Earlier today, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) introduced the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2023. The legislation would extend the temporary Medicare ambulance add-on payments for an additional three years.
“We thank Senators Cortez Masto, Collins, Stabenow, and Cassidy for introducing the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act and for their strong support for ground ambulance services and the communities and patients we serve,” said AAA President Randy Strozyk. “The disparity between Medicare reimbursement and the costs of providing services has grown significantly through reductions in reimbursement and skyrocketing expenses for labor, ambulances, and equipment. This bill would help reduce that gap and maintain access to vital ground ambulance services for communities around the country.”
The Senate version of the bill would go even further by increasing the add-on payment levels for urban from 2% to 3.4% urban, for rural from 3% to 4.3% rural and for super rural from 22.6% 26.2%. The last extension of the add-on payments was scheduled to end on December 31, 2022, but our champions on Capitol Hill were able to secure a two-year extension through December 31, 2024. The additional three-year extension is critical to keep the add-on payments in place through ambulance data collection and provide time to Congress to then use the data to reform the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.
Representatives Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Buddy Carter (R-GA) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced the House version (H.R. 1666) of the bill on March 17. The House bill would be a three-year extension of the add-on payments at their present levels.
This progress is the result of tireless advocacy on the part of AAA volunteer leaders, staff, and consultants made possible by the sustained support of our members. It is critical that AAA members reach out to both their Senators and Representatives to cosponsor the respective versions of the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Services Act of 2023. It is vital that we generate a groundswell of support in the Congress for extending the add-on payments and will need that support to then also advocate for the higher add-on percentages when Congress negotiates on Medicare payment extensions.
The AAA has sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough asking him to delay the implementation of a final rule that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to reimburse at the lower of billable charges or Medicare rates for certain non-contracted ambulance services. The proposed rule was issued back in 2020 but we understand that the VA could now issue the final rule in January 2023. GMR has been advocating on Capitol Hill for a delay in air and ground ambulance services. The AAA will be issuing later today a request for AAA members to reach out to the VA to also request the delay.
December 12, 2022
The Honorable Denis McDonough
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary McDonough,
The American Ambulance Association (AAA) respectfully requests that the Department delay release and implementation of the final rule on the “Change in Rates VA Pays for Special Modes of Transportation (RIN 2900-AP89).” Reimbursing for services to veterans at Medicare rates would have dire consequences for the ability of ground ambulance service organizations to provide lifesaving 9-1-1 emergency and also interfacility ambulance services not only to veterans but entire communities. We ask that the Department delay the rule until after Congress has had an opportunity to act on the results from the Medicare ambulance data collection system which is currently underway.
As documented by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2007 and 2012, the Medicare program reimburses ground ambulance service organizations below the cost of providing their services when temporary add-ons are not considered. Since 2012, the disparity between the cost of providing ambulance services and reimbursement by Medicare has only increased through sequestration cuts, a reduction in inflation updates, and other Medicare payment policy changes. Ground ambulance service organizations are already facing difficult financial straits and cannot
sustain a reduction in reimbursement from another federal payor.
Ground ambulance service organizations serve as the foundation for emergency medical response for veterans and communities throughout the country. Our members are a vital component of our local and national health care and 9-1-1 emergency response systems and serve as lifelines of medical care for many rural and underserved communities. However, our ability to continue to serve communities is already at risk due to inadequate reimbursement and access to care for veterans would be further jeopardized if the Department were to reimburse at lower levels for ground ambulance services.
The AAA is the primary association for ground ambulance service organizations, including governmental entities, volunteer services, private for-profit, private not-for-profit, and hospital-based ambulance services. Our members provide emergency and non-emergency medical transportation services to more than 75 percent of the U.S. population. AAA members serve
patients in all 50 states and provide services in urban, rural, and super-rural areas.
Again, we request that you delay the release and implementation of the final rule on the “Change in Rates VA Pays for Special Modes of Transportation”.
