Talking Medicare: A Good Thing Poorly Explained

On April 13, 2018, CMS released two Transmittals, Transmittal 243 and Transmittal 4021, and a related MedLearns Matter Article (MM10550). Collectively, these documents clarify Medicare’s coverage of ambulance transportation of SNF residents in a stay not covered by Part B, but who have Part B benefits, to the nearest supplier of medically necessary services that are not available at the SNF. This clarification relates to both the ambulance transport to the site of medical care, and the return trip.

In order to properly understand the clarification, it is helpful to review Medicare’s coverage of ambulance transportation provided to SNF residents. At the onset, it is important to note that Medicare draws a distinction between the first 100 days of a beneficiary’s SNF stay, and any subsequent days of the same stay. The first 100 days are commonly referred to as the “Part A Period.” Under current Medicare rules, all ambulance transportation provided during the Part A Period is the financial responsibility of the SNF, unless a specific exemption applies. Outside the Part A Period, Medicare’s coverage rules generally mirror the rules applicable to ambulance transports that originate at the patient’s residence. However, there is an exception that relates to transportation to and from therapeutic or diagnostic sites (i.e., those facilities identified with the “D” modifier). This clarification relates to transportation to and from diagnostic sites.

Medicare rules are clear that transportation of an SNF resident outside the Part A Period for the purpose of receiving medically necessary care that could not be provided at the SNF will be covered to the extent the ambulance transportation was both medically reasonable and necessary. This is true regardless of the type of facility to which the patient is transported. In this context, the term “reasonable” refers to the costs of transporting the patient to the site of medical care. Where it is cheaper to bring the patient to the service (e.g., an MRI or CT scan), Medicare will cover the service. Where it is cheaper to bring the service to the patient (e.g., certain minor procedures), Medicare rules indicate that the transportation would not be covered.

In other words, once an SNF resident is outside the Part A Period, Medicare will cover a medically necessary ambulance transport to a diagnostic site provided that it is cheaper to transport the patient to that site than to transport the equipment needed to provide care to the SNF.

As you can imagine, determinations as to the reasonableness of a particular service can be quite subjective. Moreover, these determinations can typically only be made on a case-by-case basis, i.e., it is extremely difficult for Medicare Administrative Contractors to make such decisions without seeing the ambulance trip report and other supporting documentation. As a result, CMS has historically given its MACs broad discretion to make these determinations.

The MACs have elected to utilize this discretion in various ways. Some MACs have essentially elected to rely upon the ambulance provider to make such determinations prior to submitting the claims. These MACs have therefore elected not to implement front-end edits for such claims.

Other MACs have elected to issue an initial denial, and handle reasonableness determinations through the appeals process. These MACs do so by implementing edits into their claims processing system that automatically deny claims submitted with the “ND” modifiers. However, because Medicare coverage rules indicate that transportation from anywhere to an SNF may be covered, these MACs do not have a corresponding edit to deny claims submitted with the “DN” modifiers.

The result is various inconsistencies in the ways claims for these situations are handled. Depending on the MAC jurisdiction in which you operate, a claim for an ambulance transport from an SNF to a diagnostic site (“ND”) for a beneficiary outside the Part A Period may be paid or denied. For those of you that operate in jurisdictions where the MAC denies this claim, you may also see the return trip either paid or denied. Note: if the transportation to the diagnostic site is denied as not being “reasonable,” the return trip should be denied as well.

It is these inconsistencies that CMS is addressing. Essentially, CMS is instructing those MACs that use claims processing edits to deny the “ND” transport to remove those edits. The practical effect is to force the MACs to use some other criteria to determine whether the roundtrip is reasonable (and, therefore, covered by Medicare Part B).

Please note that the coverage rules and clarification summarized above applies only to therapeutic and diagnostic facilities. It does not apply to ambulance transportation to and from a physician’s office. With the narrow exception of emergency ambulance transportation to a physician’s office as an interim stop on the way to a hospital, such transportation has always been and remains a non-covered service.

While I believe the change is, on net, a positive one for the industry, I would caution against reading too much into this clarification. CMS is not indicating that these transports will be covered in all instances. CMS is simply saying that, with respect to the initial processing of claims, it is willing to sacrifice some potential accuracy for the sake of greater national consistency. CMS in not restricting its MACs from using other means to make reasonableness determinations, e.g., the use of development requests, prepayment review, etc. While it is reasonable to assume that most MACs will elect not to utilize these tools, only time will tell if that is indeed what comes to pass. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy one of those rare instances where CMS used common sense, and removed an additional burden on our industry.

