CMS Prepares Providers and Suppliers for the End of the Public Health Emergency:
CMS Issues Updates on the End of Emergency Waivers and Flexibilities Issued during the PHE
By Kathy Lester, J.D., M.P.H.
Even though it appears that the Biden-Harris Administration will extend the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) for at least another 90 days, CMS has begun the process of preparing for the termination of waivers and flexibilities that have been in effect during the pandemic. During the PHE, the American Ambulance Association has worked closely with CMS and Congress to make sure that ground ambulance services were prioritized and provided with waivers and flexibilities to support their integral role as a front-line medical response during the pandemic.
CMS announced its roadmap for the end of the PHE on August 18. The roadmap includes a summary of the policies that will terminate at the end of the PHE, but also notes that CMS intends to keep some policies in place even after the PHE ends. Examples of policies that will continue after the PHE is allowed to expire include certain morbidity and mortality reporting requirements on long-term care facilities and certain telehealth services expanded by Congress.
In its announcement, CMS indicated particular concern about patient safety. “As mentioned by Lee A. Fleisher, M.D.; Michelle Schreiber, M.D.; Denise Cardo, M.D.; and Arjun Srinivasan, M.D., in February 17, 2022, New England Journal of Medicine Perspective, ‘Safety has also worsened for patients receiving post-acute care, according to data submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Quality Reporting Programs…’”
As part of this announcement, CMS released a fact sheet detailing the current status of the Medicare waivers and flexibilities for ambulance providers and suppliers. Some of the policies highlighted in this fact sheet include:
- Vaccine Reimbursement Rates: CMS will continue to pay approximately $40 per dose for administering COVID-19 vaccines in outpatient settings for Medicare beneficiaries through the end of the calendar year that the COVID-19 PHE ends. Effective January 1 of the year following the year that the COVID-19 PHE ends, CMS will set the payment rate for administering COVID-19 vaccines to align with the payment rate for administering other Part B preventive vaccines. CMS plans to continue to pay a total payment of approximately $75 per dose to administer COVID-19 vaccines in the home for certain Medicare patients through the end of the calendar year that the COVID-19 PHE ends.
- Alternative Destination: CMS indicates that it will include this issue in future rulemaking.
- Treat in Place: CMS indicates that the waiver will end with the end of the PHE.
- Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport (RSNAT) Prior Authorization: CMS notes that it has already returned to the full model operations including post-payment reviews of claims submitted during the PHE.
- Signature Requirements: Absent indications of potential fraud and abuse, CMS will not review claims for dates of service during the COVID-19 PHE for compliance with the signature requirements.
- Appeal Flexibilities: CMS will allow some of the flexibilities related to the timing of appears to continue consistent with existing authority for appeals once the PHE ends.
The AAA will continue to monitor the PHE and any changes in the waivers and flexibilities specific to ground ambulance services. We encourage members to reach out to our team if concerns or questions arise as CMS winds down the PHE.
On August 18, 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) held its most recent Ambulance Open Door Forum (ODF). As is typically the case, CMS started the ODF with a series of announcements, before opening the call to questions from the ambulance industry.
The first announcement related to proposed changes to the regulations governing the medical necessity requirements for non-emergency, scheduled, repetitive ground ambulance services. Specifically, CMS is proposing to modify the so-called “special rule” for repetitive, scheduled non-emergency services (set forth in the regulations at 42 C.F.R. §410.40(e)(2)(ii)). CMS indicated that these proposed changes would provide necessary and ensure the consistent application of the documentation requirements by its contractors. The proposed change would add language indicating that both the Physician Certification Statement and “additional documentation from the beneficiary’s medical record” could be used to support medical necessity for the ambulance transport. The new language would further indicate that these documents must provide detailed explanations that are consistent with the beneficiary’s current medical condition. On the ODF, CMS encouraged the industry to submit comments on these proposed changes. However, CMS indicated that, because these changes were the subject of ongoing rulemaking, it would not be able to answer any questions on the ODF.
The second announcement related to the proposed changes to the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System (GADCS) included in the July 2022 Proposed Rule. CMS and its contractor, the Rand Corporation, went through a detailed PowerPoint presentation that summarized these proposed changes. That PowerPoint presentation can be accessed by clicking here.
As part of its discussion of the GADCS, CMS also announced the implementation of an automated process for requesting hardship exemptions and informal review of determinations that an ambulance provider is subject to a financial penalty for failing to properly submit its cost data.
The final announcement related to ambulance services furnished by Rural Emergency Hospitals (REHS). In the FY 2023 Outpatient Hospital Proposed Rule, CMS is proposing to codify in its regulations the statutory requirement that ambulance services furnished by entities that are owned and operated by REHS will be paid under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule. CMS is also proposing to revise the origin and destination requirements to include REHS as both a covered origin and covered destination for ambulance services.
The ODF concluded with a brief Q&A period. All of the questions posed to CMS related to the GADCS. One of the questions placed to CMS was whether it would permit ambulance suppliers to prospectively seek a hardship exemption, i.e., to permit an ambulance supplier to ask now that it be relieved of the financial penalties for failing to report its cost data. The person posing the question specifically referenced ambulance suppliers impacted by the severe flooding in the State of Kentucky. CMS confirmed that an ambulance supplier had to be notified that it was subject to a financial penalty before it was eligible to seek a hardship exemption.
