HHS OIG Issues Advisory Opinion on Community Paramedicine

HHS OIG Issues Advisory Opinion Permitting Community Paramedicine Program Designed to Limit Hospital Readmissions

On March 6, 2019, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) posted OIG Advisory Opinion 19-03. The opinion related to free, in-home follow-up care offered by a hospital to eligible patients for the purpose of reducing hospital admissions or readmissions.

The Requestor was a nonprofit medical center that provides a range of inpatient and outpatient hospital services. The Requestor and an affiliated health care clinic are both part of an integrated health system that operates in three states. The Requestor had previously developed a program to provide free, in-home follow-up care to certain patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) that it has certified to be at higher risk of admission or readmission to a hospital. The Requestor was proposing to expand the program to also include certain patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to the Requestor, the purpose of both its existing program and its proposed expansion was to increase patient compliance with discharge plans, improve patient health, and reduce hospital inpatient admissions and readmissions.

Under the existing program, clinical nurses screen patients to determine if they meet certain eligibility criteria. These include the requirement that the patient have CHF and either: (1) be currently admitted as an inpatient at Requestor’s hospital or (2) be a patient of Requestor’s outpatient cardiology department, and who had been admitted as an inpatient at Requestor’s hospital within the previously 30 days. The clinical nurses would identify those patients at higher risk of hospital admission based on a widely used risk assessment tool. The clinical nurses would also determine whether the patient had arranged to receive follow-up care with Requestor’s outpatient CHF center. Patients that do not intend to seek follow-up care with the CHF center, or who have indicated that they intend to seek follow-up care with another health care provider, would not be informed of the current program. Eligible patients would be informed of the current program, and offered the opportunity to participate. The eligibility criteria for the expanded program for COPD patients would operate in a similar manner.

Eligible patients that elect to participate in the current program or the expanded program would receive in-home follow up care for a thirty (30) day period following enrollment. This follow up care would consist of two visits every week from a community paramedic employed by the Requestor. As part of this in-home care, the community paramedic would provide some or all of the following services:

  • A review of the patient’s medications;
  • An assessment of the patient’s need for follow-up appointments;
  • The monitoring of the patient’s compliance with their discharge plan of care and/or disease management;
  • A home safety inspection; and/or
  • A physical assessment, which could include checking the patient’s pulse and blood pressure, listening to the patient’s lungs and heart, checking the patient’s cardiac function using an electrocardiogram, checking wounds, drawing blood and running blood tests, and/or administering medications.

The community paramedic would use a clinical protocol to deliver interventions and to assess whether a referral for follow-up care is necessary. To the extent the patient requires care that falls outside the community paramedic’s scope of practice, the community paramedic would direct the patient to follow up with his or her physician. For urgent, but non-life threatening conditions, the community paramedic would initiate contact with the patient’s physician.

The Requestor certified that the community paramedics would be employed by the Requestor on either full-time or part-time basis, and that all costs associated with the community paramedic would be borne by the Requestor or its affiliates.  The Requestor further certified that no one involved in the operation of the program would be compensated based on the number of patient’s that enroll in the programs. While one of the states in which the Requestor operates does reimburse for community paramedicine services, Requestor certified that it does not bill Medicaid for services provided under the program.

The question posed to the OIG was whether any aspect of the program violated either the federal anti-kickback statute or the prohibition against the offering of unlawful inducements to beneficiaries.

In analyzing the program, the OIG first determined that the services being offered under the program offer significant benefit to enrolled patients. The OIG specifically cited the fact that one state’s Medicaid program reimbursed for similar services as evidence of this value proposition. For this reason, the OIG concluded that the services constitute “remuneration” to patients. The OIG further concluded that this remuneration could potentially influence a patient’s decision on whether to select Requestor or its affiliates for the provision of federally reimbursable items and services.  Therefore, the OIG concluded that the program implicated both the anti-kickback statute and the beneficiary inducement prohibition.

The OIG then analyzed whether the program would qualify for an exception under the so-called “Promoting Access to Care Exception.” This exception applies to remuneration that improves a beneficiary’s ability to access items and services covered by federal health care programs and which otherwise pose a low risk of harm. The OIG determined that while some aspects of the program would likely fall within this exception, other aspects would not. Specifically, the OIG cited the home safety assessment as not materially improving a beneficiary’s access to care.

Having concluded that there was no specific exception that would permit the arrangement, the OIG then analyzed the arrangement under its discretionary authority, ultimately concluding that the program posed little risk of fraud or abuse. In reaching this conclusion, the OIG cited several factors:

