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EMS Week Featured Service Application

EMS Week will take place from May 16–22, 2021.  To celebrate the extraordinary contributions of ambulance services to the communities they serve, we will be featuring specific services throughout EMS week on AAA’s website and social media.

If you would like to apply to have your service featured, please complete and submit all fields below by May 12. Thank you for your service to your community!

 

 

 

AAA Sends Letter to CMS on COVID-19 Response

The AAA has sent a letter to CMS on how the agency can most help ground ambulance service providers and suppliers be better prepared to respond to potential cases of COVID-19. The AAA has requested priority access to personal protection equipment for EMS personnel and COVID-19 test kits and results, as well as easing Medicare and Medicaid policies on alternative destinations and treatment in place. The letter was also sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). Read the letter HERE.

Read the Letter

President signs law providing funds to combat Corona Virus

President Donald Trump today signed H.R. H.R. 6074 into law, approving $8.3 billion in supplemental appropriations to fund programs in response to the COVID-19 illness. The bill would bolster vaccine development, research, equipment stockpiles, and state and local health budgets as government officials and health workers fight to contain the outbreak, which has claimed 11 lives in the U.S. and sickened more than 160 people across more than a dozen states.

The AAA advocated to negotiators of the bill that first responders needed to be included in the funding package and that all communities be eligible for the funding. Due in part to our outreach, the emergency funding provides a transfer of no less than $10 million to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences for worker-based training aimed at preventing exposure of the virus to emergency first responders, and others at risk of exposure (i.e., hospital employees).

The supplemental also appropriates $1 billion for state and local preparedness, which will allow state and local governments to carry out preparedness and response activities, with each State receiving a minimum of $4 million. Of the $1 billion, $300 million is allocated for global disease detection and emergency response, and FY 2019 Public Health Emergency Preparedness grantees.

Member Advisory: CMMI Releases Initial List of ET3 Participants

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMI) has released its initial list of applicants selected to participate in the ET3 pilot program. CMMI notes that the list is not final as it still needs to execute participation agreements with the applicants. CMMI will issue a final list once it completes the process.

Applicants from 36 states and the District of Columbia were selected to participate in the program. Approximately 200 applicants were approved with instances in which the same ambulance service organization submitted applications for multiple counties as well as more than one organization submitting an application for the same county. CMMI has sent notifications to each of the applicants letting them know to expect a follow up email with the partnership agreement, program guidance and additional details.

The ET3 program is a five-year voluntary pilot program designed to test the potential benefit to the Medicare program and patients of ambulance service providers and suppliers furnishing treatment in place as well as transport to alternative destinations. For more information about the ET3 program, please go the ET3 website.

House Committees Consider Balance Billing Proposals

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, the House Ways & Means and Education & Labor Committees marked up their proposals on balance or “surprise” billing. As we reported on Monday of this week, the Ways & Means Committee proposal, the Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act (H.R. 5826), did not include a provision on ground ambulance services. The House Education & Labor proposal, The Ban Surprise Billing Act (H.R. 5800), however, included a provision to create a federal advisory committee to recommend restrictions on the ability of ground ambulance service providers and suppliers to balance bill.

The Ways & Means Committee reported out H.R 5826 favorably by voice vote. While the Education & Labor Committee also reported out H.R. 5800 favorably, the vote was 30 to 13 as a block of its Committee members preferred the approach of the Ways & Means proposal on how to address balance billing for other providers. It is now up to House leadership to determine next steps on how the chamber will approach a final package on balance billing.

While H.R. 5800 as reported out by the Education & Labor Committee still includes the provision on ground ambulance services, Chairman Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Foxx (R-NC) prior to mark up had removed the most problematic language in the bill. As introduced, H.R. 5800 would have given the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to issue regulations to restrict balance billing based on the findings of the advisory committee. This would have eliminated federal lawmakers from being able to evaluate the recommendations prior to the changes being implemented. The language was removed in the chairman’s mark of the bill, and thus the Congress would now have an opportunity to debate and craft legislation on the recommendations.

The AAA along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and National Association of EMTs (NAEMT) had advocated against the ground ambulance provision. We thank Chairman Scott, Ranking Member Foxx and members of the Committee for listening to our concerns and removing the regulation authority language.

Only one of the four pieces of legislation on balance billing reported out by congressional committees includes a provision on ground ambulance services. We will continue to advocate to preserve the ability of local governments to determine the rates and standards for their EMS systems and against the inclusion of a ground ambulance provision in a final package on balance billing.

We will keep you apprised of new developments on the issue.

CMS Posts 2020 Public Use File

On December 2, 2019, CMS posted the 2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files. These files contain the amounts that will be allowed by Medicare in calendar year 2020 for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage. These allowables reflect a 0.9% inflation adjustment over the 2018 rates.

The 2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use File can be downloaded from the CMS website by clicking here.