Yesterday, the American Ambulance Association Board of Directors approved the Association’s advocacy priorities for 2022. Our key initiatives reflect the challenges we face this year, including short-sighted threats to EMS balance billing, a worsening workforce shortage, the expiration of the temporary Medicare increases, and potential sequestration cuts.
We also continue to fight for you as you care for people first on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will sustain our efforts at securing additional funding for ground ambulance services to help address the increased costs of providing medical care and transport during the Public Health Emergency.
To achieve our collective goals, the AAA Board will need to mobilize the full voice of influence of the EMS community this year. If you have not already sent an email using the AAA advocacy system to your members of Congress, please do so today!
Staff will be reaching out to you at key points later in the year about letter writing for specific individual policy requests. But it is important that they hear from you now on all the top issues for ground ambulance services. They are:
Top AAA Advocacy Priorities for 2022
EMS Workforce Shortage
With the persistent shortage of ground ambulance service field personnel raising to a crisis level with the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAA moved the issue to a top policy priority. The AAA is currently working with key Congressional Committees of jurisdiction to hold hearings on the EMS workforce shortage. We are also developing legislation to specifically target increasing access for ground ambulance service organizations to federal programs and funding for the retention and training of health care personnel.
The AAA successfully educated the Congress on the role of local government oversight and other unique characteristics of providing ground ambulance service organizations. As a result, the Congress directed the establishment of a Ground Ambulance and Balance Billing Advisory Committee to address the issue. The Committee is in the process of being formed and then has 180 days in which to make recommendations to the Congress. The AAA will be involved with the Committee and advocating that the Congress implement policies that meet the needs of our members.
Additional COVID-19 Financial Assistance
The AAA is advocating for additional financial assistance for ground ambulance service organizations to help address the increased costs of labor and other higher costs associated with providing health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Medicare Ambulance Relief
The temporary Medicare ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment expire at the end of the year. The AAA will continue to push for passage of the provisions of the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act (S. 2037, H.R. 2454) before the provisions expire as well as for the adoption of language to ensure truly rural areas remain rural following changes to geographical designations based on the 2020 census.
The Congress delayed the additional 4% sequestration cut for only one yea. The AAA is working with other EMS and health care provider and supplier groups to permanently prevent the cut from going into effect as well as further extending the moratorium on the long-standing 2% cut.
Ambulance Cost Data Collection
With the 2-year delay of ambulance data collection due to the pandemic, the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC) will have little to no data to analyze in March 2023 in which to make recommendations to the Congress on Medicare ambulance payment policy and rates. The AAA is asking the Congress to push back the date of the MedPAC report and also expand the modified data collection timeline of two years to the intended four years.
On behalf of my fellow board members, I again thank you for your continued membership and participation. We look forward to serving you for many years to come.
Should you have any questions regarding our advocacy priorities, please contact AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North at email@example.com.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 21, 2021
Contact: CMS Media Relations
CMS Media Inquiries
New Medicaid and CHIP Enrollment Snapshot Shows Almost 10 million Americans Enrolled in Coverage During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
Report Shows Record Medicaid Enrollment and Highlights the Program’s Importance in Preserving Coverage for Millions of Children and Adults Throughout the United States
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a new Enrollment Trends Snapshot report today showing a record high, over 80 million individuals have health coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Nearly 9.9 million individuals, a 13.9% increase, enrolled in coverage between February 2020, the month before the public health emergency (PHE) was declared, and January 2021.
Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, a total of 80,543,351 people were enrolled and receiving full benefits from the Medicaid and CHIP programs by the end of January 2021. In the 50 states that reported total Medicaid child and CHIP enrollment data for January 2021, over 38.3 million children were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP combined, approximately 50% of the total Medicaid and CHIP enrollment. These numbers highlight the essential role the Medicaid and CHIP programs play in providing quality and needed coverage for millions of vulnerable children and adults. In fact, both programs serve as the largest single source of health coverage in the country.
“The Biden-Harris administration is using every lever to ensure any American needing access to quality health coverage receives it. Now more than ever, people need the peace of mind of knowing that they have health coverage,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “This report reminds us what a critical program and rock Medicaid continues to be in giving tens of millions of children and adults access to care. This pandemic taught us that now more than ever, we must work to strengthen Medicaid and make it available whenever and wherever it’s needed using the unprecedented investments Congress provided.”
The increase in total Medicaid and CHIP enrollment is largely attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 PHE, in particular, enactment of section 6008 of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). FFCRA provides states with a temporary 6.2% payment increase in Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funding. States qualify for this enhanced funding by adhering to the Maintenance of Effort requirement, which ensures eligible people enrolled in Medicaid stay enrolled and covered during the PHE.
“Medicaid and CHIP serve as a much-needed lifeline for millions of people throughout this country. The increase we are seeing is exactly how Medicaid works: the program steps in to support people and their families when times are tough,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “For the parents that may have lost a job or had another life change during the pandemic, having access to coverage for themselves and their kids is life-changing. CMS is committed to ensuring our nation’s marginalized communities and low-income families have the coverage they need.”
