Permanent Medicare Ambulance Relief

Ambulance services are an essential piece of our local and national health care and emergency response systems. The majority of ambulance services are small businesses that provide jobs and support to their local communities.  Unfortunately, services throughout the country are facing serious financial crisis due to below-cost Medicare Reimbursement.  In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report which clearly showed that, in the absence of temporary Medicare relief, Medicare reimburses ambulance service providers below cost.

You can support the efforts of the AAA and push for permanent Medicare ambulance relief by contacting your members of Congress.  We urge you to use the AAA’s online writing tool to write your members of Congress in less than 2 minutes.

Ask your members of Congress to Co-sponsor S. 377 and H.R. 745!

Currently, as part of temporary Medicare relief, ambulance services receive a 2% urban, 3% rural or super rural add-on payment for each transport. The 2012 GAO report found that ambulance service providers are reimbursed 1% below cost when temporary Medicare relief is not taken into account.  The GAO report likely underestimates the financial difficulties facing ambulance service providers as the report did not take into account many other factors such as the expiration of a temporary GPCI add-on, productivity adjustments, a new fractional mileage policy, or increased fuel costs.

For these reasons, the American Ambulance Association is working tirelessly to win permanent Medicare relief for ambulance service providers.  Even with the current 33-month extension of ambulance Medicare relief, it is extremely difficult for ambulance services to budget and prepare for the uncertainties of the future.

Permanent Medicare Relief Bill

Early last year, the American Ambulance Association was successful in getting the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act of 2015 (S. 377, H.R. 745) introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  This critical legislation would help the ambulance industry move into the future by doing the following:

– Provides Medicare ambulance relief by permanently incorporating the current temporary 2% urban, 3% rural, and super rural bonus payments into the Medicare ambulance fee schedule rates.

– Requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to submit a report to Congress detailing the features of a reformed payment system for ambulance services under the Medicare program.

– Modifies the process for the transport of dialysis patients by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a process for the prior authorization of coverage for patients.

– Defines all who provide ambulance services as “providers” under Medicare.

– Specifies CMS to work with stakeholders in the development of a data collection system for ambulance providers that defines the various types of ambulance entities as well as the relevant cost and data elements required for submission.

What You Can Do to Help

As is customary, Congress is scheduled to take an extended recess at the beginning of August through Labor Day in September.  That means that most Members of Congress will be spending a large portion of time in their states and districts.  This presents a great opportunity for members of the AAA and all ambulance service providers to meet with their legislators.

The AAA asks that you invite your members of Congress to participate in an Ambulance Ride-Along during the months of July, August and September.  Conducting a ride-along with legislators is one of the most effective ways to showcase all that you do for the community and what your legislator can do for you.  The American Ambulance Association recently released the 2015 version of the Ambulance Ride-Along toolkit to guide you through the process.

Permanent Medicare relief and the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act of 2015 will be critical for ambulance services moving into the future.  We invite you to join our push for permanent Medicare relief.

The Fairness in Ambulance Reimbursement Act

On July 11, 2014, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a proposed rule for the 2015 Medicare Fee Schedule (PFS) that adjusted ZIP code classifications for ground ambulance reimbursement based on 2010 data. The proposed rule initially indicated that only 122 ZIP codes would be reclassified from rural to urban in 2015.  However, the final PFS rule, which was published on November 13, 2014, re-designated 3000 ZIP codes from rural to urban. Thanks to work by the AAA’s legislative team, champions on Capitol Hill, members and other organizations, on December 16, 2014, CMS once again revised the ZIP codes that would be adjusted from rural to urban to 1,599.

CMS’s error, which contributed to the drastic changes from the proposed rule in July to the final rule in December, effectively denied interested parties the opportunities to participate in the notice and comment process and did not give ambulance service providers enough time to process and adjust for their losses.

The Fairness in Ambulance Reimbursement Act of 2015

The Fairness in Ambulance Reimbursement Act of 2015 (H.R. 817) would delay implementation of the rural to urban ZIP code reclassification until January 1, 2016, which would provide ambulance services with the necessary time to evaluate and respond to recent changes made by CMS.  This legislation is critical to ensure that ambulance services have needed funding and that Medicare beneficiaries continue to have access to high quality medical care as they are transported to hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

What You Can Do to Help

Unlike the permanent Medicare relief bill, the changes in zip codes to do not affect every ambulance service in the country.  That being said, we invite AAA members, organizations, and individuals to support our efforts to delay implementation of the zip code reclassification.  Cosponsors and support for the bill are still needed.  Please reach out to your members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor and support this important piece of legislation.  If this issue will affect you and your service, raise the issue with your legislators during your ambulance ride-along

Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB)

For many years, one of the top legislative priorities of the AAA has been the expansion of the Public Safety Officer’s Benefits (PSOB) to all private emergency medical services (EMS) professionals.  Originally, Congress established the PSOB program to provide assistance to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMT) in the event of a death in the line of duty.  However, the benefits only apply to those public safety officers employed by a federal, state, or local government entity or a private non-profit emergency medical services agency or company.

Paramedics and EMTs employed by a private, for-profit EMS company provide identical services to their governmental and private non-profit counterparts and do so daily in the same dangerous environments. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is presently reviewing its guidelines on “active shooter” and may revise its policy of paramedics and EMTs waiting until a scene is secure before entering to provide urgent medical care to a victim. While paramedics and EMTs employed by private EMS companies already put the lives of others first, the review of the FEMA guidelines as federal policy puts a greater emphasis on the need to apply the federal PSOB program to all first responders.

The Dale Long Act, 2012

In 2012, our voice was heard when the Dale Long Act (S. 385, Public Law 112-239) was signed into legislation.  The act extends the PSOB program to employees and volunteer members of non-profit EMS organizations.  While we would have liked to see the benefits extended to all EMS professionals, both public and private, we celebrated the victory and continue to fight for complete coverage.

It is inequitable to penalize dedicated public safety officers and their families simply because of their employer type and it is now time for Congress to fully correct this disparity and legislate that the PSOB program cover those paramedics and EMTs employed by a private EMS company.

What You Can Do to Help

Currently, the AAA is continuing efforts to find House and Senate sponsors for expansion of the PSOB to for-profit service providers.  In the past, members of Congress have been motivated to act by specific examples of inequity within their states and districts.  If you have a strong relationship with your elected officials and feel that you can help with this issue, please contact Tristan North, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, at tnorth@ambulance.org.