CMS Announces 2017 Inflation Factor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 3625 officially announcing that the inflation factor for payments under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule for 2017 will be 0.7%.

The calculation for determining the Medicare ambulance inflation factor is as follows: Consumer Price Index – Urban (which is the change in the CPI-U from June to June) minus the non-farm business multi-factor productivity adjustment (MFP) as projected by the Secretary of HHS (10-year average). The CPI-Urban for 2017 is 1.0% with a MFP of 0.3% which equals the 0.7% inflation factor. As part of the Affordable Care Act, a productivity adjustment is subtracted from the CPI-Urban for the final inflation update.

Telling Our Story

To this day, ambulance services in the United States are still the only health care provider that delivers care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. When you call 911, the medics show up and immediately begin providing health care. No one asks for an insurance card, or a credit card. They ask questions regarding the patient’s medical history… anything they need to know to provide better patient care.

Ambulance services provide more uncompensated care than any other health care professional in the United States. They must be ready to provide that service any moment, any hour of any day. There are no “office hours” or closed signs.

For many patients and their families, they are the best things to happen on the worst day of their lives. They take care of us.

But for whatever reason, some legislators, regulators, insurers look at our providers as transportation services, a commodity, and a supplier of services like durable medical equipment. They assume our costs are related to each trip and rarely consider that we always have to be ready to respond and only get paid when we transport. That is until someone they love needs us.

The AAA leadership is committed to changing all that. We refuse to let our industry be defined by stakeholders who may not understand the complexities of our world, of our medicine, our protocols and our services. We are looking to change the course of our future by mandating that we be viewed as providers and not suppliers or widgets. We fervently and wholeheartedly believe that we make an even greater difference to the health and well being of the communities we serve because of our distinct nature of our services: we are mobile, we are everywhere, we are underutilized because of a reimbursement structure that only allows for compensation when transporting. Therefore, the only way for ambulance services to not just survive but thrive in any future health care system is to attain provider status. It is the game changer. It puts us in the drivers seat regarding the type of service we should provide (treat and refer, alternative destinations, collaborative models of care). It makes our services more nimble, efficient, and better able to serve our communities.

Because CMS will mandate cost reporting for anyone getting reimbursement through their programs, we are fighting hard to insure that our data is collected accurately, allowing our industry of primarily small, rural providers who at times are the only ones within 100’s of square miles providing health care the least burdensome way of providing that data… and make no mistake, folks—we need data to prove what every ambulance service providers knows in the United States… we are significantly underpaid by Medicare and Medicaid. So I implore every ambulance service to join us in our fight for our future… to help us be identified by those who have influence on our regulations and reimbursement rates, that we have been and are providers of health care and as such need to be recognized and compensated for the lifesaving work we do.

We cannot do it without you.

Get Involved with AAA’s Advocacy Efforts

Maria Bianchi, CAE, is the executive vice president of the American Ambulance Association.

CMS Moratoria Update

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Lifts Moratoria on Enrollment of Part B Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers in All Geographic Locations; Moratoria for Part B Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers Extended

Effective July 29, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has lifted the temporary moratoria in all geographic locations for Part B emergency ground ambulance suppliers.  Beginning in 2013, CMS placed moratoria on Medicare Part B ground ambulance suppliers in Harris County, Texas, and surrounding counties (Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller).  In February 2014, CMS announced it would add six more months to these moratoria and add Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and surrounding counties (Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery), as well as the New Jersey counties of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester.  Since that date, CMS extended the moratoria four additional times, most recently in February of this year.

CMS considers qualitative and quantitative factors when determining if there is a high risk of fraud, waste, and abuse in a particular area and whether or not it should establish a moratorium.  If CMS identifies an area as posing an increased risk to the Medicaid program, the State Medicaid agency must impose a similar temporary moratorium as well.  CMS also consults with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) when identifying potential areas and providers/suppliers that should be subject to a temporary moratorium.  Finally, CMS also considers whether imposing a moratorium would have a negative impact on beneficiary access to care.  In areas where there is a temporary moratorium, the policy does not apply to changes in practice location, changes to provider/supplier information (e.g., phone number, address), or change in ownership.  Temporary moratoria remain in place for six months, unless CMS extends the policy through notice in the Federal Register.

CMS may lift a moratorium at any time if the President declares an area a disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, if circumstances warranting the imposition of a moratorium have abated, if the Secretary of HHS has declared a public health emergency, or if, in the judgment of the Secretary of HHS, the moratorium is no longer needed.  After a moratorium is lifted, providers/suppliers previously subject to it will be designated to CMS’s “high screening level” for six months from the date on which the moratorium was lifted.

CMS has announced it will lift the moratoria on new Part B emergency ambulance suppliers in all geographic locations because the Agency’s evaluation has shown the primary risk of fraud, waste, and abuse comes from the non-emergency ambulance supplier category and that there are potential access to care issues for emergency ambulance services in the areas with moratoria.  New emergency ambulance suppliers seeking to enroll as Medicare suppliers will be subject to “high risk” screening.  If enrolled, these suppliers will be permitted to bill only for emergency transportation services.  They will not be permitted to bill for non-emergency services.

The moratoria remain in place for Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers for all counties in which moratoria already are in place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

 

U.S. DOL Increasing Civil Penalties

The Department Of Labor published two interim final rules that will adjust the penalties for enforcement actions by its several of its agencies.  The penalties are increasing because Congress passed the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act in 2015 last November with the intent of improving the effectiveness of civil monetary penalties and hopes of maintaining their deterring effect.  Under the law, agencies are required to publish interim final rules by July 1, 2016 and allow public comment for 45 days.  Many of different agency penalties have not been adjusted since 1990.

The new penalties will only be applicable to penalties assessed after August 1, 2016 for violation that occurred after November 2, 2015.  To learn more, read the Fact Sheet, Interim Final Rule, and the Frequently Asked Questions on the Department of Labor’s website.

Final Rule Published That Affects Healthcare Providers

On May 13, 2016, The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) published the Final Rule aimed at eliminating discrimination and the inequities in the provision of healthcare services.  These new Regulations, which implement Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), become effective July 18, 2016 and ambulance providers will need to prepare now to be in compliance in time.

The provisions of Section 1557 build off of existing Title VII and other discrimination laws that extend protections to previously underserved or under-represented groups of people with regard to healthcare.  The new Regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs or activities.  In addition, the Regulations provide discrimination protections on the basis of pregnancy, gender identity, and sex stereotyping.  The Final Rule also requires that “covered entities” make available assistance for individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and those with disabilities, including communications related disabilities.

