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AAA Posts 2015 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2015 Medicare Data Payment 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 2015, 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 2014.

CMS Announces 2017 Inflation Factor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 3625 officially announcing that the inflation factor for payments under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule for 2017 will be 0.7%.

The calculation for determining the Medicare ambulance inflation factor is as follows: Consumer Price Index – Urban (which is the change in the CPI-U from June to June) minus the non-farm business multi-factor productivity adjustment (MFP) as projected by the Secretary of HHS (10-year average). The CPI-Urban for 2017 is 1.0% with a MFP of 0.3% which equals the 0.7% inflation factor. As part of the Affordable Care Act, a productivity adjustment is subtracted from the CPI-Urban for the final inflation update.

CMS Issues Transmittal on Changes to Ambulance Staffing Requirements

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

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

 Vehicle Staffing Requirements

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

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

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

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

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

Ground Ambulance Service Definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When a Capitated Payment Arrangement Makes Sense


We operate a mid-sized ambulance services in the Midwest. Recently, one of our local hospitals entered into an agreement to become part of a large health system. We are increasingly being asked to transport patients from this local hospital to an affiliated facility in the neighboring city. These patients are being transported for consultations, medical tests, etc., and then being transported back to the local hospital. These transports become the financial responsibility of the health system, which has resulted in our monthly invoices to the hospital increasing nearly ten-fold over the past year. Recently, the hospital approached us with a proposal to move to a capitated payment arrangement. Are these arrangements permissible? And, if so, are there any “dos” and “don’ts” we should know about?


As the AAA’s Medicare Consultant, I am probably asked this question, or some variation of this question, several times a month. To me, these questions are a natural reaction by our industry to one of the larger tectonic shifts in health care over the past decade, namely the increasing footprint of national and regional hospital health care systems. According to the American Hospital Association, approximately 65% of hospitals nationwide were part of a larger health system in 2016. This is up from 51% in 1995. As these health systems have grown larger, ambulance providers are increasingly looking for alternatives to the traditional fee-for-service payment models.

Broadly defined, a “capitated payment” arrangement is any arrangement where the facility pays the ambulance provider a set amount to cover all or a portion of the transportation costs it incurs during a period of time, without regard to the specific volume of transports. A simple example would be a flat monthly fee for all transportation costs.

There is nothing in federal law that prohibits the use of capitated payment arrangements. The HHS Office of the Inspector General has signed off on capitated payment arrangements in numerous contexts, including the compensation paid to insurers under the Medicare Advantage Program (Medicare Part C). In fact, it could be argued that the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule includes some principles of capitation, e.g., it does not reimburse ambulance providers separately for certain ancillary services.

Therefore, capitated payment arrangements are something ambulance services can consider offering to their facility counterparties. However, you should aware that the normal prohibitions under the federal anti-kickback statute continue to apply. To the extent the OIG has a concern related to capitated payment arrangements, that concern would be that the capitated payment amount is used as a means of disguising an otherwise impermissible discount being offered to a potential referral source. In other words, the capitated payment must be structured in a way that avoids any improper remuneration to a potential referral source.

The arrangements do offer several advantages to both the ambulance provider and the facility. For the ambulance provider, the primary advantage is a stable, steady source of cash. However, there are other advantages, including the administrative benefits associated with submitting a simple monthly invoice, rather than a detailed invoice listing numerous transports. Many providers also find that a flat rate reduces tensions with the facilities, as they don’t have to engage in negotiations over why a particular transport is being billed to the facility. For the facility, the primary benefit is that it fixes their costs for transport during each measuring period. An ancillary benefit is that it offers a measure of insurance against unforeseen events (e.g., an MRI machine at hospital breaks down for an extended period of time, and as a result, the hospital is forced to incur the costs of sending patients to an affiliated facility for testing). Generally speaking, as the total volume of services rises, the benefits to moving away from a fee-for-service model also increases.

