add-on payment rates through December 31, 2022, and planned to review Medicare cost data in considering whether they should be made permanent. However, due to the upcoming ZIP Code reclassification which will occur following the 2020 Census, providers are faced with uncertainty regarding the future of these payments. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to delay the first two rounds of data collection, compounding this uncertainty.
Background on the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021
H.R. 2454, the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021, would end the band-aid approach and make permanent adjustments to the reimbursement methodology for services in urban, rural, and “super rural” areas by building the temporary add-ons into the base rate fee. Specifically, it would extend the current temporary Medicare ground ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural, and the super rural bonus payments for five years and would ensure that rural zip codes continue to be classified as rural following the ZIP Code reclassification.
These payments are vital to the financial viability of the ambulance community and have been extended numerous times on a bipartisan basis, most recently for 5 years. This five-year extension would allow a new data cost collection system time to be put into place and collect meaningful data following the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“NRHA applauds Representative Terri Sewell for her leadership in working to preserve ground ambulance services in rural America. Throughout the pandemic ambulance services have provided critical first responder services in our most rural communities. Passing H.R. 2454, the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021, is critical to ensuring that these important services remain in their communities long after the public health emergency,” said Alan Morgan, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Health Association.
“The Alabama Rural Health Association lends its full support behind the ‘Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021’ (H.R. 2454). As rural EMS transportation is one of the greatest challenges for quality access to care in rural Alabama, support is greatly needed to reinforce the existing emergency transportation system. With additional funding and flexibility created in the system, states like Alabama will have the ability to provide improved emergency transportation in critically rural and underserved areas and allow patients to receive the care that they need in a timely manner. We are thankful for Rep. Sewell’s introduction of this language, and we encourage support for H.R. 2454,” said Ryan Kelly, Administrator of the Alabama Rural Health Association.
The legislation is also supported by the following organizations:
- American Ambulance Association (AAA)
- International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)
- International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)
- National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT)
- National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC)
H.R. 2454 can be found here.
Thank you to Reps @RepTerriSewell, @RepDevinNunes, @PeterWelch, and @RepMullin for their tireless advocacy in support of #EMS access for ALL Americans. #HR2454 #ruralhealth #SupportEMS #AlwaysOpen #NotJustaRide #MobileHealthcare https://t.co/L7uHcxyOXg @NRHA_Advocacy pic.twitter.com/qD6p4Hymjo
— AmericanAmbulanceAsc (@amerambassoc) May 7, 2021
Thank you to Representatives Rep. Terri Sewell, Congressman Devin Nunes, Peter Welch, and Congressman Markwayne Mullin…May 6, 2021Press Release
Strained by pandemic-era budget cuts, stress and a lack of revenue, at least 10 ambulance companies in Wyoming are in danger of shuttering — some imminently.
Washakie County’s conundrum is reflective of a troubling trend in Wyoming and states like it: The ambulance crews that service much of rural America have run out of money and volunteers, a crisis exacerbated by the demands of the pandemic and a neglected, patchwork 911 system. The problem transcends geography: In rural, upstate New York, crews are struggling to pay bills. In Wisconsin, older volunteers are retiring, and no one is taking their place.
Yesterday, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021 (H.R. 2454). Congresswoman Sewell was joined by Congressmen Devin Nunes (R-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) as primary cosponsors and leads on the legislation.
H.R. 2454 would extend the temporary Medicare ground ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment for five years. The increases are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2022. The five-year extension would allow for the increases to remain in place during the two-year delay on ambulance data collection period due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. It would also permit the cost collection program to move forward so that the statutorily mandated MedPAC analysis could be completed before the Congress would have to act to either further extend the add-ons or make them permanent through reforming the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.
The legislation would help address potential problems that rural zip codes in large urban counties could face as a result of the 2020 census data. As we saw after the 2010 Census, the new Census data collection methodology resulted in geographical changes under the fee schedule that shifted rural ZIP codes to urban, despite there being no significant change in their population. The current definition using rural urban commuting areas (RUCA) in Goldsmith Modification areas would be modified to ensure ZIP codes with 1,000 people or less per square mile would remain rural. Ground ambulance service providers and suppliers could also petition the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make the argument that a specific ZIP code should remain rural. It is vital that this provision be implemented before CMS makes changes from the 2020 Census data which will likely occur in 2023.
The AAA has been leading the effort on the legislation with the support of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of EMTs and the National Volunteer Fire Council.
The AAA is working with champions of the effort in the Senate on introduction of a companion bill. We expect the bill to be introducing in the coming weeks.
The legislation is one of the policy issues being raised as part of EMS on the Hill Day and the AAA will be launching a Call To Action shortly requesting AAA members to ask their members of Congress to cosponsor the bill.
We greatly appreciate the leadership of Representatives Sewell, Nunes, Welch and Mullin on this vital issue.