Ambulance Providers as “Covered Entities”

Section 1557 defines a “covered entity” as: (1) an entity that operates a health program or activity, any part of which receives Federal financial assistance; or (2) an entity established under Title I of the ACA that administers a health program or activity.  This includes any healthcare provider that receives funds from Medicare or Medicaid.  Most ambulance providers bill and receive money from both of these federally funded programs and will be required to meet the provisions of the new Regulations.

Coming Into Compliance from a Procedural Perspective

The Final Rule requires that covered entities with 15 or more employees must have a Compliance Coordinator and a Grievance Procedure.  The Compliance Coordinator is to monitor and coordinate compliance with the provisions of the Final Rule.  The Grievance Procedure has to provide the appropriate due process standards that would allow for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints concerning actions prohibited by Section 1557.  HHS has included a sample Grievance Procedure in Appendix C to Part 92—Sample Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act Grievance Procedure  to assist covered entities in meeting this requirement. Click here to download.

In addition, the Final Rule requires that all covered entities post notices assuring patients that the covered entity does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.  In addition, covered entities must post a notice regarding the accessibility requirements for individuals with disabilities.  Again, HHS has included a sample notice that covered entities can utilize to meet the notice requirements.

As mobile healthcare providers, we are often not considered when regulators are creating new healthcare rules, as seems to be the case with these new regulations.  Ambulance services can easily meet the Compliance Coordinator and Grievance Procedure requirements of the Final Rule.  However, more challenging are the notice requirements.  Ambulance patients do not come to our facilities to receive the services we provide, we go to them.  The American Ambulance Association is seeking more clarification from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) as to how we can practically meet some of the new notice requirements.  In the meantime, we suggest that services post the required notices on their company website and provide notice to patients in the same way they do with the HIPAA Notice of Privacy Practices.

Coming Into Compliance from a Practical Perspective

Ambulance providers will need to educate all members of their staff about the obligations that they have to their patients under the Final Rule.  While we believe that the care givers in our industry always treat the patients they encounter with dignity, respect, and top notch medical care, the Final Rule highlights our obligation to notify patients of our commitment to non-discrimination, as well as, providing notice and access to auxiliary aides and services to assist individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and disabilities.

The Final Rule requires the notices that covered entities provide to patients must be translated into the 15 most commonly spoken languages in the state that they provide service.  These notices must alert patients of the non-discrimination statement and that auxiliary aides are available to them.  To ease the financial burden on covered entities, HHS has provided a link to sample notices for both requirements in 64 different languages.  The Final Rule also suggests that covered entities create Language Access Plans like the 12 Element Strategic Language Access Plan that CMS has published.  The Final Rule suggests this but does not require it.

Many ambulance providers already utilize telephone interpreter services.  These services can be accessed by both dispatch centers and field providers and generally identify and provide interpreter services in over one hundred languages.   These services can typically identify the language and have an interpreter on the phone within 30 seconds of initiating the call.  This type of service can be an incredibly effective way to meet this requirement under the Final Rule.  The AAA has reached out to many translation vendor services in an effort to negotiate discounted rates for our members.

Health Plan Provisions of the Final Rule

Finally, the Final Rule also includes some health plans as a “covered entities” and extends the same discrimination protections, including the procedural and notice requirements.  Employers who, as plan sponsors, receive federal dollars to help fund their employer sponsored health benefits must comply with these non-discrimination Regulations.

These protections include that a covered entity cannot: deny, cancel, limit, or refuse to issue or renew a health-related insurance policy or other health-related coverage; deny or limit coverage of a claim, or impose additional cost sharing or other limitations or restrictions; or employ marketing practices or benefit designs that discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.

The Final Rule does not require these plans to cover any particular benefit or service or prohibit issuers from determining whether a particular health service is medically necessary, but a covered entity cannot have a coverage policy that operates in a discriminatory manner.  The Final Rule also prohibits a covered entity’s plan from denying or limiting coverage, denying or limiting a claim, or imposing additional cost sharing or other limitations, on any health services that are ordinarily or exclusively available to individuals of one gender, based on the fact that an individual’s sex assigned at birth, gender identity, or recorded gender is different than the one to which the health care services are ordinarily or exclusively available.

Bottom line, Employers who, as plan sponsors, receive federal dollars to help fund their employer sponsored health benefits cannot discriminate against any employee or plan participant on the basis of one of the protected categories listed in the ACA Section 1557 Final Rule.  Additionally, these plans must also comply with the same procedural protections and notices to plan participants as they do to the patients that they serve.

Conclusion

The American Ambulance Association is seeking additional guidance from OCR regarding how our industry can meet all of the requirements under these new rules.  Our goal is to ensure that our members will be in compliance by the July deadline. However, members need to act now to prepare for July 18th as we may not get any feedback or guidance from OCR until after the deadline.  We will publish further advisories as more information becomes available.

 

MedPAC Issues June 2016 Report to the Congress

MedPAC Issues June 2016 Report to the Congress with Chapter on Improving Efficiency and Preserving Access to Emergency Care in Rural Areas

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC or the Commission) has issued its June 2016 Report to the Congress.   The June report includes recommended refinements to Medicare payment systems and identifies issues affecting the Medicare program, broader changes in health care delivery, and the market for health care services.

Chapter 7 focuses on preserving access to emergency care in rural areas.  The Commission recognizes that access to inpatient and emergency services in rural areas is threatened because of the dwindling populations.  Declining populations can lead to fewer hospital admissions and reduced efficiencies that can create financial and staff problems for hospitals.  The Report notes that “[d]eclining volume is a concern because low-volume rural hospitals tend to have worse mortality metrics and worse performance on some process measures.” In addition, “low-volume CAHs have the difficult job of competing with each other for a shrinking pool of clinicians who want the lifestyle of operating an outpatient practice during the day, covering inpatient issues that arise at night, and covering the emergency department.”

Under current policies, most rural hospitals are critical access hospitals (CAHs).  They receive a cost-based payment for providing inpatient and outpatient services to Medicare beneficiaries.  To receive these payments, a hospital must maintain acute inpatient services.  In rural areas, many small towns do not have a sufficient population to support such a model.  Yet eliminating these services would mean giving up the supplemental payments that their hospitals receive through the CAH cost-based payment model.

The hospital prospective payment system serves as the payment model for other hospitals.  Rural providers receive supplemental payments, which are also linked to providing inpatient services.