  1. The OIG felt that the potential benefits of the program outweighed the potential risks of an improper inducement to beneficiaries. The OIG cited the fact that beneficiaries must have already selected Requestor or its associated clinic as their provider of services before learning about the program. As the OIG indicated “the risk that the remuneration will induce patients to choose Requestor or the Clinic for CHF- or COPD-related services is negligible because patients already have made this selection.” The OIG also noted that the community paramedic will inform beneficiaries of their right to choose a different provider prior to referring the beneficiary to the Requestor or its clinic for services outside the scope of the program.
  2. The OIG noted that, to the extent the program works as intended, it would be unlikely to lead to increased costs to federal health care programs. As noted above, Requestor had certified that it would not bill federal health care programs for the services of the community paramedic.
  3. The program was designed in a way as to minimize the potential for interference with clinical decision-making.
  4. The Requestor certified that it would not advertise or market the program to the public, thereby minimizing the chances of beneficiaries learning about the program prior to selecting Requestor for their CHF- or COPD-related care.
  5. The OIG noted that the program appeared to be reasonably tailored to accomplish the goal of reducing future hospital admissions. For example, the OIG cited the fact that the Requestor limited inclusion in the program to patients deemed to be at a higher-than-normal risk of hospital admission or readmission, and that it made these determinations using a widely used risk assessment tool.  The OIG noted that these patients would likely benefit from the continuity of care offered under the program. In addition, the OIG noted that the community paramedics would be in a position to keep the patients’ physicians appraised of their health by documenting all of their activities.

Potential Impact on Mobile Integrated Health and/or Community Paramedicine Programs

OIG advisory opinions are issued directly to the requestor of the opinion. The OIG makes a point of noting that these opinions cannot be relied upon by any other entity or individual. Legal technicalities aside, the OIG’s opinion is extremely helpful to the industry, as it lays out the factors the OIG would consider in analyzing similar arrangements. Thus, the opinion is extremely valuable to ambulance providers and suppliers that current operate, or are considering the operation of, similar mobile integrated health and/or community paramedicine programs. 

Update on New SNF Edits

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing.

In a Member Advisory issued last week, the AAA provided an update on a series of new Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

In our discussion of the implementation specifics, we attempted to answer the question of what would happen when an ambulance claim is submitted prior to the receipt of the associated hospital outpatient claim, and where the associated hospital claim eventually hit Medicare’s system. Specifically, we indicated as follows:

“The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code.  Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim.  At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment.  The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.”

On March 15, 2019, CMS responded to our request for clarification. Specifically, CMS indicated that it has instructed the SSM and/or its Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) to automatically reprocess claims that were rejected for lack of an associated hospital outpatient claim.

Upon reprocessing, the claims will pass the edits to the extent the associated hospital claim contains a HCPCS or CPT code that indicates that the hospital outpatient service was excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Such claims would then be forwarded to the MAC for further editing, and either paid or denied. By contrast, when the associated hospital outpatient claim contains HCPCS or CPT codes that suggest the hospital services should be bundled to the SNF, the claim will be reprocessed and denied by the MAC with a remittance advice code indicating that the SNF is financially responsible.

AAA Webinar on New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

CMS SNF Edits Go Into Effect – April 1, 2019

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing

On November 2, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 2176 (Change Request 10955), which would establish a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

Why these edits are necessary?

In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that, with limited exceptions, the SNF’s per diem payment includes medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay. The OIG’s report was issued in February 2019.

The OIG conducted a review of all SNF beneficiary days from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016 to determine whether the beneficiary day contained a ground ambulance claim line. The OIG excluded beneficiary days where the only ambulance claim line related to: (1) certain emergency or intensive outpatient hospital services or (2) dialysis services, as such ambulance transportation would be excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. The OIG determined that there were 58,006 qualifying beneficiary days during this period, corresponding to $25.3 million in Medicare payments to ambulance suppliers.

The OIG then selected a random sample of 100 beneficiary days for review. The OIG determined that 78 of these 100 beneficiary days contained an overpayment for the associated ambulance claims, as the services the beneficiary received did not suspend or end their SNF resident status, nor was the transport for dialysis. The OIG determined that ambulance providers were overpaid a total of $41,456 for these ambulance transports. The OIG further determined that beneficiaries (or their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $10,723 in incorrect coinsurance and deductibles.

Based on the results of its review, the OIG estimates that Medicare made a total of $19.9 million in Part B overpayments to ambulance suppliers for transports that should have been bundled to the SNFs under SNF Consolidated Billing regime. The OIG estimated that beneficiaries (and their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $5.2 million in coinsurance and deductibles related to these incorrect payments.

The OIG concluded that the existing edits were inadequate to identify ambulance claims for services associated with hospital outpatient services that did not suspend or end the beneficiary’s SNF resident status, and which were not related to dialysis. The OIG recommended that CMS implement additional edits to identify such ambulance claims.

Overview of new claims processing edits

In response to the OIG’s report, CMS issued Transmittal 2176, which implements a new series of claims processing edits to identify ambulance claims associated with outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF. As noted above, these edits will go into effect on April 1, 2019.

These new claims processing edits are somewhat complicated. In order to properly understand how these claims edits will work, it is helpful to understand that CMS already has claims processing edits in place to identify hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF. These CWF edits operate by referencing a list of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that correspond to outpatient hospital services that are expressly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Hospital claims for outpatient services that are submitted with one of these excluded codes bypass the existing CWF edits, and are then sent to the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor for further editing and payment. Hospital claims submitted without one of these codes are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. For convenience, the list of HCPCS and CPT codes excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing is hereinafter referred to as the “Exempted Codes.”

The new edits for ambulance claims will compare Part B ambulance claims to the associated outpatient hospital claim to see whether or not that hospital claim is excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.

