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Government Affairs Update

Government Affairs Update: What We’re Working On

The AAA continues to press policy initiatives with Congress and the Administration that are important to our members. While not as high-profile as our successful efforts earlier this year on the five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance add-ons, the AAA is working hard on ambulance legislation and regulations that impact the EMS industry and ambulance services across the country. Here is a snapshot of those current efforts. Over the next month, we will be providing weekly in-depth updates highlighting these issues.

Ambulance Cost Data Collection System

The AAA was successful in getting our preferred language of an ambulance cost data collection system using a survey and random sample methodology included with the extension of the add-ons in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. However, that was just the first key step in the process. We now need to ensure that CMS gets the details right as the agency develops the structural specifics and data elements for the system. It is critical that the system is designed in a way that ambulance service suppliers and providers will submit the most accurate data possible.

The data will ultimately provide the information necessary for Congress, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as well as the AAA and other stakeholders to reform the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. Reform will include potential reimbursement for services such as community paramedicine, treat and refer, and other items that don’t involve transporting the patient.  However, in order to determine the reimbursement levels, we first need the data on what it could cost for these additional services. The AAA therefore has been working closely with officials at CMS on the development of the data collection system.

Medicare Community Bill

The five-year extension of the add-ons and authorization of data cost collection system were the first steps needed in the long-term goal of reforming the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. The AAA is now developing the next piece of legislation as step two of the process. The “Community Bill” would make the Medicare ambulance add-ons permanent, treat ambulance service suppliers like providers in three specific instances, direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMI) to do additional pilot programs on innovative services being done by ambulance agencies, reduce regulatory burdens, and implement a more accurate definition of what Goldsmith Modification zip codes should remain as rural. The AAA is currently developing the draft bill and reaching out to congressional offices regarding the introduction of the bill which will likely occur early next Congress.

Restructuring of Dialysis Offset

The AAA is supporting the efforts of our members who would be significantly adversely affected by the upcoming reduction in dialysis transport reimbursement to restructure the cut. Congress included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 an offset to go along with the extension of the add-ons that will cut reimbursement for BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers by an additional 13%. This will be on top of the existing 10% reduction.  The NEATSA Act (H.R.6269) by Congressman LaHood (R-IL) and Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL) would restructure the offset so that a majority of the additional reduction would be focused on those ambulance service agencies in which 50% or more of their volume are repetitive BLS nonemergency transports. The cut is currently scheduled to be implemented on October 1 and impacted AAA members and the AAA are working to get a Senate companion bill introduced shortly.

Rural EMS Grant Program

As an amendment to the Farm Bill (S. 3042) that passed the Senate, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) included language similar to the SIREN Act (S. 2830, H.R. 5429) to reauthorize the Rural EMS Grant program. However, in an effort to ensure the funding would go to the most needy, small, and rural EMS providers, the language of the amendment and SIREN Act would change the eligibility to just governmental and non-profit EMS agencies. Therefore, small rural for-profit ambulance service providers would no longer be eligible to apply for grants.

The AAA is pressing Senator Durbin as well as other members supportive of the reauthorization to revise the language to ensure small rural for-profit providers would still be able to apply for grants. In the next few weeks, the AAA will be asking AAA members to reach out to their members of Congress in support of the final Farm Bill including the reauthorization language and that it continues to also apply to for-profit providers as well.

Easing Regulatory Burdens

Over the last year, the AAA has responded to several requests for information from CMS as well as Congress on how to ease regulatory burdens for Medicare providers and suppliers. In addition to these broader opportunities, representatives of the AAA and our members have been meeting with CMS officials to reduce burdens for our industry. As a specific example, we are pushing for the elimination of the PCS for interfacility transports and to expand the categories of facility personnel eligible to sign the form.

Protecting Non-Emergency Ambulance Services

The AAA continues to educate members of Congress and congressional staff about the importance of non-emergency ambulance services. We are providing congressional offices with a clearer picture as to the vital role of these transports as part of the overall health care system. We are also looking to ensure that changes in federal payor policies strengthen the role and distinction of non-emergency ambulance transports from non-medical transportation services to health care facilities.

Zip Code Changes

The current use of Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCA) as the basis of the Goldsmith Modification for determining rural areas in larger urban counties needs to be reformed. There are numerous examples of zip codes that are designated as urban under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule that are clearly rural. The AAA Rural Task Force is leading the way on both short-term and long-term efforts to more accurately capture rural zip codes in large urban counties. The AAA will include the ultimate reform provision crafted by the Task Force within the Community Bill as well as look at other legislative opportunities to make the changes.

Questions?: Contact Us

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

Tristan North – Senior Vice President of Government Affairs
tnorth@ambulance.org | (703) 610-0216

Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
rhazdovac@ambulance.org | (703) 610-5821

Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
acamas@ambulance.org | (703) 610-9039

Thank you for your continued membership and support.

Talking Medicare: DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing

Talking Medicare: Recent DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing

On July 17, 2018, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine issued a press release on a settlement that had been reached with an ambulance service in Maine. As a result of this settlement, the ambulance service agreed to pay $16,776.74 to resolve allegations that it had submitted false claims to the Medicare and Maine Medicare Programs.

While the Department of Justice’s press release referred to the matter as a civil health care fraud, that headline is somewhat misleading. The ambulance service was not alleged to “up-coded” its claims or to have billed for patients that did not require ambulance transportation. Rather, the ambulance service was accused of using monies paid to it by these federal health care programs to pay the salary and benefits of a woman hired to assist the company’s billing manager. The woman, who was not identified in news reports, had previously been excluded from participation in federal health care programs after surrendering her license as a pharmacy technician after being found to have inappropriately diverted certain controlled substances. The ambulance service apparently failed to conduct an exclusion test on this individual prior to placing her on its payroll. The ambulance service’s side of the story is discussed in greater detail in this article from the local newspaper.

This settlement provides a reminder of the potential liabilities associated with the employment excluded individuals. As the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) noted in its May 2013 Special Advisory Bulletin, the effect of exclusion goes beyond direct patient care. The OIG noted that excluded individuals are prohibited from providing transportation services paid by a federal health care program, using the example of ambulance drivers and ambulance dispatchers. The OIG further indicated that excluded individuals cannot provide administrative and/or management services that are payable by federal health care programs, even if these administrative or management services are not separately billable. In the above-referenced case, the prohibition was applied to the wages and benefits payable to the excluded employee.

Do we need to conduct exclusion testing, and, if so, how frequently?