As noted above, capitated payment arrangements come in many forms, ranging from relatively simple to mind-numbingly complex. However, all arrangements share certain common features. The first is an estimate of the volume of services the facility would be purchasing from the ambulance service during any particular measuring period (hereinafter referred to as the “volume benchmark”). To the extent you are currently the facility’s vendor, this could be calculated based on past volume. This is then multiplied by the “price” of each service to arrive at the amount of the capitated payment. For example, if past history indicates that a facility pays for an average of 100 ambulance transports per month, and the parties agree to a rate of $200 per trip, then the monthly payment would be $20,000 per month. This monthly rate would stay the same regardless of whether the facility ends up responsible for 20 trips in the next month, or 200.

This brings us to one of the key features to a properly structured capitation agreement, i.e., both parties should have some degree of “risk” under the arrangement. In the example listed above, the facility runs the risk that the actual volume of services it would have otherwise been responsible for is less than the estimated 100. If so, it would have essentially paid more than $200 per transport. The ambulance provider bears the opposite risk, i.e., if the number of transports the facility would have paid for ends up being more than 100, it ends up receiving less than $200 per transport. As long as both parties bear risk, the arrangement is permissible.

If, however, one party bears no actual risk under the arrangement (e.g., because the monthly payment is based on an unreasonably low volume benchmark), the OIG could see the arrangement as a disguised way of rewarding the facility for other referrals. Thus, the key to any capitated arrangement is a good-faith estimate of the number of services involved. Please note that there is nothing wrong within incorporating language to adjust the monthly payment if the actual volume over any period of time is radically different than the volume benchmark. For example, I frequently include language that calls for the monthly payment to be recalculated if the actual volume is 20% more or less than the volume benchmark over any calendar quarter. These adjustments can be made prospectively (i.e., they only apply to future monthly payments) or they can be paid retroactively. To the extent you want to include an adjustment mechanism, the guiding principle is that any adjustment should be for the purpose of better estimating the volume benchmark.

Capitated payment arrangements may not be appropriate for all ambulance providers. However, as fee-for-service becomes an increasingly smaller portion of your facility partners’ operations, it may make sense to consider these arrangements.

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

Novitas – Denials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


AAA 2016 State Balanced Billing & Direct Pay Survey Results Released

The AAA is providing its members with the results of two important surveys conducted of state laws impacting ambulance services.  The first chart entitled “2016 State Balance Billing Survey” shows whether a state restricts balancing billing of patients.  The second entitled “2016 State Direct Pay Survey” lists whether a state has a law requiring an insurer to send payment directly to a non-contracted ambulance service or a law allowing the insurer do send payment to the patient.  We thank AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel for compiling the data and members of the AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee and the AAA membership to which Brian reached out for their assistance.

CMS Moratoria Update

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Preliminary Estimate of 2017 Medicare Rates

 On July 15, 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly report on inflation.  This release includes the change in the Consumer Price Index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) for June 2016.  As a result, it is now possible to make a preliminary estimate of the Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2017.  The AIF is main factor that determines the increase (or decrease) in Medicare’s payment for ambulance services.

Calculating the 2017 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 2017, this means the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2016.  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%.

Fortunately, it seems unlikely that we will see a negative AIF in 2017.  For the 12-month period ending in June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently calculates the change in the CPI-U to be exactly 1.00%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2017.  However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the 2017 MFP is likely to be in the 0.5% range.

Therefore, at this time, my best guess is that the 2017 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be a positive 0.5%.

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 2017 AIF would need to be adjusted accordingly.  Ultimately, the 2017 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 2017 Medicare rates would be a relatively simple exercise, i.e., you would simply add 0.5% to your 2016 rates.  However, as part of its 2017 Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule (issued on July 15, 2016), CMS proposed extensive 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 2017 PFS Proposed Rule GPCI Public Use Files” (located in the Downloads section).  You would then need to open the file for “CY 2017 Proposed Addendum E.”

If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to increase, you can expect your 2017 Medicare rates to increase by slightly more than 0.5%.  If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to decrease, you can expect your 2017 Medicare rates to increase by slightly less than 0.5%.