Specifics related to new claims processing edits

Under these new edits, the CWF will reject an incoming ambulance claim whenever the beneficiary is determined to be in an SNF Part A stay if either:

  1. There is no associated outpatient hospital claims for the same date of service on file; or
  2. There is an associated outpatient hospital claim for the same date of service on file (paid or denied), but where that outpatient hospital claim does not contain at least one Exempted Code.

When an incoming ambulance claim is rejected by the CWF, it will be sent to the applicable Medicare Administrative Contractor and rejected (Part A Ambulance Providers) or denied (Part B Ambulance Suppliers) using the applicable Claim Adjustment Reason Code/Remittance Advice Remark Code for SNF Consolidated Billing.  In other words, the ambulance claim will be denied with an indication that youshould bill the SNF.

The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code. Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim. At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment. The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.

Potential concerns for ambulance providers and suppliers

Based on the current experience of hospital providers, the AAA is cautiously optimistic that the new edits can be implemented in a way that proper identifies ambulance transports associated with hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF vs. those that correctly remain separately payable by Medicare Part B.

However, the AAA has some concerns with the manner in which CMS intends to apply these edits.  Ambulance providers and suppliers are typically in a position to submit their claims earlier than the corresponding hospital, many of which submit claims on a biweekly or monthly cycle.  This creates a potential timing issue. This timing issue arises because the edits will reject any ambulance claim that is submitted without an associated hospital claim on file.  In other words, even if the hospital outpatient service is properly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing, the ambulance claim will still be rejected if it beats the hospital claim into the system. The hope is that CMS will subsequently reprocess the ambulance claim once the hospital claim hits the system. However, at this point in time, it is unclear whether these claims will be automatically reprocessed, or whether ambulance providers and suppliers will be forced to appeal these claims for payment.

One option available to ambulance providers and suppliers would be to hold these claims for a period of time, in order to allow the hospitals to submit their claims. By waiting for the hospital to submit its claim, you can ensure that your claims will not be denied solely due to the timing issue. This should eliminate the disruption associated with separately payable claims being rejected and then subsequently reprocessed and/or appealed. It would also give you a degree of certainty when billing the SNF for claims that are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. However, holding claims carries an obvious downside, i.e., it will disrupt your normal cash flow.

To summarize, the implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on whether to hold claims to minimize the potential for problems, or to continue their existing submission practices and deal with any issues as they arise.

AAA webinar on new SNF Consolidated Billing edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

Release: CMMI Announces Ambulance Innovative Payment Pilot Program

February 14, 2019

For Immediate Release
Contact Maria Bianchi
American Ambulance Association
202-802-9020
info@ambulance.org

CMMI Announces Ambulance Innovative Payment Pilot Program

Washington, DC – Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) announced the launch of the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model.  During the next five years, this model will test paying ambulance providers and suppliers when they transport beneficiaries to locations other than an emergency department, if the alternative location is more appropriate medically for the patient.  It will also test paying for health care services provided by qualified health care professionals or through telehealth at the scene even if the ambulance does not transport the patient.

While there are several important details yet to be released, this model appears to track the recommendations the American Ambulance Association, our members, and other industry partners have been working with CMS to implement.

“Over the last 7 years, the AAA and our members have been working to develop an innovative payment framework to modernize the Medicare ambulance benefit,” said AAA President Aarron Reinert. “We are pleased that CMS is taking this important step and look forward to working closely with Administrator Verma, Director Boehler and their teams on the details of the ideas announced today to ensure the appropriate implementation.”

Representatives of the American Ambulance Association also participated in the CMS announcement of this model today in DC.  Senior Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials including Secretary Alex Azar, CMS Administrator Seema Verma and CMMI Director Adam Boehler spoke at the event. AAA President-Elect Shawn Baird represented the AAA at the announcement.

While the details of the program are still under development and will be communicated through program guidance, a few general details were provided at the event.

The Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model, would test two new ambulance payment methods. Under ET3, participating ambulance service providers or suppliers would be able to receive payment for:

  • treatment in place with a qualified health care practitioner, either on-the-scene or connected using telehealth; and
  • for unscheduled, emergency transport of Medicare beneficiaries to alternative destinations (such as 24-hour care clinics) other than destinations covered under current regulations (such as hospital EDs).

The program will be national in scope and thus open to all ambulance service suppliers and providers who meet the program requirements, which are still being finalized. The program will be voluntary so providers and suppliers who chose not to participate can continue to be paid under current policy. CMS anticipates releasing applications for the program this summer and an anticipated start date for the program in early 2020.

While seeing the specific details of the program will be crucial, we are very pleased that CMMI is announcing its commitment today to test multiple innovative payment models for ambulance service providers and suppliers. The AAA and our volunteer leaders and members have been working in a collaborative manner with other EMS organizations for the last 5 years to develop an evidence-based, data-driven structural framework to support the adoption of innovative payment models for ambulance emergency and non-emergency services. In 2016, the AAA issued a joint statement with NAEMSP, NAEMSO, and NAEMT outlining this framework. During the last two year, the AAA has worked closely with the Congress, CMS and the CMMI to seek the implementation of this framework. To encourage as broad an adoption as possible, we have focused on achieving these goals through the regulatory process.

