Add-Ons Update & Impact of Partial Government Shutdown

Call To Action:  Ambulance Add-Ons Update &
Impact of Partial Government Shutdown

Congress is heading toward a possible partial shutdown of the federal government without taking action on our expired Medicare add-on payments. While the AAA and other industry stakeholders have pressed hard for Congress to immediately pass a five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons, our message is not being heard loud enough amongst all the other noise. We need you to contact your members of Congress today in support of extending the 2% urban, 3% rural and 22.6% super rural increases!

Write to Your Member of Congress

Last night, the House of Representatives mostly along party lines passed a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government through February 16. The fate of the bill in the Senate is uncertain. If Congress does not pass by midnight tonight a measure extending funding for the federal government, there will be a partial government shutdown.

The AAA had pushed for Congress to attach a Medicare provider extender package including a five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons to the Continuing Resolution.  Since the extender package was not included in the Resolution, we are pressing Congress to consider a separate extenders only package including the five-year ambulance extension or attach the package to another moving legislative vehicle.  We are also pushing Congress to at the very least pass a short-term extension retroactive to January 1 until a Medicare extender package can move.

It is critical that we get the Medicare ambulance add-ons reinstated as soon as possible.
So please write your members of Congress today!

In the meantime, here are answers to questions about whether you should continue to hold claims and what a partial government shutdown would mean for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Should my organization still hold Medicare claims?

CMS has not formally stated whether it is holding claims beyond the requirement for contractors to not pay claims until two weeks after receiving them.  AAA members may want to consider holding claims until the issue is resolved, assuming their financial position permits.  Holding claims would potentially allow members to avoid the need to have claims subsequently adjusted at a later date.

Will CMS pay claims during a partial government shutdown?

Yes. CMS has issued the following:  CMS would continue key Federal Exchange activities, such as open enrollment eligibility verification, using Federal Exchange user fee carryover. In the short term, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption during a lapse in appropriations. Additionally, other non-discretionary activities including Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control, and Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation activities would continue. States will have sufficient funding for Medicaid through the second quarter, due to the continuation of authority under the CR for appropriated entitlements, and CMS will maintain the staff necessary to make payments to eligible states from remaining Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) carryover balances.

Should I Hold My Medicare Claims?

The Great Medicare Debate: Should I Hold My Medicare Claims?

By: Brian S. Werfel, Esq. and Rebecca Williamson, Chair, AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee

Ambulance suppliers face an important decision at the start of every calendar year on whether to hold their Medicare claims for the first few weeks of the calendar year.

This decision historically revolved around the patient’s Medicare Part B deductible ($183 in 2018).  The argument in favor of holding claims was that a brief claims hold would allow time for the patient’s deductible to be satisfied by another health care provider, thereby relieving the ambulance supplier of the time and expense involved in billing the patient (or their secondary insurance) for the deductible.  Ambulance suppliers that hold claims believe that this ultimately results in higher collections.  The argument against holding claims is that any increase in overall collections is likely to be minimal, and that the resulting disruption to the company’s cash flow more than offsets any potential benefits from those higher collections.

This year, the debate is complicated by the events surrounding the expiration of the temporary add-ons for urban, rural, and super-rural ground ambulance transports on December 31, 2017.  These temporary add-ons increased the Medicare allowables by 2%, 3%, and 22.6%, respectively.  Congress failed to act upon these temporary add-ons prior to its adjournment.  However, there remains strong bipartisan support for reinstating these add-ons – – and Medicare extenders for other types of Medicare providers – – early in the 2018 Legislative Calendar.  The AAA’s political consultants believe these Medicare extenders will likely be included in the next government funding legislation, which must be passed by January 19, 2018.

Assuming our temporary add-ons are reinstated, they are likely to be made retroactive to January 1, 2018.  This would require CMS to retroactively adjust claims previously paid at the current (lower) rate.  This may also require secondary payers, including State Medicaid Programs, to retroactively adjust their payment amounts to reflect increased cost-sharing amounts.  There is precedent for these sort of retroactive adjustments.  Most recently, the Affordable Care Act, which was enacted on March 23, 2010, provided for a reinstatement of these same temporary add-ons, retroactive to January 1, 2010.

In this inaugural edition of the Great Medicare Debate, AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair Rebecca Williamson and AAA Medicare Consultant Brian S. Werfel, Esq. debate the merits of holding claims pending a resolution of the add-on issue vs. submitting claims.

Ambulance suppliers would likely benefit from holding their claims for some period of time pending clarity on the status of our temporary add-ons.