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 2017 unadjusted base rates are reproduced below:

Base Rate (HCPCS Code)

2017 Unadjusted Base Rate
BLS non-Emergency (A0428)                     $221.84
BLS emergency (A0429)                     $354.95
ALS non-emergency (A0426)                     $266.21
ALS emergency (A0427)                     $421.51
ALS-2 (A0433)                     $610.08
Specialty Care Transport (A0434)                     $721.00
Paramedic Intercept (A0432)                     $388.23
Fixed Wing (A0430)                     $3,010.52
Rotary Wing (A0431)                     $3,500.17


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 would be to apply the current adjustments for urban (2%), rural (3%) and super-rural (22.6% over the corresponding rural rate).

2017 Projected Rates for Mileage:

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

Base Rate (HCPCS Code) 2017 Unadjusted Base Rate
Ground Mileage – Urban                     $7.28
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 1 – 17                     $11.02
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 18+                     $7.35
Fixed Wing Mileage – Urban                     $8.54
Fixed Wing Mileage – Rural                     $12.81
Rotary Wing Mileage – Urban                     $22.79
Rotary Wing Mileage – Rural



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

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MedPAC Issues June 2016 Report to the Congress

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

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

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

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

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

MedPAC highlights the concerns with cost-based payment models:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prior Authorization Pilot Program – Status Update

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

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

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

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

New Member Benefit: StateTrack

Introducing the AAA’s newest member benefit, StateTrack, powered by CQ Roll Call. StateTrack will give AAA members the ability to easily track crucial legislation and regulations in one state or all of them as well as the Federal Government.

StateTrack Map

AAA StateTrack

StateTrack will show you a map of the entire United States. Click on the state you are interested in tracking and you will see a list of all regulations and legislation impacting the following areas:

Affordable Care Act
Community Paramedicine
Mobile Integrated Health

Click on the key words above to narrow down your search to only legislation and regulations that contain those terms.

Members will be able to view the full text of each piece of legislation as well as edits that have been made to the text, bill number, status of the bill and the representative who introduced it. StateTrack will make it easier for AAA members to keep track of legislation and regulations on the state level that could have enormous impacts on their ambulance services. States that are white, are either out of session or do not have any pending legislation or regulations that fall under the AAA search criteria.

Please contact Aidan Camas at if you have any questions.

CMS Issues Final Rule on the Reporting and Return of Medicare Overpayments

On February 12, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a final rule titled “Medicare Program; Reporting and Returning Overpayments.”  This final rule would implement Section 6402(a) of the Affordable Care Act, which imposed a 60-day requirement on Medicare providers and suppliers to report and return overpayments.  The provisions of this final rule will go into effect on March 16, 2016.

The final rule implements changes that were first proposed as part of a February 16, 2012 proposed rule.  The final rule can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here.


Section 6402(a) of the Affordable Care Act requires health care providers and suppliers to report and return a Medicare overpayment within 60 days of the date such overpayment is “identified”.  Any overpayment not returned within this timeframe would become an “obligation” under the False Claims Act.  As a result, any ambulance service that is found to have knowingly retained an overpayment beyond the 60 day period could be subject to False Claims Act liability.  In addition, violations may also subject an ambulance company to civil monetary penalties and possible exclusion from the Medicare program.

Provisions of Proposed Rule

Definition of an “Overpayment”

In the final rule, CMS defined an overpayment as “any funds that a person has received or retained under title XVIII of the Act to which the person, after applicable reconciliation, is not entitled under such title.”  CMS noted that this definition is mirrors the definition of an overpayment that appeared in Section 6402(a) of the Affordable Care Act.
CMS cited examples of certain common overpayments in the proposed rule, including:

  • Payments for non-covered services;
  • Payments in excess of the applicable Medicare allowable
  • Errors and nonreimbursable expenditures included on a cost report;
  • Duplicate payments; and
  • Payment from Medicare when another payor had primary responsibility.

For ambulance providers and suppliers, another common area of overpayments would be payment for excessive mileage.