CMS issued information about repayment of COVID-19 accelerated and advance payments. If you requested these payments, learn how and when we’ll recoup them:
- Identify payments we recovered
- Prepare your billing staff
On March 15, the AAA, IAFC, IAFF, NFVC, NAEMT, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute sent a letter to congressional leaders in support of legislation (H.R. 1868) to extend the current moratorium on the 2% Medicare sequestration cut. The moratorium is currently scheduled to expire on March 31 and H.R. 1868 would extend the moratorium until December 31. Below is a copy of the letter.
This week, the House passed House Resolution 233 with the rules for debate and consideration of H.R. 1868. Congressmen Schneider (D-IL) and McKinley (R-WV) introduced H.R. 315 and Senators Sheehan (D-NH) and Collins (R-ME) introduced S. 748 which would extend the moratorium through the end of the public health emergency.
March 16, 2021
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Charles Schumer Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Mitch McConnell Minority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader McCarthy:
Thank you for your continued support of front-line medical workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and firefighters, as well as the organizations that they serve, take on substantial risk every day to treat, transport and test potential COVID-19 patients. We write today to express our deep concern with the impending 2% Medicare sequestration cut scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2021.
The American Ambulance Association (AAA), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) along with the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) represent the providers of vital emergency and non-emergency ground ambulance services and the paramedics, EMTs and firefighters who deliver the direct medical care and transport for every community across the United States. We have all experienced the strain on our services, and need financial assistance and support as we remain the frontline responders to our nation’s coronavirus patients. The sequestered cuts, if implemented, would further strain the provision of these critical services.
Our costs of operating have increased exponentially in response to COVID-19, as we maintain full readiness to combat the pandemic and continue to provide 24-hour vital non-COVID-19- related services. Our costs for personal protective equipment (PPE), overtime pay, and other expenses directly related to COVID-19 remain high. At a time when we are facing considerable economic strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we respectfully urge Congress take action before April 1, 2021 to extend the 2% Medicare sequestration moratorium. We would like to voice our strong support for bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1868, to prevent the 2% sequester cut.
Our organizations greatly appreciate both the financial support provided through congressionally enacted COVID-19 relief legislation, as well as the recognition of the dangers of providing these critical services on a daily basis. However, the impact of the pandemic on our resources and services remains and the implementation of additional Medicare cuts at this time would be harmful to our members.
We thank you in advance for your consideration and helping ensure that EMS agencies and personnel have the resources they need to continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the funding to maintain the short and long-term viability of our operations.
American Ambulance Association
Congressional Fire Services Institute
International Association of Fire Chiefs
International Association of Fire Fighters
National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians
National Volunteer Fire Council
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ Interim Recommendation for Allocating Initial Supplies of COVID-19 Vaccine — United States, 2020
What is already known about this topic?
Demand is expected to exceed supply during the first months of the national COVID-19 vaccination program.
What is added by this report?
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended, as interim guidance, that both 1) health care personnel and 2) residents of long-term care facilities be offered COVID-19 vaccine in the initial phase of the vaccination program.
What are the implications for public health practice?
Federal, state, and local jurisdictions should use this guidance for COVID-19 vaccination program planning and implementation. ACIP will consider vaccine-specific recommendations and additional populations when a Food and Drug Administration–authorized vaccine is available.
Dooling K, McClung N, Chamberland M, et al. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ Interim Recommendation for Allocating Initial Supplies of COVID-19 Vaccine — United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 3 December 2020. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6949e1
The online portal for ambulance service providers and suppliers to submit applications for additional funding under the HHS Provider Relief Fund is now open.
Apply Soon for Funds!
While providers and suppliers have until November 6 to apply for funding, we strongly recommend that AAA members submit applications as soon as you are prepared as funding is on a first-come, first-served basis. HHS allocated a total of $20 billion for this round of funding.
Attend Today’s AAA Funding Webinar
The AAA will be hosting a webinar today, Monday, October 5, at 11:00 am (eastern), on how to apply for the funds and what information you will need in applying.
Thank You AAA Members!
As reported by the AAA on October 1, the additional funds are a direct result of the efforts of the AAA and our members and we thank all of you who reached out to the White House or your members of Congress advocating for the funds.
President Trump’s “An America-First Healthcare Plan” Executive Order on Surprise Billing Policy
by Kathy Lester, J.D., M.P.H.
As the American Ambulance Association (AAA) reported yesterday, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) “An America-First Healthcare Plan.” The EO includes several provisions, including related to drug importation generally and for insulin specifically. It also includes statements that indicate if the Congress does not act before the end of the year, the President will have the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “take administrative action to prevent a patient from receiving a bill for out-of-pocket expenses that the patient could not have reasonably foreseen.” It does not mention ground ambulances.
In addition to suggesting action if the Congress does not pass legislation, the EO also states that within 180 days, the Secretary will update the Medicare.gov Hospital Compare website to inform beneficiaries of hospital billing quality, including:
- Whether the hospital is in compliance with the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule;
- Whether, upon discharge, the hospital provides patients with a receipt that includes a list of itemized services received during a hospital stay; and
- How often the hospital pursues legal action against patients, including to garnish wages, to place a lien on a patient’s home, or to withdraw money from a patient’s income tax refund.