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog?
Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

OSHA Updates & Reminders 2018

It is important that employers remember that they must post a copy of their OSHA Form 300A which is a summary of workplace injuries starting February 1, 2018 through April 30, 2018.  The OSHA Form 300A is a summary of all job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in an employer’s workplace during 2017.  If a company recorded no injuries or illnesses in 2018, the employer must enter “zero” on the total line. The form must be signed and certified by a company executive. The OSHA Form 300A Injury Summary must be displayed in a common area where notices to employees are usually posted.  In addition to posting these reports in the workplace, covered employers will have to electronically report their injury data on the Injury Tracking Application (ITA) by July 1, 2018.

Also, a reminder to employers who are subject to OSHA or to those who operate in a state with an OSHA approved state level plan, the penalty amounts for OSHA violations are increasing effective January 2, 2018.  In accordance with the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, the Department of Labor is required to adjust penalties for inflation each year. New penalties for willful and repeat violations are $129,336 per violation; serious, other-than-serious, and posting requirements are $12,934 per violation; and failure to correct violations is $12,934 for each day the condition continues.  The new penalty details can be found in the OSHA Enforcement Section of their website.

 

President’s Perspective: October 2017

Dear Fellow AAA Members,

As I reflect on the past few months, I am awed by the dedication of ambulance services across the nation as they responded to emergencies ranging from hurricanes to wildfires to the Las Vegas MCI. As always, EMS aided their communities with humanity, efficiency, and deep-rooted professionalism. The outcomes of each of these incidents would assuredly have been far worse without the selfless service of our fellow healthcare providers.

I was privileged to see this commitment to excellence firsthand as our staff at Sunstar responded to Hurricane Maria here in Florida, assisted by hundreds of EMTs, Paramedics, and strike team leaders who drove hours or days to help. Thanks to each of you for your service in our country’s time of need.

Advocacy Update

The AAA continues working hard to ensure the Medicare add-on payments don’t expire at the end of this year. In the Senate, S. 967 would make the add-on payments permanent. In the House, two versions of a bill (H.R. 3236, H.R. 3729) would extend the payments for five years. Extensions of Medicare provider provisions, including the ambulance add-on payments, will likely be addressed closer to the end of the year.

We have seen progress already in the House on the ambulance add-ons. On September 11, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up H.R. 3729, the Comprehensive Operations, Sustainability, and Transport Act of 2017. Similar to H.R. 3236, which the AAA supports, H.R. 3729 would extend the Medicare add-on payments for five years and require ambulance service suppliers to report cost data. However, H.R. 3729 would subject suppliers to an overpayment penalty which could potentially put all Medicare payments at risk for a supplier who does not submit timely, accurate, and complete data.

H.R. 3729 also includes a 22% across-the-board cut to all ambulance providers and suppliers for non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis centers. The 22% cut was the figure estimated as necessary to offset the cost of the five-year extension of the add-on payments. Since then, the AAA was able to demonstrate to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that our estimate of a five-year extension of the add-ons was the more appropriate approach. As a result, AAA has received a commitment from the Ways and Means Committee to lower the amount of any cut to cover the lower estimate. However, the AAA opposes any across-the-board cut and is working with the Committee and the bill sponsors to focus on addressing fraud and abuse within the dialysis transport benefit.

The AAA is working with key congressional offices as well as industry stakeholders to make changes to H.R. 3729. We remain hopeful that we can come to a consensus on these outstanding issues.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, S. 967 is up to 12 co-sponsors with the addition of Sen. Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Boozman (R-AR), and Sen. Cassidy (R-LA). AAA encourages members to continue reaching out to their Senators to ask them to co-sponsor S. 967. The AAA will keep you updated on our progress working on extending the add-ons. Thank you for your continued support.

AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show

As we face this challenging political and regulatory climate, it is essential that ambulance leaders stay abreast of new developments and best practices in reimbursement, operations, leadership, and human resources. In addition to myriad industry experts, this year’s AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show program features three inspiring keynotes—Steven M.R. CoveyMel Robbins, and Dr. Zubin “ZDoggMD” Damania—plus a ceremony honoring AMBY Award winners for their community impact.

I hope that you will join me and hundreds of our colleagues for networking, learning, and fun in Las Vegas November 13–15. Online registration for Annual is open now.

AAA Board Election

It’s that time again! The 2017 AAA Board of Directors election is underway. This year, active members will elect Regional Directors (Regions 1–5) and new members of the Ethics Committee. Voting opened on Wednesday, October 11th, and closes at 11:59pm Eastern on Thursday, November 2nd. Best of luck to all of the candidates! (If you are the primary contact for an active member organization and did not receive your e-ballot, please contact acamas@ambulance.org.)