Unfortunately, CMS has elected in recent years to release its Public Use Files without state and payment locality headings. As a result, in order to look up the rates in your service area, you would need to know the CMS contract number assigned to your state. This is not something the typical ambulance service would necessarily have on hand. For this reason, the AAA has created a reformatted version of the CMS Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule, which includes the state and payment locality headings. AAA members can access this reformatted fee schedule at the link below.

2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule▶

 

Cost Data Collection: So You’ve Been Selected—Now What?

It’s finally here! For almost a decade the American Ambulance Association has been preparing for this moment: collecting cost data in order to justify the reimbursement inadequacies of our current payment system. As Benjamin Franklin stated, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” So prepare we did!

Our research indicated that due to industry capacity, a provider sample and survey approach would be preferable to a mandatory cost reporting structure. Congress agreed! Our research indicated that different organizational structures made us unique healthcare providers and as such, EMS’s special nature should be considered in the collection tool developed. Congress agreed! No one knows our industry better than we do and the final rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicates they listened!

So your ambulance service was selected for the 2020 reporting period—now what? Here is your 10 STEP PLAN.

STEP 1: Sign up for the latest information on ambulance cost data collection.

Subscribe to email updates from the American Ambulance Association’s Ambulance Cost Education page, www.ambulancereports.org. Not only will we make sure you get the latest information disclosed from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, but we will also provide you with quick tutorials on how to fill out the cost data collection instrument. Most importantly, you can purchase AMBER! This software provides an easy, quick solution for you to input your data, with built-in tutorials to walk you through the data collection process.

STEP 2: Know what is included in your National Provider Identification (NPI) number.

It is important that you review the information in the Provider Enrollment, Chain, and Ownership System (PECOS) which supports the Medicare Provider and Supplier enrollment process. You will want to make sure the information that you provide in the cost data collection tool, at a minimum, matches what is in this system or on your CMS 855B Medicare enrollment application. Pay close attention to the following:

  1. Practice location(s)
  2. Vehicle Information
  3. Ownership

STEP 3: “Tele” a Friend!

More than 2,600 ambulance suppliers and providers were selected for the 2020 reporting period (Zip file download of services selected for 2020). Please reach out to your colleagues. Now is not the time to let competition or friendly rivalries stop us from communicating best practices. Call your fellow mobile healthcare providers!

STEP 4: Know your accounting “status.”

How you recognize cost and revenue will be extremely important in determining how you report. Cash accounting recognizes revenue and expenses only  when money actually exchanges hands. Accrual accounting recognizes revenue and expenses when billed, not when money exchanges hands. This status will be key in determining how you report costs and revenues.

STEP 5: Know your mileage.

For every ambulance and non-ambulance vehicle that you use related to patient care, you will need to know the odometer readings at the beginning and end of 2020. Make sure you have a system to record the odometer readings accurately.

For example, you have a 2016 ambulance where the odometer reading on 1/1/2020 is 10,212. If on 12/31/2020 the odometer reading is 74,112, you will have the option of recording the full mileage of 63,900 in the data collection tool. This is another window into the “cost of readiness.”

STEP 6: Set up and Identify payer categories.

As identified by the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System (PDF download), there are nine payer type categories for billing ambulance transportation. Know these categories and set them up in your system now, prior to billing for ambulance transports in 2020. If you use a billing agency, seek confirmation that they have a way to identify these nine payer types. You may not have select reports to identify the numbers yet within these categories but that can be set up later in the reporting year.

Setting up your system NOW to identify these payer categories is critical as it will be too administratively burdensome to fix this retroactively.

STEP 7: Know if you share support services or stand alone.

Support services are services such as maintenance, dispatch, billing, materials management, human resources and other services that support patient care. You will need to know if you share these services with other entities such as fire, police, air ambulance, hospital or other entity not related to ground ambulance care.

If you share, then you will have to work out an allocation model to assign the costs and revenue appropriately. If you do not share support services, then you do not need to work about any of the questions related to allocation.

STEP 8: Identify sources of revenue and cost categories.

Check your systems. Now is the time to make sure you can identify all sources of revenue you receive whether from billing for an ambulance transport or from a grant or local tax. Understand your costs, especially those related to salary, vehicles, facilities and medical supplies. That is the first step in the ability to categorize appropriately.

STEP 9: Don’t panic!

Take a deep breath—It is not as complicated as it may seem. There are resources available and assistance for you and your ambulance services as outlined in STEP 1.

STEP 10: Repeat Step 1!

See, that wasn’t too bad, was it? Now you have a 10 Step Plan!

In all seriousness, while it may seem a bit daunting at first, breaking down the cost data collection process into small steps will ensure that our industry is prepared and the figures we enter into this cost data collection tool will glean useful information. It is imperative that we get this right the first time to avoid any unintended consequences, such as decreased reimbursements and other impactful changes that could harm the patients we serve.

As the saying goes, “the rising tide lifts all boats.” More than ever, we need to help and assist our colleagues as we navigate this new world of ambulance reimbursement.