Rebecca Williamson, Chair of the AAA’s Medicare Regulatory Committee:

According to CMS, 73% of all ambulance service suppliers bill less than 1,000 Medicare covered transports per year. Additionally, 54% of ambulance suppliers bill less than 250 Medicare covered transports per year. Assuming an average claim amount of $400.00 per call (base rate plus mileage), an ambulance supplier with 1,000 Medicare covered transports per year could collect approximately $320,000.00 per year in a best case scenario ($400,000.00 X 80%). This leaves the service with copays of $80,000.00 to be collected from patients. By adding $183.00 as a deductible for each of these 1,000 patients, the collection from Medicare decreases to only $173,600.00. This means the service now must collect an additional $43,400.00 . In other words, if the patient has not met the deductible, the deductible is applied first and a $400.00 allowable becomes a $217.00 allowable. Medicare now pays 80% of $217.00 which is $173.60. Multiplied by 1,000 claims, Medicare pays a total of $173,600.00 and the balance owed to the supplier is the deducible of $183,000.00 and copayments of $43,400.00.

By holding claims for a brief period, usually thirty days, ambulance services increase the likelihood that another provider, often a hospital, will file claims with Medicare first, meaning collecting patients’ deductibles becomes the facilities’ responsibility.

Of course these numbers are only examples and many factors affect the actual billing and collection process. Some Medicare beneficiaries will promptly pay the deductible, many will have secondary payers or insurances, and a certain percentage will be dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, all of which results in higher collection ratios for the ambulance service. However, in plain terms, collecting $320,000.00 versus $173,600.00  can make a very real difference in the viability of a small service.  Each service should look carefully at its own payer mix, patient statistics, and demographics to determine individual service projections.

Another good reason to hold claims, this year in particular, is the almost certainty of Congress reinstating the extenders. For those of us who have been in this industry for a long time, the expiration of the add-ons this year is a painful reminder of 2010  when the extenders expired and were not reinstated until March 23, 2010. It wasn’t until July 2010 that CMS even began the process of correcting previously processed claims , and by January 2011 many claims were still outstanding and had not been completely reprocessed. Also by that time, which could have been as long as a year after the date of service, many secondary payers were either unwilling or unable to retroactively correct the reprocessed claims. Some Medicaid states, such as Oklahoma, simply did not have the manpower or ability to even attempt it.

The administrative burden imposed on ambulance suppliers by having claims retroactively reprocessed by CMS, then reprocessed again by secondary payers – potentially incorrectly, if at all – along with the many manual adjustments required in-house, make it even more attractive to advocate and advise holding claims for as long as financially feasible. Of course not every service has the cash reserve to be able to do this, and I would generally not advise holding claims for as long as it may take for Congress to reinstate the extenders and for CMS to implement the correction  for services who cannot afford to, but for those who can, not only will they almost certainly increase the amount of payments collected, they will decrease overhead administrative costs.

I am very optimistic that Congress will include the ambulance extenders in legislation as well as being optimistic that it will be sooner rather than later. I know others disagree, but the higher likelihood of it happening versus not, make this a good bet to take. 

Ambulance suppliers should disregard the status of the temporary add-ons when making their decision on whether to hold claims for some period of time


By: Brian S. Werfel, Esq.:

Rebecca makes a strong argument about the benefits of holding claims.  Moreover, I have long advocated in favor of holding claims for the patient’s deductible.  For these reasons, I would understand if ambulance suppliers elect to hold claims for the patient deductible.  However, I would question the wisdom of holding claims pending further clarity on the status of the temporary add-ons.

My argument against holding claims for that reason boils down to a single word: uncertainty.  In this context, I am referring to four specific types of uncertainty:

  1. Uncertainty over whether the temporary add-ons will be extended.
  2. To the extent legislation is passed extending the temporary add-ons, uncertainty as to whether the higher rates will be made retroactive to January 1, 2018.
  3. To the extent legislation is passed extending the temporary add-ons, uncertainty as to how quickly CMS will implement the revised rates for new claims and adjust claims paid at the original, lower rates.
  4. Uncertainty over how the various secondary payers will handle their adjustments.

With respect to the extension of the add-ons, I agree that they are likely to be included with other Medicare adjusters in the budget resolution that must pass before January 19, 2018.  Likewise, at this point, there is no reason to think that these add-ons will not be made retroactive to January 1, 2018.  However, there are no guarantees.  It is possible that the Republicans and Democrats fail to reach agreement on the larger budgetary issues, including the status of the so-called “Dreamers”, and a government shutdown results.

My larger concern relates to how quickly CMS revises its fee schedule, and implements instructions to its contractors.  As Scott noted above, the last time we faced this issue was in 2010.  The Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010.  However, CMS didn’t issue a transmittal to its contractors until May 21, 2010, and even then, didn’t instruct its contractors to start paying the higher rates until July 6, 2010.

