Government Affairs Update: Protecting the Ambulance Add-ons

Medicare Ambulance Relief and Reform

The top legislative priority this year for the American Ambulance Association is to extend, or hopefully make permanent, the temporary Medicare ambulance add-on payments. The temporary increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus expire at the end of this year. The 2% urban and 3% rural increases have been in place since 2008 and the super rural bonus payment since 2004. While the AAA and our members have been successful in getting the payments extended numerous times, 2017 is not a typical year and we need everyone to be prepared to help push to make the increases permanent or extended for the longest possible duration.

The other top priorities for the AAA are for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to recognize ambulance services more like providers of medical services instead of merely suppliers of transportation. In addition, it is critical that Congress direct CMS to collect cost data from ambulance service providers using a method, which will result in usable and meaningful data from everyone, but also not be overly burdensome on extremely low volume providers. Finally, Congress needs to target fraud and abuse with the transport of dialysis patients through a prior authorization program instead an arbitrary payment cut that impacts all providers.

The AAA is pushing its agenda again through a version of the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act which we hope to have introduced in the next few weeks. We are working with our champions on Capitol Hill on a different approach to being treated more like providers to mitigate issues raised about the provision last Congress. Instead of being listed in the Social Security Act as having provider status, we are looking to a hybrid model similar to dialysis facilities. This will clarify that we are not seeking to be treated like providers to achieve Medicare coverage because we are already reimbursed under the Medicare program. It will however still set the foundation for future legislative and regulatory changes to the Medicare fee schedule such as reimbursement for transporting to an alternate destination or treat and referral.

We are also making potential modifications to the House bill on our proposed data collection system. These changes would help with possible Committee consideration of the provision but still hopefully achieve or goal of obtaining useable data that is not overly burdensome to 73% of our industry which is composed of providers that do less than 1,000 Medicare transports a year of less. It is vital that we have meaningful data to make data-driven decisions as to changes to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.

Ambulance Advocacy Webinar

We will let you know as soon as the revised legislation is introduced for the new Congress. In the meantime, we encourage you to register for the upcoming AAA webinar on the Ambulance Advocacy Action Plan with AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North and AAA Government Affairs Coordinator Aidan Camas. Tristan and Aidan will provide you the latest information on our advocacy efforts and let you know how you can help. To register for the webinar which is free to AAA members, please go to:

Also read Tristan and Kathy Lester’s recent Member Advisory on ACA Repeal & Reform:

ACA Repeal & Reform – What It Means for Ambulance Services (Pt. 1)
ACA Repeal & Reform – What It Means for Ambulance Services (Pt. 2)

Administration’s Proposed Rule on Marketplace Stabilization

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the “Marketplace Stabilization Proposed Rule” (Proposed Rule). Overall, the rule proposes a series of modifications to the Marketplaces that align with requests made by issuers in an attempt to keep them in the Marketplaces. The background section of the Proposed Rule emphasizes the concerns of issuers and the Agency’s interest in making sure that consumers have more plan options for 2018. Comments are due March 7.

While ambulance services are not directly mentioned, the Proposed Rule could affect the ability of individuals in the marketplace to enroll and remain enrolled in plans. Another provision that could impact the ambulance industry is the proposal to rely more upon the States to enforce the network adequacy requirements of the ACA.  

Changes to Open Enrollment/Special Enrollment Periods

CMS proposes to tighten the enrollment rules in several ways. First, the Proposed Rule would change the open enrollment period to November 1 – December 15 to “increase the incentives for individuals to maintain enrollment in health coverage and decrease the incentives for individuals to enroll only after they discover they require services.”[1]  Individuals may still be eligible for a special enrollment period that would allow them to enroll outside of these dates.