So, what’s next? Cost data collection, my friend! Jump on board.

2018 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2018 Medicare Payment Data Report. This report is based on the “Early Edition” of the 2018 Part B National Summary Data File (previously known as the Bess Report). The report consists of an overview of total Medicare spending nationwide, 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, with the second limited to dialysis transports. Each chart is further broken down by HCPCS code. The charts provide information on the total number of allows services and the total Medicare payments for CYs 2017 and 2018. Percentage changes will allow members to view payment trends over the past year.

2018 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

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

 

CMS Announces 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor

On October 4, 2019, CMS issued Transmittal 4407 (Change Request 11497), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2020.

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

For the 12-month period ending in June 2018, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased 1.6%. CMS further indicated that the CY 2020 MFP will be 0.7%. Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for calendar year 2019 will be 0.9%.

CMS Announces Comment Period for National Expansion of Prior Authorization Process

On October 29, 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted a notice in the Federal Register announcing an opportunity for the public to provide comments on the proposed national expansion of the prior authorization process for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ground ambulance transportation.  CMS refers to this process as its “RSNAT Prior Authorization Model.”  The CMS Notice can be viewed in its entirety at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-10-29/pdf/2019-23584.pdf.

Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, federal agencies are required to publish a notice in the Federal Register concerning each proposed collection of information, and to allow 60 days for the public to comment on the proposed action.  Interested parties are encouraged to provide comments regarding the agency’s burden estimates and other aspects of the proposed collection of information, including the necessity and utility of the proposed information for the proper performance of the agency’s functions, and ways in which the collection of such information can be enhanced.

In this instance, CMS is indicating that it is pursuing approval to potentially expand the existing RSNAT Prior Authorization Model nationwide.  Currently, the RSNAT Prior Authorization Model is in place in 8 states (DE, MD, NJ, NC, PA, SC, VA, and WV) and the District of Columbia.  National expansion is contingent upon CMS’ determination that certain expansion criteria have been met.  CMS is indicating that if the decision is made to expand the program, such expansion may occur in multiple phases.  CMS intends to use the information collected pursuant to this notice to determine the proper payment for repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation.

In plain English, CMS is soliciting comments from stakeholders as to the efficacy of the current process, including whether the existing paperwork requirements are sufficient to ensure that approved patients meet the medical necessity requirements for an ambulance.  CMS is also seeking suggestions for how to best expand the program nationally, e.g., whether it makes sense to expand the program in phases, etc.

The AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee has been monitoring the current model for several years.  As a result, the AAA is in a good position to provide constructive feedback to CMS regarding the potential national expansion of the RSNAT Prior Authorization Model.  These suggestions will be included in the AAA’s comment letter.  The AAA also encourages members to offer their own comments.  The AAA anticipates providing members with a sample comment letter in early December that members can use to submit their own comments.

To be considered, comments must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on December 30, 2019.  Comments may be submitted electronically by going to: http://www.regulations.gov.  Commenters would then need to click the link for “Comment or Submission,” and follow the instructions from there.  Comments may also be submitted by regular mail to the following address: CMS, Office of Strategic Operations and Regulatory Affairs, Division of Regulations Development, Attention: Document Identifier: CMS-10708, Room C4-26-05, 7500 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21244-1850.

HHS OIG Issues Proposed AKS Safe Harbor Rule

On Thursday, October 17, 2019, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a proposed rule titled “Medicare and State Health Care Programs: Fraud and Abuse; Revisions to Safe Harbors Under the Anti-Kickback Statute, and Civil Monetary Penalties Regarding Beneficiary Inducements.”  The proposed rule would amend the existing safe harbors to the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) and the civil monetary penalty rules (CMPs).  These changes are part of HHS’ Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care.  The stated purpose of these changes is to reduce the regulatory barriers and accelerate the transformation of the healthcare system away from the traditional fee-for-service payment model, and towards a value-based system that rewards healthcare providers for better outcomes.  The proposed rule can be viewed in its entirety at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-10-17/pdf/2019-22027.pdf.

The proposed rule makes nearly a dozen major changes to the safe harbors under the AKS and the rules related to CMPs.  Among these are revisions to the recently created safe harbor for local transportation.  The proposed change to the safe harbor for free or discounted local transportation is discussed in greater detail below.

The OIG is soliciting comments on a wide range of topics raised in the proposed rule. The AAA is not taking any formal position with respect to the proposed changes or the requests for additional information set forth in this proposed rule.  However, we encourage any member that wishes to comment to do so. 

To be considered, comments must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on December 31, 2019.  Comments may be submitted electronically by going to: http://www.regulations.gov. Commenters would then need to click the link for “Submit a comment” and follow the instructions from there.  Comments may also be submitted by courier or by regular, express, or overnight mail to the following address: Office of Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: OIG-0936-AA10-P, Room 5521, Cohen Building, 330 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20201.