In other words, if you elected to hold claims to avoid having them paid and then reprocessed, you would have needed to hold claims for more than 6 months.

To me, the strongest argument for holding claims is not how Medicare would handle the adjustment.  I recognize the administrative burden created by having to post and then re-post the same claim once it was adjusted.  However, I trust that CMS will eventually get it right (emphasis on eventually).

I have far less confidence in how the secondary payers, including State Medicaid Programs, will handle the adjustments.  When this happened in 2010, we had numerous reports from A.A.A. members of secondary payers incorrectly processing the adjustment.  For example, some State Medicaid Programs didn’t simply issue a supplemental check for the higher copayment.  Instead, the Medicaid Program took back its initial payment, and then reprocessed the claim in its entirety.  Unfortunately, in some instances, the Medicaid rates changed in the interim, and Medicaid then repaid a lower amount.  In other instances, they failed to repay the patient’s deductible.  Similar issues were noted with commercial secondary payers, Medicaid managed care organizations, etc.

In sum, if your company has historically held claims during the first few weeks of the year for the patient’s deductible, I see no reason to discontinue that practice.  If, however, you historically submitted claims without regard to the patient’s deductible, I see little benefit to holding claims pending action by Congress on our add-ons.


Have any Medicare questions? Contact Brian at bwerfel@aol.com

Alert: Medicare Increases Will Expire For Now: What You Need to Know

While the Congress succeeded in passing the Republican tax bill and keeping the federal government open with a short-term continuing resolution that included a temporary extension for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it did not act upon the several Medicare extenders that expire on December 31, 2017. This extenders package includes the ambulance add-ons for urban, rural, and super-rural areas, as well as a moratorium on therapy caps, extenders for hospitals, and several other extenders important to other Medicare providers.

Despite the fact that the Congress left town, there is still strong bipartisan support for reinstating these extenders – including the ambulance extenders – early in January 2018. The most likely time frame will be for the extenders to be added to the next government funding legislation, which must be passed by January 19.

First, do not panic. As you may have already heard, CMS is telling providers and suppliers that the add-ons will expire at the end of the month. Technically that is true. The Agency is simply stating the obvious; but no one should imply from such statements that the Congress will not fix them or not make them retroactive. Historically, CMS has followed this pattern of indicating the add-ons have expired until legislation extending the add-ons has passed both chambers of Congress and the President has signed the bill into law.  CMS will make similar statements relative to the other Medicare extenders as well.

Second, prepare. To the extent you are able to do so, you may hold your claims. Medicare requires providers to files claims no later than 12 months after the date when the services were provided. (See Medicare: File a Claim; see also section 6404 of the Affordable Care Act). While this may not work for all claims, holding claims will reduce the number that would have to be reprocessed once the add-ons become law. If CMS believes at some point the legislation will pass, it may also break with its own precedent and indicate that has asked the contractors to hold claims for a short period of time as well. It did this in 2014 when it discovered errors in a final fee schedule rule. Once the claims are processed, so long as the add-ons have been extended by law, the add-on dollars will appear in the reimbursement amounts sent to providers and suppliers.

Third, retroactivity can be expensive, but CMS can mitigate the costs. CMS did this most recently in May of 2017. Then, CMS announced that it would implement the retroactive extension of a transitional payment for durable medical equipment suppliers by having the contractors automatically reprocess claims from the period when the transitional payment was made retroactive. This approach reduced the burden on providers and suppliers by eliminating the need to resubmit claims.

Despite the fact that there are ways to mitigate the problem, the American Ambulance Association (AAA) remains deeply concerned that the Congress did not extend the add-ons before they left for the holidays. We understand that for ambulance services across the country receiving timely payments from Medicare can be the difference between being able to make payroll or not. Having the dollars from the add-ons is also crucial to ensuring adequate cash flow. Therefore, while we advise you to think through your options and take the steps that best meet your needs and the needs of your employees, patients, partners, and businesses, we also ask that you reach out to the Congress and let them know how important it is to get the add-ons extended as early in January as possible. Make your voice heard by going to the AAA’s grassroots page. There you can send an email or reach out through social media to your Members of Congress.  We need everyone, including your employees, patients, and others who support high quality ambulance services, to reach out today.

Write to Your Members of Congress

The AAA will continue our direct efforts on Capitol Hill to make sure these add-ons are extended and overly burdensome new requirements are not placed on ambulance services. With your help, we can get the add-ons extended. For more information please visit https://ambulance.org/advocacy/.

AAA Releases 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2018 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 2018 Ambulance Inflation Factor (1.1%) and continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

To access the Fee Schedule, please CLICK HERE.

