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Update – SNF COVID-19 Testing Does Not Apply to EMS

CMS Clarify in Guidance that EMS Personnel Are Not Required To Be Tested under Skilled Nursing Facility Testing Interim Final Rule

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have issued guidance clarifying the types of personnel who are subject to the testing requirements when entering a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) in the Interim Final Rule with Comment (IFC) on Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID– 19 Public Health Emergency.  The new guidance memo states:

 

Entry of Health Care Workers and Other Providers of Services

Health care workers who are not employees of the facility but provide direct care to the facility’s residents, such as hospice workers, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel, dialysis technicians, laboratory technicians, radiology technicians, social workers, clergy etc., must be permitted to come into the facility as long as they are not subject to a work exclusion due to an exposure to COVID-19 or show signs or symptoms of COVID-19 after being screened. We note that EMS personnel do not need to be screened so they can attend to an emergency without delay. We remind facilities that all staff, including individuals providing services under arrangement as well as volunteers, should adhere to the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention and must comply with COVID-19 testing requirements.

 

CMS issued this guidance at the request of the American Ambulance Association (AAA) to address concerns our members had raised about some SNFs misinterpreting the requirements.  The guidance is also consistent with AAA’s interpretation of the IFC.   As we indicated in an earlier Member Advisory, the IFC requires SNFs to test certain individuals for COVID-19 before they enter the facility.  Specifically, it applies to employees, consultants, and contractors of a skilled nursing facility (SNF).  It does not apply to vendors, suppliers, attending physicians, family, or visitors. Providers, such as medical directors and hospice, that are under a contract or consultants to a SNF are subject to the rule.  EMS personnel do not come within the scope of the IFC.

 

Even though the testing requirements of the IFC do not extend to ground ambulance services that do not have a contractual relationship with a SNF, the AAA supports the efforts of all of our members to follow the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines to have EMT and paramedics use full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when they are engaging with any patient, not only those in SNFs.  We also want to recognize the best practices of many members who have worked with SNFs to establish outdoor locations where the SNF personnel, when possible, can bring a patient out of the building to transfer the patient to the ambulance.  These and other examples of safe practices can help control the spread of COVID-19, which is the paramount concern.

ET3 Model Moves Forward Starting January 1, 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that the first performance period for the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) Model will begin on January 1, 2021. As we reported previously, CMS delayed the start of ET3 Model, consistent with its delaying or pausing other payment models, because of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE).

To start this effort, CMS has indicated that it will post a revised Participation Agreement (PA) to the ET3 Model Portal by mid-October 2020. Participants must upload signed PAs to the ET3 Model Portal by December 15, 2020. CMS will also post an Implementation Plan Template (IPT). Participants must submit their IPT CMS by November 15, 2020 to allow CMS to review and accept the IPT prior to beginning their participation in the Model.

CMS plans to provide additional guidance, including:  an Orientation Overview fact sheet, Billing and Payment fact sheets, Model Participation During the PHE fact sheet, a Who’s Who fact sheet, and an ET3 Model Portal User Guide. These documents will be available to participants through the ET3 Model Portal during the next several weeks.

The re-engagement on the ET3 Model prior to the end of the PHE is something that the American Ambulance Association (AAA) has supported in discussions with CMS. While it does not address some of the gaps in reimbursement and treatment that our members are seeing nationwide, for those who are participating in the model, it will be an enormous benefit.

The AAA also continues to work with CMS to identify new models that will allow other ground ambulance providers and suppliers to participate in innovative models, even though there were not able to meet the ET3 participation requirements.

CMS Updates Cost Data Collection FAQs and Data Collection Instrument

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released printable version of the ground ambulance data collection instrument and an expanded FAQ. Both updated documents address some of the more common questions that CMS has heard over the past months, many of which the American Ambulance Association raised.  Importantly, CMS announces through the FAQs the registration process will begin December 2021.