MedPAC highlights the concerns with cost-based payment models:

  • Cost-based payments do not direct payments toward isolated hospitals having the greatest financial difficulty, but rather reward hospitals in high-income areas with higher non-Medicare margins by providing them with higher Medicare payments.
  • Cost-based payments encourage providers to expand service lines with high Medicare and private-payer shares rather than primarily focus on services that are needed on an emergency basis.
  • Cost-based models reduce the incentive for hospitals to control their costs, which can lead to unnecessary growth in capital costs, despite declining volumes.

In light of these challenges, MedPAC sets forth a two of options that would give isolated rural hospitals the option of converting to an outpatient-only model while maintaining their special payment arrangements.  These models seek to ensure access to essential services:

  • Establishing a 24/7 emergency department model; and
  • Adopting a clinic with ambulance services model.

Under the 24/7 emergency department model, the hospital would be paid under the outpatient prospective payment rates and would receive an annual grant/fixed payment from Medicare to cover the standby costs associated with 24/7 emergency services.  The current supplemental payments would be redirected to support this annual grant/fixed payment amount.  If a hospital chose to use inpatient beds as skilled nursing facility (SNF) beds, it would be reimbursed under the Medicare SNF prospective payment system.  The hospital could be required to use the fixed payment for emergency standby capacity, ambulance service losses, telehealth capacity, and uncompensated care in the emergency department.

Under the clinic and ambulance model, hospitals could convert their existing inpatient facilities into primary care clinics.  These clinics would be “affiliated” with an ambulance service.   Medicare would pay the prospective rates for primary care visits and ambulance transports.  Medicare would provide an annual grant/fixed payment to support the capital costs of having a primary care practice, the standby costs of the ambulance service, and uncompensated care costs.

The Commission recognizes that the “low population density would also make it difficult to retain primary care providers and support an ambulance service.”  It could also be difficult to describe the exact level of primary care and ambulance access that is required to receive the fixed Medicare payment.

MedPAC reiterates its position that “supplemental payments beyond the standard PPS rates should be targeted to isolated rural providers that are essential for access to care.”  Thus, it states that a program to support stand-alone emergency departments should be limited to facilities that are a minimum distance in road miles from the nearest hospital.

 

AAA Issues Response to GAO Claims Report

On May 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Claim Review Programs Could Be Improved with Additional Prepayment Reviews and Better Data“. In the report, the GAO recommended that CMS be provided legislative authority to allow Recovery Auditors to use prepayment claims reviews to address improper Medicare payments. CMS fortunately disagreed with the GAO on the recommendation and cited better options such as prior authorization to address potentially improper payments.

The AAA has now issued a Formal Statement in response to the GAO report noting the problems with prepayment claims review for ambulance services and promoting the better alternative of prior authorization for nonemergency BLS transports of dialysis patients. The statement is in follow up to our Member Advisory providing an in-depth review of the report. Please feel free to share the statement if you receive questions about the report.

On June 26, 2015, the AAA had participated in a conference call with the GAO officials conducting the report in which AAA representatives had pushed for recommendations in line with our statement. The AAA will continue to advocate for policies to address improper payments that address the issue but are also the least burdensome to AAA members and help ensure our ability to continue to provide high-quality emergency and nonemergency ambulance services to patients.

New Member Benefit: StateTrack

Introducing the AAA’s newest member benefit, StateTrack, powered by CQ Roll Call. StateTrack will give AAA members the ability to easily track crucial legislation and regulations in one state or all of them as well as the Federal Government.

StateTrack Map

AAA StateTrack

StateTrack will show you a map of the entire United States. Click on the state you are interested in tracking and you will see a list of all regulations and legislation impacting the following areas:

Affordable Care Act
Ambulance
Community Paramedicine
EMT
Medicaid
Medicare
Mobile Integrated Health
Paramedic

Click on the key words above to narrow down your search to only legislation and regulations that contain those terms.

Members will be able to view the full text of each piece of legislation as well as edits that have been made to the text, bill number, status of the bill and the representative who introduced it. StateTrack will make it easier for AAA members to keep track of legislation and regulations on the state level that could have enormous impacts on their ambulance services. States that are white, are either out of session or do not have any pending legislation or regulations that fall under the AAA search criteria.

Please contact Aidan Camas at acamas@ambulance.org if you have any questions.

HHS Office of Civil Rights Announces Phase 2 HIPAA Audit Review Program

On March 21, 2016, the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services announced Phase 2 of its HIPAA Audit Program.  The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH) required HHS to perform periodic audits of covered entities and business associates to assess their compliance with the HIPAA Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.  These rules are enforced by the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Background on Phase 1

In 2011, OCR implemented a pilot audit program to assess the controls and processes covered entities have adopted to meet their HIPAA obligations.  The pilot audit program was conducted in three phases.  OCR first developed a set of audit protocols that it would use to evaluate covered entities’ compliance.  This protocol was then tested using a limited number of audits.   The final step involved using the revised audit protocols on a larger number of covered entities.  Ultimately, 115 covered entities were selected for review, and all audits were concluded by December 31, 2012.

Phase 2

Phase 2 of the HIPAA Audit Program will focus on the policies and procedures adopted and employed by entities to meet the requirements of the Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules.  OCR has indicated that these audits will be conducted primary through desk audits (i.e., document submissions), although by a limited number of on-site audits will also be conducted.

Unlike Phase 1, which focused exclusively on covered entities, OCR is indicating that Phase 2 will involve audits of both covered entities and their business associates.

As with the initial pilot audit program, Phase 2 will consist of several stages.  The first stage involves verification of a covered entity’s or business associate’s address and contact information.  A sample address verification letter can be viewed by clicking here.  OCR has indicated that emails will be sent to entities requesting accurate contact information for the entity.  OCR will then transmit a “pre-audit questionnaire” to the entity.  These questionnaires will be used to gather data about the size, type, and operations of potential auditees.  Based on this data, OCR will create potential audit subject pools.

Note: OCR has indicated that if an entity fails to respond to OCR’s request to validate its contact information and/or fails to return the pre-audit questionnaire, OCR will use publicly available information about the entity to create its audit subject pool.  As a result, an entity that fails to respond may still be selected for audit and/or compliance review.  OCR is specifically reminding entities to check their email “junk” or “spam” folders for any communications from OCR.

Once OCR has developed its audit subject pools, it will randomly select auditees from these pools.  Auditees will then be notified by OCR of their participation.  OCR has indicated that the first set of audits will focus on covered entities, with a subsequent round of audits focused on business associates.  These audits will focus on compliance with specific requirements of the Privacy, Security, or Breach Notification Rules.  Auditees will be notified of the scope of their audit in a document request letter.  Both of these rounds will be desk audits.  OCR indicated that all desk audits will be completed by the end of December 2016.