(Please note: the 2018 Fee Schedule does not include the temporary Medicare add-ons that are set to expire on 12/31/2017. The AAA is working hard to get these add-ons extended. Please write your members of Congress today to show your support!)

Download the 2018 Rate Calculator

2018 Fee Schedule

CMS Posts Ambulance 2018 Public Use File – Contact Congress

On December 7, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted the public use files for reimbursement rates under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule for 2018. In posting the rates, CMS did not include the temporary Medicare ambulance increases of 2% to the urban base and mileage rates, 3% to the rural base and mileage rates and the 22.6% to the super rural base rate. CMS also stated the increases will expire on December 31, 2017.

 

The statement by CMS and the rates in the public use file do not reflect the efforts of the AAA and our champions on Capitol Hill to help ensure the temporary Medicare ambulance increases do not expire at the end of this year. The AAA is fighting for Congress to extend the increases for five years. The House and Senate are currently negotiating a Medicare provider extender package and both the House and Senate positions include the 5-year ambulance increase extension. As usual, Congress is waiting to the last minute to address Medicare provider extenders and other expiring policies.

 

However, we should not take the renewal of an extension of the Medicare ambulance increases as a given. Please write your members of Congress today to ask them to support the five-year extension! 

 

Write to Your Representatives

CMS Extends Prior Authorization for 2018

CMS Announces Extension of Prior Authorization for Repetitive Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Transports

On December 4, 2017, CMS posted a notice on its website indicating that it would be extending the prior authorization demonstration project for another year. The extension is limited to those areas where prior authorization was in effect for calendar year 2017. 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, 2018.

Read the Full CMS Notice

In its notice, CMS indicated that claims with dates of service between December 2 and December 4, 2017 would not be subject to prior authorization or prepayment review, but that ambulance providers could elect to submit a request for prior authorization for these transports. All repetitive non-emergency transports on or after December 5, 2017 would require prior authorization.

Act Now: Support 5 Year Medicare Add-on Extension

Take Action for Permanent Medicare Ambulance Relief

Ask your Senators and Representatives to Support Medicare Ambulance Relief!

The temporary Medicare ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and 22.6% to the base rate in super rural areas are scheduled to expire on December 31 of this year. That is just one month away! Please write your members of Congress today in support of a 5-year extension of the increases.

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter to your Representative (Message 1) and the letter(s) to your Senators  (Message 2) – click “Submit Messages”
Feel free to personalize your letter(s) before submitting them.

Over the past 15 years, the AAA has lead efforts on Capitol Hill to establish the increases and ensure they do not expire.  Thanks to the work of our champions and supporters on Capitol Hill, there are provisions in both the House and Senate for a five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance increases.  However, passage of these provisions is in no way certain.  Your members of Congress need to hear that the 5-year extension is important to you!

In addition, the Congress is considering ways to collect Medicare cost data from ambulance service suppliers and providers.  The Senate version, which the AAA prefers, would require a statistically significant sampling of ambulance service suppliers and providers and would provide CMS with significant flexibility on how the system would be designed.  The House version would require all ambulance service suppliers and providers to submit an annual “cost report” which would be subject to a strict financial penalty for not providing timely as well as full data.  We continue to push for changes to the House version and there has been some confusion in the industry about these two provisions.  The bottom-line is that any collection of cost data needs to be tailored to meet the unique needs of ambulance services.

Members of Congress need to hear from you today!  Tell your Senators to support a five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance increases and to cosponsor S. 967.  Tell your Representatives to support a five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance increases and request revisions to cost reporting requirements.

 

POTUS Signs DEA Standing Orders Bill into Law

On Friday, President Trump signed H.R. 304, the Protecting Patient Access to Emergency Medications Act of 2017, into law. H.R. 304 also known as the DEA Standing Orders Bill is an issue that the AAA has been working on closely for over a year. This new law will “improve the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration process for emergency medical services (EMS) agencies, and clarify that EMS professionals are permitted to administer controlled substances pursuant to standing or verbal orders when certain conditions are met.”

On the passage of H.R. 304, AAA President Mark Postma stated: “the enactment of H.R. 304 ensures that paramedics, EMTs and other emergency medical professionals may continue to administer vital and often life-saving medications to patients. The AAA applauds Congressmen Hudson and Butterfield and Senators Cassidy and Bennet for their successful efforts on this critical issue.”

Special thanks to Rep. Hudson (R-NC-08) for authoring the Bill, and to Rep. Butterfield (D-NC-01), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) for sponsoring this legislation. Additional thanks to Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR-2) for his continued support. H.R. 304 will help to ensure that ambulance service providers are able to continue providing life saving services throughout the country. The AAA would like to thank NAEMSP for spearheading this effort as well as NAEMT, ACEP, ENA, IAFF, and the IAFC for their hard work and dedication to this issue.