The AAA is committed to the development and implementation of innovative payment models.  It is critical that they be designed in a manner that will ensure their success. Adoption of the framework along with having the necessary data to establish reimbursement rates that reflect the cost of providing ambulance services will usher in a new era of ambulance services for not only Medicare beneficiaries, but also for all Americans. As part of the effort to modernize the ambulance benefit, ambulance service suppliers should be recognized as providers of health care services and not merely a transportation benefit. The days of merely driving patients to and from other providers are long gone.

We believe that our efforts and those of the Administration will help us achieve this exciting goal. The AAA supports expanding the destination site for 9-1-1 and similar calls, which is currently limited to hospital emergency departments. For some patients, it is more appropriate to take them to other types of facilities, such as rural health clinics, substance or behavioral health facilities, and inpatient psychiatric hospitals. Allowing ambulance services to use state and local protocols to help triage patients to the most appropriate setting will help address the opioid epidemic and better care for patients with behavioral health issues, as well as urgent low acuity medical conditions.

We want to thank the Congress and the groups at CMS and CMMI who began to lay the ground work for the next phase of innovative payment models last winter as well. We also greatly appreciate the efforts of other EMS representatives who worked with the CMMI to help push for the pilot program.

The AAA will continue to advocate for data and evidence-based changes to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule which allow ambulance service providers and suppliers to provide even better medical services to patients.

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About the American Ambulance Association
The American Ambulance Association, formed in 1979, represents 500 ambulance services across the United States that serve their communities with emergency medical services, interfacility mobile healthcare, and community paramedicine 24/7/365. The Association serves as a voice and clearinghouse for mobile healthcare, and views prehospital care as an essential part of the total public health care system.

HHS OCR Requests Feedback on HIPAA Privacy Rule

On January 28, 2019, the Office of Health and Human Services the Office for Civil Rights (HHS OCR) issues a Request for Information (RFI) seeking input from covered entities regarding several aspects of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  Specifically, the HHS OCR is seeking input regarding several elements of the Privacy Rule, including the following:

  • Encouraging information-sharing for treatment and care coordination
  • Facilitating parental involvement in care
  • Addressing the opioid crisis and serious mental illness
  • Accounting for disclosures of PHI for treatment, payment, and health care operations as required by the HITECH Act
  • Changing the current requirement for certain providers to make a good faith effort to obtain an acknowledgment of receipt of the Notice of Privacy Practices

I am aware that several AAA member services who have struggled with many of the HIPAA restrictions regarding the sharing of PHI with other healthcare entities.  In particular, with regard to individuals who suffer opioid overdoses and efforts to ensure the individual has access to drug treatment programs.  Additionally, HHS OCR is seeking input from covered healthcare providers regarding the “good faith” efforts to obtain acknowledgement of the receipt of Privacy Practices.  This has been a considerable challenge for EMS given the nature of our healthcare delivery model.  The relaxing of this regulatory requirement would substantially reduce the burden on EMS agencies.

The AAA recommends that our members review the HHS OCR Request for Information and submit comments by the February 12, 2019 deadline.  If members have any questions or need assistance in submitting their comments, the AAA is here to help.

CMS Declines to Extend Temporary Moratorium

On January 30, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it had elected not to extend its 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. These enrollment moratoria expired on January 29, 2019.

AAA Releases 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator tool. The AAA believes this is a valuable tool that can assist members in budgeting for the coming year. This calculator has been updated to account for recent changes in Medicare policies, including the 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor (2.3%) and continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

Download the 2019 Rate Calculator

Update on Government Shutdown and Sequestration

As the government shutdown drags on the negative impacts continue to grow. If the shutdown continues through January 24, 2019, which is looking likely at this point, current law will require the Trump Administration to cut about $839 million from non-exempt federal benefit programs to avoid increasing the deficit. This is a result of the “PAYGO” (pay as you go) law which requires spending increases or tax cuts to be offset with cuts to programs or additional revenue to avoid increasing the deficit. As the largest nonexempt benefit program, it is likely that Medicare would experience the worst of these cuts through sequestration.

While the Trump Administration has not yet issued a sequestration order, there is a distinct possibility that one could be issued if the shutdown continues much longer. A sequestration order would mean an additional across the board cut to all Medicare providers, including ambulance services. Ambulance service providers are still feeling the impact of the 2% sequestration cut that has been in effect the past few years. Any new cuts would likely start out being targeted at administrative tasks which could slow payments to providers. Temporary cuts would be expensive for the administration to facilitate and is made more challenging by the fact that many important staff members are currently furloughed. There are also some at the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) who believe that these cuts could not actually be administered until the government is reopen.

The AAA will keep members informed of any new developments.

Reports of Ambulance Pilot Programs

Earlier this week, health care trade press reported that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) will be rolling out in the coming weeks several innovation pilot programs including a couple related to ambulance services. Over the last several months, the AAA has been meeting with CMMI and CMS officials about a pilot or change in policy to allow for coverage of transports by ambulance to destinations other than emergency departments. These efforts have coincided with efforts by others in the industry on alternative destination as well as reimbursement on some form of treat and refer of a patient.

The AAA is pleased that CMMI and CMS have listened to the recommendations of the AAA and other groups in moving forward on testing different policy changes. However, it is critical that the AAA and our members see the specifics of any pilot programs before we determine whether to support the initiative. CMMI cannot provide details of the program until available publicly and all the specifics of such programs are critical to whether they will be a success and if it will be a positive change for the industry and our ability to provide quality patient care.