A third round of on-site audits will take place after the completion of the desk audits, and will examine a broader scope of requirements under HIPAA.  OCR further indicated that desk auditees may also be subject to on-site audits.

If an entity is selected for audit, OCR will notify them by email.  The email will introduce the OCR audit team, explain the audit process, and discuss OCR’s expectations in greater detail.  The email notification letter will also include initial requests for documentation.  OCR has indicated that it will expect entities to respond to these documentation requests within ten (10) business days.  Documents will be submitted through a new secure online portal.  Once received, OCR’s auditors will review the submitted information and inform the entity of its draft findings.  The entity will then have ten (10) business days to respond with written comments, if any.  OCR will then review the entity’s comments and issue a final audit report within thirty (30) business days.

OCR has indicated that the audits are primarily intended as a compliance improvement activity.  OCR will use aggregated data to better understand compliance with respect to particular aspects of the HIPAA rules.  The goal being to understand what types of technical assistance and/or corrective actions would be most helpful.  In other words, OCR is indicating that the goal of these audits is to improve its understanding of the state of compliance, and not to penalize specific companies for violations.  However, OCR indicated that should an audit reveal a serious compliance issue, OCR may initiate a further compliance review of the company.

OCR indicated that it will not post a list of the audited entities, nor will its findings be available in a format that would clearly identify the audited entity.  However, OCR noted that audit notification letters and other information regarding these audits may be discoverable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Additional information from OCR regarding the Phase 2 HIPAA Audit Program can be obtained by clicking here.

CMS Implements Cycle 2 Revalidation Program

By Brian S. Werfel, Esq. AAA Medicare Consultant

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June 29, 2016 at 2:00 PM EASTERN
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CMS recently announced the start of its Cycle 2 Revalidation Program. This program affects all enrolled Medicare providers and suppliers.

In Cycle 1, which was conducted from 2011 through 2015, the so-called “trigger” to revalidate was a formal request to do so by your Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC). For Cycle 2, CMS is adopting a new approach. CMS will be assigning revalidation due dates, i.e., dates by which the provider or supplier must revalidate. These due dates will be the last day of a particular calendar month. These due dates are based on the provider’s or supplier’s last successful revalidation or the date of the provider’s or supplier’s initial enrollment with Medicare. In other words, providers or suppliers that last revalidated in 2011 are likely to have new revalidation due dates in 2016, providers or suppliers that revalidated in 2012 are likely to have 2017 due dates, etc. The first set of due dates is May 31, 2016.

CMS has indicated that it will notify providers or suppliers by email within 2-3 months of their due date. These emails will include the following subject line: Urgent: Medicare Provider Enrollment Revalidation Request. If the email is returned as undeliverable, the MAC is instructed to send a paper revalidation notice to at least two of your reported addresses: correspondence address, special payments address, or primary practice address.

Providers or suppliers will be permitted to submit revalidations up to 6 months prior to their scheduled due date. Revalidations can be submitted either on paper or by using the online Provider Enrollment, Chain, and Ownership System (PECOS).

If a provider or supplier fails to submit a timely revalidation packet, CMS has indicated that the entity’s Medicare billing privileges will be deactivated. The entity will be required to submit a complete enrollment application to “reactive” its billing privileges. However, CMS has indicated that no payments will be made for services provided during the interim period.

If you have not received an email from your MAC asking that you revalidate, it is likely that your revalidation due date is more than 3 months out, or has not even been assigned. However, it is possible that the requests to revalidate may have been sent to invalid email addresses, or may have been routed to your email “spam” folder. It is also possible that paper revalidation notices may have been sent to obsolete physical addresses.

For these reasons, the AAA is strongly encouraging members to check the CMS revalidation webpage. That webpage includes a lookup tool that you can use to determine whether your organization has been assigned a revalidation due date. Currently, CMS has assigned due dates through the end of October 2016. Providers and suppliers that have yet to be assigned due dates will display as “TBD”. You can also download the entire list of currently enrolled providers and suppliers into an Excel spreadsheet. This option may be particularly helpful for organizations that bill under multiple Medicare PTANs (which can have separate revalidation due dates) and for billing agents that intend to assist their clients with the revalidation process.

In sum, the new process appears to be a vast improvement over how revalidations were handled during Cycle 2. Assuming things work as intended, AAA members should have a minimum of 2 months prior notice of the need to revalidate, and potentially up to 6 months prior notice. This should be more than enough time to submit the revalidation and avoid any potential disruptions to your ability to bill Medicare.

GAO Issues Report on NEMT

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report titled “Nonemergency Medical Transportation: Updated Medicaid Guidance Could Help States.” GAO was asked to review Nonemergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) under Medicare and Medicaid. This report examines 1) key features of NEMT services under Medicare and Medicaid and how these services are delivered; 2) steps CMS has taken to oversee NEMT under Medicare as well as Medicaid; and 3) the challenges that exist in providing NEMT under Medicaid and steps that selected state Medicaid agencies have taken to address those challenges. GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) direct CMS to assess current Medicaid NEMT guidance and update it as needed. HHS concurred with GAO’s recommendation and provided technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate.

MAC Novitas March 2016 Updates to Ambulance Services

On March 4, Novitas Solutions, Medicare Administrative Contract managers for several jurisdictions, asked AAA to share the following information with ambulance services.

March 4, 2016 – Letter to Ambulance Providers | March 4, 2016 – Letter to Beneficiaries

Jurisdictions Covered By Novitas

  • The Medicare Administrative Contract (MAC) Jurisdiction L (JL), which spans Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Washington D.C.;
  • The Medicare Administrative Contract (MAC) Jurisdiction H (JH), which spans Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Indian Health Service (IHS) and Veterans Affairs (VA); and
  • The payment processing for the Federal Reimbursement of Emergency Health Services Furnished to Undocumented Aliens contract, as authorized under Section 1011 of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act.

FDA Issues First Responder Drug Dispenser Guidance

In accordance with the Drug Supply Chain Security Act of 2013, the FDA issued regulations last year to require drug dispensaries to build an electronic system to identify and track the distribution of drugs. Many small dispensaries do not have the ability currently to electronically trace small quantities of drugs. The AAA became concerned that hospital and other small dispensers would no longer provide first responders with critical drugs in fear of not being compliant with the new regulations. The AAA joined a coalition of dispensaries, pharmacists and others that also had concerns with the new regulations.