CMS would increase the States’ pre-enrollment verification from 50 percent to 100 percent beginning June 1, 2017, and require consumers’ enrollment requests to be “pended” until verification is complete. CMS encourages State-based Exchanges to adopt a similar policy. The Proposed Rule would also limit the ability of existing Exchange enrollees to change plan metal levels during the coverage year.  It would allow Exchanges to require enrollees that qualify for a special enrollment period because of a dependent to be add only to the current Qualified Health Plan (QHP) or allow the enrollee and the new dependent to enroll in another QHP within the same level of coverage.[2]

The Proposed Rule would also require that if an enrollee or the dependent is not enrolled in a silver level QHP and becomes newly eligible for cost-sharing reductions and qualifies for the special enrollment periods, the Exchange may allow the enrollee and dependent to enroll in only a QHP at the silver level.[3] CMS also proposes a new restriction that would allow the Exchange only to allow an enrollee and dependents who qualify for remaining special enrollment periods to make changes to their enrollment in the same QHP or to change to another QHP within the same level of coverage, if other QHPs at that metal level are available.[4]

CMS would allow consumers to start their coverage one month later than their effective date would ordinarily have been, if the special enrollment period verification process results in a delay in their enrollment such that they would be required to pay two or more months of retroactive premium to effectuate coverage or avoid termination for non- payment. [5]

Additionally, CMS would permit the issuer to reject an enrollment for which the issuer has a record of termination due to non-payment of premiums unless the individual fulfills obligations for premiums due for previous coverage.

The Proposed Rule also expresses concern that some consumers not seeking coverage until they are married. CMS proposes that if consumers are newly enrolling in QHP coverage through the Exchange through the special enrollment period for marriage, at least one spouse must demonstrate having had minimum essential coverage for 1 or more days during the 60 days preceding the date of marriage. There is a special rule for individuals who may not have been living in the United States prior to their marriage.[6]

The Proposed Rule would also significantly limit the use of the exceptional circumstances special enrollment period. In previous years, this special enrollment period has been used to address eligibility or enrollment issues that affect large cohorts of individuals where they had made reasonable efforts to enroll, but were hindered by outside events. If the proposal were adopted, CMS would apply a more rigorous test for future uses of the exceptional circumstances special enrollment period, including requiring supporting documentation where practicable. It would grant this special enrollment period only if provided with sufficient evidence to conclude that the consumer’s situation was truly exceptional and in instances where it is verifiable that consumers were directly impacted by the circumstance, as practicable.[7]

CMS is also exploring ways to incentivize consumers to maintain continuous coverage.

These proposed special enrollment changes would not apply to special enrollment periods under the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).[8]

Network Adequacy

CMS proposes changes to the oversight of network adequacy requirements to “affirm the traditional role of States in overseeing their health insurance markets while reducing the regulatory burden of participating in Exchanges for issuers.”[9]

CMS proposes to rely on State reviews for network adequacy in States in which an FFE is operating, provided the State has a sufficient network adequacy review process, rather than performing a time and distance evaluation. Beginning in plan year 2018, it would defer to the States’ reviews in States with the authority that is at least equal to the “reasonable access standard” and means to assess issuer network adequacy, regardless of whether the Exchange is a State-based Exchange or federally facilitated, and regardless of whether the State performs plan management functions.

In States without the authority or means to conduct sufficient network adequacy reviews, CMS would rely on an issuer’s accreditation (commercial or Medicaid) from an HHS-recognized accrediting entity. HHS has previously recognized 3 accrediting entities for the accreditation of QHPs: the National Committee for Quality Assurance, URAC, and Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. An unaccredited issuer would have to submit an access plan.

Interpretation of the Guaranteed Availability Requirement

CMS proposes revising the interpretation of the guaranteed availability requirement to allow issuers to apply a premium payment to an individual’s past debt owed for coverage from the same issuer enrolled in within the prior 12 month. CMS argues this change is necessary to “remov[e] economic incentives individuals may have had to pay premiums only when they were in need of health care services and to encourag[e] individuals to maintain continuous coverage throughout the year and prevent gaming.”[10]

De Minimis Variation in the Actuarial Values

CMS proposes increasing the de minimis variation in the actuarial values (AVs) used to determine metal levels of coverage for the 2018 plan year to “allow issuers greater flexibility in designing new plans and to provide additional options for issuers to keep cost sharing the same from year to year.”[11]

Essential Community Providers

CMS proposes allowing issuers to use a write-in process to identify essential community providers (ECPs) who are not on the HHS list of available ECPs for the 2018 plan year; and lower the ECP standard to 20 percent (rather than 30 percent).[12] 

[1] CMS Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Market Stabilization Proposed Rule.












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The Future of Prior Authorization

In May 2014, CMS announced the creation of a three-year demonstration project that calls for the prior authorization of repetitive scheduled non-emergency ambulance transports. The demonstration project was first implemented in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. These states were selected based on their higher-than-average utilization rates for repetitive ground ambulance transportation. For example, in a June 2013 report to Congress, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) cited these states as having particular high utilization rates for dialysis transports. Prior authorization went live in these states on December 15, 2014.