We will provide you details of the pilot programs and the position of the AAA as soon as the details are made public. 

Update on HHS OIG Reports on Ambulance Services

Update on HHS Office of the Inspector General Reports on Ambulance Services

The HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an update to the Work Plan as the year comes to a close.  There are no new projects specific to ambulance services, but the update does provide a summary of three projects that have been completed or are in progress.

  • Medicare Part B Payments for Ambulance Services Subject to Part A Skilled Nursing Facility Consolidated Billing Requirements (expected release 2019). In this work, the OIG  seeking to determine whether ambulance services paid by Medicare Part B were subject to Part A SNF consolidated billing requirements. The OIG will also assess the effectiveness of edits in CMS’s Common Working File to prevent and detect Part B overpayments for ambulance transportation subject to consolidated billing. Prior OIG reports have identified high error rates and significant overpayments for services subject to SNF consolidated billing.
  • Ambulance Services – Supplier Compliance with Payment Requirements (partially completed; remainder expected release 2019). Prior OIG work has found that Medicare made inappropriate payments for advanced life support emergency transports. The OIG seeks to determine whether Medicare payments for ambulance services were made in accordance with Medicare requirements. 

The first report of this project found that Medicare made improper payments of $8.7 million to providers for nonemergency ambulance transports to destinations not covered by Medicare, including the identified ground mileage associated with the transports.  The report identified that the majority of the improperly billed claim lines (59 percent) were for transports to diagnostic or therapeutic sites, other than a physician’s office or a hospital, that did not originate from SNFs.

In this report, the OIG recommended that the CMS: (1) direct the Medicare contractors to recover the portion of the $8.7 million in improper payments made to providers for claim lines that are within the claim-reopening period; (2) for the remaining portion of the $8.7 million, which is outside of the Medicare reopening and recovery periods, instruct the Medicare contractors to notify providers of potential improper payments so that those providers can exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and return any identified similar improper payments, and identify and track any returned improper payments; (3) direct the Medicare contractors to review claim lines for nonemergency ambulance transports to destinations not covered by Medicare after the audit period and recover any improper payments identified; and (4) require the Medicare contractors to implement nation-wide prepayment edits to ensure that payments to providers for nonemergency ambulance transports comply with Federal requirements.

  • The third report is linked to a case study of the closure of the Rosebud Hospital Emergency Department. Rosebud is an Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital that discontinued emergency services. The closure of the Rosebud emergency department (ED) followed a notice of intent by the CMS to terminate Rosebud Hospital from the Medicare program. Representatives of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe raised concerns to OIG about the Rosebud ED closure and linked that closure to several patient deaths that occurred during ambulance transports to other facilities when emergency care was unavailable locally. In response to these concerns, the OIG seeks to examine factors considered and procedures involved in IHS’s decisions to close and later reopen the Rosebud ED. The OIG will also assess IHS’s management, coordination, and communication related to the closure and will identify lessons learned that IHS could apply to similar situations in the future.  The report was expected to be published in 2018, but has not as of this date. 

The AAA continues to monitor the OIG work plan and engage as appropriate with key officials.  Our goal is to provide educational background to address any misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions that may exist. 

Federal District Court Judge Strikes Down the ACA

On December 14, 2018, a federal district court judge for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the grounds that the Individual Mandate was unconstitutional, and that the rest of the law cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny without the Individual Mandate.

District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision relates to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by 20 states and two individuals. The plaintiffs argued that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 — which amended the Individual Mandate to eliminate the penalty on individuals that failed to purchase qualifying insurance effect January 1, 2019 — rendered the Individual Mandate unconstitutional. The plaintiffs further argued that the Individual Mandate was inseverable from the rest of the ACA, and, therefore, that the entire ACA should be struck down.

The defendants in this case were the United States of America, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, in his capacity as the Secretary of HHS, and David J. Kautter, in his capacity as the Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 16 states and the District of Columbia intervened as additional defendants.

In order to properly understand the district court’s ruling, it is necessary to revisit the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision on the constitutionality of the ACA, National Federal of Independent Business v. Sebelius (NFIB). In that case, 26 states, along with several individuals and a business organization challenged the ACA’s Individual Mandate and Medicaid expansion provisions as exceeding Congress’ enumerated powers. In a complicated decision, the majority of Justices ruled that the Individual Mandate was unconstitutional under Congress’ authority to regulate interstate commerce, but that the provision could be salvaged under Congress’ authority to lay and collect taxes. In reaching this conclusion, the majority of Justices focused on the “shared responsibility payment” aspect of the Individual Mandate, which imposed a tax on those individuals that failed to purchase or otherwise obtain qualifying health insurance. The majority of Justices concluded that the shared responsibility payment was a “tax.” It was therefore constitutional under the Congress’ general taxing authority.

In sum, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress lacked the power to compel individuals to buy qualifying health insurance, but that it could constitutionally impose a tax on those that failed to purchase or otherwise obtain qualifying health insurance.