Note: in the final rule, CMS clarified that, in instances where the paid amount exceeds the appropriate payment to which a provider or supplier is entitled, the “overpayment” would be limited to the difference between the amount that was paid and the amount that should have been paid.  For example, if the overpayment was the result of a claim incorrectly being billed as an ALS emergency, rather than a BLS emergency, the overpayment is not the entire amount of Medicare’s payment.  Rather, the overpayment is limited to the difference in Medicare’s payment for the two base rates.

When an Overpayment has been “Identified”

In its proposed rule, CMS indicated that an overpayment would be “identified” if the ambulance provider or supplier: (1) had actual knowledge of the existence of the overpayment or (2) acted in reckless disregard or deliberate ignorance of the existence of the overpayment.  CMS indicated that this definition was intended to prevent providers and suppliers from deliberately avoiding activities that might uncover the existence of potential overpayments, such as self-audits and outside compliance checks.

CMS further stated its belief that the Proposed Rule would, in some instances, place an affirmative burden on providers and suppliers to investigate whether a potential overpayment exists.  Specifically, CMS indicated that “in some cases, a provider or supplier may receive information concerning a potential overpayment that creates an obligation to make a reasonable inquiry to determine whether an overpayment exists.”  If the provider or supplier then fails to reasonably inquire, it could be found to have acted with reckless disregard or deliberate ignorance.

In the final rule, CMS indicated that an overpayment will be deemed to have been identified to the extent “a person has, or should have through the exercise of reasonable diligence, determined that the person has received an overpayment and quantified the amount of the overpayment.”

Thus, the final rule makes two important changes to the standard of when an overpayment is identified.  The first change is to clarify that an overpayment has not been identified unless and until the provider or supplier is able to quantify the amount of the overpayment.

The second change was to remove the language related to “reckless disregard” and “deliberate ignorance”.  CMS replaced these terms with a standard of “reasonable diligence”.  Under the new standard, an overpayment is identified on the date you can actually quantify the size of the overpayment, or the date on which you would have been able to quantify the overpayment had you proceeded with reasonable diligence to investigate the possibility of an overpayment.  For these purposes, CMS indicated that reasonable diligence would be established to the extent you can demonstrate a timely, good faith investigation of any credible report of a possible overpayment.  Note: CMS indicated that an investigation should take no more than 6 months from the date of receipt of credible information, except in extraordinary circumstances.

To see the impact of these changes, consider the following scenario:

You receive an anonymous report on your compliance hotline that a recent change to your billing software has resulted in the mileage for all Medicare claims being rounded up to the next whole number (as opposed to being submitted with fractions of a mile).  Based on this report, you begin an investigation, and quickly come to the conclusion that the anonymous report is correct.  However, it requires an addition 4 months to review every claim submitted to Medicare since that software change, and to calculate the actual amounts you were overpaid.

Under the standard first proposed by CMS, it was unclear whether the 60-day clock to return over payment started on the day you confirmed the software problem, or whether you have time to look at your entire claims universe to calculate the actual amounts you were overpaid.  By contrast, under the standard set forth in the final rule, it is clear that the overpayment would not be “identified” until you can quantify the actual amounts you had been overpaid.  In the above example, you completed your investigation within 6 months, meaning you would have satisfied the new “reasonable diligence” standard.  Therefore, assuming you make a timely report and refund of the amounts you were overpaid, you would have no liability under the False Claims Act.

Situations in Which a Provider or Supplier would have a Duty to Inquire

In the proposed rule, CMS provided some examples of situations where a provider or supplier would be deemed to have received a credible information regarding a potential overpayment, including the following situations:

  • Where a review of billing records indicates that you were incorrectly paid a higher rate for certain services;
  • Where you learn that the patient died prior to the date of service on a claim that has been submitted for payment;
  • Where you discover that the services were provided by an unlicensed or excluded individual;
  • Where an internal audit discovers the presence of an overpayment.
  • Where you are informed by a government agency of an audit that discovered a potential overpayment, and where you fail to make a reasonable inquiry;