If you have any questions regarding our request, please do not hesitate to have a member of your staff contact AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North. Tristan can be reached by phone at (202) 802-9025 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today appointed American Ambulance Association President Shawn Baird to the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee (GAPBAC), established by the Congress under “The No Surprises Act.” Shawn will represent the ground ambulance service provider and field personnel community.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve,” stated Baird. “I look forward to representing the interests of EMS providers and professionals as they care for our communities.
The Congress recognizes that the one-size-fits all approach to addressing surprise medical bills would not work for EMS. State and local governments regulate EMS agencies services and rates, as both first responders and medical care providers, which adds another level of complexity. As a result, the Congress established GAPBAC so the unique characteristics of ground ambulance services could be taken into consideration when evaluating private insurer billing policies to protect access to EMS, respect state and local government regulation, and protect patients.
Patients with private insurance should not be caught in the middle when their insurers do not adequately reimburse for vital ground ambulance services,” said Baird. “EMS must receive fair reimbursement by insurance companies for providing critical medical services to patients.”
Baird will bring to the Committee his years of firsthand experience and expertise as a paramedic and operator of an ambulance service in both urban and rural areas. He will also share knowledge gained from his years of volunteer leadership at the American Ambulance Association and the Oregon State Ambulance Association, as well as his term as an appointee to the National EMS Advisory Committee.
The GAPBAC is charged with “reviewing options to improve the disclosure of charges and fees for ground ambulance services, better inform consumers of insurance options for such services, and protect consumers from balance billing.” The Committee will submit a report that includes recommendations with respect to disclosure of charges and fees for ground ambulance services and insurance coverage, consumer protection and enforcement authorities of the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury and State authorities, and the prevention of balance billing to consumers. The report must be received no later than 180 days after the date of its first meeting.
About the American Ambulance Association
The American Ambulance Association safeguards the future of mobile healthcare through advocacy, thought leadership, and education. AAA advances sustainable EMS policy, empowering our members to serve their communities with high-quality on-demand healthcare. For more than 40 years, we have proudly represented those who care for people first.
The temporary Medicare ambulance increases are scheduled to expire at the end of the year at a time when our industry is facing unprecedented financial challenges. In addition to extending the Medicare add-on payments for five years, the AAA is asking Congress to increase the 2% urban rate to 3.4%; the 3% rural rate to 4.3%; and the super rural 22.6% rate to 26.7% to help address the crisis.
The Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021 (S. 2037, H.R. 2454) by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL), Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) would extend the temporary Medicare ground ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment for five years and help ensure that rural zip codes remain rural under the Medicare fee schedule following the upcoming zip code reclassification based on 2020 Census data.
These bills are essential to ensuring access for all patients to vital emergency and non-emergency care, but they still do not bring payment rates up to a level that covers the increased cost of labor and other expenditures. We ask that you write to your members of Congress to cosponsor S. 2037 or H.R. 2454 and support increasing the percentages to 3.4% urban, 4.3% rural and 26.7% for the super rural bonus payment.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) like ambulances and hospitals are in crisis in rural America. EMS is not considered an essential service in the same way that fire and police departments are, and so they don’t receive the same funding. Paramedics and EMTs often make half the salary that nurses do.
Join us as we travel to the Mississippi River Delta to see how EMS crews are coping with a collapsing health care system.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) like ambulances and hospitals are in crisis in rural America. EMS is not considered an essential service in the same way that fire and police departments are, and so they don’t receive the same funding. Paramedics and EMTs often make half the salary that nurses do. Join us as we travel to the Mississippi River Delta to see how EMS crews are coping with a collapsing health care system.
Last night, the United States Senate passed language as part of the FY 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Package that would delay the due date of the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC) report analyzing ambulance cost data. The U.S. House of Representatives had passed the package on Wednesday. The delay in the MedPAC report is a victory for the AAA and our members as we spearheaded efforts for the delay.