In the current case, the court was asked to reconsider the Individual Mandate in light of the TCJA, which “zeroed” out of the shared responsibility payment, effective January 1, 2019. The plaintiffs argued that the Individual Mandate could no longer be justified as a valid exercise of Congress’ taxing authority. The federal government and its agents did not necessarily contest the plaintiffs’ argument with respect to the Individual Mandate. By contrast, the intervening states and the District of Columbia argued that the Individual Mandate could continue to be construed as a tax because it continues to satisfy the factors set forth by the Supreme Court in NFIB.

Judge O’Connor sided with the plaintiffs, holding that, because the Individual Mandate would no longer trigger a tax beginning in 2019, the Supreme Court’s ruling on this point in NFIB was no longer applicable. He therefore concluded that the Individual Mandate could no longer be upheld under Congress’ taxing authority. Judge O’Connor then fell back on the Supreme Court’s previous holding that the Individual Mandate, as a stand-alone command, remained unconstitutional under the Interstate Commerce Clause. Judge O’Connor then ruled that the Individual Mandate could not be severed from the rest of the ACA. On this point, the judge cited the express provisions of the ACA, as well as the Supreme Court’s decisions in NFIB and King v. Burwell.

What this decision means

On its face, the decision strikes down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. However, the ruling is likely to be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Most legal experts expect that, regardless of the decision at the Circuit Court, the case is likely to make its way up to the Supreme Court.

Pending the resolution of these appeals, the Administration has adopted a “business as usual” approach. The White House has already indicated that it will not attempt to enforce the ruling during the appeals process. CMS Administrator Seema Verma recently tweeted that the decision will have “no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan.”

The American Ambulance Association will continue to monitor this case as it makes its way through the appeals process, and we will notify our members of any new developments.

CMS Announces 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor

On November 30, 2018, CMS issued Transmittal 4172 (Change Request 11031), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2019.

The AIF is calculated by measuring the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) for the 12-month period ending with June of the previous year. Starting in calendar year 2011, the change in the CPI-U is now reduced by a so-called “productivity adjustment”, which is equal to the 10-year moving average of changes in the economy-wide private nonfarm business multi-factor productivity index (MFP). The MFP reduction may result in a negative AIF for any calendar year. The resulting AIF is then added to the conversion factor used to calculate Medicare payments under the Ambulance Fee Schedule.

For the 12-month period ending in June 2018, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased 2.9%. CMS further indicated that the CY 2019 MFP will be 0.6%. Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for calendar year 2019 will be 2.3%.

CMS Announces Extension of Prior Authorization Program

On November 30, 2018, CMS issued a notice on its website that it would be extending the prior authorization demonstration project for another year. The extension is limited to those states where prior authorization was in effect for calendar year 2018. The affected states are Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. The extension will run through December 1, 2019. 

CMS indicated that the extension will provide it with an additional year to evaluate the prior authorization program, and to determine whether the program meets the statutory requirements for nationwide expansion under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

CMS has also updated its Ambulance Prior Authorization FAQs and its Physician/Practitioner Letter to reflect the expansion of the program. The updated FAQ and Physician Letter can be downloaded from the CMS Ambulance Prior Authorization webpage by clicking here.

Senate Introduces NEATSA Act Companion Bill (S. 3619)

Earlier this year, Congress included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 an offset to go along with the extension of the add-ons that will cut reimbursement for BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers by an additional 13%. This will be on top of the existing 10% reduction.

Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Doug Jones (D-AL) just introduced S. 3619 which would restructure the offset so that a majority of the additional reduction would be focused on those ambulance service agencies in which 50% or more of their volume are repetitive BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers. S. 3619 will serve as a companion Bill to the House version, the NEATSA Act (H.R.6269) by Congressman LaHood (R-IL) and Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL) which was introduced in June 2018.

The additional cut went into effect on October 1 and impacted AAA members and the AAA are working to get this legislation passed. The AAA will be sure to keep members updated as this legislation moves through Congress.

Questions?: Contact Us

If you have questions about the legislation or regulatory initiatives being undertaken by the AAA, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the AAA Government Affairs Team.

Tristan North – Senior Vice President of Government Affairs
tnorth@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9025

Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
rhazdovac@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9027

Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
acamas@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9026

Thank you for your continued membership and support.

Rural Health Day Advocacy Update

Happy National Rural Health Day! Thank you to all of the ambulance service providers who work hard providing life-saving treatment in rural areas every day.

In part of our ongoing advocacy efforts, the AAA sent a letter today to the Rural Caucuses in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Addressed to leadership of the caucuses, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), this in-depth letter highlights the critical work that our members do every day around the country and raises important issues affecting the industry. Issues covered in the letter include:

Stabilizing the Ambulance Fee Schedule
  • Make the add-ons permanent and build them into the base rate
  • Use new data from the ambulance cost collection program to ensure reimbursement is adequate going forward
  • New data should be used to assess the problems with the current ZIP-code methodology for determining rural and super-rural services
Ambulance Fee Schedule Reform
  • Proposed alternative models for rural ambulance services
  • Encouraging Congress to look at alternative destination options for ambulance service providers
Recognizing Ambulance Services as Providers of Health Care
  • Moving non-fire-based ambulance services from suppliers to providers under Medicare

The letter also highlights some of the burdensome regulations facing ambulance service providers that the AAA has recommended Congress address through its Red Tape initiative. These include:

Removing Unnecessary Regulatory Burdens:
  • Reduce the burdens created by the Physician Certificate Statement
  • Simplify the 855B Ambulance Enrollment Form
  • Address burdensome requirements of the patient signature on claims and the strict application of the revocation of billing authority

This letter from the AAA to Congressional leaders is just one part of the AAA’s ongoing effort to educate Congress on the crucial role ambulance service providers play in America’s healthcare system. The AAA wants Congress to know that in many rural areas of the country, ambulances are the medical safety net, yet face extreme challenges to staying in business thanks to below cost reimbursement and burdensome regulations. The AAA will continue to pursue this list of priorities with our members next year and going forward.