Congress Acts to Expand the Prior Authorization Regime

On April 16, 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. Section 515 of that law required CMS to expand the demonstration program into five additional states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia on or before January 1, 2016. The law further instructed CMS to expand the prior authorization regime to the rest of the country beginning no earlier than January 1, 2017. However, the national expansion was conditioned on CMS determining that the demonstration project has been effective in reducing Medicare expenditures without jeopardizing patient’s access to necessary medical care.

Short Term Prospects for Expansion

As of the end of January 2017, CMS has yet to issue its report on the effectiveness of the prior authorization program in the original 8 states and the District of Columbia. Therefore, there it is highly unlikely that CMS will be expanding the program nationally in the foreseeable future. However, CMS has not officially ruled out the possibility of expanding the program at some point during 2017.

While CMS has not officially ruled out a national expansion in 2017, I rate the prospect as unlikely. I base this statement simply on the calendar. Even if CMS were to issue the required certifications tomorrow, it would still need to give its contractors instructions on how to implement the program. It would also need to give some advance notice to the provider community. If you assume it would want to give everyone involved at least a month to prepare, it would be April at the earliest before it could expand the program. Personally, I have a hard time believing that CMS would go through all that trouble—not to mention allocating the necessary funding—for 8 months.

Long Term Prospects for Prior Authorization

While I rate the short term prospects for prior authorization to be unlikely, I think that our industry should expect prior authorization for repetitive patients to be part of our long term future.

The data thus far suggests that prior authorization is highly effective at reducing Medicare expenditures. In 2014, the last year before prior authorization went into effect, Medicare paid more than $106 million for dialysis transports in New Jersey alone. In 2015, total spending on dialysis decreased to slightly more than $15 million, a decrease of more than 85%. While there has been anecdotal reports of patients in the state being unable to obtain transportation to their dialysis appointments, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that these are anything other than isolated occurrences, or that prior authorization is contributing to a systematic lack of access. The data from Pennsylvania and South Carolina shows similar dramatic decreases in spending on dialysis.

Collectively, total spending on dialysis in these three states was approximately $140 million less in 2015 than 2014. This corresponds to nearly 20% of total dialysis spending in 2014. To put these reductions in their proper perspective, it may be helpful to remember that the Congressional Budget Office scores the cost of our existing temporary adjustments (i.e., the 2% urban, 3% rural and super rural adjustments) at approximately $100 million a year.

Some will argue that the 2015 reductions in these states were magnified by what can be charitably described as “friction” in the implementation of the program. (We recognize that affected providers in these states are likely to use far less charitable descriptions.) These people would argue that the reductions in subsequent years is likely to be less dramatic. CMS will be releasing 2016 payment data in a few months; at which point we will know whether this prediction proves true. Regardless of whether the data shows an uptick in payments in these states, that same data is almost guaranteed to show a dramatic decrease in total spending on dialysis in these states over the 2014 base year.

In sum, the data makes clear that prior authorization offers substantial cost savings to the federal government. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of these cost savings come from dialysis transports, an area that CMS has long-identified with fraud, abuse, and overutilization. This represents a tempting target for both CMS and Congress when looking for future cost-savings.

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

New Membership Referral Program!

No one knows better than an AAA members the incredible value of membership. Consider sharing your AAA membership experience, and get rewarded for doing so!

Through our new Membership Referral Program, receive a free webinar registration for each new member organization you refer that successfully joins the association. Successfully sign up 6 new member organizations, and you’ll receive a free registration to the AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show! To participate, simply copy on emails you send to colleagues inviting them to join. AAA staff will answer questions and help with follow up.

Not quite sure what to write? Here’s a sample email to get you started!

Dear Colleague’s Name,
I hope your year is off to a great start. I wanted to send a quick note to ask if Colleague’s Ambulance Servicemight be interested in membership to the American Ambulance Association?

My service is a proud member of AAA, and the advocacy work they do on behalf of our industry is more important now than ever. In addition to working toward fair reimbursement, AAA now offers free counseling and CISM for your staff, access to experts on operations and Medicare, and much more. I especially enjoy the sessions and networking at Annual Conference, as well as the ability to recognize my top field staff at Stars of Life. I have copied AAA’s membership staff on this message in case you have any questions about benefits or dues.