View the full Energy & Commerce press release. Rep. Hudson’s statement on the Bill.

CMS Announces Ambulance Inflation Update for 2018

CMS Announces Ambulance Inflation Update for 2018

On October 27, 2017, CMS issued Transmittal 3893 (Change Request 10323), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2018.

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 2017, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased 1.6%.

In Transmittal 3893, CMS indicated the CY 2018 MFP will be 0.5%. Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for calendar year 2018 will be 1.1%.

Transmittal 3893 can be downloaded from the CMS website.

Senate Committee Draft Package with 5-year Ambulance Extender

Senate Committee Releases Draft Package with 5-year Ambulance Extender

The Senate Finance Committee has released a discussion draft of its Medicare provider extender package. A five-year extension of the temporary Medicare ambulance add-ons and a modified version of the cost data collection provision from the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (S. 967) are included in the package. The ambulance provisions being part of the package marks significant progress in the Senate toward a long-term extension of the add-ons and a model cost data collection system.
A five-year extension of the 2% urban and 3% increases and the super rural bonus payment would provide approximately $1 billion in desperately needed Medicare relief for our industry. Having the increases in place for five years would give ambulance service suppliers and providers greater funding stability and help with long-term budgeting. There are now proposals in both the House and Senate with Committee backing which reflect a five-year extension of the add-ons.

The five-year extension reflects the efforts of our champions in the Senate on S. 967. The cost data collection system is also from S. 967 with modifications. Instead of a random sampling of ambulance service providers and suppliers a minimum of every three years, the sampling would occur each year for three years than a minimum of every three years. Also, in place of a 5% penalty in Medicare reimbursement for not submitting cost data if selected to report data, the penalty would be 10%. There is a hardship clause within the draft for CMS to work with ambulance service suppliers to ensure they are not penalized. The provision is also streamlined from the version introduced in S. 967.

We greatly appreciate the efforts of Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as champions of S. 967 and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on getting the ambulance provisions into the draft. We also thank Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) as Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Finance Committee for their support.

While the discussion draft includes the five-year extension of Medicare ambulance add-ons and cost data collection provisions, there is still a long way to go. If your Senators are not already cosponsors of S. 967, please reach out to them today and ask they cosponsor the bill. Write to your Senators using the AAA online letter writing tool below, or go to:  https://ambulance.org/advocacy/


Ask your Senators to Support S.967 – 2017 Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act

The current 33-month extension of the Medicare add-on payments is set to expire at the end of December 2017. Losing these add-on payments would be a devastating blow to ambulance services across the country. It is crucial that the payments be made permanent as we push for a long-term solution. More details about the Bill can be found below. Let your Senators know that you support S. 967 — Here are three quick and easy ways to get involved!

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter(s) to your Senators – click “Submit Messages”

House Committee Passes Medicare Ambulance Relief Bill

House Committee Passes Medicare Ambulance Relief Bill

On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee voted out favorably an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the Comprehensive Operations, Sustainability, ant Transport Act of 2017 (HR 3729) by Congressman Nunes (R-CA) and Sewell (D-AL). H.R. 3729 would extend for five years the Medicare ambulance add-on payments of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus. The legislation would also implement cost reporting for ambulance service suppliers.

H.R. 3729 is a revised version of the Ambulance Medicare Budget and Operations Act  (HR 3236)introduced by Congressmen Nunes (R-CA), Upton (R-MI) and Welch (D-VT). While the AAA supports H.R. 3236, there were several changes made in H.R. 3729  that are concerning to the AAA. In particular, the addition of an offset which would implement an additional 13%* cut to BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers and a change in the penalty for not filing a time, complete and accurate cost report.  The AAA has therefore taken a neutral position on H.R. 3729 as we work with the House Ways and Means Committee and Congressmen Nunes and Sewell on modifications to the bill.

This week, AAA Board Members and Volunteer Leaders were in DC and met with both sponsors of the bill and other key offices to express our concerns over these new provisions. The AAA was able to secure the commitment of House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Congressmen Nunes and Sewell to work with us on those two key provisions.

The inclusion of an offset in the bill was necessary for its consideration by the Committee and the AAA is pushing for the language from S. 967 on prior authorization or similar approach just targeting dialysis transport fraud and abuse to replace the current cut. The AAA is also pushing for the Senate to consider S. 967which would make the add-ons permanent and require a random sampling of ambulance services to collect data instead of mandatory annual cost reporting by all ambulance services suppliers.

The AAA encourages its members to write their Senators to cosponsor S. 967.