The OIG recommends that all health care providers conduct exclusion testing prior to an individual’s employment, and then periodically thereafter. However, the OIG takes no formal position on how frequently these periodic exclusion checks should be conducted. The OIG does note, however, that it updates its List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) on a monthly basis.

Given the potential risks involved, I think monthly testing of all employees should definitely be considered a best practice. The hope is that this case serves as a cautionary tale for other ambulance providers.

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

CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Services

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

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that it intends to extend the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  The extended moratoria will run through January 29, 2019.  Notice of the extension of the temporary moratorium will appear in the Federal Register on August 2, 2018.

Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse.  On July 31, 2013, CMS used this new authority to impose a moratorium on the enrollment of new ambulance providers in Houston, Texas and the surrounding counties.  On February 4, 2014, CMS imposed a second moratorium on newly enrolling ambulance providers in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas.  These moratoriums were subsequently extended on August 1, 2014, February 2, 2015, July 28, 2015, and February 2, 2016.

On August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to the moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers.  Specifically, CMS announced that: (1) the enrollment moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier and (2) the enrollment moratoria on non-emergency ambulance services would be expanded to cover the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  At the same time, CMS announced the creation of a new “waiver” program that would permit the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in these states under certain circumstances.  The revised moratorium on newly enrolling non-emergency ground ambulance providers was subsequently extended on January 9, 2017 and July 28, 2017.

On September 1, 2017, CMS issued a notice on its website indicating that it had elected to lift the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017.  CMS indicated that this decision was made to assist in the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey.  CMS published formal notice of the lifting of this moratorium on November 3, 2017.

On January 30, 2018, CMS announced an extension of the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium on or before January 29, 2019.

CMS Non-Emergency Ambulance Transport Open Door Forum 7/26

CMS Issues Data Elements and Templates for Non-Emergency Ambulance Transports (NEAT): Open Door Forum for
Thursday, July 26, 2018 Just Announced

As part of its Patients Over Paperwork Project, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Provider Compliance Group (PCG) has been hosting quarterly listening sessions and reviewing the Request for Information submissions. The American Ambulance Association has been actively engaged in these efforts, highlighting the recommendations we submitted to CMS and the House Ways & Means Committee last year. These recommendations included suggestions as to how CMS could streamline regulatory requirements to eliminate duplicative requirements and reduce regulatory burdens.  In addition to these efforts, CMS has been working to standardize documentation data elements and establish templates that providers and suppliers can use to help make the current documentation processes less burdensome as well.

On July 24, CMS released draft documentation-related clinical data elements and clinical templates that could be used for the Physician Certification Statement, Progress Notes, and Prior Authorization requests. View the Documents. These documents are not intended to change current law.

CMS also announced yesterday that it will discuss the templates on a Special Open Door Forum which is scheduled for July 26 at 2-3 pm ET.  The call-in information is:

  • Participant Dial-In Number: 1-(888)-989-4575
  • Conference ID: 3068545

We have shared our concern about the short notice about the call and CMS has indicated it will continue to take comments on the documents after the call as well. The AAA is in the process of reviewing these documents closely and will develop a written comment letter to provide to CMS after the call on Thursday. We welcome input from all our members as part of this process.

While these new documents may be helpful for many services, the AAA also remains committed to move its recommendations which would result in some changes in the PCS and other ambulance provider and supplier requirements.

 

 

OIG Report on Overpayments For Non-Emergency Transports

OIG Report – Overpayments For Non-Emergency Ambulance Transports To Non-Covered Destinations

The Office of the Inspector General released its report Medicare Improperly Paid Providers for Non Emergency Ambulance Transports to Destinations Not Covered by Medicare“.

In sum, the OIG reviewed claims that Medicare paid for 2014 – 2016 non-emergency ambulance transports. The review focused on transports to non-covered destinations. OIG found that $8,633,940 was paid by Medicare for non-emergency ambulance transports under codes A0425 (ground mileage), A0426 (ALS non-emergency) and A0428 (BLS non-emergency) during this period of time.

The review was based solely on the claims and not based on a medical review or interviews of providers.

The claims that should not have been paid were to the following destinations:

  • 59% – to diagnostic or therapeutic sites other than a hospital or physician’s office, that did not originate at a SNF.
  • 31% – to a residence or assisted living facility (and not meeting the origin/destination requirement).
  •  6% – to the scene of an acute event.
  •  4% – to a destination code not used for ambulance claims or where no destination modifier was used.
  • <1% – to a physician’s office.

OIG recommended (and CMS agreed) that CMS:

  1. Notify the Medicare Administrative Contractors to recover that portion of the overpayment that is within the 4-year period in which claims can be re-opened.
  2. For the balance of the overpayment that is outside the 4-year period, CMS should provide the information needed for the MACs to notify the providers of the overpayments and have the providers exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and refund improper payments.
  3. Direct the MACs to review the origin/destination requirements for any overpayments following the audit period.
  4. Require the MACs implement edits to ensure they only pay for non-emergency transports that meet the Medicare requirements.

There is a chart in the report that indicates the improper payments for each jurisdiction. It is interesting to note that the overpayments range from a low of $515 (First Coast) to a high of $5,006,696 (Cahaba).

The report can be obtained at: https://go.usa.gov/xU5vf

Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule 2018

On Thursday, July 12, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the “Revisions to Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Revisions to Part B for CY 2019; Medicare Shared Savings Program Requirements; Quality Payment Program; and Medicaid Promoting Interoperability Program” Proposed Rule (Proposed Rule).

As you know, the American Ambulance Association worked closely with the Congress to ensure passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA) (Pub. L. 115-123, enacted on February 9, 2018). The BBA not only extended the ambulance add-ons for 5 years, but also authorized a cost collection system that would not be overly burdensome on ambulance providers and suppliers, but would provide sufficient information ideally to support the permanent extension of the add-ons and set the basis for new payment models, including alternative destinations, treatment/assessment without transport, and community paramedicine.

After passage of the BBA, the AAA engaged immediate with CMS to ensure the smooth implementation of these provisions. Those contacts resulted in guidance earlier this year implementing the add-ons retroactively to January 1, 2019.

Consistent with the statute and already-released guidance, the Proposed Rule extends the three add-ons: the 2 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and 22.6 percent super-rural add-ons.  The Proposed Rule would codify the extension of the add-ons through December 31, 2022.

The Proposed Rule would implement the increase in the reduction in rates for non-emergency ambulance transports to/from dialysis facilities for services furnished on or after October 1, 2018. The 10 percent reduction applies for these transports furnished during the period beginning on October 1, 2013 and ending on September 30, 2018. The reduction will increase to 23 percent to conform the regulations to the statutory requirement for services furnished on or after October 1, 2018.

