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,…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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.

Update on Opioid Legislation & Rural EMS Grant Program

The AAA continues to push on policy issues important to our members we are happy to provide an update on two pieces of legislation that we have been actively monitoring. Congress is proceeding with consideration of several legislative vehicles as they address key topics prior to the November elections.

First Responder Opioid Grant Program

The AAA is pleased to report that language we supported on grant funding for opioid protection training for first responders has passed the Senate. Based on an analysis by counsel, we believe all ambulance service agencies would be eligible to apply for the grants.

In 2017, the Administration officially labeled the Opioid Crisis as a public health emergency, and in response Congress has finally taken action. On Monday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act with a bipartisan vote of 99-1. The impact of this legislation on the ambulance industry includes providing resources and training so that first responders and other key community sectors, including emergency medical services agencies, can appropriately protect themselves from exposure to drugs such as fentanyl, carfentanil and other dangerous licit and illicit drugs. $36,000,000 will be given annually for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2023. The bill also gives $10,000,000 in supplemental competitive grants to areas that have a record of high seizure of fentanyl to be used toward training of law enforcement and other first responders on how best to handle fentanyl as well as to purchase protective equipment, including overdose reversal drugs.

Lastly, the legislation allows the Department of Labor to award grants to states that have been heavily impacted by the opioid crisis in order to assist local workforce boards and local partnerships in closing the gaps in the workforce for mental health care and substance use disorder. Counsel has provided us with an analysis that all types of ambulance service organizations would be eligible for the described grants. While this legislation is not a solution to every aspect of the opioid crisis our country is currently experiencing, it is an important first step in providing resources to the ambulance industry and others to help combat this public health emergency.

Rural EMS Grant Program

The AAA is diligently working on amending the SIREN Act (S. 2830H.R. 5429) which would reauthorize the Rural EMS Grant program. In an effort to ensure the funding would go to the most needy, small, and rural EMS providers, the language of the SIREN Act would change the eligibility to just governmental and non-profit EMS agencies. Therefore, small rural for-profit ambulance service providers would no longer be eligible to apply for grants. The AAA will continue to work to ensure that all provider types will be able to apply for these grants.

Language similar to the SIREN Act has been included in the Farm Bill (S. 3042/ H.R. 2) that passed both the House and Senate. The Farm Bill is now in Conference Committee between the House and Senate to reconcile differences before final passage. Over the past weeks, the AAA has been pressing Senator Durbin as well as other co-sponsors and Farm Bill conferees to revise the language to ensure small rural for-profit providers would still be able to apply for grants. Our team has met with all co-sponsors of the House and Senate SIREN Act Bills as well as members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee to ensure that they are well informed of the impact this legislation will have on their local providers.

The AAA team has also been conducting targeted outreach to AAA members asking them to get involved by contacting their Members of Congress, especially those on the Conference Committee. It is important for Congress to hear that grants like this one, should be open to all provider types. We thank those members who have already sent letters to their representatives. With Congress trying to wrap up the Farm Bill by the end of September – although looking unlikley, the AAA is pushing hard to change the current language and make sure that all providers might have access to these grants once they are reauthorized.

The AAA will continue to keep you updated on any new developments.

Senators Release Draft Balance Billing Legislation

On Tuesday, September 18, 2018 Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Todd Young (R-IN), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) released draft legislation that aims to protect patients from surprise medical bills. The discussion draft (view the entire draft) of this proposed legislation tackles three main aspects of balanced billing:

  • Emergency services provided by an out-of-network provider in an out-of-network facility
  • Non-Emergency services following an emergency service from an out-of-network facility
  • Non-Emergency services performed by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility

The discussion draft outlines legislation that would prevent balanced billing of patients for emergency medical services and instead require insurers to pay the difference between out-of-network and in-network costs. This discussion draft was likely fueled, in part, by some recent headlines highlighting extremely high bills received by patients. In his press release, Senator Cassidy references two stories in particular, one of a patient who received a bill of nearly $109,000 for care after a heart attack, and another of a patient who received a bill for $17,850 for a urine test.

The AAA knows that balanced billing is a major issue for our members and will be monitoring this legislation closely. The AAA and member representatives worked with Senator Cassidy on the initial language as it pertained to ground ambulance service providers and suppliers. Our initial analysis of the most recent draft legislation indicates that the language would not apply to ground ambulance service suppliers but there is ambiguity as to whether it could apply to hospital-based providers. The AAA will continue to engage with Senator Cassidy on ground ambulance issues related to the discussion draft. At this point no AAA member action is needed, and we will keep our members informed of any potential issues.

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.

Preliminary Calculation of 2019 Ambulance Inflation Update

Section 1834(l)(3)(B) of the Social Security Act mandates that the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule be updated each year to reflect inflation.  This update is referred to as the “Ambulance Inflation Factor” or “AIF”.

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 by 2.87%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2019. However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the number is likely to be in the 0.5% range.

Accordingly, the AAA is currently projecting that the 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be approximately 2.4%. 

Cautionary Note Regarding these Estimates

Members should be advised that the BLS’ calculations of the CPI-U are preliminary, and may be subject to later adjustment. The AAA further cautions members that CMS has not officially announced the MFP for CY 2019. Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change. The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

CMS Announces Revisions to Provider Enrollment Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program

CMS Announces Revisions to Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program On August 20, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a notice in the Federal Register that it would be revising the terms of its Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program. These revisions became effective on August 20, 2018. Section…

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CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Services

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…

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