Renew Your Support of AAA

Has your organization yet renewed its AAA membership? Your continued support is critically important as AAA fights for fair ambulance reimbursement. Membership also include benefits such as free use of the Savvik Buying Group, complimentary CISM and EAP-based counseling for your employees, and access to industry experts on Medicare, operations, and HR.

If you have already renewed, please accept our most sincere thanks. If you have not yet submitted payment for this year’s membership, I encourage you to renew online or reach out to staff at info@ambulance.org for assistance.

Capital Campaign

Lastly, many of you are aware that during my presidency I began a Capital Campaign to raise $1,000,000 to help sustain our organization and to increase our “rainy day” fund. The funds raised by this effort can only be used in the case of a majority vote by the Board of Directors.

Today, we have raised $250,000 of the $1,000,000 goal, for which I am grateful to our member supporters. But this is not enoughwe need to be strong when a crises hits our industry and we must deploy more resources for our advocacy programs. If you have already given, I would ask that you consider another commitment to this fund. If you have not already contributed, I respectfully ask you to support your national association as it works to fight for the future of ambulance services. Thank you in advance! Contribute online now.

It continues to be my pleasure to serve so many talented, dedicated healthcare professionals. Thank you again for your service, and I look forward to seeing you at AAA Annual in Las Vegas!

—POST!
Mark Postma—President
American Ambulance Association
Representing EMS in America

Is the TX Moratorium Ending?

Is CMS Ending the Temporary Moratorium on Enrollment of New Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Providers in Texas?

On September 2, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted a notice on its website that it was lifting the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017.  CMS indicated that the lifting of this temporary moratorium was intended to aid in the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey.

For reasons I will discuss in greater detail below, this explanation has struck a number of commentators as curious.  These commentators have speculated that this may notice may foretell a permanent elimination of the enrollment moratorium for non-emergency ground ambulance providers in Texas.

Background on Temporary Moratorium on New Enrollments in Texas

The Affordable Care Act granted CMS several new tools to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Programs.  This included Section 6401(a), which granted the CMS Secretary the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP providers to the extent the Secretary determined that doing was necessary to prevent fraud and abuse.

The implementation of the first enrollment moratorium under this new authority was made on July 30, 2013, when CMS announced enrollment moratoria on new home health agencies in Chicago, Illinois, and Miami, Florida, as well as on new ground ambulance suppliers in the Houston, Texas metropolitan area.  On January 30, 2014, CMS expanded the enrollment moratorium on new ground ambulance suppliers to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania metropolitan area.  CMS subsequently extended these enrollment moratoria every 6 months thereafter, up to July 29, 2016.  On that date, CMS announced that it was making several significant changes to the enrollment moratoria:

  1. It was lifting the moratoria on the enrollment of new emergency ground ambulance suppliers in both areas;
  2. At the same time, it was expanding the moratorium on the enrollment of new non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers to the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

CMS further announced the creation of an “Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration” program that would permit non-emergency ambulance providers in those states to apply for a waiver (i.e., to permit them to enroll in the Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP Programs) to the extent they could demonstrate an access to care issue.

Temporary Lifting or Permanent Elimination?

The Medicare enrollment process is a lengthy one.  Following the submission of an enrollment form (CMS-855b), it typically takes the Medicare contractor up to 60 days to review the form and approve it.  Moreover, the Medicare contractor will frequently request additional information, which can add up to several months to the process.  Once approved by the Medicare contractor, the application is passed along to the Site Review Contractor for a visit to the enrollee’s physical practice locations.  All told, it is not unusual for the process to take 4-6 months from start to finish.  The time limits for enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP are similar.

It seems unlikely that a ground ambulance supplier that temporarily responded to the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey would go through the enrollment process, especially considering they would likely be seeking reimbursement for their efforts either directly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its contractor, or through the existing 1135a waiver program.  For this reason, it seems logical to assume that an ambulance supplier would only go through the enrollment process only if it intends to permanently establish operations in the affected area.

Editor’s Note: it is possible that CMS intended to address storm damage to an enrolled provider’s existing practice locations, i.e., the lifting of the moratorium would make it easier for these providers to add additional practice locations while they repaired their existing facilities.  However, there is nothing in CMS’ website notice that suggests that this was intended to be limited to existing enrolled providers.  This is simply speculation on my part.

CMS indicated that it would be publishing a notice in the Federal Register formally announcing the lifting of the enrollment moratorium.  A month ago, it was assumed by most commentators (myself included) that the notice would make clear that the lifting of the moratorium was temporary, and that it would set a date for its re-establishment.  However, it has now been more than a month since CMS announced the lifting of the moratorium, and that notice has yet to appear in the Federal Register.  The longer we go without an announcement from CMS, the more this starts to look like a permanent lifting of the moratorium.