CMS does not request any information about the cost collection system in the Proposed Rule, but has been soliciting comments and recommendations through informal provider/supplier calls.  Additionally, the AAA has been in regular contact with CMS on the structure, design, and data elements to ensure the successful implementation of this critically important system as well.

Talking Medicare: GAO urges CMS to continue prior authorization

Talking Medicare: GAO urges CMS to continue prior authorization efforts

On May 21, 2018, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on the use of prior authorization models by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The GAO was asked to examine: (1) the impact of prior authorization on total expenditures, and the potential savings for items or service subject to prior authorization, (2) the reported benefits and challenges of prior authorization, and (3) CMS’ monitoring of these programs, and its plans for future prior authorization. To conduct its study, the GAO looked at payment data and other information provided by CMS. The GAO also interviewed CMS, the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), and selected provider, supplier, and beneficiary groups.

Prior authorization was first implemented by CMS in 2012 for certain power mobility devices (e.g., power wheelchairs) in seven states. Subsequent prior authorization models were implemented for non-emergency hyperbaric oxygen and home health services. Most relevant to our industry, CMS implemented a prior authorization model for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency ambulance transportation in December of 2014. Originally, this model was implemented in only three states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. In January of 2016, the prior authorization model was expanded to include the states of Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.

The GAO’s key finding is that these prior authorization models have been effective in reducing Medicare’s expenditures for various items. The GAO’s analysis of actual expenditures found that the estimated savings from all demonstrations through March of 2017 could be as high as $1.1 to $1.9 billion. Given this fact, it should not be surprising that the GAO is calling on CMS to continue the use of prior authorization.

The majority of the data included in this report relates to non-ambulance services. However, I do want to highlight a few data points noted by the GAO.

From the model’s implementation in December 2014 through March 2017, MACs collectively handled more than 337,000 prior authorization requests, including a total of 3,231 requests for authorization of a repetitive, non-emergency, ambulance patient. This includes 2,620 initial requests, and 611 resubmissions (i.e., subsequent requests for prior authorization following the rejection of the initial request).

The GAO provisional affirmation rate for both initial and resubmitted authorization requests rose in each demonstration between the initial implementation date and March 2017. For example, the GAO noted that the affirmation rate (i.e., the rate at which patients are approved for repetitive ambulance transportation) during the first six months of the non-emergency ambulance model was 28 percent. This rose to 66 percent during the most recent six-month period (October 2016 through March 2017). The GAO noted that MAC officials attributed this increase, in part, to provider and supplier education, which they felt improved the documentation being submitted by providers and suppliers. While this is undoubtedly true, it is also likely the case that the MACs refined their approval process over time.

The GAO estimated the total potential savings from the prior authorization model for ambulance to be nearly $387.5 million from December 2014 through March 2017. Importantly, 90 percent of that savings was attributable to reductions in utilization in the original three states. Moreover, more than half the reduced expenditures took place within the first six months of the demonstration project.

In terms of fitting this report into the larger picture, I think it is best viewed as further confirmation of what we already suspected: namely, that the federal government perceives prior authorization to be an effective tool for combating the perceived overutilization of ambulance to transport patients to and from dialysis. CMS indicated as much when it adopted the program in 2014. Medicare payment data has borne out those expectations. Recently, CMS issued its first interim report on prior authorization’s effectiveness. The GAO’s report adds an independent imprimatur to that belief.

Big picture, all of the stars appear to be lining up for an expansion of prior authorization next year. Stay tuned!!

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

Update on Medicare Reimbursement Issues

The AAA would like to take this opportunity to update members on a number of issues related to Medicare reimbursement:

  1. CMS and its contractors have begun adjusting claims for ground ambulance services to reflect the restoration of the temporary add-ons. Section 50203(a) of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 retroactively reinstated the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services. These add-ons increase the applicable Medicare allowables by 2% in urban areas, 3% in rural areas, and 22.6% in “super rural” areas (over and above the corresponding rural rate), retroactive to January 1, 2018. On a March 7, 2018 Open Door Forum, CMS indicated that it had updated the Medicare Ambulance fee schedule to reflect these higher rates, and that it has provided a Change Request to each of its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). The AAA has confirmed that all MACs have successfully implemented the new rates, and that all are paying current claims at the correct rate. The AAA has further confirmed that MACs have started to adjust 2018 claims paid at the original (lower) rates. Unfortunately, neither CMS nor its MACs have committed to a firm timetable for the completion of all required adjustments; however, a number of MACs have indicated that they anticipate completing all required adjustments by the end of the second quarter of 2018.
  1. Further reduction in Medicare’s payment for non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 further required CMS to implement an additional 13% reduction in Medicare’s payment for scheduled, non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis. This reduction is on top of the existing 10% payment reduction. Collectively, this means that dialysis transports will be reimbursed at a rate that is 23% less than the rate that would otherwise be applicable to BLS non-emergency transports in your area. The AAA. is reminding members that this additional reduction in payments will go into effect for transports on or after October 1, 2018.
  1. CMS has updated its SNF Consolidated Billing file to resolve the error that resulted in certain ambulance claims being incorrectly denied as being the responsibility of the SNF. Each year, CMS updates the SNF Consolidated Billing file provided to MACs. This file contains several lists of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) codes, and provides instructions to the MACs on whether these codes: (i) should be accepted for separate payment under Medicare Part B or (ii) should always be denied for inclusion in the SNF Consolidated Billing system. Ambulance HCPCS codes (A0425, A0426, A0427, etc.) have always been included in the first list, as the issue of whether an ambulance transportation is bundled to the SNF is conditioned on the nature of the services that the patient will receive at the destination. To the extent the service the patient will receive at the destination is bundled, the ambulance services to and from that service will also be bundled, and vice versa. Note: there are two exceptions to this general rule. The first is that ambulance transportation to and from dialysis is specifically exempted from the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, and therefore will always be separately billable to Medicare Part B. The second exception relates to the provision of chemotherapy services furnished on an outpatient basis in a hospital. Chemotherapy services are generally bundled to the SNF; however, several years ago, Congress elected to exempt a number of particularly expensive forms of chemotherapy from the SNF bundle. In these instances, while the SNF is not responsible for the payment of the expensive chemotherapy, the SNF remains responsible for payment of the ambulance transportation to and from the hospital. Because ambulance codes may or may not be bundled to the SNF based on the nature of the transport, they are not automatically denied. Instead, the MACs are supposed to use further edits to identify those situations in which the ambulance transport would be bundled vs. separately payable. Unfortunately, in its 2018 update, CMS inadvertently left the ambulance HCPCS codes off the list of codes that are not automatically denied as being bundled to the SNF.  As a result, ambulance providers have indicated that claims were being denied using remark code “OA109.”  In some cases, claims for dates of service in 2016 or 2017 that were previously paid were being recouped. CMS recognized its error fairly quickly, and updated the SNF Consolidated Billing file in mid-February. All MACs were provided with updated instructions by February 27, 2018. Therefore, the issue has been resolved for current claims. What remains to be resolved is how CMS and its MACs will adjust or reprocess claims that were incorrectly denied. Several MACs have notified providers of the issue, and asked that they refrain from appealing the claims. These MACs are indicating that they will automatically adjust/reprocess affected claims. In other instances, the MACs have asked the providers to make a refund of affected claims that were previously paid, promising to then reprocess the entire claim. The AAA is advising members to carefully track the claims that were affected by this mistake, and to follow the instructions issued by their MAC for ensuring their reprocessing.
  1. CMS has delayed the mailing new ID cards to all Medicare beneficiaries. As part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, Congress mandated that CMS remove a beneficiary’s social security number (SSN) from their Medicare ID card by April 2019. As part of this initiative, CMS will be replacing the SSN-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) with the new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). CMS has already started mailing cards with the MBI to newly enrolling Medicare beneficiaries. CMS originally announced that it would be mailing new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries starting in April 2018, but recently indicated that it would delay the mailing of new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries until May 2018. From May to June, CMS will mail new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries residing in Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The mailing program will then be extended to additional states in 5 “waves” over the coming year. To the extent you provide services in the above-mentioned states, you may want to educate crewmembers and other employees on the differences between the HICN and the MBI. You may want to also consider updating your existing patient databases to include the new identifier. As a reminder, CMS will permit claims to be submitted with either the HICN or the MBI during a transition period running through December 31, 2019.  Effective January 1, 2020, claims must be submitted with a patient’s MBI. This requirement applies regardless of whether the date of service occurred prior to the expiration of the transition period.
  1. Extension of prior authorization project for scheduled, repetitive transports. In December 2017, CMS indicated that it would be extending the prior authorization program for an additional year. This program is currently in place for the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The extension of the program is limited to those states. CMS has further indicated that it will be making a determination on possible national expansion at some point in the near future. CMS recently released its first interim report on the prior authorization program. As expected, that report indicated that prior authorization has been successful in reducing Medicare expenditures on scheduled, repetitive transports, without any material impact on beneficiary access to and quality of care.