The topics covered in the FAQs include:

  • General questions related to the rationale for collecting data, definitions, and how the information will be used and reported;
  • Sampling and notification questions related to how ground ambulance organizations will be selected to participate in the data collection system;
  • Data collection and reporting timelines and effort questions, which focus on the timelines for collecting and reporting the information, as well as the projected effort required;
    • There are three new FAQs in this section about the impact of the delay due to the pandemic (the questions and answers are below)
  • Requirement to report questions, which focus on the types of information that must be reported and responding to requests from MACs;
    • There is a new FAQ in this section about applying for a hardship exemption (the questions and answers is below)
  • Reporting information questions, which include who within an organization should report the information, the data tool, and how to address technical problems;
    • There are two new FAQ in this section about the pause in data collection due to the pandemic (the questions and answers are below)
    • Importantly, CMS announces that the registration will begin December 2021
  • Data collection scope and principles questions, which discuss the specific type of information and level of specificity that is required;
    • There are several new FAQs in this section about using current accounting practices, municipality practices, and accounting good and services provided by another organization (the questions and answers are below)
  • Reporting information on staffing and labor costs questions, which address issues such as volunteer staff, staff with multiple duties, calculating hours worked;
    • There are three new FAQs in this section about total hours worked, staff training, and paid time off (the questions and answers are below)
  • Reporting other information, such as service area, service mix/service volume, facilities, vehicles, equipment/supplies, and revenue.


New FAQs

 Question: Will the modification listed in the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waiver issued by CMS on May 15, 2020 allow ground ambulance organizations selected in year 1 the option to continue with their current data collection period that started in early 2020 or choose to select a new data collection period starting in 2021? [Added 7/31/2020]

    • Answer: No. The ground ambulance organizations that were selected in year 1 do not have an option and must select a new data collection period starting in 2021. CMS cannot permit this option because the data collected in 2020 during the public health emergency may not be reflective of typical costs and revenue associated with providing ground ambulance services.
  • Question: When will sampled organizations report information? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Sampled organizations will report information within a 5-month reporting period that starts at the end of the organization’s collection period. For example, if your organization begins collecting information on January 1, 2021, your organization’s collection period will run until December 31, 2021 and your organization must report information during the 5- month period between January 1, 2022 and May 31, 2022.
  • Question: How are data collection and reporting dates adjusted for organizations selected in Year 1 given the modification listed in the CMS COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waiver? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: CMS issued a COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Blanket Waiver delaying data collection and reporting requirements for ground ambulance organizations selected in Year 1 by one year. The organizations selected in Year 1 will now collect data during a continuous 12-month period starting in 2021 (rather than 2020) and will now report information during a 5-month period starting in 2022 (rather than 2021). As an example, a Year 1 organization that previously would have collected information from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020 and reported information between January 1, 2021 to May 31, 2021 will now collect information from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021 and report information between January 1, 2022 and May 31, 2022. Organizations in the Year 1 sample will not report any information collected to date in 2020.
  • Question: Can you provide examples of different data collection periods and the data reporting periods depending on my accounting period start date? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Example of a Data Collection and Reporting Period for a Ground Ambulance Organization with a Calendar Year Accounting Period:

Examples of Data Collection and Reporting Periods for a Ground Ambulance Organization with Accounting Period not based on a Calendar Year:

  • Question: Can my organization request a hardship exemption from the payment reduction? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Yes. Organizations that did not report sufficient data due to a significant hardship, such as a natural disaster, bankruptcy, or other similar situations may request a hardship exemption. To request a hardship exemption after the ground ambulance organization receives notification that it will be subject to the 10 percent payment reduction as a result of not sufficiently submitting information under the data collection system, organizations should complete a request form that will be available at the end of the data reporting period on CMS’s Ambulances Services Center website at https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider- Type/Ambulances-Services-Center.html. Organizations can request a hardship exemption within 90 calendar days of the date that CMS notified the organization that it would receive a 10 percent payment reduction as a result of not submitting sufficient information under the data collection system. Your organization will be asked to supply information such as reason for requesting a hardship exemption, evidence of the hardship (e.g., photographs, newspaper, other media articles, financial data, bankruptcy filing, etc.), and date when your organization would be able to begin reporting information. All hardship exemption requests will be evaluated based on the information submitted that clearly shows that they are unable to submit the required data.
  • Question: Where and how does my organization report information? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: No information will be reported until 2022. As we stated in the CY 2020 Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule (84 FR 62867), a secure web-based data collection system will be available before the start of your data reporting period to allow time for users to register, receive their secure login information, and receive training from CMS on how to use the system. CMS will provide separate instructions on how to access the online Ground Ambulance Data Collection System. You can view a printable version of the ground ambulance data collection instrument at: https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider- Type/Ambulances-Services-Center for the data collection requirements.
  • Question: My organization was selected in the first group to collect and report cost and other required data. When will we be able to register for the data collection system? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Registration for the system will begin in December 2021. Please check the Medicare Ambulance Services Center website at https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider- Type/Ambulances-Services-Center.html for updates.
  • Question: Can my organization collect information using our current accounting practices? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: In general, you will be able to report information collected under your organization’s current accounting practices. CMS understands that some ground ambulance organizations use accrual-basis accounting while others use cash-basis accounting. Please follow the instructions in each instrument section.
  • Question: My ground ambulance organization is owned and/or operated by our local municipality. The municipality pays directly for some costs associated with our ground ambulance operations (e.g., facilities costs, utilities, fuel, benefits, etc.). Do we need to report on these costs? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Yes. You must work with your municipality to report the costs that are relevant to your ground ambulance service. Otherwise, the costs that you report will be incomplete and not reflect your organization’s total costs. This would also apply if your ground ambulance organization is part of a broader organization that pays directly for some of your organization’s costs (e.g., a hospital Medicare provider that also owns and provides ground ambulance services). The specific information that you will need to collect and report might include information on labor costs (Section 7); facilities costs (Section 8); Vehicle costs (Section 9); equipment, consumable, and supply costs (Section 10), and other costs (Section 11). If you are a fire, police, or other public safety-based ground ambulance organization, please report labor hours and compensation associated with both ground ambulance and other public safety roles per the data collection instrument instructions.
  • Question: How should we account for goods or services provided by another organization (e.g., hospital, local government)? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Whether and how to account for costs realized by an entity other than your ground ambulance organization depends on the nature of the relationship with the other entity. CMS has heard that it is relatively common for some costs – for example dispatch, vehicle maintenance, or administrative costs – to be borne by an organization’s local municipality or a part of a local municipal government (such as a police department):
    • If your ground ambulance organization is part of or associated with a local municipality, you need to report these costs. For example, if dispatch services are provided by your municipality’s police department and your ground ambulance organization is part of or associated with the same municipality, then you must collect and report a share of dispatch costs associated with ground ambulance operations. See the related question “My ground ambulance organization is owned and/or operated by our local municipality. The municipality pays directly for some costs associated with our ground ambulance operations (e.g., facilities costs, utilities, ambulance fuel, benefits, etc.). Do we need to report on these costs?”
    • If your ground ambulance organization is NOT part of (i.e., owned or operated by) a local municipality, you do NOT need to report costs associated with services provided by your local municipality other than costs (if any) paid directly by your organizations for the service. If your municipality provides dispatch services for your community and your organization does not pay for this service, then no costs related to dispatch are reported. See the related question “My organization received donations during the data collection period (e.g., an ambulance donated by the community, medicines or medical consumables provided by hospitals, or cash donations). How should these donations be reported?” If your organization makes a payment in exchange for a service, report the payment as a cost under the appropriate section of the data collection instrument.

The same principles apply to similar cases, for example when the other entity is a hospital, non-profit organization, or other type of entity.

