CMS Issues Proposed Rule for Calendar Year 2016

On July 8, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a display copy of a proposed rule titled “Medicare Program; Revisions to Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2016”.  The proposed rule makes a number of changes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule.  It also makes certain changes to the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule.  These proposed changes are summarized below.

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Ambulance Open Door Forum, April 22, H.R. 2

CMS held its latest Ambulance Open Door Forum on April 22. It started with the following two announcements:

– H.R. 2 was signed into law extending the temporary ambulance adjustments through December 31, 2017. The adjustments are 2% (urban pick-ups), 3% (rural) and 22.6% (super rural).

– For free standing facilities, use the “P” modifier if the facility is not part of the hospital and use “H” if it is hospital-based.
Following these announcements, there was a Question and Answer period. Most of the questions were not answered on the call and the caller was asked to submit their questions to CMS, or was told to ask their Medicare Administrative Contractor or was told to appeal the denied claim referenced in their question. A few were answered, as follows:

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House Votes in Favor of Permanent Doc Fix, Bill Moves to the Senate

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 2, doing away with Medicare’s sustainable growth-rate formula and passing a permanent doc fix. The 392-37 vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan. As we reported on March 24, thanks to our champions on Capitol Hill, a 33-month extension of the temporary Medicare ambulance increases was included in the bill. If enacted, the bill would extend the deadline for expiration of Medicare ambulance relief from March 31 until December 31, 2017.

The Senate still needs to pass the bill and is working on a short time-line before they adjourn for recess. Senate Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns about different aspects of the bill so it is unclear whether the chamber will consider H.R. 2 before it recesses. It is also uncertain if Congress would pass a short-term extension to give the Senate more time or if CMS would be required to formalize its 14-day claim hold policy should H.R. 2 not be enacted before March 31.

In addition to Medicare ambulance relief, the package also includes language from the Protecting Integrity of Medicare Act (H.R. 1021) expanding the current prior authorization pilot programs on repetitive BLS non-emergency ambulance transports in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Starting in January 2016, the bill would expand the programs to Delaware, DC, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia. The program would then expand nationwide starting in January 2017.

The AAA will continue to push for the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (S. 377, H.R. 745). S. 377 and H.R. 745 would make the current temporary ambulance increases permanent and place our industry in a strong position moving forward for data-driven reforms to the ambulance fee schedule. S. 377 and H.R. 745 would also address fraud and abuse with repetitive BLS non-emergency dialysis transports. While a similar program to the current pilot programs. The prior authorization within S. 377 and H.R. 745 would apply only to dialysis transports and would institute additional safeguards to ensure timely prior authorization for medically necessary transports.

I want to thank all AAA members, staff and consultants who continue to work tirelessly on extending essential Medicare ambulance relief. We will keep you posted of new developments.

House SGR Repeal Package Contains Ambulance Relief Extension

Earlier today, House Republican and Democratic leadership released the complete package (H.R. 2) for a permanent fix to the physician fee schedule. I am happy to report that the AAA through our champions on Capitol Hill was successful in getting a 33-month extension of the temporary Medicare ambulance increases included in the bill. If enacted, the bill would extend the deadline for expiration of Medicare ambulance relief from March 31 until December 31, 2017.

The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 2 on either Thursday or Friday prior to adjourning for the two-week Easter recess. The bill is currently expected to pass the House with bipartisan support. Senate Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns about different aspects of the bill so it is unclear whether the chamber will consider H.R. 2 before it recesses. It is also unclear if Congress would pass a short-term extension to give the Senate more time or if CMS would be required to formalize its 14-day claim hold policy should H.R. 2 not be enacted before March 31.

The package also includes language from the Protecting Integrity of Medicare Act (H.R. 1021) expanding the current prior authorization pilot programs on repetitive BLS non-emergency ambulance transports in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Starting in January 2016, the bill would expand the programs to Delaware, DC, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia. The program would then expand nationwide starting in January 2017.

The AAA continues to push for the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (S. 377, H.R. 745). S. 377 and H.R. 745 would make the current temporary Medicare ambulance increases permanent and place our industry in a strong position moving forward for data-driven reforms to the ambulance fee schedule. S. 377 and H.R. 745 would also address fraud and abuse with repetitive BLS non-emergency dialysis transports. While a similar program to the current pilot programs, the prior authorization within S. 377 and H.R. 745 would apply only to dialysis transports and would institute additional safeguards to ensure timely prior authorization for medically necessary transports.

We will keep you posted of new developments.

Permanent Medicare Ambulance Relief

Please reach out to your members of Congress and ask that they cosponsor the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (H.R. 745, S. 377) and support an extension of the temporary Medicare ambulance add-on payments.  H.R. 745 and S. 377 would make the current temporary Medicare increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment permanent. Please also ask your members of Congress to support an extension of the increases, which expire on March 31.

In the next few weeks, Congress is expected to consider an extension of the temporary fix to the physician fee schedule. This package would also be the legislative vehicle for an extension of the Medicare ambulance add-on payments. An extension of these increases will ensure the continuation of short-term relief while we push to make the increases permanent. So please write today!

Thank you in advance for writing to your members of Congress.

Advocate for Permanent Medicare Ambulance Relief

The U.S. House of Representatives is currently developing a package on a permanent fix to the physician fee schedule. House Speaker John Boehner recently announced the effort for a permanent fix instead of another extension and the framework of a package is coming together quickly. It is therefore critical that you contact your members of Congress today in support of permanent ambulance relief.

