CMS Issues Transmittal on Changes to Ambulance Staffing Requirements

CMS Issues Transmittal on Changes to Ambulance Staffing Requirements; Clarifications to Service Level Definitions for Ground Ambulance Services

On September 12, 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 226.  This Transmittal incorporates the recent changes to the vehicle staffing requirements into the Medicare Online Manual System.  The Transmittal is also intended to provide clarification on the definitions for certain levels of ground ambulance service.  The changes made by this Transmittal go into effect on December 12, 2016. 

 Vehicle Staffing Requirements

 In the CY 2016 Physician Fee Schedule final rule (November 16, 2015), CMS revised its regulations related to the staffing of ground ambulance services.  Previously, the Medicare regulations at 42 C.F.R. 410.41 required that all ground ambulances be staffed by a minimum of two crewmembers, at least one of whom must be certified as an EMT-Basic and who must be legally authorized to operate all of the lifesaving and life-sustaining equipment on board the vehicle.  For ALS vehicles, there was a further requirement that at least one of the two crewmembers must be certified as a paramedic or EMT and qualified to perform one or more ALS services.

In the 2016 final rule, CMS revised the regulation to further require that the ambulance supplier meet all applicable state and local laws related to the staffing of vehicles.  CMS indicated that these changes are intended to address jurisdictions that impose more stringent requirements on ambulance providers (e.g., a requirement that both staff members be certified as EMTs).  CMS further indicated that these changes were prompted, in part, by a report from the HHS Office of the Inspector General, which expressed concern over the fact that the current regulations do not set forth licensure or certification requirements for the second crew member.

In this Transmittal, CMS is updating Section 10.1.2 of Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual to reflect the changes to the underlying regulations.  Specifically, the Manual Section now makes clear that BLS and ALS vehicles must meet the staffing requirements under state and local laws.  For BLS vehicles, the new definition also clarifies that at least one of the crewmembers must be certified at a minimum at the EMT-Basic level by the state or local authority where the services are being furnished.  For ALS vehicles, the new definition clarifies that at least one of the crewmembers must be certified as an EMT-Intermediate or EMT-Paramedic by the state or local authority where the services are being furnished.

Note: A number of AAA members have expressed concern with the reference to “EMT-Intermediate” in the paragraph defining the staffing requirements for ALS vehicles.  These members note that their state may be moving away from the “EMT-I” designation, in favor of the “Advanced EMT,” “EMT-Enhanced,” or other similar designation.  These members expressed concern that Medicare contractors may interpret this clarification literally, and therefore downgrade claims properly billed ALS based on the services provided by Advanced EMTs or other higher EMT certifications.

The AAA recognizes the concerns expressed by these members.  It should be noted that the Manual changes being made by this Transmittal accurately reflect the current wording of the regulation.  It should also be noted that these changes do not impact the definition of “Advanced Life Support (ALS) personnel” set forth in 42 C.F.R. §414.605.  While that definition also makes reference to the EMT-Intermediate licensure, the definition makes clear that any individual trained to a higher level than the EMT-Basic licensure qualifies as an ALS crewmember.

Ground Ambulance Service Definitions

 The Transmittal also makes a number of clarifications to the ground ambulance services definitions set forth in Section 30.1.1 of Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual.  These changes are summarized below:

  • Basic Life Support (BLS) – CMS is revising the definition to align with the new minimum staffing requirements discussed above.
  • Basic Life Support (BLS) – Emergency – The current definition of the BLS emergency level of service reads as follows:

When medically necessary, the provision of BLS services, as specified above, in the context of an emergency response.  An emergency response is one that, at the time the ambulance provider or supplier is called, it responds immediately.  An immediate response is one in which the ambulance provider/supplier begins as quickly as possible to take the steps necessary to respond to the call.”

 CMS is removing the second and third sentences of the current definition.  In their place, CMS is inserting a parenthetical referencing the definition of an “emergency response” later in this same section of the manual.

  • Advanced Life Support, Level 1 (ALS1) – CMS is revising the definition to align with the new minimum staffing requirements discussed above. It is also clarifying that the ALS assessment must be provided by ALS personnel.
  • Advanced Life Support Assessment – The existing definition in the CMS Manual ends with the following sentence: “An ALS assessment does not necessarily result in a determination that the patient requires an ALS level of service.” In recent years, a number of Medicare contractors have interpreted this sentence to mean that the provision of a valid ALS assessment would not necessarily entitle the ambulance supplier to bill for the ALS emergency base rate, unless the documentation clearly established the provision of an ALS intervention.

CMS is adding a sentence to the end of the definition that clarifies that an ambulance supplier would be permitted to bill for the ALS emergency base, even if the ALS assessment results in a determination that the patient would not require one or more ALS interventions.  CMS further clarified that the ability to bill for an ALS emergency base rate is predicated on the ambulance transport otherwise meeting the medical necessity requirement.