What This Means Today to Non-Emergency Ambulance Suppliers in Texas

The lifting of this moratorium applies to new enrollments in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  Therefore, as of today, and pending a subsequent re-establishment of the enrollment moratorium by CMS, Part B ground ambulance suppliers in Texas that are not otherwise enrolled as non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers will now be permitted to enroll in the Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Programs.  The lifting of the moratorium will also permit companies that are already enrolled as non-emergency ambulance suppliers to add additional practice locations throughout the state.  CMS has indicated that both new enrollments and changes in enrollment to add additional practice locations will be subject to “high” screening under 42 C.F.R. §424.518(c)(3)(iii).


Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog?  Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

Trump Administration Interim HHS Rule

In a surprising announcement by the Trump Administration late Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the Administration released an interim rule that rolled back the Obama Administration rules regarding the requirement of employer sponsored health plans to pay for “preventative services” which included birth control and abortion procedures under religious or moral objections. The move has initiated legal action by the Attorney General in Massachusetts who announced yesterday that she has filed a suit in U.S. District Court yesterday.

Key facts about the interim final rules:

  • The regulations exempt entities only from providing an otherwise mandated item to which they object on the basis of their religious beliefs or moral conviction.
  • The regulation leaves in place preventive services coverage guidelines where no religious or moral objection exists. The Administration is asserting that out of millions of employers in the U.S., these exemptions would only impact about 200 entities.
  • Current law itself already exempts over 25 million people from the preventive-care mandate because they are insured through an entity that has a health insurance plan that existed prior to the Obamacare statute.
  • The regulations leave in place government programs that provide free or subsidized contraceptive coverage to low income women, such as through community health centers.
  • These regulations do not ban any drugs or devices.
  • The mandate as defined by the previous administration suffered defeats in court after court, including the Supreme Court, which ruled that the government cannot punish business owners for their faith.

Employers can read the final version of the interim rule. With certainty, there will be numerous legal challenges regarding these rules. We will keep our members updated regarding these new rules and the legal challenges as they develop.

EMS.gov Ambulance Crash Data

NHTSA’s Office of EMS has partnered with a number of organizations, Federal agencies and U.S. Department of Transportation offices to develop resources that help EMS agencies understand ambulance crashes, transport patients safely, report ambulance and equipment defects and build or buy safer ambulances.

Download the ambulance crash infographic►
Visit the site today►

Talking Medicare: CMS Transmittal 236

On June 16, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released Transmittal 236. This Transmittal makes some minor changes to Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. Specifically, CMS is clarifying its definitions related to the “ALS assessment” and “locality.” The change to the locality definition has prompted some discussion within the industry as to the impact on Medicare’s reimbursement for mileage beyond the nearest appropriate facility. In this month’s blog, I will explain the recent change, and hopefully convince you that this isn’t something that should cause you undue concern.

Medicare’s Definition of “Locality”

The definition of “locality” appears in Section 10.3.5 of Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. That definition reads as follows:

The term “locality” with respect to ambulance service means the service area surrounding the institution to which individuals normally travel or are expected to travel to receive hospital or skilled nursing services.

CMS then includes the following example to explain how that definition should be applied to real world situations:

EXAMPLE: Mr. A becomes ill at home and requires ambulance service to the hospital. The small community in which he lives has a 35-bed hospital. Two large metropolitan hospitals are located some distance from Mr. A’s community and both regularly provide hospital services to the community’s residents. The community is within the “locality” of both metropolitan hospitals and direct ambulance service to either of these (as well as to the local community hospital) is covered.

Conceptually, the locality definition is intended to address situations where there are several local options that residents of a community could choose for the receipt of necessary medical care. CMS recognizes that a strict adherence to its general policy of only covering mileage to the nearest appropriate facility would undermine a patient’s right to choose from these various institutional health care providers. The locality definition ensures that, when the two or more facilities are reasonably close to one another, the patient can safely choose the further facility without fear that they may end up being responsible for some incremental portion of the mileage.

The Proposed Clarification

Effective September 18, 2017, Transmittal 236 adds the following sentence to the end of the current definition of locality:

The MACs have the discretion to define locality in their service areas.

Analysis of the Proposed Clarification

The first question that should be asked is whether this clarification is actually a change in CMS policy? I would argue that it not, as Medicare Administrative Contractors have always had the discretion to define what constitutes the “locality” for an ambulance transport. For that reason, I view the purpose of this Transmittal as simply clarifying “who” (i.e., CMS vs. the MACs) has the primary responsibility for making these determinations.