Have any questions about these updates? Contact Brian Werfel at bwerfel@aol.com

Summary of March 2018 Ambulance Open Door Forum

CMS held its latest Open Door Forum on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. As with past Open Door Forums, CMS started the call with the following series of announcements:

Medicare Fee Schedule – CMS indicated that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, enacted on February 9, 2018, contained several provisions that impacted the payment of ambulance claims under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule:

  • Temporary Add-Ons for Ground Ambulance – CMS indicated that Section 50203(a) of the bill extended the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services for an additional five years, retroactive back to January 1, 2018.  As extended, these add-ons will expire on December 31, 2022.  These add-ons increase Medicare’s allowable for ground ambulance base rates and mileage by 2% in urban areas, 3% in rural areas, and by 22.6% (over the applicable rural rate) for services provided in so-called “super rural” areas.
  • Cost Reporting – CMS indicated that Section 50203(b) of the bill would require ground ambulance providers and suppliers to submit cost data to CMS. CMS noted that the new law requires CMS to develop, no later than December 31, 2019, a data collection system to collect cost, revenue, utilization, and certain other information related to ground ambulance services. The law provides that cost data will be collected using a survey methodology, with a representative sample of ambulance providers and suppliers being asked to submit cost data in any given year.  Finally, CMS noted that, starting on January 1, 2022, providers or suppliers that fail to submit the requested cost data would be subject to a 10% reduction in their Medicare payments, unless otherwise exempted on the basis of significant hardship.
  • Additional Reduction in Medicare Payment for Dialysis Transports – Section 53108 of the bill provides that the Medicare allowable for non-emergency, basic life support transports to and from dialysis will be subject to a further 13% reduction.  This reduction would go into effect for dialysis transports with dates of service on or after October 1, 2018. This would be on top of the existing 10% reduction in Medicare’s payment for dialysis transports, for a total reduction of 23%.

Temporary Enrollment Moratorium – CMS indicated that the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new ground non-emergency ambulance providers in Texas was lifted on September 1, 2017. CMS further indicated that the enrollment moratorium was extended for the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania for an additional six months on January 29, 2018. CMS will need to make a determination on or before July 29, 2018 on whether to lift the moratorium or extent it for an additional six months in that state.

Following the announcements, CMS moved into a brief Question & Answer period.  Most of the questions were not answered on the call; instead, CMS took the contact information of the person asking the question, and indicated that they would respond directly to them at a later date.  However, the following questions were answered:

  1. CMS indicated that a Change Request had been sent to all Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) informing them of the new, adjusted fee schedule amounts. CMS further indicated that this Change Request, which it indicated was confidential, provided further instructions to the MACs on when and how to adjust claims initially paid at the original 2018 rates.
  1. CMS confirmed that the adjusted rates are retroactive to January 1, 2018. Accordingly, CMS indicated that claims paid at the original 2018 rates will be adjusted by the MACs at some future date.
  1. CMS indicated that it recently released its First Interim Evaluation Report on the Medicare Prior Authorization Model for repetitive, non-emergency ground ambulance transports. CMS further indicated that it was still reviewing this report, and that no decision has yet been made on the extension of this model within the existing 9 states and the District of Columbia and/or the expansion of the model to additional states.

Have questions? Please write to the Werfels at bwerfel@aol.com.

AAA Releases Updated 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator

CMS Posts Updated 2018 Public Use File; OIG Guidance on Waiver of Small Cost-Sharing Balances Updated AAA 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has posted an updated version of the 2018 Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files (PUF). These files contain the Medicare allowed base rate reimbursement amounts for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage rates. These files reflect the restoration, retroactive to January 1, 2018, of the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services (2% for urban transports, 3% for rural transports, and the “super-rural” bonus) pursuant to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which was enacted on February 9, 2018.