We thank Senators Chuck Schumer, Catherine Cortez Masto, Ron Wyden, Mike Crapo and Debbie Stabenow and Representatives Richard Neal, Kevin Brady, Frank Pallone and Catherine McMorris Rogers for championing and assisting with passage of the provision.
The delay in the timing of the MedPAC report was necessary due to CMS postponing the beginning of ambulance cost data collection by two years to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though data collection had been delayed, MedPAC indicated that they were compelled to stick to the statutory deadline of issuing a report – with very little or no new ambulance data – to Congress by March 15, 2023.
With little to no new data, MedPAC would have likely reinstated their recommendations from their 2002 ambulance report which did support most of the temporary ambulance increases but at the cost of cutting BLS non-emergency services by 5.75%. MedPAC had also recommended doing away with rural and super rural increases in favor of a low volume adjuster which would disrupt reimbursement levels for rural providers without having more detailed data if indeed the proper approach.
The language from the FY2022 Omnibus Appropriations Package is as follows:
SEC. 311. REVISION OF THE TIMING OF MEDPAC REPORT ON AMBULANCE COST DATA.
Section 1834(l)(17)(F)(i) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1395m(l)(17)(F)(i)) is amended by striking ‘‘Not later than March 15, 2023, and as determined necessary by the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission thereafter’’ and inserting ‘‘Not later than the second June 15th following the date on which the Secretary transmits data for the first representative sample of providers and suppliers of ground ambulance services to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, and as determined necessary by such Commission thereafter,’’.
Next week, we will be launching a Call to Action asking AAA members to reach out to their members of Congress to cosponsor the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act (H.R. 2454, S. 2037) Medicare Ambulance which would extend the temporary Medicare ambulance increases for five years. The increases expire at the end of this year and the five-year extension is necessary to provide time for the MedPAC report and the Congress to act.
Our nation’s EMS infrastructure is at risk. Ground ambulance service organizations are facing a financial crisis due to the lack of adequate reimbursement for their services and a crippling shortage of paramedics and EMTs. If Congress does not act soon, the situation will become worse with an additional 4% sequestration cut for all Medicare providers and suppliers including for ground ambulance services. Our nation’s 9-1-1 EMS infrastructure is at risk.
Place follow the link below to contact your members of Congress and ask that they protect ground emergency and non-emergency ambulance services in our communities.
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
Do you have questions about the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System? We are holding a live Q&A session on December 14, 2021 at 2:00 pm. Please send questions in advance to AmbulanceDataCollection@cms.hhs.gov with “December 14 Q&A” in the subject line. We will answer your questions that you submitted in advance during the call or participants may also submit live questions using the “Q&A” button at the bottom of your Zoom screen. In addition, we will update documents on our Ambulances Services Center webpage with answers to common questions from this session.
HHS Announces the Availability of $25.5 Billion in COVID-19 Provider Funding
This morning the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it will be making $25.5 billion in new funding available for healthcare providers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding, available through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will include $8.5 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) resources for providers who serve rural Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or Medicare patients, and an additional $17 billion for Provider Relief Fund (PRF) Phase 4 for a broad range of providers who can document revenue loss and expenses associated with the pandemic.
Getting additional financial relief for ground ambulance service providers who are still struggling from the lost revenue and increased expenditures resulting from being on the frontlines of responding to the pandemic has been a top priority for the AAA. The AAA along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters, National Associations of EMTs and National Volunteer Fire Association have continually pressed HHS to release the remaining funds. We strongly encourage all AAA members to submit an application regardless of whether you have applied for previous rounds of funding.
Consistent with the requirements included in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2020, PRF Phase 4 payments will be based on providers’ lost revenues and expenditures between July 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021 (Q3 – Q4 2020 and Q1 2021). The PRF Phase 4 will reimburse smaller providers, who tend to operate on thin margins and often serve vulnerable or isolated communities, for their lost revenues and COVID-19 expenses at a higher rate compared to larger providers. PRF Phase 4 will also include bonus payments for providers who serve Medicaid, CHIP, and/or Medicare patients, who tend to be lower- income and have greater and more complex medical needs. HRSA will price these bonus payments at the generally higher Medicare rates to ensure equity for those serving low-income children, pregnant women, people with disabilities, and seniors.