  • Advanced Life Support, Level 1 (ALS1) – Emergency – Similar to the change to the definition of BLS emergency discussed above, CMS is removing the second and third sentences of the current definition, and replacing them with a parenthetical reference to the definition of an “emergency response.”
  • Advanced Life Support, Level 2 (ALS2) – CMS is rewording the definition, without making any substantive change. ALS-2 continues to be billable in situations involving a medically necessary transport of a patient, where the crew either: (1) provides one of the seven listed ALS-2 procedures (manual defibrillation/cardioversion, endotracheal intubation, etc.) or (2) the administration of three or more medications by IV push/bolus or continuous infusion.  The changes largely relate to how you count, for purposes of determining whether you can bill ALS-2, multiple administrations of the same IV medication.  Conceptually, CMS is indicating that a single “dose” requires a suitable quantity and amount of time between administrations, in accordance with standard medical protocols.  CMS is further indicating that a deliberate attempt to administer a standard dose in increments would not qualify as ALS-2.  In sum, to the extent a medication is administered in standard doses in accordance with pre-existing protocols, each separate administration would count separately towards the ALS-2 standard of three or more administrations; however, any attempt to cut the standard dose into multiple administrations would count as only a single administration for purposes of determining whether the ALS-2 standard was met.
  • Specialty Care Transport (SCT) – CMS is rewording the language in the “Application” section of this definition, without making any substantive change.
  • Paramedic Intercept (PI) – CMS is revising the definition to reflect the change in how a “rural area” is identified. The old definition included any area: (1) designed as rural by a state law or regulation or (2) any area outside a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or in New England, outside a New England County Metropolitan Area.  Under the new definition, an area is considered rural to the extent it is designated as such by state law or regulation or to the extent it is located in a rural census tract of an MSA using the most recent version of the Goldsmith Modification.
  • Services in a Rural Area – CMS is eliminating the reference to New England County Metropolitan Areas, as these areas are no longer relevant to a determination of rural. Under the new definition, an area will be considered rural to the extent: (1) it is located outside a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) or (2) is identified as rural using the most recent version of the Goldsmith Modification, even though the area falls within an MSA.
  • Emergency Response – CMS is adding language clarifying that the nature of an ambulance provider’s response (i.e., emergent or non-emergent) does not independently establish medical necessity for the ambulance transport.
  • Interfacility Transport – CMS is adding a new definition for the purposes of billing SCT, which establishes that the interfacility transportation requirement is met whenever the origin and destination are both one of the following: (1) a hospital or skilled nursing facility that participates in the Medicare program or (2) a hospital-based facility that meets Medicare’s requirements for provider-based status.

Prior Authorization Expansion Delay

Prior Authorization – Repetitive Non-Emergencies – Expansion Delay

CMS has notified the American Ambulance Association that the expansion of Prior Authorization for repetitive non-emergencies, to the states not already on Prior Authorization, will not be implemented January 1, 2017.

The reason for the delay is that, pursuant to Section 515(b) of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), CMS must make determinations as to whether: (1) Prior Authorization for repetitive non-emergencies saves money, (2) it adversely affects quality of care and (3) it adversely impacts access to care.

These studies are being conducted and are expected to show the program saves money without adversely affecting quality or access to care.

For those of you in states currently not under Prior Authorization, it is highly recommended that you still prepare for it to be implemented, even though it will not be implemented January 1, 2017.  You should still ensure that these patients meet the requirements for medical necessity by reviewing your documents, obtaining documents from facilities, conducting assessments of repetitive patients, implementing internal procedures and processes, etc.

For those of you in states already under Prior Authorization for repetitive non-emergencies, there is no impact.  Your program continues.

Novitas – Denials

This advisory is for members who have Novitas as their Medicare Administrative Contractor.

On August 17, 2016, Novitas called me to let me know that they are seeing many ambulance claims denied due solely to the diagnosis codes that are listed on claims. Novitas requires a minimum of two ICD-10 codes, as follows:

  • A primary diagnosis code that describes the patient’s medical condition at the time of transport, AND
  • A secondary diagnosis code that reflects the patient’s need for the ambulance at the time of transport.

The list of primary ICD-10 codes was published by Novitas in their Ambulance Local Coverage Article A54574. While the ICD-10 codes in A54574 are not the only codes that will be accepted, it is highly recommended that you use one of those as your primary code, whenever possible.

Novitas also requires a secondary “diagnosis code”. This list is in their Ambulance Local Coverage Determination (LCD) Policy L35162. That has the four “Z” codes, at least one of which must be used as the secondary diagnosis code:

  • Z74.01 – Bed Confined
  • Z74.3 – needs continuous supervision (includes EKG)
  • Z78.1 – physical restraints (patient safety, danger to self/others)
  • Z99.89 – dependence on enabling machines (includes IV fluids, active airway management)

If the claim does not list a primary AND a secondary code, the claim is automatically denied. While the claim can be corrected and resubmitted for processing, that delays cash flow and adds time and expense for the ambulance supplier. Therefore, please make sure you list an appropriate primary code AND an appropriate secondary code.

 

CMS Moratoria Update

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Lifts Moratoria on Enrollment of Part B Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers in All Geographic Locations; Moratoria for Part B Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers Extended

Effective July 29, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has lifted the temporary moratoria in all geographic locations for Part B emergency ground ambulance suppliers.  Beginning in 2013, CMS placed moratoria on Medicare Part B ground ambulance suppliers in Harris County, Texas, and surrounding counties (Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller).  In February 2014, CMS announced it would add six more months to these moratoria and add Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and surrounding counties (Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery), as well as the New Jersey counties of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester.  Since that date, CMS extended the moratoria four additional times, most recently in February of this year.