Nor do I believe that this clarification is being made in response to potential abuse of the locality issue, either by providers billing for excess mileage under an expansive reading of “locality” or by the MACs in processing claims. Rather, I think this clarification is being made in response to repeated questions from the provider community, both on Open Door Forums and at state association meetings with their MACs. In other words, I think CMS is simply making clear that concerns regarding locality should be raised with the MACs, rather than CMS itself.

The Transmittal does leave open the possibility that MACs could impose their own definitions of locality. However, as I noted above, they already have this authority. I am not aware of any MAC ever electing to define the issue. Typically, the MAC will simply restate the CMS Manual definition of locality in its LCD.

So why have MACs been reluctant, up to this point, to define localities? I think it has to do with the administrative burden that would be involved. First and foremost, the MAC would need to have a sense of the larger demographic trends that dictate patient referral patterns in any given area. While that information is available, in theory, it is not available in any way that is readily useable by the MAC. Moreover, as the test focuses on what is “normal” or “expected” for patients, this would be a moving target, as patient preferences change over time, new facilities open, other facilities close or change the services they offer, etc. Thus, to the extent a MAC defined a locality, it would be constantly forced to revisit that definition every so often.  Finally, the MAC would have to make allowances for transports that are outside the locality, but where the patient is seeking specialized care that may not be available within the locality.

In sum, defining the locality for even a single community would be a significant administrative burden on the MAC. When you consider that there are hundreds, if not thousands of distinct communities within each state, you can understand the MACs reluctance to offer specific guidance on this approach.

Instead, I believe that the MACs will continue to address the mileage issue in the same way they have done up to this point. Most MACs have imposed an upper limit on the mileage they will pay without question. This upper mileage limit may be for its entire MAC Jurisdiction, it could be statewide, or it could have two or more mileage limits for a particular state.  For example, some MACs use a smaller mileage edit for transports that originate in and around a major metropolitan center, and a larger mileage edit for transports in the more rural areas of a state.

This approach offers a number of administrative benefits to the MAC.  First, it limits the number of claims that run afoul of the edit, and therefore that potentially may need to be reviewed by the MAC on appeal.  It also offers clarity to the provider community.

So, if your MAC has previously indicated that it has a mileage edit, I think you can safely assume that this will continue to be the guiding principle used by the MAC after the effective date. If the MAC doesn’t have a published mileage edit, I don’t think that is likely to change come September.

I would suggest that ambulance providers continue to monitor their remittances. If you are seeing mileage over a certain amount consistently denied by the MAC, that is their mileage edit. Please note that the MAC is not indicating this mileage is never covered, just that it has determined that it will not necessarily pay this higher number of miles without seeing the underlying documentation. In other words, the MAC is putting the burden on you to prove that the entire mileage was covered. If you are not seeing mileage being denied, I wouldn’t expect that to change either. I hope this helps to put everyone’s mind at ease.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July.

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog? Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

Now On-Demand: Member Government Affairs Webinar

The American Ambulance Association (AAA) hosted the Government Affairs and Member Forum on June 29 to provide an update on legislation on the expiring temporary Medicare ambulance add-on payments, the immediate and long-term goals of AAA on Medicare reform, and how members can get involved with ambulance service-related issues. Mark Postma, president of AAA, and a panel of experts covered varied topics, including where Senate Bill S.967 stands and what changes might occur within the industry, and then fielded questions from members to offer a better understanding of regulatory issues and what’s happening in Washington.

“We put a forum together at this critical time because we currently have a Senate bill to make the add-on permanent, and we’ve been working on a House bill for a long-term extension of the add-ons to be dropped soon,” said Postma. “We have been working diligently to get the appropriate bills introduced, to keep the Medicare extenders and other items that we’ll discuss in this forum.”

Capitol Hill Landscape

The Senate “Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act” (S.967) has bipartisan support and is currently being championed Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The bill would make permanent the temporary Medicare add-ons, treat ambulance service suppliers more like providers, cut down on dialysis transport fraud and abuse, and implement our preferred cost-data collection system that is beneficial, not burdensome, to ambulance services.

The AAA is currently working on the language for a bill to introduce the House of Representatives. While the bill has yet to be introduced, the AAA is collaborating with our House supporters and Committee staff to put together a bill that, at the very least, extends the Medicare add-ons for five years.  The bill will also include cost-data reporting on which the AAA is negotiating the final details.

“This year really is critical for us,” said Tristan North, senior vice president of government affairs for AAA. “We need to make sure  the Medicare add-on payments don’t expire on December 31.”

Going Forward

The panel discussed immediate, intermediate, and long-term goals to improve the ambulance fee schedule in the foreseeable future. The pending legislation covers many of the immediate goals, but AAA consultant Kathy Lester offered information that could impact the industry in the future.