* This figure was previously 22%.  The AAA worked with the House Ways and Means Committee and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on the cost estimate for a five-year extension of the add-ons. As a result, CBO lowered its estimate to $1 billion over ten years instead of approximately $1.8 billion. The cut to dialysis as the offset was therefore lowered from 22% to 13%.


Ask your Senators to Support S.967 – 2017 Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act

The current 33-month extension of the Medicare add-on payments is set to expire at the end of December 2017. Losing these add-on payments would be a devastating blow to ambulance services across the country. It is crucial that the payments be made permanent as we push for a long-term solution. More details about the Bill can be found below. Let your Senators know that you support S. 967 — Here are three quick and easy ways to get involved!

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter(s) to your Senators – click “Submit Messages”

2016 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2016 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 2016, 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 2015.

2016 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

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

 

CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance

CMS Extends Temporary Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Services in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas

On July 28, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice in the Federal Register extending the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The extended moratoria will run through January 29, 2018.

Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse. On July 31, 2013, CMS used this new authority to impose a moratorium on the enrollment of new ambulance providers in Houston, Texas and the surrounding counties. On February 4, 2014, CMS imposed a second moratorium on newly enrolling ambulance providers in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

On August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to the moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers. Specifically, CMS announced that: (1) the enrollment moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier and (2) the enrollment moratoria on non-emergency ambulance services would be expanded to cover the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. At the same time, CMS announced the creation of a new “waiver” program that would permit the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in these states under certain circumstances. The moratoria have been extended on these terms every six months thereafter.

On or before January 29, 2018, CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium.

House Introduces H.R. 3236 – Write to Your Reps!

Take Action for Extending Medicare Ambulance Relief

Ask your Representatives to Support H.R. 3236 – The Ambulance Medicare Budget and Operations Act of 2017

The current 33-month extension of the Medicare add-on payments is set to expire at the end of December 2017. Losing these add-on payments would be a devastating blow to ambulance services across the country. It is crucial that the payments be extended as we push for a long-term solution. H.R. 3236 introduced by Reps. Nunes, Upton, and Welch would extend the current temporary Medicare add-ons for five years. More details about the Bill can be found below. Let your Representative know that you support H.R. 3236 — Here are three quick and easy ways to get involved!

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter to your Representative (Message 1) and the letter(s) to your Senators  (Message 2) – click “Submit Messages”
Feel free to personalize your letter(s) before submitting them.

Active on Social Media? Tweet at your Representative asking for their support of H.R. 3236!

  • Authorize Your Account
  • Enter Contact Information
  • Tweet! (Tweet will be auto-generated with your Senators tagged)
Know your Senators’ Twitter accounts already? Tweet:
“#ambulance svs in your district need you, @[your Representative]! Please co-sponsor HR 3236  to help us continue to provide quality #EMS!”

Post on Facebook why H.R. 3236  is important! Be sure to tag your Representative and encourage others to share your post! Ask others to write letters of support as well! http://bit.ly/AAAbill

More About Our Bill H.R. 3236, the Ambulance Medicare Budget and Operations Act of 2017:
Legislation to extend the Medicare ambulance add-on payments for five years has been introduced by Representatives Nunes, Upton, and Welch (H.R. 3236).
Specifically, the bill:

  • Provides Medicare Ambulance Relief, by extending for five years the current temporary 2 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and super rural bonus payments.
  • Requires the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) to submit a report to Congress detailing the burden of cost reports on the ambulance industry and accuracy of the data received through ambulance cost reports and making recommendations on whether the system should be modified no later than July 1, 2019.
  • Requires CMS to work with stakeholders in the development of an ambulance cost report.

Ambulance Ride-Along Toolkit

AAA ambulance emt member legislation

2018 Ride-Along Toolkit Now Available!

Educating your members of Congress about ambulance industry issues makes them much more likely to support your efforts.  An easy and effective way to educate them is to invite them to participate in a local Ambulance Ride-Along!

Congress is scheduled to adjourn on July 28 for their August congressional recess with members of Congress returning home to their districts and states.  This is the perfect opportunity for you to educate your members of Congress about those issues, in particular Medicare ambulance relief and reform, which are important to your operation. The most effective way to deliver these key messages is to host your member of Congress or their staff on a tour of your operation and an ambulance ride-along. If you cannot host a tour and ride-along, we strongly encourage you to arrange local meetings with your members of Congress during August. The AAA has made the process of arranging a ride-long or scheduling a meeting easy for you with our 2018 Congressional Ride-Along Toolkit.

Are you willing to host a Member of Congress at your service but unsure of how to set it up? Email Aidan Camas at acamas@ambulance.org and Aidan can help you set up a meeting.