I hope that you’ll consider supporting the American Ambulance Association. Thanks for considering, and have a great one.

Your Name

Medicare Relief and Reform Letter by President Postma

This is a critical year for the legislative efforts of the American Ambulance Association and our members.  First and foremost, our temporary Medicare ambulance increases expire at the end of the year.  It is vital that we ensure the new 115th Congress makes these increases permanent, or at the very least approves another long-term extension.  To be successful, we will need all of your help in reaching out to your members of Congress in support of the increases.

The AAA and our partners have been also working to further the reform of the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.  To accomplish the first steps in this process, ambulance services need to be treated as providers of health care services rather than only suppliers of medical transportation.  In addition, we will need the cost data necessary for Congress, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the AAA to make data-driven decisions regarding the reform.

To achieve these goals, we are working with our champions in Congress to reintroduce a version of the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (HR 745, S. 332 – 114th Congress).  We hope to have a bill reintroduced in the House and Senate in the coming weeks.  Only with your help in sustained outreach to your legislators will we be able to get the provisions of this bill passed.

Our absolute top priority this year is preventing the expiration of the Medicare add-on payments.  Building the increases into the base rates is also vital to the future of reform, as is provider standing and cost data collection.  These changes will lead, we hope, to the demonstration of the need for additional reimbursement as well as recognition of the role ambulance services can play in the larger health care picture.  The subsequent goal is coverage for services such as mobile integrated health and alternate destinations.

The AAA will also be closely following the debate and implications for our industry around repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, potential Medicare and Medicaid reform, and other health care and broader initiatives of interest to us.  We will keep you posted of new developments as the process unfolds.

Since this is such a vital year for us in Congress, I ask that each of you respond to our Calls to Action for help with your members of Congress on the Medicare increases and other legislative priorities.  We will only be successful if we all push as one.

CMS Extends Temporary Moratorium (NJ, PA, TX)

On January 9, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice in the Federal Register extending the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The extended moratoria will run through July 29, 2017.

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 moratoria have been extended every six months thereafter.

However, on August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to its existing moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers. Specifically, CMS announced that the moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier, but that it would expand the enrollment moratorium on non-emergency ambulance services 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.

On or before July 29, 2017, CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium.

Have a Medicare question? AAA members, send your inquiry to Brian Werfel, Esq. using our simple form!

GAO Report on Revised Provider Enrollment Screening Process

In March 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented a revised process for processing the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers. This revised process also applied to existing Medicare providers and suppliers that were revalidating their enrollment information. This new process included assigning all providers and suppliers to one of three risk categories—limited, moderate, and high—based on the perceived risk of fraud and abuse. The risk category then determines the applicable screening process used for providers within that risk category.

Please note that ambulance providers and suppliers were placed in the moderate risk category. This risk category includes a verification of the information provided by the provider on its enrollment application, a check of the provider’s state licensure, a check of any adverse legal actions against the provider, and a site visit of the provider.

On December 15, 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the initial results of this revised provider enrollment screening process.

In its report, the GAO indicated that CMS applied its revised enrollment screening process to over 2.4 million newly enrolling and revalidating Medicare providers and suppliers from March 25, 2011 through December 31, 2015. Other relevant findings include:

  • The total number of enrolled Medicare providers and suppliers increased from 1.4 million in March 2011 to 1.9 million in December 2015, an increase of more than 30%.
  • CMS denied more than 6,000 applications for ineligible providers and suppliers. The most commonly cited reason for a denial was the failure of applicant to meet the provider/supplier type requirements. This included situations where the provider/supplier did not hold the required certification for that provider/supplier type.
  • CMS rejected 17,000 applications as incomplete. The GAO found that approximately 25% of the rejected applications were the result of the application being filed in error, either by the provider/supplier or the MAC. 21% of applications were rejected as being duplicates. Another 16% of rejections were the result of the provider/supplier failing to timely respond to the MAC’s request for additional information.
  • CMS screening of existing providers/suppliers resulted in more than 660,000 provider numbers being deactivated. This was typically (47%) the result of the provider failing to respond to the MAC’s request that they revalidate. Another 29% were the result of the provider/supplier voluntarily withdrawing from the Medicare program. Another 5% of deactivations were the result of the provider/supplier not submitting a claim to Medicare within the previous 12 months. The majority of these were likely individual practitioners (e.g., physicians) that either died, or who retired from professional practice, and who failed to inform the MAC at the time of retirement to request that their provider number be deactivated. This could also include organizational providers that were sold or otherwise no longer operational.
  • These were frequently the result of an individual practitioner (e.g., a physician) failing to deactivate his or her Medicare number upon their retirement, and their either not responding to a request to revalidate, or notifying the MAC of their retirement and agreeing to voluntarily withdraw
  • CMS revoked the billing privileges of 43,000 provider/suppliers. The most common reason cited (61%) was the failure of the provider/supplier to be professionally licensed. However, within the moderate risk category, which includes ambulance, 26% of all revocations were the result of a “CMS-approved revocation,” e.g., the result of some adverse legal action against the provider/supplier which was not properly disclosed to the MAC within 30 days.