2018 Fee Schedule

Accuracy of Rates and AAA Fee Calculator

The American Ambulance Association has reviewed the rates in this file and confirmed that the rates are accurate. The AAA has also revised its Medicare Ambulance Rate Calculator to reflect the five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons as well as other policy changes including the two-year extension (2026 and 2027) of the 2% Medicare provider cut under sequestration and the additional 13% (23% total) cut to BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers. The additional dialysis transport cut takes effect on October 1, and as a modifier, is not included in the Public Use File.

Download the 2018 Rate Calculator

Reformatted Version of PUF

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 ambulance services would necessarily know off-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. Members can access this reformatted fee schedule on the AAA website.

CMS has yet to announce a timetable for adjusting claims that were paid at the original fee schedule amounts. It is anticipated that CMS will make an announcement on this timetable in the next few weeks.

Coinsurance

One issue that frequently arises in these situations is how ambulance providers and suppliers should treat the additional coinsurance amounts that are generated when CMS and its contractors adjust claims from the original allowed amounts to the now higher allowed amounts. These additional coinsurance amounts are typically quite small. Ambulance providers and suppliers may determine that the costs associated with trying to collect these small amounts would likely exceed the amounts they could reasonably hope to collect. The question is whether writing off these small balances could be construed as a routine waiver of cost-sharing amounts, a practice prohibited under Medicare’s rules.

In 2010, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued guidance on this issue. Specifically, the OIG indicated that it would not seek to impose administrative sanctions on Medicare providers and suppliers that waive these amounts provided the following conditions are met:

• The waiver is limited to the increased cost-sharing amounts generated upon adjustment of claims previously paid at the lower allowable, i.e., it does not apply to cost-sharing amounts associated with claims paid at the increased allowables;
• The waiver is limited to the small balances created by the adjustment of claims, i.e., it does not apply to the cost-sharing amounts originally imposed on the beneficiary when the claim was paid at the lower amounts;
• The waiver must be offered uniformly to all affected beneficiaries;
• The waiver must not be advertised; and
• The waiver must not be conditioned on the beneficiary’s receipt of any items, suppliers, or services.

Assuming the above-referenced conditions are met, ambulance providers and supplier can safely write-off these small balances. Please note that the OIG is not indicating that ambulance providers and suppliers must write-off these amounts. Rather, the OIG is simply indicating that this is an option available to health care providers and suppliers impacted by retroactive adjustment of claims.

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2018 Fee Schedule

CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Services

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

On January 30, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice in the Federal Register extending the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The extended moratoria will run through July 29, 2018.

Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse. On July 31, 2013, CMS used this new authority to impose a moratorium on the enrollment of new ambulance providers in Houston, Texas and the surrounding counties. On February 4, 2014, CMS imposed a second moratorium on newly enrolling ambulance providers in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas. These moratoriums were subsequently extended on August 1, 2014, February 2, 2015, July 28, 2015, and February 2, 2016.

On August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to the moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers. Specifically, CMS announced that: (1) the enrollment moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier and (2) the enrollment moratoria on non-emergency ambulance services would be expanded to cover the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. At the same time, CMS announced the creation of a new “waiver” program that would permit the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in these states under certain circumstances. The revised moratorium on newly enrolling non-emergency ground ambulance providers was subsequently extended on January 9, 2017 and July 28, 2017.

On September 1, 2017, CMS issued a notice on its website indicating that it had elected to lift the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017. CMS indicated that this decision was made to assist in the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey.  CMS published formal notice of the lifting of this moratorium on November 3, 2017.

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


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

Should I Hold My Medicare Claims?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By: Brian S. Werfel, Esq.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

President’s Perspective: January 2018

Dear Fellow AAA Members,

Happy New Year from the American Ambulance Association!

This year promises to bring new challenges and opportunities for ambulance services. As your association, AAA, its experts, and the whole member community will be there to support you every step of the way.

Advocacy Update

If you’ve missed your recent member advocacy emails, you may be wondering “What is going on with the add-ons?!” I’d like to address this first and foremost.

Despite the best efforts of the American Ambulance Association and other industry stakeholders, the temporary Medicare ambulance increases expired December 31. However, please rest assured that the AAA lobbying team, volunteer leadership, and staff are working tirelessly around-the-clock to advocate for this critical EMS revenue.

The good news is that the end may be in sight. However, we must remain engaged, active, and unified as an industry to carry this effort through in the face of the today’s contentious and unpredictable political climate.

Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are working toward a long-term extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  As part of these negotiations, the House and Senate are working through the details of a Medicare provider extender package. Thanks to the work of our lobbying team and countless Hill visits, phone calls and letters by dedicated AAA members and our supporters on Capitol Hill, both the House and Senate proposals include five-year extensions of the ambulance increases retroactive to January 1, 2018.

We are cautiously optimistic that Congress will include CHIP in the next Continuing Resolution (CR) on or around January 19. Depending on the outcomes of last-minute discussions, the Medicare provider extender package may be attached to the CHIP bill or moved forward separately shortly thereafter.  However, of course, Congress in 2018 is predictably unpredictable: we ask for your patience, and your continued confidence that AAA is doing everything possible on this issue.

To support this effort, AAA joined forces with other healthcare industry groups to send a letter to Congress urging them to pass the larger Medicare provider extender package. The AAA has also made the case to Congress that it must act now on the ambulance extension as ambulance service providers and suppliers are first responders and cannot afford to hold claims for prolonged periods of time. Congress must therefore move immediately to ensure that our nation’s health care safety net is not put at risk. We pointed out that submitting claims with the increases paid retroactively could result in long delays in providers and suppliers getting the additional funds, an unacceptable risk for an EMS network made up primarily of small providers. As a last resort, we have asked that if Congress cannot address a Medicare provider extender package by January 19 that they pass a short-term extension of the ambulance increases to sustain our operations.

The AAA is also working with congressional offices and committees of jurisdiction to implement a workable system for collecting cost data from ambulance service providers and suppliers and on an offset focused on reducing reimbursement just for those entities which abuse the dialysis transport benefit. The reality is that ambulance services will have to report their costs to the federal government. However, AAA will work to ensure that the system implemented is fair and does not place undue burden on ambulance services or subject ambulance services to standards and penalties that are not applied to other Medicare providers.

While we believe we may be approaching the endzone on the extender renewals, we must continue to push Congress to do what is right for EMS. Now, more than ever, we need you to add your voice to those of AAA, state-level ambulance associations, and thousands of your peers. Please take a moment today to send Congress your message of support for the Medicare ambulance add-onsit takes just two clicks. Write a letter now>

Our advocacy team will continue to provide frequent updates as we work to keep this issue at the forefront.