To assist states and territories in their response to the COVID-19 PHE, CMS developed numerous strategies to support Medicaid and CHIP programs in times of crisis, including granting states more flexibility in their Medicaid and CHIP operations. Today’s data release also reflects a range of indicators related to key application, eligibility, and enrollment processes from within state Medicaid and CHIP agencies.
The Snapshot is a product of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid CHIP Services (CMCS) Medicaid and CHIP Coverage Learning Collaborative (MACLC), which monitors Medicaid and CHIP enrollment trends, primarily using the CMS Performance Indicator (PI) data reported to CMS by state Medicaid and CHIP agencies. PI data reflects key Medicaid and CHIP business processes- including applications, renewals, eligibility determinations, and enrollment.
The Enrollment Trends Snapshot, which is released monthly, is available here: https://www.medicaid.gov/
On July 7, 2020, CMS updated its Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Provider Burden Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). As part of this update, CMS indicated that it would resume several program integrity functions, starting on August 3, 2020. This includes pre-payment and post-payment medical reviews by its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), and the Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs). This also includes the resumption of the Prior Authorization Model for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency ambulance transports. These programs had been suspended by CMS in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Resumption of Medicare Fee-For-Service Medical Reviews
CMS suspended most Medicare FFS medical reviews on March 30, 2020. This included pre-payment medical reviews conducted by its MACs under the Targeted Probe and Educate program, as well as post-payment reviews by its MACs, the SMRC, and the RACs. CMS indicated that, given the importance of medical review activities to CMS’ program integrity efforts, it expects to discontinue its “enforcement discretion” beginning on August 3, 2020.
CMS indicated that providers selected for review should discuss any COVID-related hardships that might affect the provider’s ability to respond to the audit in a timely fashion with their contractor.
CMS further indicated that its contractors will be required to consider any waivers and flexibilities in place at the time of the dates of service of claims selected for future review.
Resumption of Prior Authorization Model
Under the Repetitive, Scheduled, Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model, ground ambulance providers in affected states are required to seek and obtain prior authorization for the transportation of repetitive patients beyond the third round-trip in a 30-day period. The Prior Authorization Model is currently in place in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
On March 29, 2020, CMS suspended certain claims processing requirements under the Prior Authorization Model. During this “pause,” claims for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency transports were not be stopped for pre-payment review to the extent prior authorization had not been requested prior to the fourth round trip in a 30-day period. However, CMS continued to permit ambulance providers to submit prior authorization requests to their MACs.
CMS indicated that full model operations and pre-payment review would resume for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation submitted in the model states on or after August 3, 2020. CMS stated that the MACs will be required to conduct postpayment review on claims that were subject to the model, and which were submitted and paid during the pause. CMS further indicated that it would work with the affected providers to develop a schedule for postpayment reviews that does not significantly increase the burden on providers.
CMS stated that claims that received a provision affirmation prior authorization review decision, and which were submitted with an affirmed Unique Tracking Number (UTN) will continue to be excluded from most future medical review.
CMS “Pauses” Prior Authorization Model for Scheduled, Repetitive Non-Emergency Ambulance Transportation
CMS released published a guidance document summarizing some of the steps that it has taken to relieve the administrative burden on health care providers and suppliers during the current public health emergency. As part of that document, CMS indicated that it will be “pausing” the Prior Authorization Model for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency ambulance transports. Under this program, ambulance suppliers are required to seek and obtain prior authorization for the transportation of repetitive patients beyond the third round-trip in a 30-day period. Absent prior authorization, claims will be stopped for pre-payment review. The Prior Authorization Model is currently in place in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
CMS indicated that this pause went into effect as of March 29, 2020, and will continue for as long as the current public health emergency continues. During this pause, claims for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency transports will not be stopped for pre-payment review if the prior authorization has not been requested and obtained prior to the fourth round-trip. However, CMS indicated that claims submitted and paid during the pause without prior authorization will be subject to postpayment review.
CMS further indicated that during this period: (1) the MACs will continue to review any prior authorization requests that have previously been submitted and (2) that ambulance suppliers may continue to submit new prior authorization requests.
Ambulance suppliers in these areas will have to make a business decision on whether to continue to request prior authorization during the current crisis. Please note that there are significant benefits to obtaining prior authorization for your repetitive patient population. Specifically, claims that are submitted based on an affirmative prior authorization decision are excluded from future medical review.
The existing Prior Authorization Model is scheduled to expire on December 1, 2020. CMS has indicated that, at the present time, it does not plan an extension beyond December 1, 2020. CMS further indicated that the Prior Authorization Model will not be expanded beyond the current states and territories during the public health emergency.
On March 9, 2020, CMS published a memorandum to State Survey Agency Directors that provides updated guidance on the obligations of hospitals and critical access hospitals (CAHs) under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). This guidance was issued in response to numerous inquiries regarding the EMTALA obligations of these facilities as they struggle to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under EMTALA, hospitals and CAHs with emergency departments have an obligation to provide an appropriate medical screening examination to any individual that comes into the emergency department seeking examination or treatment of an emergency medical condition. Hospitals and CAHs are further required to make a determination as to whether the patient actually has an emergency medical condition, and, if so, to provide stabilizing treatment within the hospital’s capabilities, or make appropriate arrangements to transfer the patient to a facility that does have the necessary capabilities.