Revisions to Safe Harbor for Free or Local Transportation

In 2014, the OIG created a new safe harbor for free or discounted local transportation provided to Federal health care program beneficiaries. This safe harbor applied to non-ambulance transportation (e.g., wheelchair van, bus and shuttle services, taxis, etc.) provided under the following conditions:

  1. The free or discounted transportation was provided by an “Eligible Entity.” For these purposes, an “Eligible Entity” is any individual or entity, other than individuals or entities (or family members or others acting on their behalf) that primarily supply health care items;
  2. The free or discounted transportation was provided pursuant to an existing policy of the Eligible Entity, and which is applied in a uniform and consistent manner;
  3. The transportation services are not air, luxury, or ambulance transportation;
  4. The Eligible Entity does not publicly market or advertise the free or discounted local transportation services, and no cross-marketing of other health care services occurs during the course of transportation, or at any time by the drivers providing such transportation. In addition, the drivers and anyone arranging the transportation cannot be paid on a per-beneficiary-transported basis;
  5. The transportation services are limited only to “established patients” of the Eligible Entity; and
  6. The transportation is limited to 25 miles in urban areas, or 50 miles in rural areas.

 The safe harbor also permitted the use of “shuttle services” (i.e., a vehicle that runs on a set route, on a set schedule) if the following conditions are met:

  1. The shuttle service is not air, luxury, or ambulance-level transportation;
  2. The shuttle service is not marketed or advertised, and no cross-marketing occurs during the transportation, or at any time by the driver providing such transportation. In addition, the driver and anyone else arranging the transportation cannot be paid on a per-beneficiary-transported basis;
  3. The shuttle services has no stop that is more than 25 miles from any stop on the route where health care items or services are provided, except that this mileage restriction is expanded to 50 miles in rural areas.

In either situation, the safe harbor also requires the Eligible Entity to bear all costs of furnishing such transportation, i.e., they cannot shift that cost onto any Federal health care program, any other payer, or the individual.

In the current proposed rule, the OIG indicated that it received numerous comments from stakeholders that suggested that the 50-mile limit for residents of rural areas was insufficient, as many rural residents might need to routinely travel more than 50 miles to obtain certain medical services.  As a result, the OIG is proposing to expand this limit to 75 miles.

The OIG is also soliciting comments on whether the proposed 75-mile is sufficient, or whether an even larger expansion is warranted.  To the extent you intend to submit comments arguing for a greater mileage limit, the OIG is asking that you submit data or other evidence to support a more appropriate mileage limitation for the safe harbor.  The OIG is also specifically requesting information on how an Eligible Entity would provide transportation over distances in excess of 50 miles (e.g., shuttle services, bus or taxi fare, ride-sharing programs, mileage reimbursement programs, etc.).

Expansion of Safe Harbor for Transportation of Patients Being Discharged After an Inpatient Stay

The OIG is also proposing to eliminate any mileage restriction on transportation of patients back to their residence after being discharged from a facility where that patient had been admitted as an inpatient, regardless of whether the patient resides in an urban or rural area.  The OIG is also proposing to eliminate the mileage restrictions on discharges to another residence of the patient’s choice (such as a friend or relative who will care for the patient post-discharge).

The OIG further indicated that it is considering protecting transportation to other locations of the patient’s choice, including another health care facility.  The OIG is soliciting comments on the potential fraud and abuse risks associated with permitting free or discounted transportation to other health care facilities, and whether transportation should be protected (and, if so, under what circumstances) when the patient has not previously been admitted to an inpatient facility (e.g., where the patient had been seen as an outpatient in a hospital emergency department).  Finally, the OIG is soliciting comments on whether the transportation of patients being discharged beyond the applicable safe harbor mileage limitations should be limited to patients with demonstrated financial or transportation needs, and, if so, what standards should apply to such demonstration of need.

Possible Expansion to Include Transportation to Non-Medical Services

In the 2014 final rule creating the new safe harbor for local transportation, the OIG declined to extend the safe harbor protections to transportation for purposes other than obtaining medically necessary services or items (although they permitted a qualifying shuttle service to make stops at locations that do not relate to a particular patient’s medical needs).  The OIG has since received numerous comments suggesting that the safe harbor should protect transportation for non-medical purposes that may nevertheless improve or maintain health, e.g., transportation to food banks, social services, exercise facilities, support groups, etc.  The OIG indicated that it considering a further expansion of the safe harbor to include such non-medical needs, and is therefore seeking comments on how the safe harbor could be expanded to such needs without creating an unacceptable risk of fraud and abuse. 

 Clarification of Policy Regarding the Use of Ride-Sharing Services

 Finally, the OIG is clarifying its interpretation of the applicability of the existing safe harbor to the use of ride-sharing services.  In the preamble to the 2014 final rule, the OIG discussed the possibility that patient transportation might be provided via taxi.  In the proposed rule, the OIG indicates that, while it did not explicitly reference ride-sharing services, it views these services are being similar to taxi services for the purposes of the safe harbor.  Specifically, the OIG noted that nothing in the language of the safe harbor expressly precludes their use (or the use of self-driving cars or other similar technology that may become available at some point in the future).  The OIG is inviting anyone that disagrees with this approach to explain the possible basis for exclusion of ride-sharing services.