As a result of the efforts of the coalition and the AAA, we were able to delay enforcement of the requirements until today, March 1. The AAA then worked directly with the FDA to educate them about the unique nature that small dispensaries sometimes play in restocking certain ambulance service providers. Upon learning of these transactions, the FDA shared our concerns and worked quickly to release the guidance.

The guidance states that the FDA will not take action against drug dispensaries in providing drugs to first responders if the dispensary follows certain basic recording keeping policies. The agency will also not take any action against the first responder. The guidance is entitled “Requirements for Transactions with First Responders under Section 582 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act — Compliance Policy Guidance for Industry“.

CMS Issues Final Rule on the Reporting and Return of Medicare Overpayments

On February 12, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule titled “Medicare Program; Reporting and Returning Overpayments.”  This final rule would implement Section 6402(a) of the Affordable Care Act, which imposed a 60-day requirement on Medicare providers and suppliers to report and return overpayments.  The provisions of this final rule will go into effect on March 16, 2016.

The final rule implements changes that were first proposed as part of a February 16, 2012 proposed rule.  The final rule can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here.

Background

Section 6402(a) of the Affordable Care Act requires health care providers and suppliers to report and return a Medicare overpayment within 60 days of the date such overpayment is “identified”.  Any overpayment not returned within this timeframe would become an “obligation” under the False Claims Act.  As a result, any ambulance service that is found to have knowingly retained an overpayment beyond the 60 day period could be subject to False Claims Act liability.  In addition, violations may also subject an ambulance company to civil monetary penalties and possible exclusion from the Medicare program.

Provisions of Proposed Rule

Definition of an “Overpayment”

In the final rule, CMS defined an overpayment as “any funds that a person has received or retained under title XVIII of the Act to which the person, after applicable reconciliation, is not entitled under such title.”  CMS noted that this definition is mirrors the definition of an overpayment that appeared in Section 6402(a) of the Affordable Care Act.
CMS cited examples of certain common overpayments in the proposed rule, including:

  • Payments for non-covered services;
  • Payments in excess of the applicable Medicare allowable
  • Errors and nonreimbursable expenditures included on a cost report;
  • Duplicate payments; and
  • Payment from Medicare when another payor had primary responsibility.

For ambulance providers and suppliers, another common area of overpayments would be payment for excessive mileage.

Note: in the final rule, CMS clarified that, in instances where the paid amount exceeds the appropriate payment to which a provider or supplier is entitled, the “overpayment” would be limited to the difference between the amount that was paid and the amount that should have been paid.  For example, if the overpayment was the result of a claim incorrectly being billed as an ALS emergency, rather than a BLS emergency, the overpayment is not the entire amount of Medicare’s payment.  Rather, the overpayment is limited to the difference in Medicare’s payment for the two base rates.

When an Overpayment has been “Identified”

In its proposed rule, CMS indicated that an overpayment would be “identified” if the ambulance provider or supplier: (1) had actual knowledge of the existence of the overpayment or (2) acted in reckless disregard or deliberate ignorance of the existence of the overpayment.  CMS indicated that this definition was intended to prevent providers and suppliers from deliberately avoiding activities that might uncover the existence of potential overpayments, such as self-audits and outside compliance checks.

CMS further stated its belief that the Proposed Rule would, in some instances, place an affirmative burden on providers and suppliers to investigate whether a potential overpayment exists.  Specifically, CMS indicated that “in some cases, a provider or supplier may receive information concerning a potential overpayment that creates an obligation to make a reasonable inquiry to determine whether an overpayment exists.”  If the provider or supplier then fails to reasonably inquire, it could be found to have acted with reckless disregard or deliberate ignorance.

In the final rule, CMS indicated that an overpayment will be deemed to have been identified to the extent “a person has, or should have through the exercise of reasonable diligence, determined that the person has received an overpayment and quantified the amount of the overpayment.”

Thus, the final rule makes two important changes to the standard of when an overpayment is identified.  The first change is to clarify that an overpayment has not been identified unless and until the provider or supplier is able to quantify the amount of the overpayment.

The second change was to remove the language related to “reckless disregard” and “deliberate ignorance”.  CMS replaced these terms with a standard of “reasonable diligence”.  Under the new standard, an overpayment is identified on the date you can actually quantify the size of the overpayment, or the date on which you would have been able to quantify the overpayment had you proceeded with reasonable diligence to investigate the possibility of an overpayment.  For these purposes, CMS indicated that reasonable diligence would be established to the extent you can demonstrate a timely, good faith investigation of any credible report of a possible overpayment.  Note: CMS indicated that an investigation should take no more than 6 months from the date of receipt of credible information, except in extraordinary circumstances.

To see the impact of these changes, consider the following scenario:

You receive an anonymous report on your compliance hotline that a recent change to your billing software has resulted in the mileage for all Medicare claims being rounded up to the next whole number (as opposed to being submitted with fractions of a mile).  Based on this report, you begin an investigation, and quickly come to the conclusion that the anonymous report is correct.  However, it requires an addition 4 months to review every claim submitted to Medicare since that software change, and to calculate the actual amounts you were overpaid.

Under the standard first proposed by CMS, it was unclear whether the 60-day clock to return over payment started on the day you confirmed the software problem, or whether you have time to look at your entire claims universe to calculate the actual amounts you were overpaid.  By contrast, under the standard set forth in the final rule, it is clear that the overpayment would not be “identified” until you can quantify the actual amounts you had been overpaid.  In the above example, you completed your investigation within 6 months, meaning you would have satisfied the new “reasonable diligence” standard.  Therefore, assuming you make a timely report and refund of the amounts you were overpaid, you would have no liability under the False Claims Act.

Situations in Which a Provider or Supplier would have a Duty to Inquire

In the proposed rule, CMS provided some examples of situations where a provider or supplier would be deemed to have received a credible information regarding a potential overpayment, including the following situations:

  • Where a review of billing records indicates that you were incorrectly paid a higher rate for certain services;
  • Where you learn that the patient died prior to the date of service on a claim that has been submitted for payment;
  • Where you discover that the services were provided by an unlicensed or excluded individual;
  • Where an internal audit discovers the presence of an overpayment.
  • Where you are informed by a government agency of an audit that discovered a potential overpayment, and where you fail to make a reasonable inquiry;

In the final rule, CMS confirmed its belief that official findings from a government agency (or its contractors) would constitute credible evidence of a potential overpayment, and would therefore trigger a provider’s or supplier’s obligation to conduct an investigation with reasonable diligence.  If the provider or supplier ultimately agrees with the Medicare contractor’s findings, it would qualify as having “identified” an overpayment, which would trigger the 60-day period for reporting and refunding that overpayment.  CMS further indicated that when the provider confirms the audit’s findings, the provider or supplier may be deemed to have credible evidence of additional overpayments (i.e., claims presenting the same issues, but which fall outside the contractor’s audit period) that may require further investigation.   CMS did agree, however, that where the provider or supplier elects to appeal the contractor’s findings, it would be reasonable to hold off on conducting an investigation into similar claims until such time as the overpayment identified by the Medicare contractor has worked its way through the administrative appeals process.