In the final rule, CMS confirmed its belief that official findings from a government agency (or its contractors) would constitute credible evidence of a potential overpayment, and would therefore trigger a provider’s or supplier’s obligation to conduct an investigation with reasonable diligence.  If the provider or supplier ultimately agrees with the Medicare contractor’s findings, it would qualify as having “identified” an overpayment, which would trigger the 60-day period for reporting and refunding that overpayment.  CMS further indicated that when the provider confirms the audit’s findings, the provider or supplier may be deemed to have credible evidence of additional overpayments (i.e., claims presenting the same issues, but which fall outside the contractor’s audit period) that may require further investigation.   CMS did agree, however, that where the provider or supplier elects to appeal the contractor’s findings, it would be reasonable to hold off on conducting an investigation into similar claims until such time as the overpayment identified by the Medicare contractor has worked its way through the administrative appeals process.

Counting 60-Day Period

In the final rule, CMS indicated that the 60-day period for reporting and returning the overpayment would start on the date the overpayment is first identified (i.e., the date the overpayment is first quantified following a reasonably diligent inquiry.  However, in the event a person fails to conduct a reasonably diligent inquiry, the 60-day period will be deemed to run from the date the provider or supplier first received a credible report of a possible overpayment (assuming the provider or supplier was, in fact, overpaid).

Process for Reporting Overpayments

In its February 2012 proposed rule, CMS had indicated that it would require ambulance providers and suppliers to report and return overpayments using the existing process for voluntary refunds.  At that time, CMS also proposed that the overpayment report contain 13 required elements, including a brief statement of the reason for the overpayment, and a description of the steps the provider or supplier intended to take to ensure that the same error would not occur again.  At the time, CMS further indicated that it would develop a uniform reporting form that would replace the various forms currently in use by its Medicare contractors.

In the final rule, CMS abandoned this formulaic approach to the reporting of overpayments.  Instead, CMS elected to permit providers or suppliers to use any of the following to report an overpayment:

  • An applicable claims adjustment;
  • Credit balance;
  • Self-Reported Refund; or
  • Any other reporting process set forth by the applicable Medicare contractor.

In addition to the processes currently used by Medicare contractors, providers or suppliers can also satisfy the reporting obligations of the final rule by making a disclosure under the OIG’s Self-Disclosure Protocol or the CMS Voluntary Self-Referral Disclosure Protocol.  Note: these processes are generally reserved for situations that involve something more than an isolated billing error.

When reporting an overpayment that was calculated using a statistical sampling methodology, CMS indicated that the provider or supplier must describe the actual process used to obtain a statistically valid sample, and the extrapolation methodology used.

Statute of Limitations

In the final rule, CMS adopted a 6-year “lookback period”.  CMS further clarified that this lookback period is measured from the date the provider or supplier identifies the overpayment.  As a result, an overpayment must be reported and returned only to the extent the overpayment is identified within 6 years of the date the overpayment was received.  Overpayments identified beyond the 6-year lookback period would not be subject to the new regulations.

The 6-year lookback period represents a substantial reduction from the 10-year lookback period originally proposed by CMS.  That 10-year period was intended to coincide with the outer limit of the statute of limitations for False Claims Act violations.  However, after considering comments from healthcare providers and suppliers, CMS agreed that a 6-year lookback period was more appropriate.  CMS noted that the change would significantly reduce the burden these new regulations imposed on providers and suppliers.

Change to Regulations Governing Reopenings

To facilitate the reporting and refunding of overpayments under these new regulations, CMS elected to revise its rules regarding reopenings.  CMS will now permit its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to reopen an initial determination (i.e., a paid claim) for the purpose of reporting and returning an overpayment.

While seemingly minor, this change is needed to ensure that Medicare’s payment files properly reflect that an overpayment has been refunded.  Otherwise, it would be possible for a claim that had previously been refunded to be selected by a Medicare auditor for postpayment review.  This could lead to the auditor attempting to recoup amounts that had previously been voluntarily refunded.