The OIG did reiterate that the prohibition of the marketing of such free or discounted transportation would still apply.  The OIG indicated that it would be permissible for ride-sharing services to advertise that they provide transportation to medical appointments, and to recommend that patients contact their medical providers to determine if they qualified for free or discounted transportation.  By contrast, the OIG indicated that it would not be appropriate for the ride-sharing service to advertise that it provided free or discounted transportation to particular health care providers.

Other Changes in the Proposed Rule

 In addition to the revisions to the existing safe harbor for free or discounted transportation, the OIG is proposing:

  1. The creation of three new safe harbors for participants in value-based arrangements that promote better coordinated and managed patient care. These include: (i) a safe harbor for Care Coordination Arrangements to Improve Quality, Health Outcomes, and Efficiency, (ii) Value-Based Arrangements with Substantial Downside Financial Risk, and (iii) Value-Based Arrangements with Full Financial Risk.
  2. The creation of a new safe harbor for certain tools and support furnished to patients to improve quality, health outcomes, and efficiency.
  3. The creation of a new safe harbor for remuneration provided in connection with CMS-sponsored models. The purpose of this new safe harbor is to eliminate the need for the OIG and CMS to issue model-specific waivers.
  4. The creation of a new safe harbor for donations of cybersecurity technology and services.
  5. Proposed modifications to the existing safe harbor for electronic health records items and services.
  6. Proposed modifications to the existing safe harbor for personal services and management contractors, in order to add flexibility with respect to outcomes-based payments and part-time arrangements.
  7. Proposed modifications to the existing safe harbor for warranties, to better address bundled warranties covering multiple health care items or services.
  8. The codification of the existing statutory exception for ACO Beneficiary Incentive Programs under the Medicare Shared Savings Program.
  9. A proposed amendment to the definition of “remuneration” under the CMP rules for certain telehealth technologies furnished to in-home dialysis patients.

CMS Announces Extension of Prior Authorization Program

On September 16, 2019, CMS published a notice in the Federal Register that it would be extending the prior authorization demonstration project for another year. The extension is limited to those states where prior authorization was in effect for calendar year 2019. 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, 2020. 

In its notice, CMS indicated that the prior authorization demonstration project is being extended “while we continue to work towards nationwide expansion.”  This strongly suggests that CMS believes the program has met the statutory requirements for nationwide expansion under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.  However, CMS indicated that it would use the additional year to continue to test whether prior authorization helps reduce expenditures, while maintaining or improving the quality of care offered to Medicare beneficiaries.

CMS has also updated its CMS Ambulance Prior Authorization webpage to reflect the expansion of prior authorization in the existing states through December 1, 2020.

Preliminary Calculation of 2020 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 2019, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 1.65%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2020. 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 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be approximately 1.1%. 

Cautionary Note Regarding these Estimates

Members should be advised that the BLS’ calculations of the CPI-U are preliminary, and may be subject to later adjustment. The AAA further cautions members that CMS has not officially announced the MFP for CY 2020. Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change. The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits: FAQs

On April 1, 2019, CMS implemented a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits that it stated would better identify ground ambulance transports that were furnished in connection with an outpatient hospital service that would be bundled to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these new edits has been anything but seamless. Over the past few weeks, I have received numerous phone calls, texts, and emails from AAA members reporting an increase in the number of Medicare claims being denied for SNF Consolidated Billing.

This FAQ will try to explain why you may be seeing these denials.  I will also try to provide some practical solutions that can: (1) reduce the number of claims denied by the edits and (2) help you collect from the SNFs, when necessary.

Please note that, at the present time, there is no perfect solution to this issue, i.e., there is nothing that you can do to completely eliminate these claim denials.  The solutions discussed herein are intended only to minimize the disruption to your operations caused by these denials.  

I am new to Medicare ambulance billing. Can you explain what the SNF Consolidated Billing regime is, and how it operates?

Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that the SNF’s per diem payment generally the cost of all health care provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay, whether provided by the SNF directly, or by a third-party.  This also includes the majority of medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during that period.  For these purposes, the “Part A Period” refers to the first 100 days of a qualified SNF stay.

However, medically necessary ambulance transportation is exempted from SNF Consolidated Billing (referred to hereafter as “SNF PPS”) in certain situations.  This includes medically necessary ambulance transportation to and from a Medicare-enrolled dialysis provider (whether free-standing or hospital-based).  Also excluded are ambulance transportations:

  • To an SNF for an initial admission;
  • From the SNF to the patient’s residence for a final discharge (assuming the patient does not return to that SNF on the same day);
  • To and from a hospital for an inpatient admission;
  • To and from a hospital for certain outpatient procedures, including, without limitation, emergency room visits, cardiac catheterizations, CT scans, MRIs, certain types of ambulatory surgery, angiographies (including PEG tube procedures), lymphatic and venous procedures, and radiation therapy.