Everything you need to arrange the ride-along or schedule a meeting is included in the Toolkit. Act now and invite your elected officials to join you on an Ambulance Ride-Along!

Court Decision Overpayment Determination Statistical Sampling

Maxmed is a home health agency. In 2011, Medicare reviewed a sample of 40 claims involving 22 Medicare beneficiaries and determined that all but one were not medically necessary. The sample was extrapolated to their universe of claims, resulting in an overpayment of $773,967. The Administrative Law Judge invalidated the extrapolation methodology, but the Medicare Appeals Council reversed and Maxmed appealed to Federal District Court, where it lost. Maxmed then appealed claiming:
  • the extrapolation was invalid because the contractor failed to document the random numbers used in the sample and how they were selected.
  • a valid random sample must be for claims that are “defined correctly and independent” and here the same Medicare beneficiary had multiple claims in the sample.
On June 22, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, found the extrapolation and sampling methodology used was proper. The decision, Maxmed Healthcare Inc. v. Price, is just the latest in a recent line of decisions making it harder and harder to challenge statistical sampling and extrapolation of overpayments.

Talking Medicare: CMS Transmittal 236

On June 16, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released Transmittal 236. This Transmittal makes some minor changes to Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. Specifically, CMS is clarifying its definitions related to the “ALS assessment” and “locality.” The change to the locality definition has prompted some discussion within the industry as to the impact on Medicare’s reimbursement for mileage beyond the nearest appropriate facility. In this month’s blog, I will explain the recent change, and hopefully convince you that this isn’t something that should cause you undue concern.

Medicare’s Definition of “Locality”

The definition of “locality” appears in Section 10.3.5 of Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. That definition reads as follows:

The term “locality” with respect to ambulance service means the service area surrounding the institution to which individuals normally travel or are expected to travel to receive hospital or skilled nursing services.

CMS then includes the following example to explain how that definition should be applied to real world situations:

EXAMPLE: Mr. A becomes ill at home and requires ambulance service to the hospital. The small community in which he lives has a 35-bed hospital. Two large metropolitan hospitals are located some distance from Mr. A’s community and both regularly provide hospital services to the community’s residents. The community is within the “locality” of both metropolitan hospitals and direct ambulance service to either of these (as well as to the local community hospital) is covered.

Conceptually, the locality definition is intended to address situations where there are several local options that residents of a community could choose for the receipt of necessary medical care. CMS recognizes that a strict adherence to its general policy of only covering mileage to the nearest appropriate facility would undermine a patient’s right to choose from these various institutional health care providers. The locality definition ensures that, when the two or more facilities are reasonably close to one another, the patient can safely choose the further facility without fear that they may end up being responsible for some incremental portion of the mileage.

The Proposed Clarification

Effective September 18, 2017, Transmittal 236 adds the following sentence to the end of the current definition of locality:

The MACs have the discretion to define locality in their service areas.

Analysis of the Proposed Clarification

The first question that should be asked is whether this clarification is actually a change in CMS policy? I would argue that it not, as Medicare Administrative Contractors have always had the discretion to define what constitutes the “locality” for an ambulance transport. For that reason, I view the purpose of this Transmittal as simply clarifying “who” (i.e., CMS vs. the MACs) has the primary responsibility for making these determinations.

Nor do I believe that this clarification is being made in response to potential abuse of the locality issue, either by providers billing for excess mileage under an expansive reading of “locality” or by the MACs in processing claims. Rather, I think this clarification is being made in response to repeated questions from the provider community, both on Open Door Forums and at state association meetings with their MACs. In other words, I think CMS is simply making clear that concerns regarding locality should be raised with the MACs, rather than CMS itself.

The Transmittal does leave open the possibility that MACs could impose their own definitions of locality. However, as I noted above, they already have this authority. I am not aware of any MAC ever electing to define the issue. Typically, the MAC will simply restate the CMS Manual definition of locality in its LCD.

So why have MACs been reluctant, up to this point, to define localities? I think it has to do with the administrative burden that would be involved. First and foremost, the MAC would need to have a sense of the larger demographic trends that dictate patient referral patterns in any given area. While that information is available, in theory, it is not available in any way that is readily useable by the MAC. Moreover, as the test focuses on what is “normal” or “expected” for patients, this would be a moving target, as patient preferences change over time, new facilities open, other facilities close or change the services they offer, etc. Thus, to the extent a MAC defined a locality, it would be constantly forced to revisit that definition every so often.  Finally, the MAC would have to make allowances for transports that are outside the locality, but where the patient is seeking specialized care that may not be available within the locality.