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Prior Authorization Issues – South Carolina

Based on implementation issues involving the Prior Authorization program for repetitive patients inSouth Carolina, Brian and I had a conference call with representatives of CMS and Palmetto on Friday January 9, 2015. Three main issues were discussed, as follows:

1. Legal Representative Payee – There was confusion concerning repetitive patients that had a Legal Representative Payee. These are patients who can not conduct their own affairs and have a form on file at the Social Security Administration for someone else to be their legal representative. When ambulance companies submitted for Prior Authorization for these patients, they were told thePrior Authorization did not apply for the patient. Palmetto posted their policy for these patients on their web site.

Unfortunately, you will not know right away which patients have a legal representative payee. Most likely you will not know until you receive a rejection of the Prior Authorization request. Therefore, until you have been told a repetitive patient has a legal representative payee, file with Palmetto for the priorauthorization.

Once you are told the patient has a legal representative payee, then submit claims, just as you would for non-repetitive patients, i.e. do not continue to try to obtain prior approval or a Unique Transaction Number (UTN).

We have asked Palmetto if there is a database that you can access before going through the priorauthorization process. So far, there is not, but they are checking on this issue.

FYI, this was a policy instituted by CMS for the Prior Authorization process based on other programs (not ambulance) they have in place.

2. Incorrect Edit for Non-Repetitive Patients – On Wednesday, January 7th, we advised Palmetto that claims for non-repetitive patients were either being denied or that they needed further development as there is a systems edit that is pulling patients who had multiple transports over a period of time, but are not supposed to be in this Prior Authorization program. For example, a patient who has had four hospital discharges following illnesses for a fracture, a CVA, pneumonia and surgery, is not “repetitive”, for Prior Authorization purposes. On the conference call on Friday, Palmetto and CMS agreed with our assessment of the situation. They indicated that not only has the cause of the problem been identified, but they believe that it will be fixed in approximately one week. They are testing it now. They are looking at January 19 as the date for the “fix” to be implemented.

They have located 485 claims in this status that are currently “suspended”. When the “fix” is implemented, they will release these claims for processing, i.e. those providers should not resubmit the claims as Palmetto will do it automatically. Claims for these non-repetitive patients that have already been rejected should be resubmitted.

NOTE: Novitas is having the same problem. They sent out a notice to providers in their jurisdiction advising them they are aware of the problem. We assume that the same “fix” will be tried by Novitas.

3. Common Errors – We asked Palmetto if they could come up with a list of the common errors being made by ambulance companies. Following the conference call, they provided us with the list below. Providers in South Carolina (as well as in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, even though NJ and PA submit to Novitas) should review the list to ensure you are not making these mistakes:

– The PCS submitted does not have a valid signature date.

– The date of the signature is post- dated, perhaps to match a future date the patient will be starting.

– The signature on the PCS is not identifiable. The name of the physician must be identifiable. This does not mean the signature itself must be legible, it means that Palmetto has to be able to read the name of the physician that signed the PCS.

– The PCS has been amended (e.g. to print or type the name of the physician) without any notation by the amending individual. Any amendments/additional information should be clearly signed or initialed and dated by the person making the change or note.

– Submission of contradictory documentation. For instance, the PCS may support the transport, but the supporting documentation from the certifying physician does not.

– If the Prior Authorization is approved, the UTN is not entered into the appropriate field or submitted at all.

– For claims that are non-emergent, non-repetitive, providers are listing something (e.g. “N/A” or “not a PA” or “non-repetitive”) in the UTN field. For these non-repetitive patients, do not put anything the UTN field. The edit for the prior authorization is hard coded. Therefore, if their computer finds anything in this field, for patients who do not have prior authorization, the claim will reject.

Palmetto indicated that they will have a conference call with ambulance providers to discuss “hot issues”, including those above. At this time, they are looking to have that conference call on January 19th, although that is subject to change. For those affected, check the Palmetto web site and otherwise look for the notice for this conference call.

Finally, implementing a program of this nature is always going to have some start-up problems. Now that the two issues noted in #1 and #2 above have been identified and are about to be resolved, the remaining problems, such as those noted in #3 above, are mostly left up to the providers to understand what is needed, where the information is to be listed, etc. Once that is understood, the process will work smoothly as it did for many years in Ohio, when Palmetto and its predecessor used a prior authorization process for ambulance transports of non-emergency dialysis patients.

Of course, there will always be those situations where you believe medical necessity is met, but Palmetto does not agree. In those situations you will have to decide if more information is needed, whether you agree with Palmetto and the patient can be transported via wheelchair van, whether you need to advise the patient/facility accordingly, whether to accept the denial or whether to appeal.

Comment Letter on Proposed Fee Schedule Changes

On August 29, 2014, the AAA sent a Proposed Rule Comment Letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regarding the CY2015 Fee Schedule Changes.  The AAA determined the recently published proposed rule on updates to the Medicare ambulance fee scheduled for CY 2015 likely significantly underestimated the number of zip codes that would change geographic area designation. In the proposed rule, CMS stated 120 zip codes would change from rural to urban and 100 zip codes would change from urban to rural. The AAA has estimated 1,524 zip codes would change from rural to urban and 449 zip codes would change from urban to rural.

AAA Proposed Rule Comment Letter

2015 Changed Zip Totals by State