CMS considers qualitative and quantitative factors when determining if there is a high risk of fraud, waste, and abuse in a particular area and whether or not it should establish a moratorium.  If CMS identifies an area as posing an increased risk to the Medicaid program, the State Medicaid agency must impose a similar temporary moratorium as well.  CMS also consults with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) when identifying potential areas and providers/suppliers that should be subject to a temporary moratorium.  Finally, CMS also considers whether imposing a moratorium would have a negative impact on beneficiary access to care.  In areas where there is a temporary moratorium, the policy does not apply to changes in practice location, changes to provider/supplier information (e.g., phone number, address), or change in ownership.  Temporary moratoria remain in place for six months, unless CMS extends the policy through notice in the Federal Register.

CMS may lift a moratorium at any time if the President declares an area a disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, if circumstances warranting the imposition of a moratorium have abated, if the Secretary of HHS has declared a public health emergency, or if, in the judgment of the Secretary of HHS, the moratorium is no longer needed.  After a moratorium is lifted, providers/suppliers previously subject to it will be designated to CMS’s “high screening level” for six months from the date on which the moratorium was lifted.

CMS has announced it will lift the moratoria on new Part B emergency ambulance suppliers in all geographic locations because the Agency’s evaluation has shown the primary risk of fraud, waste, and abuse comes from the non-emergency ambulance supplier category and that there are potential access to care issues for emergency ambulance services in the areas with moratoria.  New emergency ambulance suppliers seeking to enroll as Medicare suppliers will be subject to “high risk” screening.  If enrolled, these suppliers will be permitted to bill only for emergency transportation services.  They will not be permitted to bill for non-emergency services.

The moratoria remain in place for Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers for all counties in which moratoria already are in place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

 

2016 Ambulance Ride-Alongs

The AAA 2016 Congressional Ride-Along Toolkit is now available.

Congress adjourned on July 15 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 2016 Congressional Ride-Along Toolkit.

While the current temporary Medicare ambulance relief increases don’t expire unit December 31, 2017, meet with your members of Congress now to gain their support for making the relief permanent.  Also, there is a potential opportunity this year to make progress on provisions to change our status from “suppliers” to “providers” of health care services and to direct CMS to collect ambulance cost data.  Enactment of these two provisions is necessary to set the stage for future reform of the Medicare fee schedule and reimbursement for services other than a transport.  During the tours or meetings, please therefore request your members of Congress to cosponsor the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Relief Act (S. 377, H.R. 745) and support moving the provider status and cost data provisions of the bill this year.

Everything you need to arrange the ride-along or schedule a meeting is included on the AAA Website.

Email the AAA at info@ambulance.org if you need any assistance.

AAA Launches Medicare Audit Activity Survey

In an effort to better determine a pattern of Medicare audit issues facing our members, the AAA has launched a survey to identify the different types of audit activity. The AAA will use the survey to inform federal policymakers about problems identified with the audits and how best to address the issues to reduce the burden of the audits on AAA members. It is therefore critical that you complete the survey to help us determine what audit issues your operation is facing.

Start Survey

The survey is comprised of only 14 questions including contact, demographic and characteristic information about your organization and requests data about your claim denial and audit activity. The information will be kept confidential and privileged and will only be reported in the aggregate with no organization identifying information. Contact information will be used only to follow up should we have any questions.

Should you have any questions regarding the survey, please contact AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North at tnorth@ambulance.org.

Thank you in advance for completing this important survey.

MedPAC Issues June 2016 Report to the Congress

MedPAC Issues June 2016 Report to the Congress with Chapter on Improving Efficiency and Preserving Access to Emergency Care in Rural Areas

Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC or the Commission) has issued its June 2016 Report to the Congress.   The June report includes recommended refinements to Medicare payment systems and identifies issues affecting the Medicare program, broader changes in health care delivery, and the market for health care services.

Chapter 7 focuses on preserving access to emergency care in rural areas.  The Commission recognizes that access to inpatient and emergency services in rural areas is threatened because of the dwindling populations.  Declining populations can lead to fewer hospital admissions and reduced efficiencies that can create financial and staff problems for hospitals.  The Report notes that “[d]eclining volume is a concern because low-volume rural hospitals tend to have worse mortality metrics and worse performance on some process measures.” In addition, “low-volume CAHs have the difficult job of competing with each other for a shrinking pool of clinicians who want the lifestyle of operating an outpatient practice during the day, covering inpatient issues that arise at night, and covering the emergency department.”

Under current policies, most rural hospitals are critical access hospitals (CAHs).  They receive a cost-based payment for providing inpatient and outpatient services to Medicare beneficiaries.  To receive these payments, a hospital must maintain acute inpatient services.  In rural areas, many small towns do not have a sufficient population to support such a model.  Yet eliminating these services would mean giving up the supplemental payments that their hospitals receive through the CAH cost-based payment model.

The hospital prospective payment system serves as the payment model for other hospitals.  Rural providers receive supplemental payments, which are also linked to providing inpatient services.

MedPAC highlights the concerns with cost-based payment models:

  • Cost-based payments do not direct payments toward isolated hospitals having the greatest financial difficulty, but rather reward hospitals in high-income areas with higher non-Medicare margins by providing them with higher Medicare payments.
  • Cost-based payments encourage providers to expand service lines with high Medicare and private-payer shares rather than primarily focus on services that are needed on an emergency basis.
  • Cost-based models reduce the incentive for hospitals to control their costs, which can lead to unnecessary growth in capital costs, despite declining volumes.