LifeWorks: Helping AAA Member Employees Make Life Work Better

Enhance employee health and engagement by making sure your workforce is aware of the LifeWorks Employee Assistance and Wellness Program. The LifeWorks program is centered around helping your employees achieve work-life balance, improving their productivity and well-being.

We all face challenges in life. From finding answers to parenting questions or managing personal finances, to getting help with a relationship or taking care of health issues, LifeWorks offers around the clock fast, free, confidential help.

AAA understands that your people are your most valuable asset. Make sure your employees are aware of this resource for fast, confidential help with family, work, money, health and work-life balance issues. Share AAA’s EAP with your team.

Share Lifeworks with Your Team Today!

Download a copy of this flyer to share with your employees: AAA 2016 LifeWorks Information Flyer

Most of us find our jobs stressful at times. Often these feelings are temporary, but sometimes negative emotions linger and may begin to affect your job performance, your relations with others, or even your health and well-being. Learning to manage challenging emotions at work takes effort, but the payoff is big. When we deal with problems before they overwhelm us, we can contribute more to our team and gain a greater sense of control and effectiveness — both at work and outside of work. You can take steps to become more aware of your emotions and to manage them more effectively. If you are feeling stressed at work, the following tips can help you cope:

  • Recognize your emotions in their early stages, before they feel out of control. By reviewing your day’s activities and the feelings they caused, you may discover the source of difficult feelings at work. But it may take practice to recognize your real feelings. There’s a strong body of research that shows the ability to be recognize and name your feelings will protect you from having outbursts in the future and will improve your relationships. Ask trusted friends and mentors for help learning to recognize and name your feelings.
  • Learn to express your emotions in healthy ways. Have strategies for dealing with difficult feelings in ways appropriate for work.
  • Think about how you managed a problem in the past. If an event at work — like a conflict with a co-worker or an unusually stressful workload — is triggering an emotional challenge, consider how you overcame a similar problem in the past. What worked? What didn’t?
  • Write it down. This can be especially helpful if a problem is keeping you awake at night. If you are having an ongoing conflict with a co-worker, you might write: “Every time we talk, even about unimportant things, we end up arguing. Maybe I did something to offend him once but don’t know it. Maybe ask him out for lunch and find out.” This can help you come up with strategies and keep the problem from distracting you.
  • Build your emotional resilience.Pay attention to your physical and mental well-being. Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. All of these will help you find the energy you need to meet emotional challenges. This will help to keep you emotionally resilient and to feel more in control of your emotions and your life.
  • Use your vacation time.Taking time off helps to buffer job stress, research has found. A vacation can also allow you to pull back and gain a fresh perspective on work stress and possible ways to ease it.
  • Maintain support systems outside of work.Talking about your concerns with close friends or your partner can reduce your anxiety and help you keep problems in perspective. Choose someone you trust who knows you well enough to give you honest feedback.
  • Cultivate interests outside of work, including activities with good friends. Remember, not all satisfaction comes from work accomplishments.

For support and more ideas on managing stress and other emotions at work, get in touch with LifeWorks—call to speak with a caring, professional consultant anytime, 24/7. LifeWorks is completely confidential and it’s provided to you at no cost. You can also go to to explore our online resources—short videos, podcasts, and a wide range of articles including:

Call LifeWorks at 888-267-8126 or visit (username: theaaa; password: lifeworks)

CMS Releases Ambulance Cost Data Collection Report

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

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

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

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

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

CMS Announces 2016 Inflation Factor

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

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

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

The Importance of Ambulance Cost Survey Data

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

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

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

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

Provider Status

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

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

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

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

Cost Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Payment Policies

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

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

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

Meeting at the AAA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Preliminary Calculation of 2016 Ambulance Inflation Update

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

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

For the 12-month period ending in June 2015, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 0.12%.

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

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

Members should be advised that the BLS’ calculations of the CPI-U are preliminary, and may be subject to later adjustment. The AAA further cautions members that CMS has not officially announced the MFP for CY 2016. Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change. However, at this point in time, it appears likely that the 2016 AIF will result in a decrease in Medicare payments for air and ground ambulance services.

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

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