The hospitals and CAHs had requested guidance on how they can fulfill their basic EMTALA obligations while minimizing the risks of exposure from COVID-19 infected individuals to their staff and other patients in their emergency departments.
Note: in summarizing the CMS guidance document, references to a “hospital” will include both hospitals and CAHs.
Acceptance of Patients Suspected or Confirmed to be Infected with COVID-19
CMS indicated that hospitals with the capacity and the specialized capabilities needed to provide stabilizing treatments are required to accept transfers from hospitals without the necessary capabilities. CMS indicated that it would take into account the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in assessing a hospital’s capabilities and capacity. CMS further indicated that the presence or absence of negative pressure rooms (Airborne Infection Isolation Room (AIIR)) would not be the sole determining factor related to determining when an EMTALA transfer is required. CMS is advising hospitals to coordinate with their state and local public health officials regarding the appropriate placement of individuals who meet specific COVID-19 assessment criteria, as well as the most current standards for treating patients confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.
CMS is further confirming that hospitals have the ability to set up alternative screening sites on the hospital campus, i.e., the initial medical screening exam does not need to take place in the emergency department. CMS is confirming that individuals may be redirected to an alternative screening site after being logged into the emergency department. This redirection can even take place outside the entrance to the emergency department. Medical screening exams conducted in alternative screening sites must still be conducted by qualifying personnel (i.e., physicians, NPs, Pas, or RNs).
CMS is also indicating that hospitals may set up screening sites at “off-campus, hospital-controlled” sites. Hospitals and community officials may encourage the public to go to these sites instead of the hospital for screening for influenza-like illnesses. However, a hospital cannot tell an individual that has already presented at their emergency department to go to an off-site location for their medical screening exam. Unless the off-campus site is already considered to be a dedicated ED (e.g., a free-standing ED) under EMTALA regulations, the EMTALA regulations would not apply to these off-site screening areas; however, the hospital would be required under its Medicare Conditions of Participation to arrange a referral/transfer to an appropriate hospital if the patient has a need for emergency medical attention.
Finally, communities may set up screening clinics at sites not under the control of a hospital. These sites would not be subject to EMTALA.
EMTALA Obligations when a Screening Suggests Possible COVID-19 Infection
To the extent a hospital determines, following a medical screening exam that a patient may be a possible COVID-19 case, the hospital is expected to isolate the patient immediately. CMS indicated that it expects that all hospitals will be able to provide medical screening exams and initiate stabilizing treatment while maintaining isolation requirements.
Once an individual is admitted to the hospital or the emergency medical condition ends, the hospital has no further obligations under EMTALA.
CMS is further reminding hospitals that the latest screening guidance from the CDC calls for hospitals to contact their State or local public health officials when they have a case of suspected COVID-19.
On March 16, 2020, CMS approved an 1135 Waiver request submitted by the State of Florida. The State had requested the flexibility to waive prior authorization requirements, streamline its Medicaid enrollment process, and allow care to be provided in alternative settings to the extent an existing health care facility needs to be evacuated. The key provisions of the waiver are summarized below:
1. Payments to Out-of-State Providers: Under current CMS coverage guidelines, the Florida Medicaid Program had the authority to reimburse out-of-state providers that were not enrolled in the Florida Medicaid Program provided certain criteria were met. However, this authority was limited to situations involving: (a) a single instance of care furnished over a 180-day period or (b) multiple instances of care furnished to a single Florida Medicaid beneficiary over a 180-day period. Under the waiver, CMS is removing the 180-day restriction for the duration of the emergency.
2. Expedited Enrollments: With respect to providers that are not currently enrolled in the Medicare Program or with another State Medicaid Agency, CMS is waiving the following screening requirements: (a) the payment of the application fee, (b) the fingerprint-based criminal background checks, (c) the required site visits, and (d) the in-state/territorial licensing requirements. Under the waiver, the state would still be required to check enrolling providers against the OIG exclusion list, and confirm that the out-of-state provider is properly licensed in their home state.
3. Cessation of Revalidation Efforts: CMS granted Florida the authority to temporarily cease the revalidation of enrolled in-state Medicaid providers and suppliers who are directly impacted by the emergency.
4. Waiver of Prior Authorization Requirements: CMS has granted Florida the right to waive any prior authorization requirements that are currently part of the State Medicaid Plan. This waiver applies to services provided on or after March 1, 2020, and will continue through the termination of the emergency declaration.
5. Waiver Allowing Evacuating Facilities to Provide Services in Alternative Settings: CMS will allow facilities, including nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, and hospitals to be reimbursed for services rendered during an emergency evacuation to an otherwise unlicensed facility. This waiver will extend for the duration of the declared emergency; however, CMS will require the unlicensed facility to seek licensure with the state after 30 days.
Understanding Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Coverage of Ambulance Services under a Declared National State of Emergency
On March 13, 2020, President Donald J. Trump announced a national state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, HHS Secretary Alex Azar had declared a public health emergency under Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act in response to COVID-19.