Read the Full Letter

Again, Happy Rural Health Day to our members – thanks for all that you do!

If you have any questions about our letter or rural advocacy, please contact us:

Questions?: Contact Us

If you have questions about the legislation or regulatory initiatives being undertaken by the AAA, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the AAA Government Affairs Team.

Tristan North – Senior Vice President of Government Affairs
tnorth@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9025

Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
rhazdovac@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9027

Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
acamas@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9026

Thank you for your continued membership and support.

Mid-term Election Analysis

As a result of Tuesdays’ elections, Democrats will control the U.S. House of Representatives next Congress and Republicans will have a larger majority in the United States Senate. Presently, Democrats have gained a net of 30 seats in the House with Republicans netting two seats in the Senate. Democrats needed to capture 23 seats from Republicans to gain the majority. There are still several races in the House and Senate to be called which will likely add to those totals.

Akin Gump, the lobbying firm for the AAA, has put together a synopsis of the election results as of this morning and a slide deck on historical trends and the outcome of races called so far.

Key supporters of the industry who will not be returning next Congress include Representatives Peter Roskam (R-IL), Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN). All three members have been supportive of ambulance initiatives with Roskam in his position as Chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and Paulsen as a member of the Subcommittee. Coffman sponsored legislation to apply the prudent layperson definition to emergency ambulance services provided to veterans. In late breaking news, the Senate race in Montana was called in favor for Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) who has been very supportive on several EMS policies.

As to the changes in Committee leadership with Democrats taking control of the House, Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA) will become Chair of the Ways and Means Committee and Kevin Brady (R-TX) will become Ranking Member. Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) will likely become Chair of the Health Subcommittee with the top candidate for Ranking Member being Devin Nunes (R-CA). On the Energy and Commerce Committee, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will become Chair and Greg Walden (R-OR) will become Ranking Member.

In the Senate, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) will likely become Chair of the Senate Finance Committee In lieu of Senator Hatch who is retiring. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) will continue in his role as Ranking Member of the Committee.

The AAA has good relationships with all the likely Chairs and Ranking Members of the key Committees of jurisdiction as well as with House and Senate leaders of both political parties. Several of them have championed causes for the industry and we will continue to be well-positioned next year to push our initiatives. We will be reaching out to you in the coming weeks to help build upon our list of champions and supporters in the new Congress.

2017 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2017 Medicare Payment Data Report. This report is based on the Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary Master File. This report contains information on all Part B and DME claims processed through the Medicare Common Working File and stored in the National Claims History Repository.

The report contains an overview of total Medicare spending nationwide in CY 2017, and then a separate breakdown of Medicare spending in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the various other U.S. Territories.

For each jurisdiction, the report contains two charts: the first reflects data for all ambulance services, while the second is limited solely to dialysis transports. Each chart lists total spending by procedure code (i.e., base rates and mileage). For comparison purposes, information is also provided on Medicare spending in CY 2016.

2017 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

Questions? Contact Brian Werfel at bwerfel@aol.com.

 

Statement on Ambulance Cost Data Collection

October 22, 2018

Contact: Amanda Riordan
Phone: 703-615-4492
Email: ariordan@ambulance.org

For Immediate Release

Statement on Cost Data Collection for Ambulance Services

WASHINGTON, DC—On October 17, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and The Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association released a joint statement discouraging fire-based providers from endorsing AAA’s proposed ambulance cost collection methodology. While we regret to learn that they do not believe that our method is appropriate for the segment of providers they represent, we respectfully disagree and invite open dialogue as our previous requests to discuss cost collection with the IAFF and IAFC were declined.

The American Ambulance Association membership is composed of ambulance providers of all types and sizes, ranging from non-profit, for-profit, volunteer, hospital-based, county-based, public utility models, and more. We represent 911 ambulance providers in major metropolitan areas, small 911 providers in rural America, and those who provide vital hospital-to-hospital interfacility mobile healthcare throughout the country. AAA encourages all ambulance providers to visit www.ambulancereports.org to learn about the extensive research, time, and thought devoted to ensure that our comprehensive recommendations accurately capture data for the full spectrum of providers.

“Regardless of an ambulance organization’s service model, we collectively serve our communities with round-the-clock mobile healthcare. The collection and analysis of accurate cost data for ambulance providers of all types is essential to the future of our industry. If adopted by CMS, AAA’s cost collection recommendations will demonstrate the value of the care that we provide to our patients, as well as open the door for the establishment of forward-thinking payment models that sustain operations and grow innovation. The American Ambulance Association welcomes discussion with fire and other stakeholders. Our door is always open,” said AAA President Aarron Reinert on Monday.