Counting 60-Day Period

In the final rule, CMS indicated that the 60-day period for reporting and returning the overpayment would start on the date the overpayment is first identified (i.e., the date the overpayment is first quantified following a reasonably diligent inquiry.  However, in the event a person fails to conduct a reasonably diligent inquiry, the 60-day period will be deemed to run from the date the provider or supplier first received a credible report of a possible overpayment (assuming the provider or supplier was, in fact, overpaid).

Process for Reporting Overpayments

In its February 2012 proposed rule, CMS had indicated that it would require ambulance providers and suppliers to report and return overpayments using the existing process for voluntary refunds.  At that time, CMS also proposed that the overpayment report contain 13 required elements, including a brief statement of the reason for the overpayment, and a description of the steps the provider or supplier intended to take to ensure that the same error would not occur again.  At the time, CMS further indicated that it would develop a uniform reporting form that would replace the various forms currently in use by its Medicare contractors.

In the final rule, CMS abandoned this formulaic approach to the reporting of overpayments.  Instead, CMS elected to permit providers or suppliers to use any of the following to report an overpayment:

  • An applicable claims adjustment;
  • Credit balance;
  • Self-Reported Refund; or
  • Any other reporting process set forth by the applicable Medicare contractor.

In addition to the processes currently used by Medicare contractors, providers or suppliers can also satisfy the reporting obligations of the final rule by making a disclosure under the OIG’s Self-Disclosure Protocol or the CMS Voluntary Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol.  Note: these processes are generally reserved for situations that involve something more than an isolated billing error.

When reporting an overpayment that was calculated using a statistical sampling methodology, CMS indicated that the provider or supplier must describe the actual process used to obtain a statistically valid sample, and the extrapolation methodology used.

Statute of Limitations

In the final rule, CMS adopted a 6-year “lookback period”.  CMS further clarified that this lookback period is measured from the date the provider or supplier identifies the overpayment.  As a result, an overpayment must be reported and returned only to the extent the overpayment is identified within 6 years of the date the overpayment was received.  Overpayments identified beyond the 6-year lookback period would not be subject to the new regulations.

The 6-year lookback period represents a substantial reduction from the 10-year lookback period originally proposed by CMS.  That 10-year period was intended to coincide with the outer limit of the statute of limitations for False Claims Act violations.  However, after considering comments from healthcare providers and suppliers, CMS agreed that a 6-year lookback period was more appropriate.  CMS noted that the change would significantly reduce the burden these new regulations imposed on providers and suppliers.

Change to Regulations Governing Reopenings

To facilitate the reporting and refunding of overpayments under these new regulations, CMS elected to revise its rules regarding reopenings.  CMS will now permit its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to reopen an initial determination (i.e., a paid claim) for the purpose of reporting and returning an overpayment.

While seemingly minor, this change is needed to ensure that Medicare’s payment files properly reflect that an overpayment has been refunded.  Otherwise, it would be possible for a claim that had previously been refunded to be selected by a Medicare auditor for postpayment review.  This could lead to the auditor attempting to recoup amounts that had previously been voluntarily refunded.

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CMS Announces 2016 Inflation Factor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) has officially announced that the inflation factor for payments under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule for 2016 will be negative .4% (-0.4%). As part of the Affordable Care Act, a productivity adjustment has been part of the calculation for the last several years which for 2016 has resulted in a negative update.

The calculation for determining the Medicare ambulance inflation factor is as follows: Consumer Price Index – Urban (which is the change in the CPI-U from June to June) minus the non-farm business multi-factor productivity adjustment (MFP) as projected by the Secretary of HHS (10-year average). The CPI-Urban for 2016 is 0.1% with a MFP of 0.5% which equals negative .4%.

The AAA had projected an inflation factor of negative .5%.

The Importance of Ambulance Cost Survey Data

By Kathy Lester, JD, MPH | Updated November 9, 2015

Tomorrow is in your hands today. This statement is especially true when we think about the evolution of ambulance services. Today, care once reserved for the hospital setting is now delivered at the scene, resulting in better patient outcomes. Yet, despite these advances, the Medicare payment system lags behind. Current rates are based upon a negotiated rulemaking process that did not take the cost of providing services into accounts. While many in the industry strive to further expand the delivery of high-quality care, the inflexibility of the current payment system makes it difficult to compensate the next generation of ambulance service providers appropriately.

To prepare for tomorrow, ambulances services must act today. The AAA has taken a leadership role by setting the groundwork needed to reform the payment system so that it recognizes the continued evolution of ambulance services. The two game changers are (1) designating ambulance suppliers as “providers” of care; and (2) implementing a federal data collection system.

“Emergency care has made important advances in recent decades: emergency 9-1-1 service now links virtually all ill and injured Americans to immediate medical response; organized trauma systems transport patients to advanced, lifesaving care within minutes; and advances in resuscitation and lifesaving procedures yield outcomes unheard of just two decades ago.”
Institute of Medicine: Emergency Medical Services at a Crossroads (2007)

Provider Status

Being deemed a “provider” rather than a “supplier” is the first step toward recognizing the clinical component of ambulance services and appropriately incorporating ambulance services into the broader health care coordination and reform discussions.

Under current law, the term provider refers to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), outpatient rehabilitation facilities, home health agencies, ambulatory surgical centers, end-stage renal disease facilities, organ procurement organizations, and clinical labs. Durable medical equipment entities and ambulance services are designated as suppliers.

When ambulance services were first added to the Medicare benefit, the primary services provided were transportation. As noted already, transportation is only one component of the services provided. The deliver of health care services today make ambulances more like other Medicare providers than suppliers.

Achieving this designation is the first step toward having the federal government recognizing the value of the health care services provided by ambulances.

Cost Collection

The second game changer involves collecting cost data from all types and sizes of ambulances services in all areas of the country. Current Medicare rates are not based on cost. As the Government Accountability Office has recognized in two separate reports, these rates do not cover the cost of providing services to beneficiaries. While the Congress has extended the ambulance add-ons year after year, the lack of a permanent fix makes it difficult to plan. There is also the risk of the add-ons not being extended at some point. In addition, the rates take into account only at the most general level the health care being provided.