  • Question: Should hours on call be included in total hours worked? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: When reporting hours worked, whether for paid or volunteer staff, do not include hours on call toward hours worked.
  • Question: How should we report staff training in the data collection instrument? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: There are two ways that you can report training. If training is conducted by your organization’s staff, you would include hours worked and compensation for training staff in your calculations of total hours worked and total compensation. Employees would report hours spent and compensation (if any) for attending trainings. If the training is not just on ground ambulance topics, the reported total hours and compensation would reflect an estimate the percent of time related to ground ambulance. If you have other training expenses or pay money to an outside organization for training activities, these can be listed in Section 11, Question 3 under the category “Training and continuing education costs (e.g., costs for materials, travel, training fees, and labor).” Costs related to collecting and reporting data to the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System should not be reported.
  • Question: How should we report paid time off (PTO) in the data collection instrument? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Paid time off (PTO) is not included in the hours worked section in the labor portion of the data collection instrument. However, PTO is a benefit that should be included in the total compensation questions of the labor section.
  • Service Area: Question: How should our organization define the primary and secondary service area for our particular circumstances? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: For the purposes of this data collection effort, use your best judgement. In general, your primary service area is the area in which you are exclusively or primarily responsible for providing service at one or more levels and where it is highly likely that the majority of your transport pickups occur. A secondary service area is outside your primary service area, but one where you regularly provide services through mutual or auto-aid arrangements or at a different level of service compared to your primary service area. When reporting service areas using ZIP codes, it is possible that you will report the same ZIP code as belonging to both your primary and secondary service area, for example in a case where a town and a township share a ZIP code and your organization is primarily responsible for service within the town but has mutual or auto aid agreements with the surrounding township. Please list all ZIP codes in your service area, even if they cross over into another county or municipality. For the service volume section of the instrument, responses, transports, etc. to both primary and secondary service areas should be included in the totals reported.
  • Service Mix/Service Volume: Question: How should my organization count ground ambulance responses and/or transports if more than one vehicle is sent to the scene or if more than one patient is transported? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: If more than one vehicle is sent to the scene, count this as one response. Organizations should count the total number of patients transported. A single response may result in multiple transports in cases where multiple ambulances are deployed or when multiple patients are transported by the same ambulance.
  • Question: How should our organization report on situations where we respond to calls for service in conjunction with staff from another organization? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: In Section 5, Question 3, you can report that your organization responds to calls for service in conjunction with vehicles and/or staff from another organization. You must report payments that you make to the other organization (as “other costs” in Section 11) and payments received by your organization (as revenue in Section 13). You will not need to report specific labor or other costs from the other organization. Report the total revenue that your organization receives from payers and other sources, even if you later share the revenue with the other organization.
  • Facilities: Question: My organization does not record buildings as assets or calculate depreciation for buildings. Do we need to report depreciation for buildings? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: No.
  • Vehicles: Question: How should we calculate annual depreciation expenses for vehicles and capitalized equipment? [Updated 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: In general, you will be able to use your organization’s standard approach to calculating depreciation expenses. If your organization calculates depreciation expense for multiple purposes (e.g. depreciation for tax incentive purposes vs. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for standard auditing purposes), please report the depreciation expense captured for standard auditing purposes. There are several presentations, such as the December 5, 2019 National Provider Call, that provide examples of reporting annual depreciation expenses in Section 8 (Facilities Costs), Section 9 (Vehicle Costs), and Section 10 (Equipment, Consumable, and Supply Costs) of the data collection instrument. These presentations are available on the Ambulances Services Center website at https://www.cms.gov/Center/Provider-Type/Ambulances-Services-Center.html.
  • Equipment: Question: My organization uses a cash basis for accounting and does not depreciate equipment or supplies. Do we need to start calculating annual depreciation? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: No. If your department is a cash basis entity and doesn’t calculate depreciation, you do not have to report depreciation. Please report the entire purchase costs in the relevant sections.
  • Revenue: Question: How is revenue defined for the purposes of collecting and reporting data? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Report gross/total revenue received from all sources during the data collection period. You may need to collect information from a billing company or your municipality in order to report this information. Do not report charges, billed amounts, or bad debt. Depending on your organization’s accounting practices, CMS understands that the revenue received during the data collection period may not perfectly align with the services provided during the data collection period.
  • Question: My organization is unable to separate revenue from payers related to transports and non-transport services. How should we report revenue for non-transport services? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: If possible, report only revenue from transports in Section 13, Questions 2-4. Report revenue from non-transport EMS and ground ambulance services in Section 13, Question 5.
  • Question: My organization shares revenue from billed service with another organization. Should we report the revenue we receive from payers or the share we retain? [Added 7/31/2020]
    • Answer: Report the revenue that you initially receive from payers. Do not subtract the amount that you share with another organization. Report the amount you do share in Section 11 (“Other Costs”) as a cost.

EMS1: National associations join forces to tell the story of the front line

AAA Communications Chair Rob Lawrence shared his insights about recent  EMS and fire association joint advocacy efforts in EMS1. Don’t miss the full article!

Last week, the AAA were approached, via EMS1, by U.S. News, a national publication represented by journalist Gaby Galvin, asking about COVID-19 as it affects the front lines, rates of infection and quarantine, and generally life on the street. This opportunity provided the chance to bring together three national organizations who are all working hard to represent their members, lobby Congress and highlight the challenges at the tip of the spear.

Keep reading on EMS1►

HHS Announces Release of Initial Tranche of CARES Act Provider Relief Funding

On March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).  As part of that Act, Congress allocated $100 billion to the creation of a “CARES Act Provider Relief Fund,” which will be used to support hospitals and other healthcare providers on the front lines of the nation’s coronavirus response.  These funds will be used to fund healthcare-related expenses or to offset lost revenue attributable to COVID-10.  These funds will also be used to ensure that uninsured Americans have access to testing a treatment for COVID-19.  Collectively, this funding is referred to as the “CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.”

On April 9, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicated that it would be disbursing the first $30 billion of relief funding to eligible providers and suppliers starting on April 10, 2020.  This money will be disbursed via direct deposit into eligible providers and supplier bank accounts.  Please note that these are outright payments, i.e., these are not loans that will need to be repaid. 

Who is Eligible to Receive Relief Fund Payments?