The narrative related to balance billing (surprise coverage) reads as follows:
My Administration is transforming the black-box hospital and insurance pricing systems to be transparent about price and quality. Regardless of health-insurance coverage, two‑thirds of adults in America still worry about the threat of unexpected medical bills. This fear is the result of a system under which individuals and employers are unable to see how insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, insurance brokers, and providers are or will be paid. One major culprit is the practice of “surprise billing,” in which a patient receives unexpected bills at highly inflated prices from providers who are not part of the patient’s insurance network, even if the patient was treated at a hospital that was part of the patient’s network. Patients can receive these bills despite having no opportunity to select around an out-of-network provider in advance.
On May 9, 2019, I announced four principles to guide congressional efforts to prohibit exorbitant bills resulting from patients’ accidentally or unknowingly receiving services from out-of-network physicians. Unfortunately, the Congress has failed to act, and patients remain vulnerable to surprise billing.
In the absence of congressional action, my Administration has already taken strong and decisive action to make healthcare prices more transparent. On June 24, 2019, I signed Executive Order 13877 (Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First), directing certain agencies — for the first time ever — to make sure patients have access to meaningful price and quality information prior to the delivery of care. Beginning January 1, 2021, hospitals will be required to publish their real price for every service, and publicly display in a consumer-friendly, easy-to-understand format the prices of at least 300 different common services that are able to be shopped for in advance.
We have also taken some concrete steps to eliminate surprise out‑of-network bills. For example, on April 10, 2020, my Administration required providers to certify, as a condition of receiving supplemental COVID-19 funding, that they would not seek to collect out-of-pocket expenses from a patient for treatment related to COVID-19 in an amount greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay for care by an in-network provider. These initiatives have made important progress, although additional efforts are necessary.
Not all hospitals allow for surprise bills. But many do. Unfortunately, surprise billing has become sufficiently pervasive that the fear of receiving a surprise bill may dissuade patients from seeking appropriate care. And research suggests a correlation between hospitals that frequently allow surprise billing and increases in hospital admissions and imaging procedures, putting patients at risk of receiving unnecessary services, which can lead to physical harm and threatens the long-term financial sustainability of Medicare.
Efforts to limit surprise billing and increase the number of providers participating in the same insurance network as the hospital in which they work would correspondingly streamline the ability of patients to receive care and reduce time spent on billing disputes.
The AAA will continue to advocate for the resources necessary to sustain life-saving mobile healthcare.
Congressional leaders and White House senior officials remain deeply divided in negotiating an additional stimulus package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Senate Republicans unveiled a smaller, limited package of COVID-19 relief. This “skinny” bill failed in the Senate in a 52-47 vote, with all Republicans except Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky supporting it, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance.
Unfortunately, Democrats and Republicans in Congress remain far from a passable stimulus package, and little progress is expected until after the 2020 election. Until then, the American Ambulance Association remains focused on ensuring ambulance service providers and suppliers have the resources they need to continue combating the coronavirus. The AAA is keeping in contact with Congressional and Administration officials as we push for expanded federal relief for the EMS industry.
Not over yet
While negotiations between Congress and the White House have stalled, there are still opportunities to advance the needs of EMS. The federal Department of Health and Human Services holds $50 billion in unappropriated stimulus dollars in its Provider Relief Fund. The AAA and our members have been doing a full-court press on the White House to allocate part of the $50 billion for ground ambulance services. We at the AAA strongly encourage you to use our platform to contact your federal elected officials and urge them to appropriate an additional $2.62 billion from the Provider Relief Fund directly to ambulance service providers and suppliers
We would like to thank the hundreds of AAA members who have already written their elected officials about the need for increased funding for EMS using our new platform which makes contacting your federal elected officials as easy as a few clicks.
Help us help you
If you have not already done so, please use our platform to contact your Members of Congress and the White House to ensure EMS voices are heard during these unprecedented times.
Members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus plan to map out a recovery package they hope can push top Democrats and White House officials back to the negotiating table…
A bipartisan group of 50 centrist lawmakers plans on Tuesday to present a $1.5 trillion plan to prop up the coronavirus-ravaged economy, making a last-ditch attempt to broach a compromise in hopes of breaking a stalemate in stimulus talks before November’s elections.
The proposal faces long odds amid partisan divisions over what should be included in such a package, and members of the group — which calls itself the House Problem Solvers Caucus — concede privately that their framework stands little chance of becoming law. But the decision to offer it up publicly reflects frustration among rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties at the failure by their leaders to agree to another round of pandemic aid, and a reluctance to return home weeks before Election Day without cementing such help.
This week’s Kaiser Health News piece on surprise coverage includes less than a paragraph of the information provided by AAA Executive Director Maria Bianchi and Communications Chair Rob Lawrence. AAA is deeply disappointed by the lack of balance and inadequate representation of the EMS perspective in this coverage.