In light of these challenges, MedPAC sets forth a two of options that would give isolated rural hospitals the option of converting to an outpatient-only model while maintaining their special payment arrangements.  These models seek to ensure access to essential services:

  • Establishing a 24/7 emergency department model; and
  • Adopting a clinic with ambulance services model.

Under the 24/7 emergency department model, the hospital would be paid under the outpatient prospective payment rates and would receive an annual grant/fixed payment from Medicare to cover the standby costs associated with 24/7 emergency services.  The current supplemental payments would be redirected to support this annual grant/fixed payment amount.  If a hospital chose to use inpatient beds as skilled nursing facility (SNF) beds, it would be reimbursed under the Medicare SNF prospective payment system.  The hospital could be required to use the fixed payment for emergency standby capacity, ambulance service losses, telehealth capacity, and uncompensated care in the emergency department.

Under the clinic and ambulance model, hospitals could convert their existing inpatient facilities into primary care clinics.  These clinics would be “affiliated” with an ambulance service.   Medicare would pay the prospective rates for primary care visits and ambulance transports.  Medicare would provide an annual grant/fixed payment to support the capital costs of having a primary care practice, the standby costs of the ambulance service, and uncompensated care costs.

The Commission recognizes that the “low population density would also make it difficult to retain primary care providers and support an ambulance service.”  It could also be difficult to describe the exact level of primary care and ambulance access that is required to receive the fixed Medicare payment.

MedPAC reiterates its position that “supplemental payments beyond the standard PPS rates should be targeted to isolated rural providers that are essential for access to care.”  Thus, it states that a program to support stand-alone emergency departments should be limited to facilities that are a minimum distance in road miles from the nearest hospital.

 

AAA Issues Response to GAO Claims Report

On May 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report entitled “Claim Review Programs Could Be Improved with Additional Prepayment Reviews and Better Data“. In the report, the GAO recommended that CMS be provided legislative authority to allow Recovery Auditors to use prepayment claims reviews to address improper Medicare payments. CMS fortunately disagreed with the GAO on the recommendation and cited better options such as prior authorization to address potentially improper payments.

The AAA has now issued a Formal Statement in response to the GAO report noting the problems with prepayment claims review for ambulance services and promoting the better alternative of prior authorization for nonemergency BLS transports of dialysis patients. The statement is in follow up to our Member Advisory providing an in-depth review of the report. Please feel free to share the statement if you receive questions about the report.

On June 26, 2015, the AAA had participated in a conference call with the GAO officials conducting the report in which AAA representatives had pushed for recommendations in line with our statement. The AAA will continue to advocate for policies to address improper payments that address the issue but are also the least burdensome to AAA members and help ensure our ability to continue to provide high-quality emergency and nonemergency ambulance services to patients.

Indian Health Service Issues Final Rule on Payments to Non-Contracted Providers

On March 21, 2016, the Indian Health Service (IHS), an agency with the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a final rule with comment period titled “Payment for Physician and Other Health Care Professional Services Purchased by Indian Health Programs and Medicare Charges Associated with Non-Hospital-Based Care.” This final rule will change the way the Indian Health Service pays for Purchased/Referred Care (PRC), formerly known as Contract Health Services (CHS). The provisions of this final rule will become effective on May 20, 2016.

Under current regulations, payment for PRC services is based on rates established by arms-length negotiations between the physician or other health care provider (including ambulance providers and suppliers) and the IHS, Tribe, Tribal Organization or urban Indian organizations (collectively referred to hereinafter as I/T/U programs). In the absence of an agreement, the health care provider is generally paid its full billed charges.

Provisions of Final Rule

The final rule amends the regulations at 42 C.F.R. 136.1 e. seq. to provide that payment for PRC services will now be based on Medicare payment methodologies. Specifically, payments would generally be set at the lowest of: (1) the amount provided for such service under the applicable Medicare fee schedule or Medicare waiver, (2) the amount negotiated with a specific provider or its agent, or the amount negotiated by a repricing agent, if applicable, or (3) the rate for such service paid by the health care provider’s or supplier’s “Most Favored Customer” (MFC). For these purposes, IHS has indicated that the MFC rate will be evidenced by commercial price lists or paid invoices and other related pricing and discount data.

While the previous paragraph sets forth the general rate-setting regime, a number of important exceptions will apply. First, any negotiated rate between the parties must be equal to or better than the provider’s or supplier’s MFC rate. The AAA is interpreting this requirement to require the provider or supplier to offer better (i.e. lower pricing) to the I/T/U program than it offers to any nongovernmental entities, including insurance plans. However, IHS indicated that this restriction would not apply to the extent the I/T/U program determines that the negotiated rate is otherwise fair and reasonable, and is otherwise in the best interests of the I/T/U (as determined by the I/T/U). Second, in the event that no agreement exists, and the Medicare Fee Schedule amount is greater than the provider’s or supplier’s MFC rate (i.e. the provider or supplier has voluntarily elected to accept a rate lower than the corresponding Medicare allowable from at least one nongovernmental entity), then the rate may not exceed the MFC rate, but may be lower than the MFC rate.

The final rule can be viewed in its entirety here.

The GAO Releases New Report on Claims Review Programs, Recommending Additional Prepayment Review Authority and Written Guidance on Calculating Savings from Prepayment Review

On Friday, May 13, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a new Medicare report entitled, “Claim Review Programs Could Be Improved with Additional Prepayment Reviews and Better Data,” which it shared with the Congress and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in April. The report is addressed to the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in response to his request.