CMS estimated that its revised screening procedures avoided $2.4 billion in Medicare payments to ineligible providers and suppliers over this period.

CMS also reported that it made several changes to its screening process over this period. This includes the implementation of a continuous license monitoring report in November 2013, and a continuous criminal monitoring report in July 2015. This also includes fingerprint-based criminal background checks for the owners and certain key employees of categorically high-risk providers and suppliers. In December 2015, CMS also began conducting site-visits for certain limited-risk providers and suppliers.

Despite the progress made by CMS, the GAO did find that certain program vulnerabilities still exist. For example, the GAO found that CMS had not established performance measures to monitor its ability to place providers and suppliers in the proper risk categories. The GAO recommended that CMS establish objectives and performance measures for assessing its progress in establishing better screening procedures for new enrollments and revalidations. CMS ultimately agreed with this recommendation.

Have a Medicare question? AAA members, send your inquiry to Brian Werfel, Esq. using our simple form!


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OIG Releases Final Rule Revising Safe Harbor

Office of the Inspector General – Final Rule – Revisions to the Safe Harbors for Waiving Coinsurance,

On December 7, 2016, the Office of the Inspector General published a Final Rule (81 Federal Register 88368) and will be effective January 6, 2017.

The Final Rule includes technical corrections to the existing Safe Harbor for referral services, a new Safe Harbor for waiver of patient cost-sharing for emergency ambulance services, a new Safe Harbor for free or discounted local transportation services, and an amendment to the definition of “remuneration” for purposes of the Civil Monetary penalties for beneficiary inducements.  Since the Final Rule covers many issues that pertain to other providers and suppliers, such as pharmacies, outpatient hospital, Federally Qualified Health Centers, Medicare Advantage Plans, etc., this Member Advisory will focus on the two issues that impact ambulance services and transportation.

Safe Harbor – Cost Sharing Reductions for Emergency Ambulance Services

In recent years, we have seen a number of OIG Advisory Opinions that permitted public EMS entities to waive the cost-sharing obligations of Medicare beneficiaries in specified circumstances. The OIG is now adding these as a “Safe Harbor”. The regulation, at 42 C.F.R 1001.952, will protect certain reductions or waivers of beneficiary cost-sharing for emergency ambulance services provided by public entities, which are paid by Federal health care programs under a fee-for-service basis. However, to qualify, all of the following must be met:

  • The provider or supplier must be owned and operated by a State, political division of a state or a tribal health program. NOTE: While this protects government entities that own and operate their ambulance service, it does not protect a supplier who contracts with that government entity even when that government entity pays the supplier for patient cost-sharing obligations through tax funded revenues.  It also does not protect hospitals providing the emergency ambulance services.
  • The emergency ambulance services must be provided by a Part B provider or supplier. The definition of “Emergency” is the same one listed in 42 C.F.R. 414.605, which you use to determine whether to bill for an emergency base rate or a non-emergency base rate.
  • The reduction or waiver is not considered furnishing free services paid directly or indirectly by a government entity. It is not considered a free service if the government entity bills to the extent of insurance.
  • The reduction or waiver of cost-sharing is offered uniformly without considering patient- specific factors. NOTE:  The OIG allows residency to be considered. Thus, a city may choose to waive or reduce cost-sharing for residents but not for non-residents.
  • The provider does not later claim the amount waived as a bad debt, or shift the burden to a government program.