Lester talked about better defining nonemergency services, the “Uber-ization” of medical transport, and what community paramedicine means to ambulance service providers.

The panel agreed that members and the community need to show their support for legislation, causes, and issues that will shape the future of ambulance services. It was suggested that members advocate to their representatives and leaders—offering to take them on ambulance “ride-alongs,” writing letters, or showing up at government functions—and explain to them how important these pieces of legislation and resources are to the EMS profession.

“We’re working hard and hoping for change in the future,” AAA’s Chair of Government Affairs, Jamie Pafford-Gresham, said. “We need you professionals and the relationships you have with your elected officials… your voices matter to Congress and they matter to us.”

Watch On Demand

Download the PowerPoint

 

EMS Education – A Look Forward

I have always believed EMS parallels the career trajectory of nursing. This is especially true when you look at the infancy of nursing—1750 to 1893—in what was a subservient apprenticeship with no didactic education. “Most nurses working in the States received on-the-job training in hospital diploma schools. Nursing students initially were unpaid, giving hospitals a source of free labor. This created what many nurse historians and policy analysts see as a system that continues to undervalue nursing’s contribution to acute care.” (History Lesson: Nursing Education has evolved over the decades, 2012, para. 5).

We reached a turning point in 1893 when the Columbian Exposition met, and although Ms. Florence Nightingale was unavailable to attend, she did have a paper presented at the exposition. In essence, the paper proved that a well-educated nursing workforce with standards of practice was needed to improve the health care of the United States.

This is exactly where EMS is now. Young enough to have moved through our growing pains of the late ’60s and early ’70s, but lucky enough to be in an age of extensive medical growth where all levels of providers are looking to enhance the care being provided.

So where do we go from here? We can choose to keep the status quo or we can move forward, hopefully, at a much greater speed than our nursing brothers and sisters. We should consider moving away from being governed by the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A much more appropriate body is the Department of Health, which gives us the ability to stop thinking of our discipline as transport to the hospital, and more like bringing a hospital-like service to the to the sick and injured.

“EMS is a critical component of the nation’s healthcare system. Indeed, regardless of where they live, work or travel, people across the US rely on a sufficient, stable and well-trained workforce of EMS providers for help in everyday emergencies, large-scale incidents and natural disasters alike.” (“Education,” 2015, para. 1)

To get there, our education needs to reflect growth, and evidence-based medicine should be the law of the land. If this is proven to be effective, then let’s adopt it. If not, let’s stop teaching the worthless skills of yesterday, just as we have seen with the near extinction of the Long Spine Board. Let’s increase the minimum requirements for every level of provider. Let’s give Paramedics an associate’s degree, a diagnosis’s language, and a licensure, not a certification. Let’s all take the reins of our chosen career paths and have better continuing education that is challenging and accessible, and not an alphabet soup of certifications.

Yes, these are my musings about the future of EMS education. I know places that are very progressive in this country exist. I know there are protocol driven areas too. So let’s stop the segregation and become a health care group with a real mission, an everyday purpose. A place where we act as a group, not as individuals. A place where we treat our patients with the skill, compassion, and talent I know exists. Are you ready to join me?

Scott F. McConnell is Vice President of EMS Education for OnCourse Learning and one of the Founders of Distance CME. Since its inception in 2010, more than 10,000 learners worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings

References

Education. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.ems.gov/education.html

History Lesson: Nursing Education has evolved over the decades. (2012, November 12th, 2012). History Lesson: Nursing Education has evolved over the decades Blog post. Retrieved from https://www.nurse.com/blog/2012/11/12/history-lesson-nursing-education-has-evolved-over-the-decades-

 

OIG Releases SemiAnnual Report to Congress

The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS-OIG) recently issued the “Measuring Compliance Program Effectiveness: A Resource Guide“. The Guide was developed by a group of HHS-OIG professionals who wanted to provide a set of metrics by which health care providers can measure the elements of their compliance program. The authors recognize that not all the metrics are applicable to all health care providers but intended to be used as a guide. The Guide was released on March 27.

You can also read the full “Semiannual Report to Congress (October 1, 2016 – March 31, 2017)“.

CMS Letter Regarding Merit-Based Incentive Payment System

Over the past week, multiple members have contacted the American Ambulance Association to report that they have received a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) related to their participation in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). The letter appears to have been sent to any entity with a taxpayer identification number (TIN) that is enrolled in the Medicare Part B Program. The stated purpose of the letter is to inform the provider whether it is exempt from participation in the MIPS program.