The Report examines:

1. The differences, if any, between prepayment and post-payment reviews, and the extent to which the contractors utilize these types of reviews;

2. The extent to which the Medicare claim review contractors focus their reviews on different types of claims; and

3. CMS’s cost per review and the amount of improper payments identified by the claim review contractors per dollar paid by CMS.

In compiling the Report, the GAO reviewed Administration documents, interviewed CMS officials, Recovery Auditors (RAs), and Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). The GAO also interviewed representatives from 10 Medicare provider/supplier organizations that have experienced claim reviews on both a pre- and post-payment review basis. The AAA worked the GAO by participating in a telephone interview and providing written comments.

The GAO examined three types of contractors – the RAs, the MACs, and the Supplemental Medicare Review Contractor (SMRC). These contractors are responsible for reviewing claims that are at high risk of improper payment and claims that pose the greatest financial risk to Medicare. Only MACs conduct both pre- and post-payment reviews. RAs and the SMRC conduct only post-payment reviews, but RAs did participate in a pre-payment review demonstration project. RAs are paid on a contingent basis from recovered overpayments. During the demonstration, RAs were paid contingency fees based on claim denial amounts.

In its review, the GAO found that few differences exist between pre- and post-payment reviews, but noted that pre-payment reviews “better protect Medicare funds.” The GAO found that CMS is not always able to collect overpayments from post-payment reviews and that post-payment reviews require more administrative resources than pre-payment reviews.

The provider/supplier organizations highlighted two issues that need to be resolved with regard to pre-payment review audits. First, they identified that the option to hold discussions with RAs before payment determinations are made in the context of post-payment reviews can be helpful. These discussions are not part of the pre-payment review process; nor are they part of the MAC process. CMS indicated that it is not practical to have such an option in these contexts because of the timing requirements.

Second, the providers/suppliers noted that pre-payment reviews create cash flow burdens, in light of the appeals process. When appealing a post-payment review, providers/suppliers retain their Medicare payments through the first two rounds of review. If the denial is overturned at a higher level, CMS must pay back the recovered amount with interest accrued. However, for pre-payment reviews, providers/suppliers do not receive payment and CMS does not provide interest on the dollars withheld if the provider/supplier wins on appeal.

MACs have traditionally relied upon post-payment review. MACs will also use post-payment reviews to analyze billing patterns to inform other review activities, such as future pre-payment reviews and educational outreach. CMS has encouraged MACs to perform extrapolation, especially for providers/suppliers that submit large volumes of low-dollar claims with high improper payment rates.

The SMRC reviews often include studies to develop sampling methodologies or other policies that could be rolled out more broadly in the future.

The GAO also found that different contractors focused on different claims during 2013 and 2014. RAs focused on inpatient claim reviews primarily. RAs have the discretion to select the claims they review and the GAO stated that “their focus on reviewing inpatient claims is consistent with the financial incentives associated with the contingency fees they receive, as inpatient claims generally have higher payment amounts compared to other claim types.” The GAO also found that RA claim reviews had higher average identified improper payment amounts per post-payment claim review relative to other claim types in 2013 and 2014. For the upcoming contracts, CMS has indicated that it will more closely monitor RAs to ensure that they are reviewing all types of claims. For DME claims in particular, CMS has increased the contingency fee percentage paid to the RAs for DME, home health agencies, and hospice claims.

In contracts, MAC claim reviews focused primarily on physician and DME claims. DME claims accounted for 29 percent of their reviews in 2013 and 26 percent in 2014, while representing 22 percent of total improper payments in fiscal year 2013 and 16 percent of improper payments in fiscal year 2014. DME claims also had the highest rates of improper payments in both years.

Physician claims is a broadly used term that includes labs, ambulances, and individual physician.

The SMRC focused its claim reviews on studies that CMS directs the contractor to conduct. In 2013, the SMRC reviews focused on outpatient and physician claims, but in 2014 the focus shifted to home health agency claims and certain DME suppliers.

The GAO concluded that both RAs and SMRC generated savings for CMS, but unreliable data prevented comparing these results to those of MACs. CMS paid the RAs an average of $158 per review; the RAs averaged $14 in identified improper payments per dollar paid by CMS in both 2013 and 2014. CMS paid the SMRC an average of $256 per review, and the SMRC averaged $7 in identified improper payments per dollar paid in 2013 and 2014. The higher SMRC costs related to the study costs and extrapolation.

CMS lacks reliable MAC cost and savings data. CMS does not collect reliable data on claim review funding and does not have consistent data on identified improper payments. While CMS has established ways to collect this information, some MACs are not reporting it. MACs also use different methods to calculate and report savings.

The GAO recommended that CMS take two actions:

• In order to better ensure proper Medicare payments and protect Medicare funds, CMS should seek legislative authority to allow the RAs to conduct prepayment claim reviews.

• In order to ensure that CMS has the information it needs to evaluate MAC effectiveness in preventing improper payments and to evaluate and compare contractor performance across its Medicare claim review program, CMS should provide the MACs with written guidance on how to accurately calculate and report savings from prepayment claim reviews.

CMS did not agree with the first recommendation, stating that it has a strategy to move away from “pay and chase” using different policies, such as prior authorization initiatives and enhanced provider enrollment screening. CMS concurred with the second recommendation.