If all of the above items are met, the government entity providing the emergency ambulance service can reduce or waive the patient’s cost-sharing obligation.

Please note, there is no change here with respect to membership programs by a public or private ambulance service, nor is there any change in policy or the law concerning a government entity paying a private ambulance company for copayments of its residents.

Safe Harbor for Free or Discounted Local Transportation

A new Safe Harbor has been created at 42 C.F.R. 1001.952(bb) to protect free or discounted local transportation made available by an “eligible entity” for beneficiaries of Federal health care programs.  The key elements to this Safe Harbor are:

  • The transportation must be local. That is defined as up to 25 miles if urban and up to 50 miles if rural.
  • It can be provided to or from a provider of service.
  • It can be provided to the patient as well as to a person that assists the patient.
  • The transportation does not have to be scheduled ahead of time.
  • The entity can use a voucher program, if they want.
  • The transport cannot be provided by an air, luxury or ambulance level service.
  • An eligible entity cannot require an ambulance company to provide free or discounted transportation to its patients.
  • An eligible entity is defined as an individual or entity.
  • An “established” patient means a person who has selected and initiated contact with a provider or supplier to schedule an appointment or who has given consent to someone to do it for them.
  • The transportation cannot be advertised.
  • The transportation cannot be used to recruit patients.
  • The transportation must be for medically necessary services.
  • Eligible entities must have an established policy regarding the availability of transportation assistance and must apply it uniformly.
  • The eligible entity is not required to maintain documentation for each patient transported, but it would be a “best practice” to have such documentation.
  • Drivers cannot be paid on a per patient basis.
  • The eligible entity cannot have a sign saying “Donated by ___”, as that is marketing.
  • The eligible entity cannot shift the cost of the transportation to any government health care program.
  • Shuttles are permitted but the rules are slightly less stringent. The vehicle must be used for a set route or schedule, does not have to be for established patients, must be for local use (25 miles urban; 50 miles rural), it can make multiple stops and, while the entity cannot advertise, they can post a schedule.

Read the entire Final Rule is 42 (Federal Register).

AAA Releases 2017 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2017 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2017 Medicare Rate Calculator tool. The AAA believes this is a valuable tool that can assist members in budgeting for the coming year. This calculator has been updated to account for recent changes in Medicare policies, including the 2017 Ambulance Inflation Factor (0.7%) and continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

To access the Fee Schedule, please CLICK HERE.

CMS has not yet published the Public Use File for 2017.  Once the file is released, the AAA will verify that the rates are correct and notify you of any discrepancies.

Download the 2017 Rate Calculator

2017 Fee Schedule

Rep. Tom Price Selected as HHS Secretary, Verma for CMS Admin

Rep. Tom Price, M.D., Named HHS Secretary


President-Elect Trump has nominated Dr. Tom Price for the position of Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Rep. Tom Price has served as the Congressman for the Sixth District of Georgia since 2005. He is currently the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Chairman Price received his B.A. and M.D. from the University of Michigan. He was first elected to Congress in 2004 and has served as on the Ways & Means committee and as Budget Committee chairman. Chairman Price opposes expanding the Affordable Care Act, voted for MACRA, supports expanded use of Health Savings Accounts, and providing age-adjusted tax credits.

Akin Gump has put together a detailed summary of legislation introduced by Rep. Price’s to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (H.R. 2300, the Empowering Patients First Act).

5 Things To Know About Rep. Tom Price’s Health Care Ideas

Seema Verma, Named CMS Administrator


The President-Elect has also nominated Seema Verma for the position of CMS Administrator. Currently, she is the founder and CEO of a health policy consulting firm in Indiana. She is a close advisor to Vice President-Elect Pence and worked as a policy advisor for Governor Pence, focusing on Medicaid and public health.

Prior to consulting, Ms. Verma served as Vice President of Planning for the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County and as a Director with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) in Washington D.C. She received her Master’s degree in Public Health with concentration in health policy and management from Johns Hopkins University and her Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from the University of Maryland.

Trump Picks Seema Verma To Run Medicare And Medicaid

The AAA will keep you posted as we learn more about the plans and potential policies of Chairman Price and Ms. Verma.

Savvik Buying Group: ZOLL AED Giveaway

Savvik Buying GroupAAA members have access to deep discounts on products ranging from staplers to medical supplies to ambulances through the Savvik Buying Group. Featured vendors include ZOLL, Henry Schein, Grainger, 5.11 Tactical, Safetech Solutions, and many more.