In the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), the Congress required the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue a report evaluating the ability to use current hospital cost reports to determine rates and also to assess the feasibility of obtaining cost data on a periodic basis from all types of ambulance services. Knowing of the strong Congressional interest in obtaining additional cost information, the AAA began working with The Moran Company (a consultant organization with expertise in Medicare cost reporting) to develop recommendations as to how cost data could be most efficiently and effectively collected. The AAA shared these recommendations with CMS and the contractor developing the report. The final report, released in October, supports the AAA’s work and states:

Any cost reporting tool must take into account the wide variety of characteristics of ambulance providers and suppliers. Efforts to obtain cost data from providers and suppliers must also standardize cost measures and ensure that smaller, rural, and super-rural providers and suppliers are represented.

The next step in the process is to provide CMS with direction and authority to implement the AAA’s cost survey methodology. In brief, the methodology would:

  • Require all ambulance services to report to CMS demographic information, such as organizational type (governmental agency, public safety, private, all volunteer, etc), average duration of transports, number of emergency and nonemergency transports. CMS would use this data to establish organization categories so that the data collected aligns with the type of organization providing it.
  • Require all ambulance services to report cost data, such as labor costs, administrative costs, local jurisdiction costs, through a survey process. During any survey period, CMS would identify a statistically valid sample of ambulance services in each category to be surveyed. These services would have to provide the data or be subject to a five percent penalty. Those ambulance services that provide data will not be asked to do so again until every service in its organization category has submitted the data.

As part of this process, the AAA has begun developing a common language for reporting these data. This work will ensure that the information is collected in a standardized manner. The AAA will also provide assistance to services that may need extra help in completing the surveys.

This information can then be aggregated and used to evaluate the adequacy of Medicare payments and support additional coverage policies. Most importantly, it will allow policy-makers, the AAA, and other stakeholders to reform the current Medicare ambulance payment system so that it incorporates the health care services currently being provided and those that will be in the future.

Conclusion

In order to be prepared for the reimbursement structures of tomorrow, ambulance services need to be designated a providers and recognized for the health care they provide. They also need to participate in a standardized cost collection program that will provide accurate data in the least burdensome way possible. The AAA is leading the effort to help ambulance services prepare for tomorrow.

Summary of CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum of November 5, 2015

By David M. Werfel, Esq. | Updated November 6, 2015

On November 5, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) conducted its latest Ambulance Open Door Forum.  As usual, CMS started with announcements, which were as follows:

As required under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (HR 2), the pilot program for prior authorization for non-emergency repetitive patients will be expanded to Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, effective January 1, 2016.  A Special Open Door Forum on the topic will be held by CMS on November 10, 2015 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. (Link to PDF).

Payment Policies

On October 30, CMS released the final rule on changes in CY 2016 to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.  The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on November 16, 2015.  The rule finalizes the following:

  • The 2% urban, 3% rural and 22.6% super rural adjustments have been extended through December 31, 2017.
  • Urban/Rural Designations – CMS will continue in 2016 and thereafter with the current geographic designations of urban and rural that were implemented on January 1, 2015. CMS also stated the Agency is further reviewing those zip codes which are a RUCA 2 or 3 and have a portion that include a rural census tract.  The Agency will issue possible changes in a proposed rule.  This review was requested by the AAA and should result in more urban zip codes being designated as rural.
  • Vehicle/Staff – For Medicare purposes, a BLS vehicle must include at least a driver and an EMT-Basic.  However, the vehicle/staff must also meet all state and local rules.

ICD-10 – CMS published an ambulance crosswalk from ICD-9 codes to ICD-10 codes.  Also, the condition codes list is only a guide and using one of the codes does not guarantee coverage.

Meeting at the AAA

  • Rogers spoke at the AAA Workshop on Prior Authorization held at the AAA headquarters on October 2.  He thanked the AAA for inviting him as a speaker.
  • Rogers mentioned one of the issues he discussed at the AAA headquarters was the transportation of psychiatric patients. Dr. Rogers indicated that his opinion is that when patients are in a “psychiatric hold”, that the psychiatric hold, by itself, does not constitute Medicare coverage for an ambulance.  He indicated that coverage would exist if there was IV, EKG, medications administered, etc., but that possible elopement was not enough for coverage.  Dr. Rogers’s statement was his individual opinion.  The AAA does not agree with that opinion and we will be following up with Dr. Rogers and CMS on the matter.
  • Rogers stated another issue discussed at the AAA headquarters was on the proper level of service being determined at the time of dispatch. He stated that it was his opinion that Medicare should reimburse for the level of service dispatched.

Healthcare Marketplace – individuals can apply for health coverage through the marketplace from November 1, 2015 to January 31, 2016 through healthcare.gov.

Medicare Open Enrollment – CMS announced the Open Enrollment period has begun for Medicare beneficiaries to select their plan.

The question and answer period followed the announcements.  As usual, several resulted in the caller being asked to e-mail their question to CMS.  Questions concerning the prior authorization program were asked but the callers were told the questions would be answered on the Special Open Door Forum for prior authorization that will be held on November 10.  Answers to questions asked were as follows:

  • Medicare does not cover an ambulance transport of a psych patient, as the patient can be transported safely by other means, such as by law enforcement.
  • When physicians and facilities do not provide records needed for prior authorization, the ambulance provider may have to choose discontinuing transportation of that patient.
  • The denial rate for ICD-10 codes is the same as it was for ICD-9 codes.
  • No solution was offered for situations where the SNF uses 911 to call for an ambulance that they know is not needed.
  • When Medicaid pays and takes back its payment more than a year after the date of service, due to the patient receiving retroactive Medicare eligibility, Medicare can be billed.

No date was given for the next Ambulance Open Door Forum, other than the November 10 date for the Special Open Door Forum on the expansion of prior authorization.

Member Advisory: CMS Releases the ICD-10 Crosswalk

By Kathy Lester, JD, MPH | AAA Healthcare Regulatory Consultant | October 9, 2015

At the end of last week, CMS posted the ICD-10 crosswalks for medical conditions for ambulance services. The documents can be found here, under the Other Guidance section at the bottom of the webpage.

In creating the crosswalk files, CMS relied upon a program developed by 3M, ICD-10 CTT. The files provide comprehensive crosswalks for both primary and alternative specific codes and are intended to supplement the existing Medical Conditions List.