CMS Releases Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment Data for CY 2014 for Ambulance Suppliers, Physicians and Other Part B Organizations

On May 5, 2016, CMS publicly released the “Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment Data: Physician and Other Supplier Public Use File,” which provides information on the services and procedures provided to Medicare beneficiaries by ambulance suppliers, physicians and other healthcare provider groups.  The data file is based on calendar year 2014 data. This release follows on last year’s release of payment data for calendar year 2012.

The database lists all individual and organizations providers by National Provider Identifier (NPI), and provides information on utilization, total payments and submitted charges.  It can also be searched by Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code and place of service.

The Public Use File can be obtained here. Please note that you will need to download the desired file and then import it into an appropriate database or statistical software program.  CMS is indicating that Microsoft Excel is not sufficient for these purposes, and that importing it into Excel may result in an incomplete loading of data.

A number of news organizations have already created searchable databases that will allow you to search the CY 2012-2013 data by physician/organizational name, provider specialty, city, state, etc.  It is expected that these news organizations will be updating their websites to incorporate the CY 2014 data in the coming weeks. The searchable database created by the Wall Street Journal can be accessed here.

Prior Authorization Pilot Program – Status Update

CMS released preliminary data on the impact of the prior authorization demonstration program on Medicare payments for ambulance services.  This data is limited to the three states (NJ, PA, and SC) that were included in the demonstration program’s first year.

CMS noted that it has observed a dramatic decrease in expenditures for repetitive non-emergency ambulance transports since the program’s implementation.  CMS released the following data for the first 10 months of the program (i.e. December 2014 – September 2015), comparing that data to the first 11 months of 2014:

  • Payments for repetitive non-emergency ambulance transportation in these states averaged $5.4 million per month, down from nearly $18.9 million per month prior to the program’s implementation. This is a reduction of more than 70%.
  • In the states that were not part of the demonstration program, payments have decreased very slightly for the 10 months in 2014 and are very similar to the payments in the 11 months prior to the program beginning in SC, NJ and PA.
  • 18,367 prior authorization requests were received and finalized by Medicare’s contractors. Of these, 6,430 (35.0%) were approved.

CMS is closely monitoring these results to evaluate its effectiveness. Here is the full status update.

GAO Issues Report on NEMT

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report titled “Nonemergency Medical Transportation: Updated Medicaid Guidance Could Help States.” GAO was asked to review Nonemergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) under Medicare and Medicaid. This report examines 1) key features of NEMT services under Medicare and Medicaid and how these services are delivered; 2) steps CMS has taken to oversee NEMT under Medicare as well as Medicaid; and 3) the challenges that exist in providing NEMT under Medicaid and steps that selected state Medicaid agencies have taken to address those challenges. GAO recommends that the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) direct CMS to assess current Medicaid NEMT guidance and update it as needed. HHS concurred with GAO’s recommendation and provided technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate.

CMS Releases Ambulance Cost Data Collection Report

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has released its report on the feasibility of collecting cost data from ambulance service providers.  Under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, Congress directed CMS to conduct the report entitled “Evaluation of Hospitals’ Ambulance Data on Medicare Cost Reports and Feasibility of Obtaining Cost Data from All Ambulance Providers and Suppliers”. The report can be accessed here.

The report states that due to the diverse nature of our industry with a majority of providers being small entities, traditional mandatory ambulance cost reporting is not feasible.  While it does not make a recommendation on a data collection system, the report highlights the work of the AAA with The Moran Company and will be helpful in our push for a survey approach to collecting ambulance cost data.  Here is AAA’ summary of the report, AAA Summary of CMS Acumen Cost Analysis.

The survey approach to collecting ambulance cost data is a major component of the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (S. 377, H.R. 745) which would make the current Medicare ambulance increases permanent.  The data collected through the survey would help the AAA make data-driven recommendations to the Congress and CMS on future changes to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.

The contractor, Acumen, who developed the report, was also asked to look to see if cost data submitted by hospital-based ambulance service providers would be helpful.  Acumen determined that the data submitted varied significantly and thus was not useful.

For questions about the AAA efforts on cost data collection, please contact AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North at tnorth@ambulance.org.

CMS Announces 2016 Inflation Factor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) has officially announced that the inflation factor for payments under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule for 2016 will be negative .4% (-0.4%). As part of the Affordable Care Act, a productivity adjustment has been part of the calculation for the last several years which for 2016 has resulted in a negative update.

The calculation for determining the Medicare ambulance inflation factor is as follows: Consumer Price Index – Urban (which is the change in the CPI-U from June to June) minus the non-farm business multi-factor productivity adjustment (MFP) as projected by the Secretary of HHS (10-year average). The CPI-Urban for 2016 is 0.1% with a MFP of 0.5% which equals negative .4%.

The AAA had projected an inflation factor of negative .5%.

The Importance of Ambulance Cost Survey Data

By Kathy Lester, JD, MPH | Updated November 9, 2015

Tomorrow is in your hands today. This statement is especially true when we think about the evolution of ambulance services. Today, care once reserved for the hospital setting is now delivered at the scene, resulting in better patient outcomes. Yet, despite these advances, the Medicare payment system lags behind. Current rates are based upon a negotiated rulemaking process that did not take the cost of providing services into accounts. While many in the industry strive to further expand the delivery of high-quality care, the inflexibility of the current payment system makes it difficult to compensate the next generation of ambulance service providers appropriately.