Stars of Life

Despite the challenges on the Hill, I look forward to seeing many of you in Washington, DC in June at Stars of Life. Stars recognizes EMS providers from across the nation who have served their communities with great distinction. The Stars, accompanied by their executive-level Hosts, meet with legislators to shine a light on the importance of ambulance services to our healthcare network. Nominate your Stars today, and help AAA celebrate the best in EMS! (Early bird registration rates end March 31.)

Renew Your Support of AAA

Has your organization renewed its AAA membership? Your continued support is critically important as AAA fights for fair ambulance reimbursement. Membership also include benefits such as free use of the Savvik Buying Group, complimentary CISM and EAP-based counseling for your employees, and access to industry experts on Medicare, operations, and HR.

If you have already renewed, please accept our most sincere thanks. If you have not yet submitted payment for this year’s membership, I encourage you to renew online or reach out to staff at info@ambulance.org for assistance.

AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show

The 2017 AAA Annual Conference was an overwhelming success. In addition to powerful industry-centric presentations on leadership, reimbursement, and operations, this year’s AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show featured three inspiring keynotes—Steven M.R. Covey, Mel Robbins, and Dr. Zubin “ZDoggMD” Damania. Additionally, we honored AMBY Award winners and those who responded to the tragic Route 91 shootings. Check out the photo album for AAA 2017 on our Facebook page.

I hope that you will join me and hundreds of our colleagues for networking, learning, and fun in Las Vegas at next year’s Annual event September 6–8Early bird registration is open now!

Webcasts & Regional Workshops

AAA is working hard to make it easier than ever to educate your team. Join us in 2018 for a variety of live and on-demand webcasts as well as convenient regional workshops. Upcoming webinar topics include sexual harassment, CMS low volume settlements, and cybersecurity. This year, we are also proud to host one-day workshops in each of AAA’s five regions (calendar soon to be announced).

Thank You, Members!

I would like to give special thanks to the members who dedicate their time and thought to AAA’s board, committees, and task forces. We literally could not do it without you.

It continues to be my pleasure to serve these individuals, as well as the many other talented, dedicated healthcare professionals who make up the AAA membership. We deeply appreciate your continued support, participation, and unity. Thank you!

—POST!
Mark Postma—President
American Ambulance Association
Representing EMS in America

 

Summary of December 2017 Ambulance Open Door Forum

On December 14, 2017, CMS held its latest Open Door Forum. As usual, it started with a few announcements, as follows:

  1. Ambulance Inflation Factor – CMS announced that it had published Transmittal 3893 on October 27, 2017, which sets forth the Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2018. In that Transmittal, CMS indicated that the CY 2018 AIF would be 1.1%. This is based on an increase in the CPI-U of 1.6%, and a multi-factor productivity adjustment of 0.5%.
  1. Expiration of Temporary Adjustments – CMS indicated that the current temporary adjustments for urban (2%), rural (3%) and super rural ground ambulance transports are set to expire on December 31, 2017. CMS also indicated that they were aware of proposed legislation that would extend these adjustments for 2018 and beyond, but that they have yet to be enacted into law.
  1. CY 2018 Public Use File – CMS indicated that the Public Use File on its website has been updated to include Medicare allowables for 2018. CMS made a point of noting that the 2018 rates do not include the temporary adjustments, as they are set to expire on December 31, 2017.
  1. Prior Authorization Demonstration Project – CMS indicated that it had decided to extend the Prior Authorization Demonstration Project for schedule, non-emergency ground ambulance transportation of repetitive patients for another year. The extension is limited to the 8 states (DE, MD, NJ, NC, PA, SC, VA, and WV) and the District of Columbia in which the program was in effect in 2017.  CMS further indicated that the extension would be effective for dates of service on or after December 5, 2018.  As a result, claims for dates of service between December 2 and December 4 would not be subject to prepayment review if a prior authorization was not received; however, ambulance providers in these states would be permitted to request prior authorization for those dates. CMS further indicated that it had developed a “streamlined” process to allow for prior authorization of transports in situations where the patient was approved for transport, but where the duration of the authorization was shortened from the normal 60-day period to account for the program’s scheduled expiration on December 1, 2017. An example would be an authorization that was granted for transports starting on November 1, 2017. The provider was likely given authorization for only a 30-day period. The streamlined process would allow them to submit a request to allow that 30-day authorization to be extended to a fully 60 days. CMS indicated that the streamlined process would not require the submission of medical records to establish medical necessity for the ambulance.

As with previous forums, CMS then fielded questions from the audience. The majority of these questions focused on the prior authorization process. As with previous ODFs, CMS declined to answer most of the questions on the call, instead asking the provider to submit their questions to CMS via email.

CMS did answer the following questions on the call:

  1. CMS was asked when it anticipated issuing its report on the effectiveness of the Prior Authorization Demonstration Program.  CMS responded that it expected to issue that report during the first quarter of 2018.
  2. CMS was asked when it expected to expand the Prior Authorization Demonstration Program to additional states and/or the nation as a whole.  CMS responded that it was still evaluating the effectiveness of the program.  Therefore, CMS indicated that no decision on national expansion had been made at this time.

Have questions? Please write to the Werfels at bwerfel@aol.com.

Navigating a Post-Prior Authorization World

Talking Medicare: Navigating a Post-Prior Authorization World

Novitas Solutions, Inc. recently announced that it will no longer issue prior authorizations for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency transports, effective December 1, 2017. This announcement was based on Novitas’ expectation that the demonstration project will expire at the end of this calendar year. For ambulance suppliers in the states that currently operate under prior authorization, the focus invariably turns to what that means for their repetitive patient populations?

First a little background. In May 2014, CMS announced the implementation of a three-year prior authorization demonstration project for repetitive scheduled non-emergency ambulance transports. This demonstration project was initially limited to the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. These states were selected based on higher-than-average utilization rates and high rates of improper payment for these services. In particular, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) had singled out these states as having higher-than-average utilization of dialysis transports in a June 2013 report to Congress. As initially conceived, the prior authorization demonstration project first went into effect on December 15, 2014.

Congress subsequently elected to expand this demonstration project to additional states as part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). Specifically, Congress mandated that the program be expanded to six additional states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia by January 1, 2016, and then potentially to the rest of the nation by January 1, 2017. However, CMS never issued the required report; as a result, the contemplated national expansion never occurred.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If you operate in a state that is not currently operating under prior authorization, the answer to this question is relatively straightforward, i.e., nothing will change.