The AAA has been working with CMS for the past year to create an official document that addresses the medical condition codes upon which some of the Medicare contractors rely for billing and auditing purposes.

While we are pleased that CMS has recognized the need for a crosswalk, we are concerned that the documents posted are a literal crosswalk of the previous ICD-9 list. This document can also be found on the Ambulance Service Center webpage. This approach, which incorporates all potential ICD-10 codes, has resulted in a large number of codes being included in the crosswalk. Some of these codes are inappropriate to use because they require diagnostic skills that extend beyond the scope of ambulance personnel.

The AAA has developed a more streamlined list of condition codes that eliminates those codes that are inappropriate for ambulance services to use.

We continue to work with CMS to refine its crosswalk to ensure that it is useful to ambulance services throughout the country.

Member Advisory: Follow Up Regarding Recent OIG Report on Questionable Billing Practices for Ambulance Suppliers

HHS OIG Analysis Part 2 of 2 – Read Part One of the Analysis


October 1, 2015

Yesterday, the American Ambulance Association summarized a report from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on certain questionable billing practices by ambulance suppliers.

In this report, the OIG indicated that 1 in 5 ambulance providers had engaged in one or more of the following “questionable billing” practices”:

  • Billing for a transport without a Medicare service being provided at either the origin
  • Billing for excessive mileage for urban transports
  • Billing for a high number of transports per beneficiary
  • Billing using compromised beneficiary ID numbers
  • Billing for an inappropriate or unlikely transport level
  • Billing for a beneficiary that is being shared among multiple ambulance suppliers
  • Billing for transports to/from a partial hospitalization program

In this member advisory, I want to devote additional attention to the questionable billing practice the OIG referred to as “inappropriate or unlikely transport levels”.

The OIG identified 268 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (2%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of claims submitted with inappropriate or unlikely combinations of transport levels and destinations.  The OIG summarized its findings as follows:

“We identified two types of transports billed with inappropriate combinations of destinations and transport levels. First, we identified emergency transports that suppliers indicated were to a destination other than a hospital or the site of a transfer between ground and air transports. We also identified specialty care transports that suppliers indicated were to or from destinations other than hospitals, SNFs, or transfer sites.”

The OIG went on to state that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s transports with inappropriate or unlikely transport levels (given the destination) could be indicative of “upcoding”.  The OIG identified 268 ambulance suppliers that had particularly high numbers of claims submitted with unlikely or inappropriate transport levels/destinations combinations.  These ambulance suppliers submitted 3% or more of their claims with these suspect combinations, compared to less than 1% for most ambulance suppliers.  The OIG identified 19 companies that used a suspect combination on more than 25% of their claims.

Since the publication of the OIG’s report, the AAA has received numerous inquiries from members asking for guidance on how they can identify whether their company is at risk for submitting claims with these suspect combinations.  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question.  However, based on my experience, I can offer the following general guidelines:

  1. Define the types of claims that would potentially be problematic. The OIG identified two distinct categories of suspect combinations.  The first involves emergency transports.  The OIG indicated that a claim would presumably not qualify for payment of an emergency base rate to the extent the patient was being transported to somewhere other than a hospital or an intercept site (i.e., the “I” modifier).  In other words, the OIG is looking at claims billed for an emergency base rate (HCPCS Codes A0427 or A0429) with a destination modifier that is either an “R” (Residence), “N” (Skilled Nursing Facility), “E” (Other Custodial Facility), “J” (Free-Standing Dialysis Facility).  The second category involved specialty care transports (SCT).  To qualify as SCT, a transport must be “interfacility”, which CMS has defined to be transports between hospitals (including hospital-based dialysis facilities), skilled nursing facilities, or any combination thereof.  Therefore, the OIG would consider a claim to be suspect if the origin or destination modifier was an “R”, “N”, “E”, or “J”.
  2. Investigate the claim submission edits within your billing system. Having defined the types of claims that the OIG would consider suspect, I suggest that you investigate the claims submission edits within your billing system.  Specifically, you want to see whether there is anything currently in place that would make it impossible for you to submit a claim with any of these suspect combinations.  For example, would your billing system prevent you from submitting the following claim:  A0427 HR?  This may require you to attempt to submit test claims with each possible combination to see whether your billing software would reject any or all of these combinations.
  3. To the extent these claim submission edits are not already in place, you should investigate whether your billing software permits you to create them. Assuming your billing system does not currently have edits in place to prevent the submission of claims with these suspect combinations, you want to investigate whether these types of edits can be added.  Many billing software products have optional submission edits that you can enable for certain payers.  Other products may permit you to create specialized edits for these purposes.  You may want to contact your billing vendor to ask whether there is any way to put these edits in place for your Medicare claims.  Assuming your software has the capability of putting these edits in place, it almost certainly makes sense to do so, in order to eliminate the possibility of submitting claims with these suspect combinations going forward.

The suggestions listed in paragraphs #1 and #2 above address the issue of whether it was possible for your company to have inadvertently submitted claims with any of these suspect combinations.  Even if you determine that it was theoretically possible for you to have submitted claims with any of these suspect combinations, it does not necessarily follow that any such claims were actually submitted.  Most ambulance companies have numerous controls in place to guard against inadvertent mistakes in the coding/billing of claims.  For example, while many billing software products permit an ambulance coder to duplicate an earlier transport for the patient, many companies elect not to use this functionality, preferring instead to code each claim from scratch.  This removes one possible mechanism by which these types of inadvertent errors can occur.  Moreover, even if it a claim was submitted with a suspect combination, it does not necessarily follow that the claim was paid by Medicare.  Your Medicare contractor may have its own edits in place to deny claims submitted with these suspect combinations.  Finally, even if a claim was accidentally submitted with a suspect combination and paid by the Medicare contractor, it is possible that you may have caught the error at the time you posted Medicare’s payment.  Assuming that you properly refunded the incorrect payment at that time, there is no need for further concern.

Conclusion

Ambulance supplier should attempt to determine whether their billing software was designed in such a way as to prevent these suspect combinations from being submitted to Medicare.  To the extent you are confident that it is impossible for these claims to be submitted to Medicare, there is nothing further that needs to be done.

To the extent an ambulance supplier determines that their current billing software edits do not make it impossible for such claims to be submitted to Medicare, they should determine whether the necessary edits could be implemented on a go forward basis.  The ambulance supplier will also need to make an organizational determination on whether to investigate its past claims universe.  This determination should be made in consultation with the company’s legal advisers.  Your legal advisers will also guide you on the steps that should be taken if you discover that you remain paid for any claims with any of these suspect combinations.