For a fuller description of the SNF Consolidated Billing Regime, including a discussion of when ambulance services may be separately payable by Medicare Part B, I encourage members to consult the AAA Medicare Reference Manual.

Purchase the 2019 Medicare Reference Manual

Can you explain what prompted CMS to implement these new edits? 

In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. The OIG’s investigation consisted of a review of all SNF beneficiary days from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016 to determine whether the beneficiary day contained a ground ambulance claim line. The OIG excluded beneficiary days where the only ambulance claim line related to: (1) certain emergency or intensive outpatient hospital services or (2) dialysis services, as such ambulance transportation would be excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.

The OIG determined that there were 58,006 qualifying beneficiary days during this period, corresponding to $25.3 million in Medicare payments to ambulance suppliers. The OIG then selected a random sample of 100 beneficiary days for review.  The OIG determined that 78 of these 100 beneficiary days contained an overpayment for the associated ambulance claims, as the services the beneficiary received did not suspend or end their SNF resident status, nor was the transport for dialysis. The OIG determined that ambulance providers were overpaid a total of $41,456 for these ambulance transports.  The OIG further determined that beneficiaries (or their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $10,723 in incorrect coinsurance and deductibles. Based on the results of its review, the OIG estimates that Medicare made a total of $19.9 million in Part B overpayments to ambulance suppliers for transports that should have been bundled to the SNFs under SNF Consolidated Billing regime.  The OIG estimated that beneficiaries (and their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $5.2 million in coinsurance and deductibles related to these incorrect payments.

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

The OIG’s report prompted CMS to issue Transmittal 2176 in November 2018.  This transmittal instructed the CWF Maintainer and the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to implement a new series of edits, effective April 1, 2019.

Can you provide a simple overview of how these new CWF edits operate?

Before we turn to the new edits, I think it is important to understand that CMS has had long-standing edits to identify outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF under SNF PPS.  These edits work by comparing the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes on the outpatient hospital claim to applicable lists of excluded codes.  To the extent the HCPCS or CPT code appears on the applicable list of excluded codes, the outpatient hospital claim will bypass the edit for SNF PPS, and be separately payable by the MAC.  To the extent the HCPCS or CPT code on the outpatient hospital claim does not appear on the applicable list of excluded codes, the claim will be denied as the responsibility of the SNF.  The new CWF edits for ambulance claims simply extend the existing process one step further, i.e., they compare the ambulance claim to the associated hospital claim.

Conceptually, the new edits “staple” the ambulance claim to the outpatient hospital claim, with our coverage piggybacked on whether the outpatient hospital claim is determined to be bundled or unbundled.

How would I identify a claim that is denied for SNF Consolidated Billing?

Typically, the denial will be evidenced by a Claim Adjustment Reason Code on the Medicare Remittance Advice.  The denial will typically appear as an “OA-190” code, with the following additional explanation: “Payment is included in the allowance for a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) qualified stay.  The “OA” stands for “Other Adjustment,” and is intended to notify you that the SNF is the correct payer.  Note: in some instances, the denial may appear as “CO-190” on the remittance advice.  However, the effect of the denial is the same, i.e., they are indicating that the SNF is financially responsible for payment.

Frequently, the denial will be accompanied by Remittance Advice Remark Code “N106,” which indicates “Payment for services furnished to Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) inpatients (except for excluded services) can only be made to the SNF.  You must request payment from the SNF rather than the patient for this service.”

I have heard you refer to the new CWF edits as over-inclusive.  What do you mean by that?

When CMS elects to implement a new edit to the CWF, it has to make some decisions on how to structure the edit.  Two typical decisions that must be made are:

  1. Will the edit be conditional based on the submission of other Medicare claims? And
  2. Is the edit designed to be under- or over-inclusive?

For these purposes, a conditional edit is one where the coverage or lack of coverage depends, in part, on the claims submitted by other health care providers that furnished services to the same beneficiary (typically on the same date).  As you are probably aware, the Medicare rules for all Part B payments prohibit payment whenever the service has been paid for, directly or indirectly, under Medicare Part A.  Thus, all edits for hospital and SNF bundling are conditioned, in part, on the patient’s Part A inpatient status at the time of transport.

By contrast, an unconditional edit is one that operates the same regardless of other types of claims for the same patient.  For example, with respect to ambulance claims, the MACs medical necessity edits are unconditional, i.e., they apply to all ambulance claims, regardless of the patient’s inpatient status at a Part A facility.  The edits for origin/destination modifiers are another example of an edit that is typically unconditional.