This has prompted many AAA members to ask what impact, if any, these declarations have on the coverage of ambulance services under federal health care programs?
The short answer is that these declarations give CMS the authority under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act to waive certain Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Program requirements. This waiver authority includes, but is not necessarily limited to:
• Waiving certain conditions of participation and/or certification requirements;
• Waiving certain pre-approval requirements;
• Waiving the requirements that a provider or supplier be licensed in the state in which they are providing services;
• Waiving EMTALA requirements related to medical screening examinations and transfers; and
• Waiving certain limitations on payments for services provided to Medicare Advantage enrollees by out-of-network providers.
One situation where an 1135 waiver may be of use to an ambulance provider or supplier would be where the ambulance provider or supplier is sending vehicles and crews to a state that is outside its normal service area. The ambulance provider or supplier is unlikely to be licensed by the state in which it is responding. As a result, under normal circumstances, it would be ineligible for payment under federal health care program rules. The 1135 waiver would permit it to submit claims for the services it furnishes in the other state.
Of more immediate significance to the current national emergency, an 1135 waiver may permit hospitals and other institutional health care providers to establish an off-site treatment center for initial screenings of patients. For example, hospitals may establish triage sites in parking lots and other open spaces for the initial intake of patients suspected of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. In theory, this waiver could also extend to drive-thru testing sites to the extent they are operated by the hospital or another health care provider. When a hospital has obtained an 1135 waiver to operate an off-site treatment center, the off-site area becomes a part of the hospital for Medicare payment purposes. Therefore, ambulance transports to an approved off-site treatment area should be submitted to Medicare using the “H” modifier for the destination.
On January 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced the roll-out of its “Healthy Adult Opportunity” (HAO) initiative. Under the initiative, participating states will have a portion of their current federal Medicaid funding converted to block grants. In return, the states will gain greater flexibility in providing for the health care needs of certain portions of their existing Medicaid populations.
In a letter directed to State Medicaid Directors, CMS outlined the details of how the HAO initiative would operate. The initiative will be operated under CMS’ 1115 waiver authority. In order to participate, a state must submit an application setting forth the specific demonstration projects it intends to implement. CMS reiterated that participation in the HAO initiative is voluntary. CMS further indicated that it will review state applications on a case-by-case basis and make an independent decision on whether the proposed policies merit approval. States with existing Section 1115 waivers that cover eligible populations will be permitted to transition existing demonstrations into the HAO initiative.
CMS indicated that HAO demonstrations will generally be approved for an initial 5-year period, and successful demonstrations may be renewed for a period of up to 10 years.
A summary of some of the major provisions of this initiative is provided below.
The Medicaid Program is a joint federal and state program that provides free or low-cost health coverage to nearly 65 million Americans. The Program is administered by each state, with the federal government reimbursing states for a percentage of their qualifying Medicaid expenditures. The amount of federal matching funds is based on a statutory formula that compares a state’s per capita income to the national average. States with lower per capita incomes receive a higher Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP). FMAPs range from 50% to a maximum of 83%. In addition, the federal government provides higher matching rate (called an Enhanced FMAP) for certain services or populations. For example, the federal government currently pays 90% of the costs of providing health care to those covered by the Medicaid expansion included in the Affordable Care Act.
Under the HAO initiative, participating states would forego the FMAP for certain Medicaid populations. Instead, these states would receive a fixed amount of federal funding (i.e., a block-grant), which will be calculated based on either a total expenses or per-enrollee basis. To the extent the state spends more than its budgeted amount, it would not be eligible for additional federal matching funds. To the extent the state ends up spending less than its budgeted amount, the state would participate in the cost-savings.
Eligible Medicaid Populations
The HAO initiative is focused on the non-mandatory adult Medicaid populations, i.e., individuals that are under the age of 65, and who are not eligible for Medicaid on the basis of disability, or their need for long term care, and who are not otherwise eligible under a State Medicaid Plan. In other words, this initiative is largely targeted at those individuals that become eligible for Medicaid as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
Benefit Package Design
Under the HAO initiative, states will have the ability to design benefit packages that closely resemble the benefit packages provided by private insurers. At a minimum, this would include benefit packages that cover all of the Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) required for commercial insurances sold on the State ACA Exchanges. States may also design federally qualified health center coverages that facilitate the use of value-based payment design among safety-net providers.
Beneficiaries that are shifted into HAO demonstration projects will retain certain beneficiary protections, including all federal disability and civil rights laws, fair hearing rights, and limits on their mandatory cost-sharing amounts.
Coverage of Prescription Drugs
One major change would be to state’s coverage of prescription drugs. The initiative would give states the flexibility to offer formularies under an HAO demonstration project similar to those provided in commercial health insurance markets. This would remove the current mandate that states provide a so-called “open formulary.” States that elect to establish their own formulary would be required to comply with the EHB requirements regarding prescription drug benefits. States would also be required to cover substantially all drugs used to treat: (1) mental health disorders (i.e., antipsychotics and antidepressants), (2) HIV (i.e., antiretroviral drugs), and (3) opioid use disorders (i.e., all forms, formulations, and delivery mechanisms) where there are rebate agreements in place with the manufacturers.