This member advisory is being issued to advise ambulance suppliers that:

(1) they are not eligible to participate in the MIPS program
(2) no positive or negative adjustments will be made to the ambulance suppliers Medicare payments
(3) no further action is required on their part

Therefore, AAA members that received this letter can safely disregard it. 

 

CMS Issues Final Market Stabilization Rule

On Thursday, April 13, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final “Marketplace Stabilization Rule”. This is the final version of a rule that was first proposed on February 15, 2017. Last month, AAA consultant, Kathy Lester, published a blog post explaining the then proposed rule (“Administration’s Proposed Rule on Marketplace Stabilization”).

The final rule makes several policy changes to improve the market and promote stability, including:

    • 2018 Annual Open Enrollment Period: The final rule adjusts the annual open enrollment period for 2018 to more closely align with Medicare and the private market. The next open enrollment period will start on November 1, 2017, and run through December 15, 2017, encouraging individuals to enroll in coverage prior to the beginning of the year.
    • Reduce Fraud, Waste, and Abuse:  The final rule promotes program integrity by requiring individuals to submit supporting documentation for special enrollment periods and ensures that only those who are eligible are able to enroll. It will encourage individuals to stay enrolled in coverage all year, reducing gaps in coverage and resulting in fewer individual mandate penalties and help to lower premiums.
    • Promote Continuous Coverage: The final rule promotes personal responsibility by allowing issuers to require individuals to pay back past due premiums before enrolling into a plan with the same issuer the following year. This is intended to address gaming and encourage individuals to maintain continuous coverage throughout the year, which will have a positive impact on the risk pool.
    • Ensure More Choices for Consumers:  For the 2018 plan year and beyond, the final rule allows issuers additional actuarial value flexibility to develop more choices with lower premium options for consumers, and to continue offering existing plans.
    • Empower States & Reduce Duplication:  The final rule reduces waste of taxpayer dollars by eliminating duplicative review of network adequacy by the federal government.  The rule returns oversight of network adequacy to states that are best positioned to evaluate network adequacy.

Read the Final Rule

White House Memorandum on 2-for-1 Regulatory Order

On January 30, 2017, the Trump administration published Executive Order 13771 “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs” which requires federal agencies to identify two rules for elimination for each new regulation issued. On April 5, 2017, the White House released a memorandum providing additional guidance on the implementation of Executive Order 13771. This memo supplements Office of Management and Budget (OMB) interim guidance issued on February 2, clarifies how agencies can comply with the order and explains which new regulations must be offset. The memo also notes that federal spending regulatory actions that cause only income transfers between taxpayers and beneficiaries (such as regulations associated with Medicare spending), and those that establish new fees or penalties without imposing any new costs, do not need to be offset. The AAA will continue to monitor this executive order and keep you informed.

Read the full Memorandum

HHS Letter to Governors on Medicaid Changes

On Monday evening, the Senate confirmed Seema Verma, MPH, as the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). She has a strong background in Medicaid, and prior to her appointment worked as a consultant to several States seeking Medicaid waivers.

One of her first acts was to issue a letter to governors with Secretary Tom Price, MD, regarding the Medicaid program. The letter highlights several initiatives on which they are focusing with regard to Medicaid. Perhaps of most importance to the ambulance community is the section on “Aligning Medicaid and Private Insurance Policies for Non-Disabled Adults.” In this section, the Secretary and Administrator suggest that States:

may consider creating greater alignment between Medicaid’s design and benefit structure with common features of commercial health insurance, to help working age, non-pregnant, non-disabled adults prepare for private coverage. These state-led reforms could include, as allowed by law: …waivers of non-emergency transportation benefit requirements.

While it may be meaningful that the reference does not include “medical,” before transport, it is critically important that the AAA work to protect Medicaid beneficiary access to medically necessary non-emergency medical transports. Thus, the Medicare Regulatory Committee is developing a letter and considering additional engagement with CMS to clarify that the reference is to programs related to providing beneficiaries with the cost of taxis, buses, or other transportation options, but not to medically necessary non-emergency ambulance transports.

It is important that AAA members speak out on this issue with their governors and State Medicaid officials. The AAA has developed draft talking points to assist with these contacts as well.

Thank you for your attention to this critical issue.

Mark Postma
President, American Ambulance Association
Representing EMS in America

Thank you to AAA Consultant Kathy Lester, JD, of Lester Health Law for the analysis of this issue.

Senate Confirms Seema Verma as CMS Administrator

On Monday, the Senate voted 55-43 to confirm the nomination of Seema Verma to be the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Ms. Verma was involved in designing Indiana’s Medicaid expansion.

Ms. Verma will be working alongside HHS Secretary Price to help implement President Trump’s healthcare agenda.