Medicare cost reporting is an exhaustive and extremely technical system that has been in place in other healthcare specialties for many years. While not all ambulance services are Medicare “providers of service,” it has long been clear to AAA that ambulance services would eventually be required to provide cost data to support Medicare reimbursement, especially for purposes of making the add-ons permanent and expanding the benefit to include innovative payment models, including mobile integrated health. As such, our ambulance cost collection leadership began in 2012 with the commission of an extensive independent research study to design a cost model that would be accurate, complete, and minimally burdensome to ambulance providers of all sizes, types, and models. The findings of this study were released in 2014 and form the foundation of AAA’s cost data collection system design.

Following extensive advocacy efforts led by the American Ambulance Association, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 was passed into law in February of this year. This bill included language that extended the ambulance Medicare add-ons for five years. It also required that ambulance services begin collecting and reporting cost data to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2020. CMS has the ability to determine certain aspects of how the data is collected as well as the data elements so AAA is working closely with this agency to advocate for the implementation of our survey-based model. It is also clear that given the Congressional instruction to use the cost collection data to assess Medicare rates, the data collection will be aligned with the costs Medicare has the statutory authority to reimburse, but not necessarily all costs suppliers may incur to support the non-healthcare aspects of their services.

It is essential that ambulance providers speak with one voice on this critically important issue.  Inconsistencies in reporting and failure to standardize costs allowable under the Medicare statute will result in data being eliminated and will threaten the sustainability of the program. As such, throughout this lengthy and intensive process, AAA leadership remains open to feedback and focused on the development of and advocacy for a cost collection system that encompasses all mobile healthcare provider types. Learn more at www.ambulancereports.org.

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About the American Ambulance Association (AAA)

The AAA was formed in 1979 in response to the need for improvements in emergency medical services and mobile healthcare. The American Ambulance Association represents hundreds of ambulance services across the United States who provide emergency and interfacility mobile healthcare. The Association serves as a voice and clearinghouse for ambulance services.

MedPAC Examines Beneficiary Use of Emergency Departments

During its October meeting, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), reviewed Medicare’s current policies related to non-urgent and emergency care, as these topics relate to the use of hospital emergency departments (EDs) and urgent care centers (UCCs). The Commission is examining this topic because the use of ED services in recent years has grown faster than that of physician offices.  At the same time, the share of ED visits that are coded as high acuity has increased.

The Commission is exploring Medicare beneficiaries’ use of EDs and UCCs for non-urgent services. In addition, the Commission is analyzing ED coding to determine if the increase in coding high-acuity visits reflects real change in the patients treated in EDs. This slide deck shows the potential savings Medicare could realize if beneficiaries shift certain care to the UCC setting.

During the meeting, the staff sought feedback from Commissioners for developing next steps. This topic will likely continue to be addressed in future meetings.

From the perspective of ambulance payment reform, the observations made by the Commissioners and staff would also seem to support incorporating scope-appropriate ambulance services in the context of community paramedicine or treatment at the scene with referral. While additional work needs to be done by the ambulance community before these services can be incorporated into the Medicare reimbursement program, discussions like the one at MedPAC last week, show the importance of getting the details right so that ambulance services can be part of new payment models likely to be considered.

The American Ambulance Association is leading the effort with the Medicare program to develop appropriate models that account for the cost of providing services through sustainable reimbursement rates, rather than the use of temporary grants. We are also focused on ensuring services align with the scope of practice laws. Led by the Payment Reform and the Medicare Regulatory Committees, our efforts include regular meetings and discussions with leaders at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as well as key Members of Congress. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our ongoing efforts.

CMS Launches Outreach Effort to Ambulance Providers & Suppliers

As part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA 2018), the Congress instructed CMS to develop a cost collection system to collect cost and revenue data related to the provision of ambulance services. Ambulance services are defined by federal law to include all levels of emergency and non-emergency services. 

CMS is in the first phase of this process. The Congress instructed the Agency to engage with stakeholders before specifying through notice and comment rulemaking the data collection system. By law, CMS is required to specify the final system by December 31, 2019. CMS must also identify the first group of providers and suppliers selected for the first representative sample by that date as well. It appears that the goal is to have the contractor develop a proposal before the 2019 rulemaking cycle which will begin next summer.

To engage with the stakeholders, CMS, through its contractor the RAND Corporation, is reaching out providers and suppliers to learn more about the costs and revenues associated with providing ambulance services.

During the American Ambulance Association’s annual meeting earlier this month, CMS through the RAND Corporation, convened a focus group where they selected several AAA members who were able to talk directly with the contractor. The discussion centered around characteristics of ambulance services that matter for determining costs. The group also talked about how data is currently captured at the state and local levels, as well as how data is tracked within ambulance services. There was also a lot of discussion about the importance of standardizing data elements and not relying upon different state or local definitions, which could confound the data and make it impossible to compare costs across states.

As we have reported previously, it is critically important that the data collected through this process is standardized and reflects the actual cost of providing ambulance services. It is important to make sure that the data is useable not only for supporting the ambulance add-ons after they next expire in 2023, but also to help implement broader reforms and innovative payment models.

CMS is now reaching out to others in the industry. If you receive an email or a phone call from RAND Corporation, please respond. 

If you have questions about, or would like assistance with regard to, this project, please contact Tristan North at tnorth@ambulance.org.