In addition, CMS has to decide whether to make an edit under- or over-inclusive.  This is because no edit can be perfectly tailored to be applied to all qualifying claims, but no non-qualifying claims.  An “underinclusive” edit is one that is designed to identify the majority – – but not all – – of the claims that should be denied based on the edit criteria.  By contrast, an “overinclusive” edit is one that would deny not only all of the qualifying claims, but also some non-qualifying claims.

In many instances related to EMS coverage, the underlying facts and circumstances of the transport are ultimately what determines the coverage.  It is frequently difficult – – if not impossible – – to fully describe these circumstances with enough specificity on the electronic claim for CMS to perfectly apply its edits.  For that reason, CMS has historically elected to design its ambulance edits to be underinclusive.

Unfortunately, the new SNF edits are both conditional AND overinclusive.  To further complicate matters, they are not only conditioned on the claim of a single Part A provider, but two separate Part A providers, i.e., in order for the new edits to work properly, CMS is reliant upon information from both the SNF and the hospital to properly apply its new edits.

I recently received a denial for an emergency transport from an SNF to the hospital for an emergency room visit.  I thought emergency ambulance transports were excluded from SNF PPS?

They are. The denial was likely the result of your claim being submitted prior to Medicare’s receipt of the associated outpatient hospital claim.

As noted above, the new edits are both conditional and overinclusive.  In this context, they are designed to deny the ambulance claim UNLESS there is a hospital outpatient claim for that same patient with the same date of service.  If there is no hospital outpatient claim on file when your ambulance claim hits the system, the edit indicates that the MAC should deny your claim for SNF PPS.

OK, that makes some sense.  Does that mean I have to appeal the denial?

In theory, no.  The instructions in Transmittal 2176 make clear that the CWF should “adjust” the ambulance claim upon receipt of the associated hospital claim.  For these purposes, that adjustment should take the form of re-processing the ambulance claim through the edits to compare it to the associated hospital claim, and to bypass the new CWF edits if the hospital claim contains an excluded code.

However, there is no timeframe for how quickly these adjustments should take place.  Most ambulance providers are reporting that they are seeing few, if any claims, being reprocessed.

I submitted several claims without knowing the patient was in the Part A Period of an SNF stay.  These claims were initially paid, but a few days later, I received a recoupment request from the MAC indicating that the claim was the responsibility of the SNF under SNF PPS. 

As noted above, the edits were designed to deny claims to the extent CMS was unable to determine whether they should be bundled to the SNF, i.e., to deny if the associated hospital claim was not already in the system.  Therefore, in theory, it should be impossible for the ambulance provider to receive a payment and then a recoupment for SNF PPS.

I suspect the situation described above is one where the ambulance claim is submitted prior to CMS’ receipt of the associated SNF claim for the patient.  As noted above, in order for the edits to work properly, both the associated hospital and SNF claims must be in the system.  While CMS clearly contemplated the possibility that the ambulance claim might be submitted prior to the associated hospital claim, they do not appear to have considered the possibility that the ambulance claim might beat the associated SNF claim into the system.

When that happens, there is nothing in the CWF to indicate that the patient was in a Part A SNF Stay.  As a result, the claim bypasses these new edits entirely, and frequently ends up being paid by the MAC.  I suspect what happens next is that the SNF claim hits the system, and triggers CMS to automatically recoup the payment for the ambulance claim.

What should happen at that point is the ambulance claim should then be run through the new edits.  If the hospital claim is already in the system, the ambulance claim gets “stapled” to that claim, and then either passes the edit or gets denied based on the information on the hospital claim.  If the hospital claim is not in the system, the ambulance provider gets the “interim” denial discussed above, and the claim should be further adjusted if and when the hospital claim is submitted.

However, at this point, it is entirely possible that these claims are not being put through the edit.  The AAA has asked CMS to look into whether the new edits are working as intended in these situations.

This sounds like a complete mess:  

Not really a question, but you are not wrong.

This sounds extremely complicated.  Is there anything I can do to reduce the possibility that my claims get denied?

I think it is important to distinguish between: (1) denials that are correct based on the HCPCS or CPT codes on the associated hospital claim and (2) denials that are based solely on the timing of your claim, i.e., denials based on your claim being submitted prior to the submission of the associated hospital claim.  For these purposes, I will refer to the latter category as “interim denials.”

At the onset, I think all members should recognize that there is nothing you can do to eliminate denials for claims that are properly bundled to the SNF based on the HCPCS or CPT codes on the associated hospital claim.

For numerous reasons, I think the proper focus should be on reducing the interim denials.  First and foremost, the difficulty with an interim denial is that you don’t know whether that denial will ultimately prove to be correct, or whether the claim will ultimately be reprocessed and paid by the MAC.  Second, even if the claim will be reprocessed, there currently appears to be a significant delay in “when” that reprocessing takes place.  Finally, without knowing whether the claim will be reprocessed (and whether that reprocessing will result in a payment), you can’t know whether you should be billing the SNF.

What information would be helpful in reducing these interim denials?