In theory, this would permit states to cover only a single drug for many pharmaceutical classes.
States would have the flexibility to impose additional cost-sharing obligations on beneficiaries covered under a demonstration program, subject to two broad limitations:
- Aggregate out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries covered under an HAO demonstration must not exceed 5% of the beneficiary’s household income, measured on a monthly or quarterly basis; and
- Premiums and cost-sharing charges for tribal beneficiaries, those beneficiaries living with HIV, those beneficiaries needing treatment for substance use disorders, and the cost-sharing charges for prescription drugs used to treat mental health conditions must not exceed amounts permitted under the implementing regulations. States would also not be permitted to suspend enrollment for these individuals if they fail to pay their premiums or cost-sharing amounts.
Wrap-Around Services (Including NEMT)
States would be given the flexibility to discontinue the coverage of Alternative Benefit Plan wrap-around services, including non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) and early and periodic screening, diagnostic and treatment services (EPSDT) for individuals aged 19-20.
The AAA is pleased to release its 2019 State Medicaid Rate Survey. This survey sets forth the fee-for-service Medicaid rates for all 50 states. For each state, the Survey lists the rate paid for each of the following procedure codes:
- A0428 – BLS Non-Emergency
- A0429 – BLS Emergency
- A0426 – ALS Non-Emergency
- A0427 – ALS Emergency
- A0433 – ALS-2
- A0434 – SCT
- A0225 – Neonate Transport
- A0998 – Treatment, No Transport
- A0425 – Mileage
- A0422 – Oxygen
- A0382/A0398 – BLS/ALS Routine Disposable Supplies
- A0420 – Wait Time
- A0424 – Extra Attendant
The rates set out in this survey are based on publicly available information provided by the various State Medicaid agencies. While the AAA has taken steps to verify the accuracy of the information on this Survey, it is possible that the rates provided in the Survey may not reflect changes to a state’s reimbursement policies that have not been made publicly available. These rates may not also not reflect any emergency budgetary measures or other temporary reductions imposed by a state.
The AAA’s goal is to make this Survey as accurate as possible. Therefore, if you believe the rates for your state are inaccurate, please contact the AAA at firstname.lastname@example.org or me at email@example.com.
CMS Extends Temporary Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Services in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that it intends to extend the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The extended moratoria will run through January 29, 2019. Notice of the extension of the temporary moratorium will appear in the Federal Register on August 2, 2018.
Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse. On July 31, 2013, CMS used this new authority to impose a moratorium on the enrollment of new ambulance providers in Houston, Texas and the surrounding counties. On February 4, 2014, CMS imposed a second moratorium on newly enrolling ambulance providers in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas. These moratoriums were subsequently extended on August 1, 2014, February 2, 2015, July 28, 2015, and February 2, 2016.
On August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to the moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers. Specifically, CMS announced that: (1) the enrollment moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier and (2) the enrollment moratoria on non-emergency ambulance services would be expanded to cover the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. At the same time, CMS announced the creation of a new “waiver” program that would permit the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in these states under certain circumstances. The revised moratorium on newly enrolling non-emergency ground ambulance providers was subsequently extended on January 9, 2017 and July 28, 2017.
On September 1, 2017, CMS issued a notice on its website indicating that it had elected to lift the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017. CMS indicated that this decision was made to assist in the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey. CMS published formal notice of the lifting of this moratorium on November 3, 2017.
On January 30, 2018, CMS announced an extension of the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium on or before January 29, 2019.
On Thursday, July 12, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the “Revisions to Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2019; Medicare Shared Savings Program Requirements; Quality Payment Program; and Medicaid Promoting Interoperability Program” Proposed Rule (Proposed Rule).
As you know, the American Ambulance Association worked closely with the Congress to ensure passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA) (Pub. L. 115-123, enacted on February 9, 2018). The BBA not only extended the ambulance add-ons for 5 years, but also authorized a cost collection system that would not be overly burdensome on ambulance providers and suppliers, but would provide sufficient information ideally to support the permanent extension of the add-ons and set the basis for new payment models, including alternative destinations, treatment/assessment without transport, and community paramedicine.
After passage of the BBA, the AAA engaged immediate with CMS to ensure the smooth implementation of these provisions. Those contacts resulted in guidance earlier this year implementing the add-ons retroactively to January 1, 2019.
Consistent with the statute and already-released guidance, the Proposed Rule extends the three add-ons: the 2 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and 22.6 percent super-rural add-ons. The Proposed Rule would codify the extension of the add-ons through December 31, 2022.
The Proposed Rule would implement the increase in the reduction in rates for non-emergency ambulance transports to/from dialysis facilities for services furnished on or after October 1, 2018. The 10 percent reduction applies for these transports furnished during the period beginning on October 1, 2013 and ending on September 30, 2018. The reduction will increase to 23 percent to conform the regulations to the statutory requirement for services furnished on or after October 1, 2018.
CMS does not request any information about the cost collection system in the Proposed Rule, but has been soliciting comments and recommendations through informal provider/supplier calls. Additionally, the AAA has been in regular contact with CMS on the structure, design, and data elements to ensure the successful implementation of this critically important system as well.