In sum, defining the locality for even a single community would be a significant administrative burden on the MAC. When you consider that there are hundreds, if not thousands of distinct communities within each state, you can understand the MACs reluctance to offer specific guidance on this approach.

Instead, I believe that the MACs will continue to address the mileage issue in the same way they have done up to this point. Most MACs have imposed an upper limit on the mileage they will pay without question. This upper mileage limit may be for its entire MAC Jurisdiction, it could be statewide, or it could have two or more mileage limits for a particular state.  For example, some MACs use a smaller mileage edit for transports that originate in and around a major metropolitan center, and a larger mileage edit for transports in the more rural areas of a state.

This approach offers a number of administrative benefits to the MAC.  First, it limits the number of claims that run afoul of the edit, and therefore that potentially may need to be reviewed by the MAC on appeal.  It also offers clarity to the provider community.

So, if your MAC has previously indicated that it has a mileage edit, I think you can safely assume that this will continue to be the guiding principle used by the MAC after the effective date. If the MAC doesn’t have a published mileage edit, I don’t think that is likely to change come September.

I would suggest that ambulance providers continue to monitor their remittances. If you are seeing mileage over a certain amount consistently denied by the MAC, that is their mileage edit. Please note that the MAC is not indicating this mileage is never covered, just that it has determined that it will not necessarily pay this higher number of miles without seeing the underlying documentation. In other words, the MAC is putting the burden on you to prove that the entire mileage was covered. If you are not seeing mileage being denied, I wouldn’t expect that to change either. I hope this helps to put everyone’s mind at ease.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July.

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog? Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

Next Week: AAA Moving to Ambulance.org

The American Ambulance Association is excited to announce that next week, our primary website URL will move to www.ambulance.org. We are excited to offer our members this simple, clear, and easy-to-type online home.

While we do not expect any major technology difficulties during the changeover next week, we appreciate your patience with very short downtime, slight glitches, or slower loading times as we make the change.

Please be assured that the familiar www.ambulance.org URL will continue to work as well as it will redirect to our new www.ambulance.org home.

Please contact AAA staff should you have any questions.

Write to Your Senators! Support S.967

Take Action for Permanent Medicare Ambulance Relief

Ask your Senators to Support S.967 – 2017 Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act

The current 33-month extension of the Medicare add-on payments is set to expire at the end of December 2017. Losing these add-on payments would be a devastating blow to ambulance services across the country. It is crucial that the payments be made permanent as we push for a long-term solution. More details about the Bill can be found below. Let your Senators know that you support S. 967 — Here are three quick and easy ways to get involved!

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter(s) to your Senators – click “Submit Messages”

Active on Social Media? Tweet at your Senators asking for their support of S. 967!

  • Authorize Your Account
  • Enter Contact Information
  • Tweet! (Tweet will be auto-generated with your Senators tagged)
Know your Senators’ Twitter accounts already? Tweet:
“#ambulance svs in your state need you, @[your Senators]! Please co-sponsor S. 967 to help us continue to provide quality #EMS!”


Post on Facebook why S. 967 is important! Be sure to tag your Senators and encourage others to share your post! Ask others to write letters of support as well! http://bit.ly/AAAbill

More About Our Bill S. 967, the 2017 Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act:
Permanent ambulance relief legislation has been introduced by Senators Stabenow, Roberts, Schumer, Collins, and Leahy (S. 967). This legislation will allow ambulance service providers to maintain high quality ambulance services and budget for the future.
Specifically, the bill:

  • Provides Medicare Ambulance Relief, by permanently incorporating the current temporary 2 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and super rural bonus payments into the Medicare ambulance fee schedule rates.
  • Requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to submit a report to Congress detailing the features of a reformed payment system for ambulance services under the Medicare program no later than July 1, 2019.
  • Modifies the process for the transport of dialysis patients by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a process for the prior authorization of coverage for such patients.
  • Treat ambulance services designated as “suppliers” as “providers” for certain purposes under Medicare.
  • Specifies CMS to work with stakeholders in the development of a data collection system for ambulance entities that defines the various types of ambulance entities as well as the relevant cost and data elements required for submission.

CMS Letter Regarding Merit-Based Incentive Payment System

Over the past week, multiple members have contacted the American Ambulance Association to report that they have received a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) related to their participation in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). The letter appears to have been sent to any entity with a taxpayer identification number (TIN) that is enrolled in the Medicare Part B Program. The stated purpose of the letter is to inform the provider whether it is exempt from participation in the MIPS program.

This member advisory is being issued to advise ambulance suppliers that:

(1) they are not eligible to participate in the MIPS program
(2) no positive or negative adjustments will be made to the ambulance suppliers Medicare payments
(3) no further action is required on their part

Therefore, AAA members that received this letter can safely disregard it.