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 Proposes Rule to Increase Patients’ 2018 Insurance Choices

This morning, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a proposed rule for 2018. The AAA is currently drafting a member advisory on this proposed rule and it will be released soon. The text of the rule is below.

The rule proposes new reforms that are critical to stabilizing the individual and small group health insurance markets to help protect patients. This proposed rule would make changes to special enrollment periods, the annual open enrollment period, guaranteed availability, network adequacy rules, essential community providers, and actuarial value requirements; and announces upcoming changes to the qualified health plan certification timeline.

“Americans participating in the individual health insurance markets deserve as many health insurance options as possible,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  “This proposal will take steps to stabilize the Marketplace, provide more flexibility to states and insurers, and give patients access to more coverage options. They will help protect Americans enrolled in the individual and small group health insurance markets while future reforms are being debated.”

The rule proposes a variety of policy and operational changes to stabilize the Marketplace, including:

  • Special Enrollment Period Pre-Enrollment Verification: The rule proposes to expand pre-enrollment verification of eligibility to individuals who newly enroll through special enrollment periods in Marketplaces using the HealthCare.gov platform. This proposed change would help make sure that special enrollment periods are available to all who are eligible for them, but will require individuals to submit supporting documentation, a common practice in the employer health insurance market. This will help place downward pressure on premiums, curb abuses, and encourage year-round enrollment.
  • Guaranteed Availability: The rule proposes to address potential abuses by allowing an issuer to collect premiums for prior unpaid coverage, before enrolling a patient in the next year’s plan with the same issuer. This will incentivize patients to avoid coverage lapses.
  • Determining the Level of Coverage: The rule proposes to make adjustments to the de minimis range used for determining the level of coverage by providing greater flexibility to issuers to provide patients with more coverage options.
  • Network Adequacy: The proposed rule takes an important step in reaffirming the traditional role of states to serve their populations. In the review of qualified health plans, CMS proposes to defer to the states’ reviews in states with the authority and means to assess issuer network adequacy. States are best positioned to ensure their residents have access to high quality care networks.
  • Qualified Health Plan (QHP) Certification Calendar: In the rule, CMS announces its intention to release a revised proposed timeline for the QHP certification and rate review process for plan year 2018. The revised timeline would provide issuers with additional time to implement proposed changes that are finalized prior to the 2018 coverage year. These changes will give issuers flexibility to incorporate benefit changes and maximize the number of coverage options available to patients.
  • Open Enrollment Period: The rule also proposes to shorten the upcoming annual open enrollment period for the individual market. For the 2018 coverage year, we propose an open enrollment period of November 1, 2017, to December 15, 2017.  This proposed change will align the Marketplaces with the Employer-Sponsored Insurance Market and Medicare, and help lower prices for Americans by reducing adverse selection.

Read the Proposed Rule

David Shulkin Confirmed as VA Secretary

The Senate voted Monday to confirm David Shulkin as Department of Veterans Affairs secretary. Shulkin, previously the undersecretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs was unanimously approved by the Senate 100-0. Of note, Shulkin becomes the first VA Secretary to have not previously served in the military.


New VA Secretary, David Shulkin

Everything you need to know about new VA Secretary David Shulkin
Senate Confirms First Nonveteran To Lead VA

A physician, Shulkin previously administered hospital systems such as Beth Israel Hospital in New York, before coming to the VA. During his hearing, Shulkin “promised veterans organizations that he opposes privatization of the VA.” Shulkin will continue to work towards lowering wait times for veterans and implementing the Veterans Access Choice and Accountability Act.

Tom Price Confirmed as HHS Secretary

The Senate voted 52-47 Friday to confirm Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) as Health and Human Services secretary. Democrats held the Senate floor for the full 30 hours permitted to them, raising concerns about Price’s trades in health stocks and his opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

New HHS Secretary, Tom Price

A retired orthopedic surgeon, Price will oversee the administration’s efforts to repeal and replace or repair the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Price was previously the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Tom Price: Everything You Need to Know About the New Health Secretary
Tom Price Is Sworn In as Health Secretary Amid Senate Disunity

In related news, the Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing on February 16 to consider the nomination of Seema Verma as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

Ambulance Payment Reform Whiteboard Video

The American Ambulance Association needs your help to build the future of EMS—an innovative industry compensated fairly and recognized appropriately for the critical healthcare it provides. Learn more in the video below, then visit our Payment Reform page to get involved!

Ambulance services across the country are struggling to survive in the face of falling reimbursement, short-sighted regulations, and rising costs. EMS providers of all sizes must share critical cost data, meet with legislators, and speak with one voice as we work to surmount these obstacles and position ambulance services for success today and for many years to come.