If, however, operate in a state that is currently subject to prior authorization, this question is a bit trickier. What we do know is that the actual mechanics of submitting claims will revert to the same process you experienced prior to the implementation of prior authorization. You will submit claims for repetitive patients directly to the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), who will likely process them in same manner they process other Medicare claims. In other words, 14 days after the submission of the claim, you will likely receive a remittance notice indicating that the claim has either been paid or denied.

We also know that you will no longer benefit from the protections against post-payment review of these claims. Under the prior authorization model, CMS made clear that it would not audit claims paid based on a valid authorization, except in instances where it could demonstrate that the prior authorization was fraudulently procured.

What We Can Expect from Medicare and its Contractors

What we don’t know is whether the MACs will implement any temporary measures to guard against ongoing over-utilization and/or fraud. To better understand what I mean, put yourself in the position of the MAC. You have empirical evidence (see the chart to the right) that prior authorization has resulted in dramatic reductions in the amount of Medicare dollars paid for dialysis transports. You have further seen little evidence that this reduction in payments has resulted in any serious access to care issues.

The logical conclusion you would draw is that the amounts paid for dialysis prior to the implementation of prior authorization were likely excessive. If so, you might consider some proactive steps to prevent dialysis utilization from increasing back to the levels seen prior to the implementation of prior authorization.
So, it is possible (perhaps even likely) that ambulance suppliers in some of these states may see their MAC elect to implement prepayment reviews for dialysis patients. This could be similar to the process Novitas used for the initial three round trip transports to dialysis.

I also think it is reasonable to expect that the MACs, the Zone Program Integrity Contractors, and the OIG will monitor utilization trends, with an eye towards conducting post-payment reviews on ambulance suppliers that see their dialysis volume increase sharply next year.

Other Potential Impacts

In the previous section, I touched on the steps Medicare and its contractors might take to prevent a return to pre-prior authorization levels of dialysis utilization. In this section, I want to talk about some of the knock-on effects ambulance providers are likely to see.

One of the more interesting changes we saw in the prior authorization regime was a re-balancing of the power dynamic between ambulance suppliers and facilities, i.e., assisted living facilities and skilled nursing homes. Prior to the implementation of prior authorization, that power dynamic was slanted heavily in favor of the facility. By that I mean they could exert tremendous pressure on ambulance suppliers to take marginal patients by ambulance. If you were involved in the industry prior to 2015, you undoubtedly heard an SNF administrator tell you something to the effect of “if your company won’t take the patient by ambulance, I can easily find another company that will.” In competitive markets, that statement was usually accurate.

Under the demonstration project, prior authorization or lack thereof traveled with the patient. What that meant is that if your ambulance company submitted a prior authorization request that was denied, that denial would apply to any other ambulance company that might be interested in taking the patient. As a result, the nursing home could no longer hold the threat of going elsewhere with their business over your head.

Prior authorization also affected the standing policies of dialysis centers. Many free-standing dialysis centers have standing policies that they will not assist in transferring the patient to and from the dialysis treatment chair. This meant that patients that could be transported in a wheelchair van, but who required assistance to transfer out of their wheelchair presented a conundrum. There wouldn’t be medical necessity for the ambulance, but there would be no easy way for you to transfer them into the treatment chair without a second crew member (something most wheelchair van services don’t offer). Under prior authorization, it was easier for the ambulance company to push back, since they knew they wouldn’t be paid for the ambulance. As a result, I have heard that dialysis employees in these states had started to assist patients in transferring.

No really, it’s true…

One potential consequence of the prior authorization going away is that it may shift this power dynamic back to the facilities, with all of the negative consequences that are likely to result.

“Okay, I get what you are saying, but what I really want to know is whether I should loosen our standards for accepting a dialysis patient or not?”

Good question. Unfortunately, not one that permits an easy answer. The implementation of prior authorization shifted the cost-benefit analysis associated with transporting dialysis patients. It was likely that you were going to have a smaller number of patients approved and paid, but you could rest easy that you wouldn’t be at risk of having to return that money years later as the result of a Medicare audit.

The expiration of prior authorization shifts the cost-benefit analysis yet again. It is likely that you have tightened up your criteria for who you accept for dialysis transportation as a result of prior authorization. Loosening those criteria would almost certainly result in an increase in your short-term revenues. However, that would be offset, to some degree, by the increased risk of a Medicare audit.

For that reason, the course of action I have been recommending to people is not to dramatically loosen your standards. Instead, I typically ask whether they currently have patients that they believe do require an ambulance, but who were rejected for prior authorization by the MAC. Most providers respond that they do. Put another way, we are trying to identify the patients that you would feel comfortable defending in an audit. That is the additional population I would target for transportation next year.

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

CMS Announces Ambulance Inflation Update for 2018

CMS Announces Ambulance Inflation Update for 2018

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

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

For the 12-month period ending in June 2017, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased 1.6%.

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

Transmittal 3893 can be downloaded from the CMS website.

CMS Lifts Moratorium Enrollment Non-Emergency Providers (TX)

In order to assist with the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey, CMS has announced that it has lifted the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017. The lifting of this moratorium applies to new enrollments in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CMS indicated that it will publish a notice in the Federal Register to formally announce the lifting of the moratorium.

As a result, Part B ambulance suppliers that are not otherwise already enrolled as non-emergency ambulance provider in the State of Texas will be permitted to enroll in the Medicare Program. The lifting of the moratorium will also permit companies that are already enrolled as non-emergency ambulance suppliers to add additional practice locations throughout the state. CMS has indicated that both new enrollments and changes in enrollment to add additional practice locations will be subject to “high” screening under 42 C.F.R. §424.518(c)(3)(iii).

Summary of September 2017 Ambulance Open Door Forum

On September 14, 2017, CMS held its latest Open Door Forum. As usual, it started with a few announcements, as follows:

  1. “Locality” Rule – On 6/16/17 CMS issued Transmittal 236, to amend the Benefit Policy Manual, Chapter 10, section 10.3.5 to give Medicare Administrative Contractors discretion to determine the “locality”. This is for the issue of the nearest appropriate facility.

Transmittal 236

  1. ALS Assessment – The same Transmittal also amended section 30.1.1 to indicate that if an ALS assessment is performed, then the ALS emergency base rate shall be paid, even if there is no ALS intervention.
  2. Multiple Patient Transports – On 9/1/17, CMS issued Transmittal 3855 to restore to its Claims Processing Manual, Chapter 15, section 30.1.2 instructions for multiple patients transported in the same vehicle. This is not a change in policy. The section was inadvertently omitted from the Internet Only Manual.