Below is the American Ambulance Association’s Response to a recent Kaiser Health News article on ambulance billing. It was reprinted in several metropolitan areas on November 20, 2017.
To the Editor:
I write today in response to Melissa Bailey’s November 20 piece about ambulance balance (“surprise”) billing. While we disagree with the characterization of ambulance services in the article, we welcome the ongoing public dialogue about how unsustainable reimbursement for emergency medical services results in cost-shifting to patients.
Missing from the article is a true understanding of the sky-high cost of readiness for emergency medical services. Ambulance service providers offer their communities 24/7/365 on-demand mobile healthcare. Skilled staff and ambulances—high-tech emergency rooms on wheels—are ready to respond to a 9-1-1 call at a moment’s notice to help patients with issues ranging from stroke to heart attack to trauma to childbirth. EMS is also on the very front lines of the surge in opioid overdoses, providing naloxone (Narcan) to hundreds of patients each day. Keeping supplies, medications, equipment, and personnel at-the-ready requires a significant ongoing investment, regardless of whether or not an ambulance is out responding to a call. Cost comparisons between EMS and the rideshare app Uber may make for catchy sound bites, but they are misleading and misguided.
The piece states that our nation’s 14,000 ambulance service providers received 1,200 Better Business Bureau complaints spread over three years. While certainly not optimal, this is a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of the tens of millions of responses ambulance service providers conduct annually. In fact, BBB 2016 statistics show that ambulance services receive far fewer complaints than hospitals, physicians, dentists, and many other trusted healthcare providers.
The article also offhandedly mentions that balance billing occurs when private insurers and ambulance service providers are unable to agree about fair reimbursement rates. This glosses over the dark reality that it would be hard to categorize the process that occurs between the insurer and ambulance services as a “negotiation.” Instead, insurers often present an all-or-nothing proposition to force ambulance service providers to accept contracts at unsustainably low reimbursement rates. Unlike the multi-billion dollar insurance behemoths, most ambulance services are small and operate on razor-thin margins. In fact, 73% of ambulance services provide fewer than 1,000 Medicare transports per year—just three per day. Ambulance services do not turn down insurance network contracts out of greed, but instead out of necessity. Facing reimbursement rates below the cost of the services they provide, they must decline these agreements in order to keep their doors open and continue to provide healthcare to their communities. Unfortunately, this sometimes creates a situation where out-of-network ambulance costs are shouldered by patients via balance billing, instead of insurers.
In addition to challenges receiving fair compensation from private insurance, EMS is stretched thin by ultra-low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. In fact, in 2007 and 2012 GAO studies showed that without temporary, Congress-authorized percentage increases in EMS payments, ambulance services would receive reimbursement from government payors below the cost of operations. These are often the very same unsustainable rates that private insurers are attempting to strong-arm EMS providers into accepting for network contracts.
Finally, when someone calls 9-1-1 in need of emergency medical care, it is key to recall that, unlike in other industries, an ambulance responds regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. In many cases, the patient does not have insurance and is financially unable to reimburse the ambulance service provider. Therefore, EMS provides a significant amount of uncompensated care, the cost of which must be spread across all payors in order for them to continue their life-saving operations.
Ambulance services provide an essential, on-demand healthcare benefit to their communities. Unfortunately our current healthcare payment structure means that much of this care is not compensated equitably, resulting in the necessity of balance billing patients. While there are no quick fixes for this issue, we encourage consumers to educate themselves about their own insurance coverage. We also ask for your support of legislation that provides sustainable reimbursement for ambulance providers, including the bipartisan US Senate Bill 967. Together, we can ensure the future of mobile healthcare in our great nation.
American Ambulance Association
“Representing EMS In America”
When discussing this new and growing field of pre-hospital care, there seems to be two unique paths that services are following. The first is the hospital-owned or contracted service, where community providers seek ways to decrease readmission rates for CHF, COPD, Pneumonia, Sepsis, MI and other chronic illnesses.
When a patient discharged with one of these targeted conditions is readmitted within a 30 day window, “hospitals face penalties of up to 3 percent of Medicare payments in 2018” (Gluck, 2017, para. 10). That is a lot of money. Consider, “Lee Health, Southwest Florida’s largest hospital operator, which is expected to lose $3.4 million in payments” (Gluck, 2017, para. 2). This model represents the if, or, and type of service, meaning if we can do it for less and there are providers willing to do this type of medicine, then we can save the expensive penalties from CMC.
The other model of community paramedicine is 911 abuse reduction. For years EMS has conditioned the public to call 911 for any emergency. But today, what we consider an emergency is far from the public’s perception of an emergency. “EMS has experienced a 37% increase in 911 calls since 2008.” (White, 2016, para. 6) Yet have we increased staffing proportionally to meet the demand? Afraid not since “only 50% of EMS services in 2008 were fully staffed, and more than 63% had a volunteer component as part of their staffing level” (“Critical Staffing Shortages,” 2015, para. 2).
The article references increasing wages to help compensate for the decrease in trained providers by attracting more professionals to the field. With the CMC limiting payments and the major insurance companies following suit, doubtful this will be an option in the near future.