Consistent with the focus of the ARPA, HRSA will make ARPA rural payments to providers based on the amount of Medicaid, CHIP, and/or Medicare services they provide to patients who live in rural areas as defined by the HHS Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. As rural providers serve a disproportionate number of Medicaid and CHIP patients who often have disproportionately greater and more complex medical needs, many rural communities have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Accordingly, ARP rural payments will also generally be based on Medicare reimbursement rates.
In the announcement, HHS stated that it would “expedite and streamline” the application process and minimize administrative burdens, providers will apply for both programs in a single application. HRSA will use existing Medicaid, CHIP and Medicare claims data in calculating payments. The application portal will open on September 29, 2021. HHS has stated that to ensure that these provider relief funds are used for patient care, PRF recipients will be required to notify the HHS Secretary of any merger with, or acquisition of, another health care provider during the period in which they can use the payments. They have stated that providers who report a merger or acquisition may be more likely to be audited to confirm their funds were used for coronavirus-related costs.
To promote transparency in the PRF program, HHS also released detailed information about the methodology utilized to calculate PRF Phase 3 payments. Providers who believe their PRF Phase 3 payment was not calculated correctly according to this methodology will now have an opportunity to request a reconsideration. HHS announced that additional details on the PRF Phase 3 reconsideration process will be released at a later date.
In addition, many of you attended the PRF Reporting Q&A AAA webinar yesterday with Asbel Montes, Brian Werfel, and Scott Moore. HHS has acknowledged the challenges facing many providers across the country due to recent natural disasters and the Delta variant, HHS announced a final 60-day grace period to help providers come into compliance with their PRF Reporting requirements if they fail to meet the deadline on September 30, 2021. While the deadlines to use funds and the Reporting Time Period will not change, HHS will not initiate collection activities or similar enforcement actions for non-compliant providers during this grace period.
Members can access more information about eligibility requirements, the documents and information providers will need to complete their application, and the application process for PRF Phase 4 and ARP Rural payments by visiting the HRSA website.
The combined application for American Rescue Plan rural funding and Provider Relief Fund Phase 4 will open on September 29, 2021. Like we have done with the previous rounds of HHS funding, we encourage all ambulance service providers to submit an application for this Phase 4 funding. If you have questions regarding this or any COVID-19 related questions, please contact email@example.com.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and the U.S. Treasury Department (Departments) have issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) on “surprise billing” that will take effect September 13, 2021. However, the Departments are taking comments on the IFR. While the Congress expressly excluded ground ambulance organizations from the statute that the IFR seeks to implement, the Departments have included a prohibition on balance billing for nonemergency ground ambulance transports that occur after a patient has been stabilized in a facility.
The Congress established an Advisory Committee to consider the best way to address balance billing in the context of ground ambulance services, and the Departments should wait to be advised by that group before subjecting nonemergency ground ambulance transports to the broader balancing billing prohibition.
It is important that the Departments hear from as many stakeholders as possible opposing this expansion of the law. To help you develop a comment letter, we provided the following template that we ask you to tailor to your experience and organization. Tailored letters will be of greater value to the Department as they consider the rules. At a minimum, please customize the templated language to insert information about who you are and where you operate.
On July 1, CMS issued a proposed rule on Surprise Billing which applies to those providers and physicians identified in the No Surprises Act. This statute subjected ground ambulance suppliers to an HHS Advisory Committee process prior to any rulemaking addressing these services.
The consultants and staff of the American Ambulance Association are doing a deep dive into the 400+ page rule and evaluating its nuances. We continue to understand from our conversations that ground ambulances are not included and instead are subjected to the Advisory Committee.