Transmittal 3855

  1. Temporary Adjustments – The 2%, 3% and 22.6% temporary adjustments for ground ambulance transports originating in urban, rural and super-rural areas will expire 12/31/17, unless legislation is enacted. Later on the call, they indicated that they are aware of a legislative initiative in Congress that includes this issue (S.967, H.R. 3236).

Support Extending the Medicare Add-ons!

       Following these announcements, a Q & A period ensued. Most of the questions were not answered on the call, other than to advise the caller to submit their question via e-mail and CMS will respond to their concern via e-mail or to contact their Medicare Administrative Contractor.

Two items of note in the Q & A were as follows:

  • CMS has left it up to the MACs to define the “locality” for purposes of the nearest appropriate facility requirement. Therefore, providers and suppliers should ask their MAC for their definition.
  • CMS was asked whether the prior authorization program would continue nationwide, after this year. The representatives from CMS did not answer the question other than to advise the person who asked the question to submit it in writing to CMS.

Have questions? Please write to the Werfels at bwerfel@aol.com.

2016 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2016 Medicare Payment Data Report. This report is based on the Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary Master File. This report contains information on all Part B and DME claims processed through the Medicare Common Working File and stored in the National Claims History Repository.

The report contains an overview of total Medicare spending nationwide in CY 2016, and then a separate breakdown of Medicare spending in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the various other U.S. Territories.

For each jurisdiction, the report contains two charts: the first reflects data for all ambulance services, while the second is limited solely to dialysis transports. Each chart lists total spending by procedure code (i.e., base rates and mileage). For comparison purposes, information is also provided on Medicare spending in CY 2015.

2016 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

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

 

Preliminary Estimate of 2018 Medicare Rates

A Preliminary Estimate of 2018 Medicare Rates

In this blog, I will provide a preliminary estimate of the Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2018.  The AIF is main factor that determines the increase (or decrease) in Medicare’s payment for ambulance services.

Calculating the 2018 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. For 2018, this means the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2017. Starting in calendar year 2011, the change in the CPI-U is 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 resulting AIF is then applied to the conversion factor used to calculate Medicare payments under the Ambulance Fee Schedule.

The formula used to calculate the change in the CPI-U is limited to positive increases. Therefore, even if the change in the CPI-U was negative over a 12-month period (a rarity in the post-war era), the change in the CPI-U cannot be negative. However, when the MFP reduction is applied, the statute does permit a negative AIF for any calendar year. That is precisely what occurred in 2016, where the change in the CPI-U was 0.1% and the MFP was 0.5%. As a result, the industry saw an overall reduction in its Medicare rates of 0.4%.

Based on current data, it is highly unlikely that the AIF will be negative in 2018. For the 12-month period ending in June 30, 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently calculates the change in the CPI-U to be approximately 1.6%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2018. However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the 2018 MFP is likely to be in the 0.3% to 0.5% range.

Therefore, at this time, my best guess is that the 2018 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be a positive 1.1% to 1.3%.

Please note that this estimate assumes the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not subsequently revise its inflation estimates. Please note further that this projection is based on the MFP being similar to last year.  To the extent either of these numbers changes in the coming months (up or down), my estimate of the 2018 AIF would need to be adjusted accordingly. Ultimately, the 2018 AIF will be finalized by CMS by Transmittal, which typically occurs in the early part of the 4th quarter.

Impact on the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule

Assuming all other factors remained the same, calculating your 2018 Medicare rates would be a relatively simple exercise, i.e., you would simply add 1.1 to 1.3% to your 2017 rates. However, as part of its 2018 Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule (issued July 21, 2017), CMS proposed minor changes to the GPCIs. These changes can be viewed by going to the Physician Fee Schedule page on the CMS website, and clicking the link for the “CY 2018 PFS Proposed Rule Addenda” (located in the Downloads section). You would then need to open the file for “Addendum E_Geographic Practice Cost Indicies (GPCIs).”

If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to increase, you can expect your 2018 Medicare rates to increase by slightly more than 1.1 – 1.3%. If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to decrease, you can expect your 2018 Medicare rates to increase by slightly less than 1.1 to 1.3%.

If you are looking for a more precise calculation of your rates, you will need to use the following formulas:

Ground Ambulance Services

Medicare Allowable = (UBR x .7 x GPCI) + (UBR x .3)

 Air Ambulance Services

Medicare Allowable = (UBR x .5 x GPCI) + (UBR x .5)

 In this formula, the “UBR” stands for the unadjusted base rate for each HCPCS code. These are calculated by multiplying the national conversation factor by the relative value unit assigned to each base rate. To save some time, estimates for the 2018 unadjusted base rates are reproduced below (using the low-end estimate for the AIF):

Base Rate (HCPCS Code) 2018 Unadjusted Base Rate
BLS non-Emergency (A0428) $224.74
BLS emergency (A0429) $359.58
ALS non-emergency (A0426) $269.68
ALS emergency (A0427) $427.00
ALS-2 (A0433) $618.02
Specialty Care Transport (A0434) $730.39
Paramedic Intercept (A0432) $393.29
Fixed Wing (A0430) $3,049.69
Rotary Wing (A0431) $3,545.72

Plugging these UBRs into the above formulas will result in adjusted base rates for each level of ground and air ambulance service. The final step is to apply whatever temporary adjustments are in effect under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule. For example, in 2017, there were adjustments in place for urban (2%), rural (3%) and super-rural (22.6% over the corresponding rural rate) transports. Note: these temporary adjustments are currently set to expire on December 31, 2017. Therefore, absent further legislation, they should not be added to the adjusted base rates for 2018.

2018 Projected Rates for Mileage:

 At this time, I am estimating the following rates for Medicare mileage:

Base Rate (HCPCS Code) 2018 Unadjusted Base Rate
Ground Mileage – Urban $7.23
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 1 – 17 $10.84
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 18+ $7.23
Fixed Wing Mileage – Urban $86.5
Fixed Wing Mileage – Rural $12.98
Rotary Wing Mileage – Urban $23.09
Rotary Wing Mileage – Rural $34.64

Please keep in mind that a number of assumptions went into these projections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics can revise its inflation figures in the coming months. CMS may announce an MFP projection that differs from what we expect. CMS may also announce that it is electing not to finalize its proposed changes to the GPCI (highly unlikely). If any of these assumptions was to change, these projections would need to be revised. Therefore, I would suggest that you view these as rough estimates at best.  The AAA will update members as more information becomes available in the coming months.

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

 

 

 

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