To reduce calls and increase levels of service, we can try to reeducate the public to what is a true emergency, but that is a long and slow process. For example, Philadelphia has started the trend and placed several billboards up around neighborhoods that contribute an ordinarily high amount of non-emergent 911 calls. Will this work? Time will tell but I would believe not enough to affect the volume of calls.
What about enlisting Community Paramedics in these situations? I believe this is a viable solution with nurses triaging the low acuity calls in the 911 center. Dispatching Community Paramedics armed with not only the usual equipment, but also the knowledge base to connect these patients with primary care physicians, social workers, and the programs that are available to them. This will help people receive the long-term care they deserve.
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.
* Critical Staffing Shortages (2015)
* Gluck, F. (2017, February 7th, 2017). Lee Health will lose $3.4 million in Medicare payments because of readmission rates. USA Today
* White, D. (2016, February 16th, 2016). Community paramedic? program intended to reduce 911 calls. Manatee Technical College
Medicaid billing in emergency medical services is unavoidable. From trauma trips to non-emergency transports, ambulance providers face a multitude of hurdles when trying to identify, verify and bill the correct payor for Medicaid patients. Guesswork is often used instead of real-time insurance verification.
This can be especially true when commercial payors such as United Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield manage the Medicaid plan, commonly termed Medicaid Replacement Plans. This article provides four valuable tips for successfully processing EMS claims when a Medicaid Replacement Plan is involved.
The Challenge for EMS Billing: Benefits Verification
Just as commercial payers see growth opportunities in managing Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, they are also overseeing hundreds of Medicaid programs. According to the annual CMS-64 Medicaid expenditure report, in federal fiscal year (FFY) 2016, Medicaid expenditures across all 50 states and 6 territories exceeded $548 billion, with nearly half of all spending now flowing through Medicaid managed care programs. On average 54.67% of Medicaid dollars are spent on managed care, whether to manage the transition or fund plans. This ranged from 97.9% in Puerto Rico, down to 12.1% in Colorado.
A single trip may have Medicaid benefits, but also managed by United Healthcare or another third-party commercial payer. The result? Blended coverage for Medicaid patients and confusion for providers.
Four Tips to Expedite Medicaid Verification
When checking benefits for Medicaid patients, carefully review the standard eligibility response. Payors usually note benefit management by a commercial payer in the response, but there is no consistency in format or location. The Medicaid Replacement Plan notification may be placed at the top, middle or very bottom of the file. Furthermore, unnecessary additional information may be provided by the payor causing more confusion and time delays for EMS billers. For example, Cigna often includes dental, pharmaceutical and other specialty coverage details even though this information is never required for ambulance trips.
To avoid reimbursement delays with Medicaid Replacement Plans, implement the following four tactics:
Ask the eligibility vendor to place replacement plan information at the top of the file. If notification is placed in the same location and in the same format for every eligibility response, billers save time searching for coverage.
- Request that only pertinent coverage for the claim be included in the eligibility notification. If this is not possible, ask the payer to prioritize eligibility information by placing only the relevant coverage at the top.
- Take time to check and verify eligibility up front. Ensuring a clean and correct claim saves EMS providers back-end expense and expedites reimbursement due to fewer payor rejections and denials.
- Ask your EMS software vendor to integrate eligibility checking directly in your system’s workflow for real-time access during the pre-bill and billing processes. Technology integration saves billing time by eliminating the need to access and enter data into an outside payor portal or insurance discovery application.
Numerous EMS providers struggle with insufficient billing staff to manage claims. Take every step possible to streamline efforts and reduce duplicate work due to denied or rejected claims. When checking eligibility, proper identification and billing of Medicaid Replacement Plans is an essential step.
About the Author:
Stacey Bickford is the Operations and Client Coordinator at Payor Logic. She has been involved with medical billing since a teenager with prior experience in data entry, billing and office management for physicians’ practices, hospitals and especially EMS agencies. Prior to joining Payor Logic in 2016, Stacey started with ZOLL in 2008 as a support technician moving to Product Manager of RescueNet Billing through 2016.
In her free time, Stacey enjoys travelling with her family, Michael and their dogs Benjamin and Poncho. They’ve visited 21 states in the last 15 months! She loves hiking, gardening and being outdoors as much as possible.
One section of the Booklet that you might want to keep handy involves Free-Standing Emergency Departments. Specifically, on page 15, CMS states the following:
Freestanding Emergency Department (ED)
If a freestanding ED is provider based (a department of the hospital), the ambulance transport from the freestanding ED to the hospital is not a separately payable service under Part B if the beneficiary is admitted as an inpatient prior to ambulance transport. For more information about criteria for coverage of ambulance transports separately payable under Part B or as a packaged hospital inpatient service under Part A, refer to Chapter 10, Section 10.3.3, of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual.
This may be useful, along with the Manual section cited, when you have a free-standing ED that is part of a hospital and they call for transports to the main building for the patient to be admitted, but the hospital lists the time of admission as being prior to the time of your transport. When the hospital admits the patient prior to your transport, the hospital becomes responsible for the ambulance charges. It may be useful to show the hospital and ED the booklet and Manual section to prove to them that the hospital is responsible if the patient is admitted to the hospital prior to your transport.