To prepare for tomorrow, ambulances services must act today. The AAA has taken a leadership role by setting the groundwork needed to reform the payment system so that it recognizes the continued evolution of ambulance services. The two game changers are (1) designating ambulance suppliers as “providers” of care; and (2) implementing a federal data collection system.

“Emergency care has made important advances in recent decades: emergency 9-1-1 service now links virtually all ill and injured Americans to immediate medical response; organized trauma systems transport patients to advanced, lifesaving care within minutes; and advances in resuscitation and lifesaving procedures yield outcomes unheard of just two decades ago.”
Institute of Medicine: Emergency Medical Services at a Crossroads (2007)

Provider Status

Being deemed a “provider” rather than a “supplier” is the first step toward recognizing the clinical component of ambulance services and appropriately incorporating ambulance services into the broader health care coordination and reform discussions.

Under current law, the term provider refers to hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), outpatient rehabilitation facilities, home health agencies, ambulatory surgical centers, end-stage renal disease facilities, organ procurement organizations, and clinical labs. Durable medical equipment entities and ambulance services are designated as suppliers.

When ambulance services were first added to the Medicare benefit, the primary services provided were transportation. As noted already, transportation is only one component of the services provided. The deliver of health care services today make ambulances more like other Medicare providers than suppliers.

Achieving this designation is the first step toward having the federal government recognizing the value of the health care services provided by ambulances.

Cost Collection

The second game changer involves collecting cost data from all types and sizes of ambulances services in all areas of the country. Current Medicare rates are not based on cost. As the Government Accountability Office has recognized in two separate reports, these rates do not cover the cost of providing services to beneficiaries. While the Congress has extended the ambulance add-ons year after year, the lack of a permanent fix makes it difficult to plan. There is also the risk of the add-ons not being extended at some point. In addition, the rates take into account only at the most general level the health care being provided.

In the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), the Congress required the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to issue a report evaluating the ability to use current hospital cost reports to determine rates and also to assess the feasibility of obtaining cost data on a periodic basis from all types of ambulance services. Knowing of the strong Congressional interest in obtaining additional cost information, the AAA began working with The Moran Company (a consultant organization with expertise in Medicare cost reporting) to develop recommendations as to how cost data could be most efficiently and effectively collected. The AAA shared these recommendations with CMS and the contractor developing the report. The final report, released in October, supports the AAA’s work and states:

Any cost reporting tool must take into account the wide variety of characteristics of ambulance providers and suppliers. Efforts to obtain cost data from providers and suppliers must also standardize cost measures and ensure that smaller, rural, and super-rural providers and suppliers are represented.

The next step in the process is to provide CMS with direction and authority to implement the AAA’s cost survey methodology. In brief, the methodology would:

  • Require all ambulance services to report to CMS demographic information, such as organizational type (governmental agency, public safety, private, all volunteer, etc), average duration of transports, number of emergency and nonemergency transports. CMS would use this data to establish organization categories so that the data collected aligns with the type of organization providing it.
  • Require all ambulance services to report cost data, such as labor costs, administrative costs, local jurisdiction costs, through a survey process. During any survey period, CMS would identify a statistically valid sample of ambulance services in each category to be surveyed. These services would have to provide the data or be subject to a five percent penalty. Those ambulance services that provide data will not be asked to do so again until every service in its organization category has submitted the data.

As part of this process, the AAA has begun developing a common language for reporting these data. This work will ensure that the information is collected in a standardized manner. The AAA will also provide assistance to services that may need extra help in completing the surveys.

This information can then be aggregated and used to evaluate the adequacy of Medicare payments and support additional coverage policies. Most importantly, it will allow policy-makers, the AAA, and other stakeholders to reform the current Medicare ambulance payment system so that it incorporates the health care services currently being provided and those that will be in the future.

Conclusion

In order to be prepared for the reimbursement structures of tomorrow, ambulance services need to be designated a providers and recognized for the health care they provide. They also need to participate in a standardized cost collection program that will provide accurate data in the least burdensome way possible. The AAA is leading the effort to help ambulance services prepare for tomorrow.

Summary of CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum of November 5, 2015

By David M. Werfel, Esq. | Updated November 6, 2015

On November 5, 2015, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) conducted its latest Ambulance Open Door Forum.  As usual, CMS started with announcements, which were as follows:

As required under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (HR 2), the pilot program for prior authorization for non-emergency repetitive patients will be expanded to Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, effective January 1, 2016.  A Special Open Door Forum on the topic will be held by CMS on November 10, 2015 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. (Link to PDF).

Payment Policies

On October 30, CMS released the final rule on changes in CY 2016 to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.  The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on November 16, 2015.  The rule finalizes the following:

  • The 2% urban, 3% rural and 22.6% super rural adjustments have been extended through December 31, 2017.
  • Urban/Rural Designations – CMS will continue in 2016 and thereafter with the current geographic designations of urban and rural that were implemented on January 1, 2015. CMS also stated the Agency is further reviewing those zip codes which are a RUCA 2 or 3 and have a portion that include a rural census tract.  The Agency will issue possible changes in a proposed rule.  This review was requested by the AAA and should result in more urban zip codes being designated as rural.
  • Vehicle/Staff – For Medicare purposes, a BLS vehicle must include at least a driver and an EMT-Basic.  However, the vehicle/staff must also meet all state and local rules.