This week, ZOLL and Savvik are giving away 10 AEDs. No purchase necessary, just complete their brief survey for a chance to win!

Enter to Win an AED

Free Post-Election Analysis Webinar for Members

Post-Election Analysis Webinar – Thursday, November 17th, 2:00pm EST


The recent elections resulted with Republicans taking control of the White House and retaining a majority in the House and Senate. In the first 100 days of the Trump Administration, we will see a major shift from the policy positions of the current administration. It is likely that there will be immediate efforts toward the repeal, amendment, and replacement of the Affordable Care Act as well as tax reform and infrastructure improvement. Join us for this free webinar, and hear former Members of Congress Bill Paxon (R-NY) and Vic Fazio (D-CA), whom both served in their respective party leadership, give their analysis of the elections and of where the new Administration and Congress go from here.

Register Now

Unable to Attend?

No problem! All webinars will be recorded and available to stream On-Demand. Register now and watch on your own time!


Please contact Colleen Crowley at

CMS SMR Contractor Audit Error

Over the past week, we have learned that several ambulance suppliers have received letters from the CMS Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), StrategicHealthSolutions, LLC.  These letters indicate that the SMRC is conducting a medical review of their claims.

The letter contains a section that explains why the supplier has been selected for review.  That section contains the following explanation:

The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA), signed into law on April 16, 2015, extended the therapy cap exception process through December 31, 2017, and modified the requirement for manual medical review for services over the $3,700 therapy thresholds.  MACRA eliminated the requirement for manual medical review of all claims exceeding the therapy thresholds and instead allows a targeted review process.  CMS has tasked the SMRC with performing post-payment medical review of Part B therapy claims for providers with a high percentage of patients receiving therapy beyond the threshold as compared to their peers for dates of service July 1, 2015 to the present. 

Our firm contacted the SMRC on behalf of a number of affected providers.  On November 14, 2016, StrategicHealthSolutions responded to our inquiry.  The SMRC indicated that its review was intended to be limited to suppliers of physical therapy services.  Accordingly, the SMRC confirmed that these audit letters were sent to ambulance suppliers in error. 

The SMRC further indicated that ambulance suppliers that received this audit letter in error will be notified by telephone that they were selected in error.  The SMRC will also be sending letters to affected ambulance suppliers notifying them of its error.  These letters are expected to be mailed tomorrow, Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

If your organization received a letter from StrategicHealthSolutions, LLC, please know that this letter was sent in error.  Your organization is not being audited by the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor.  You can expect to receive a phone call and/or a letter in the next few days formally notifying you of the contractor’s error.  That letter should formally withdraw the SMRC’s request for medical records. 

If you received a letter from the SMRC, and have any further questions, please feel free to contact Brian S. Werfel, Esq., the AAA’s Medicare Consultant.  He can be reached via email at

CMS List of Medically Unlikely Edits for Ambulance Services

On October 1, 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) updated its list of Medically Unlikely Edits (MUEs). The MEU program is designed to reduce the paid claims error rate for Part B claims. The program operates by estimating the maximum number of units of service that a provider/supplier would report under most circumstances for a single beneficiary on a single date of service. A claim that submits units of service in excess of this threshold will typically be denied by the Medicare Administrative Contractor.

For additional information on the CMS Medically Unlikely Edit Program, click here.

Effective October 1, 2016, claims for ambulance services will be subject to the following MUE edits:

HCPCS Code MUE Threshold
A0425 (Ground Ambulance Mileage) 250
A0426 (Ground Ambulance, ALS Non-Emergency) 2
A0427 (Ground Ambulance, ALS Emergency) 2
A0428 (Ground Ambulance, BLS Non-Emergency) 4
A0429 (Ground Ambulance, BLS Emergency) 2
A0430 (Air Ambulance, Fixed Wing) 1
A0431 (Air Ambulance, Helicopter) 1
A0432 (Ground Ambulance, Paramedic Intercept) 1
A0433 (Ground Ambulance, ALS-2) 1
A0434 (Ground Ambulance, Specialty Care Transport) 2
A0435 (Air Ambulance, Fixed Wing Mileage) 999
A0436 (Air Ambulance, Helicopter Mileage) 300


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