You would need to know the following data points prior to the submission of your claim:

  1. Whether the patient was in a Part A SNF Stay on the date of transport?
  2. What was the specific procedure/service the patient received at the hospital?

If you knew with certainty that the patient was not in the Part A Period of their SNF stay, you would know that the new edits would be inapplicable to your claim, and you could submit it to Medicare as part of your normal billing workflow.

If you also knew the specific procedure/service the patient received at the hospital, you would also be in a position to know whether the service was the financial responsibility of the SNF, assuming the patient was in the Part A Period.  When you know the claim is the financial responsibility of the SNF, you could then immediately invoice the claim to the SNF.  If your arrangement with the SNF requires you to first obtain a Medicare denial, you would also have the option of submitting the claim and getting the proper OA-190 denial, and then invoicing the SNF. Note: in these situations, you would receive the oA-190 denial regardless of whether your claim was submitted prior to the hospital claim.

By contrast, when you know the patient is in the Part A Period AND the procedure/service is one that would be excluded from SNF PPS, you can avoid the interim denial by ensuring that your claim is not submitted until after the associated hospital claim. In other words, this is a situation where holding your claim for a reasonable period of time might be beneficial.

We currently ask the SNF to provide information on the patient’s Part A status.  However, they frequently tell us that they don’t know, or that we are not entitled to this information.  What can we do?

First, they are absolutely permitted to share this information with you.  Both you and the SNF are “covered entities” under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.  In this instance, information on the patient’s Part A status would be helpful to you in managing your payment practices.  The regulations at 45 C.F.R. 164.506(c)(3) permit one covered entity to share protected health information with another covered entity for the payment activities of that entity.

However, it is important to note that, while the SNF may share that information with you, the Privacy Rule does not require them to provide you with this information absent a written authorization from the patient.

This information is critical to navigating the new edits.  If you haven’t been asking for it up until this point, I would strongly encourage you to consider having a discussion with the local SNFs to explain why you will be asking for this information in the future.  You may also want to consider developing a specific form that they must complete (similar to the PCS form) that would provide this information.

We have asked for this information in the past, and are typically told that if we continue to ask, the SNF will consider using our competitor, who doesn’t ask too many questions. 

I understand.  I would try to explain to the SNF that the reason you are asking for this information is to be able to make an intelligent determination on whether the transport is likely to the be financial responsibility of the SNF.  This information allows you to avoid denials in certain instances where they would otherwise not be responsible.  If they don’t provide you with this information, the foreseeable consequence is that you will end up getting interim denials from Medicare, which may leave you no choice but to bill the SNF for the transport.

I feel bad for the person that asked the previous question.  Fortunately for me, we are the only ambulance provider in the area, so the threat of going to a competitor rings a bit hollow.  Do I have any additional options to get this information?

You do.  I would try to insert language into your agreements with the SNFs that obligate them to provide you with this information.  You could also try to insert language that makes them financially responsible whenever they fail to provide this information.

We don’t have agreements with the local SNFs.  Do we need an agreement?

One of the foreseeable consequences of this new edit is that it will increase the frequency with which you bill the SNFs.  One of the most common complaints I hear is that SNFs refuse to pay their bills.  In most instances, the problem is that the ambulance service lacks a written agreement with the SNF, and, as a result, they frequently end up in disputes about when the SNF is responsible.  A written agreement that clearly spells out when the SNF is responsible can not only minimize the potential for misunderstandings, but also afford you greater remedies when the SNF refuses to pay.

With respect to the new edits, what should that agreement say?

You should consult with your local attorney regarding the applicable language.  However, conceptually, you want to include language that indicates that a Medicare denial is conclusive evidence that the SNF is financially responsible.  This provision could then go on to provide that, in the event Medicare should reprocess and pay a particular claim, then you would refund the SNF’s payment.

What can I do to help the AAA in minimizing the administrative burden associated with these new edits?

The AAA is currently conducting a survey of members to help get a sense of the magnitude of the issues created by these new edits. If you would like to participate in the survey, you can click here.

Take the Survey

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

Ambulance Cost Collection Rule Summary

The proposed rule sets the foundation for the data collection system for ground ambulances.  It proposes a stratified random sample method, that is very similar to the one the AAA proposed via the work we commissioned through The Moran Company. We are working through the stratification categories, which are slightly different than those we identified.

CMS also proposes the cost and revenue data elements it plans to use.  There are some details in the proposed rule text and others will be in the proposed tool that will be posted the CMS website today.

CMS also proposes the collection period and penalties for failing to report.

While the data collection provision was the key component for ground ambulance services, CMS also proposed changes to the PCS requirement sought by the AAA. CMS is proposing to reference the PCS also as non-physician certification agreements. The agency is further proposing to clarify that the focus is on the certification of the medical necessity provisions and the form of the certification statement is not prescribed.  As part of the non-physician statement, CMS is proposing expanding the staff of you may sign the statement when an attending physician is unable to sign.

Download Full PDF Summary by Kathy Lester, Esq.

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