ICD-10 – CMS published an ambulance crosswalk from ICD-9 codes to ICD-10 codes.  Also, the condition codes list is only a guide and using one of the codes does not guarantee coverage.

Meeting at the AAA

  • Rogers spoke at the AAA Workshop on Prior Authorization held at the AAA headquarters on October 2.  He thanked the AAA for inviting him as a speaker.
  • Rogers mentioned one of the issues he discussed at the AAA headquarters was the transportation of psychiatric patients. Dr. Rogers indicated that his opinion is that when patients are in a “psychiatric hold”, that the psychiatric hold, by itself, does not constitute Medicare coverage for an ambulance.  He indicated that coverage would exist if there was IV, EKG, medications administered, etc., but that possible elopement was not enough for coverage.  Dr. Rogers’s statement was his individual opinion.  The AAA does not agree with that opinion and we will be following up with Dr. Rogers and CMS on the matter.
  • Rogers stated another issue discussed at the AAA headquarters was on the proper level of service being determined at the time of dispatch. He stated that it was his opinion that Medicare should reimburse for the level of service dispatched.

Healthcare Marketplace – individuals can apply for health coverage through the marketplace from November 1, 2015 to January 31, 2016 through healthcare.gov.

Medicare Open Enrollment – CMS announced the Open Enrollment period has begun for Medicare beneficiaries to select their plan.

The question and answer period followed the announcements.  As usual, several resulted in the caller being asked to e-mail their question to CMS.  Questions concerning the prior authorization program were asked but the callers were told the questions would be answered on the Special Open Door Forum for prior authorization that will be held on November 10.  Answers to questions asked were as follows:

  • Medicare does not cover an ambulance transport of a psych patient, as the patient can be transported safely by other means, such as by law enforcement.
  • When physicians and facilities do not provide records needed for prior authorization, the ambulance provider may have to choose discontinuing transportation of that patient.
  • The denial rate for ICD-10 codes is the same as it was for ICD-9 codes.
  • No solution was offered for situations where the SNF uses 911 to call for an ambulance that they know is not needed.
  • When Medicaid pays and takes back its payment more than a year after the date of service, due to the patient receiving retroactive Medicare eligibility, Medicare can be billed.

No date was given for the next Ambulance Open Door Forum, other than the November 10 date for the Special Open Door Forum on the expansion of prior authorization.

Prior Auth Expansion to MD, DE, DC, NC, VA, WV

CMS Announces Expansion of Prior Authorization Program for Repetitive Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transports

October 26, 2015

CMS has announced that consistent with the requirements of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), it will expand the current prior authorization demonstration program for repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transports beginning on January 1, 2016, to Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. The current demonstration program is operating in three states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina).

The demonstration seeks “to test whether prior authorization helps reduce expenditures, while maintaining or improving quality of care, using the established prior authorization process for repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transport to reduce utilization of services that do not comply with Medicare policy.”

The Agency reiterates that the prior authorization process does not create new clinical documentation requirements. Requesting a prior authorization is not mandatory, but CMS encourages ambulance services to submit a request for prior authorization to their MACs along with the relevant documentation to support coverage. If an ambulance service does not request prior authorization, by the fourth round-trip in a 30-day period, the claims will be stopped for pre-payment review.

To be approved, the request must meet all applicable rules and policy, as well as any local coverage determination requirements. The MAC will “make every effort” to review and decide on the request within 10 business days for an initial submission. If an ambulance service requests a subsequent prior authorization after a non-affirmative decision, the MAC will try to review and decide upon the subsequent request within 20 business days. Ambulance services may also request an expedited review.

If granted, the prior authorization may affirm a specified number of trips within a specific amount of time. The maximum number of trips is 40 round trips within a 60-day period.

Preliminary Calculation of 2016 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 2015, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 0.12%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2016. However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the number is likely to be in the 0.6% range.

Accordingly, the AAA is currently projecting that the 2016 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be approximately ~0.5%.

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 2016. Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change. However, at this point in time, it appears likely that the 2016 AIF will result in a decrease in Medicare payments for air and ground ambulance services.

The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2016 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

Member Advisory: CMS Releases the ICD-10 Crosswalk

By Kathy Lester, JD, MPH | AAA Healthcare Regulatory Consultant | October 9, 2015

At the end of last week, CMS posted the ICD-10 crosswalks for medical conditions for ambulance services. The documents can be found here, under the Other Guidance section at the bottom of the webpage.

In creating the crosswalk files, CMS relied upon a program developed by 3M, ICD-10 CTT. The files provide comprehensive crosswalks for both primary and alternative specific codes and are intended to supplement the existing Medical Conditions List.

The AAA has been working with CMS for the past year to create an official document that addresses the medical condition codes upon which some of the Medicare contractors rely for billing and auditing purposes.

While we are pleased that CMS has recognized the need for a crosswalk, we are concerned that the documents posted are a literal crosswalk of the previous ICD-9 list. This document can also be found on the Ambulance Service Center webpage. This approach, which incorporates all potential ICD-10 codes, has resulted in a large number of codes being included in the crosswalk. Some of these codes are inappropriate to use because they require diagnostic skills that extend beyond the scope of ambulance personnel.

The AAA has developed a more streamlined list of condition codes that eliminates those codes that are inappropriate for ambulance services to use.

We continue to work with CMS to refine its crosswalk to ensure that it is useful to ambulance services throughout the country.