HHS indicated that any healthcare provider or supplier that received Medicare Fee-For-Service reimbursements in 2019 will be eligible for the initial allocation.  Payments to practices that are part of larger medical groups will be sent to the group’s central billing office (based on Medicare enrollment information).  HHS indicated that billing organizations will be identified by their Taxpayer Identification Numbers (TINs).

Are There Any Conditions to Receipt of this Funding?

Yes.  As a condition to receiving relief funding, a healthcare provider or supplier must agree not to seek to collection out-of-pocket payments from COVID-19 patients that are greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay if the care had been provided by an in-network provider.

How is the Amount of Relief Funding an Entity will Receive Determined?

HHS indicated that the amounts healthcare providers and suppliers will receive will be based on their pro-rata share of total Medicare FFS expenditures in 2019.  HHS indicated that Medicare FFS payments totaled $484 billion in 2019.

Providers and suppliers can estimate their initial relief payment amount by dividing their 2019 Medicare FFS reimbursement by $484 billion, and then multiplying that “ratio” by $30 billion.  Note: payments from Medicare Advantage plans are not included in the calculation of a provider’s/supplier’s total 2019 Medicare payments.

As an example, HHS cited a community hospital that received $121 million in Medicare payments in 2019.  HHS indicated that this hospital’s ratio would be 0.00025.  That amount is then multiplied by $30 billion to come up with its initial relief fund payment of $7.5 million.

The AAA has created a CARES Act Provider Relief Calculator
that you can use to estimate your initial relief payment.  |
USE DOWNLOADABLE EXCEL CALCULATOR►

Do I Need to do Anything to Receive Relief Funds?

No.  You do not need to do anything to receive your relief funding.  HHS has partnered with UnitedHealth Group (UHG) to disburse these monies using the Automated Clearing House (ACH) system.  Payments will be made automatically to the ACH account information on file with UHG or CMS.

Providers and suppliers that are normally paid by CMS through paper checks will receive a check from CMS within the next few weeks.

How Will I Know if I Received My Relief Funds?

The ACH deposit will come to you via Optum Bank.  The payment description will read “HHSPayment.”

Do I Need to do Anything Once I Receive My Relief Funds?

Yes.  You will need to sign an attestation statement confirming relief of the funds within 30 days.  These attestations will be made through a webportal that HHS anticipates opening the week of April 13, 2020.  The portal will need to be accessed through the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund webpage, which can be accessed by clicking here.

You will also be required to accept the Terms and Conditions within 30 days.  Providers and suppliers that do not wish to accept these terms and conditions are required to notify HHS within 30 days, and then remit full repayment of the relief funds.  The Terms and Conditions can be reviewed by clicking here.

How will HHS Distribute the Remaining $70 Billion in Relief Funds?

HHS has indicated that it intends to use the remaining relief funds to make targeted distributions to providers in areas particularly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, rural providers, providers of services with lower shares of Medicare reimbursement or who predominantly serve Medicaid populations, and providers requesting reimbursement for the treatment of uninsured Americans.

CMS Announces Delay to ET3 Start Date

On April 8, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it will be delaying the start of the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model until Fall 2020.  The ET3 Model was previously set to start on May 1, 2020.  CMS cited the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for this delay.

In its delay notice, CMS also reminded the EMS industry that it has issued a number of temporary regulatory waivers and new rules that are designed to give health care providers and suppliers maximum flexibility to respond to the current national emergency.  This includes a number of flexibilities offered specifically to the ambulance industry.

EMS Granted Access to the Amazon COVID-19 Store!

Thank you to the thousands of EMS and fire professionals who joined our social media campaign to encourage Amazon Business to admit mobile healthcare providers into their new COVID-19 Store. In response to the collective voices of our profession, Amazon has updated their policy! Effective April 6, EMS and Fire will begin to be onboarded into the limited-access marketplace. To participate:

  1. Ensure your agency has established an Amazon Business account. 
  2. Request access to the COVID-19 Store. When you complete the form, select “OTHER” as organization type until/unless EMS becomes available as an option. When entering your company name, please make it clear that you are an ambulance service or fire department (no abbreviations).
  3. Wait patiently for up to 10 days to receive confirmation of access as each enrollment request is individually reviewed by Amazon staff.
  4. If you have questions, experience excessive delay, or need assistance, please contact Amazon support.

The store is a new venture, and the virtual shelves are in the process of being stocked. However, Amazon has assured us that they have tens of millions of units of PPE and supplies on rush order. We encourage you to set up your agency account and check back frequently for new item availability. 

We hope that access to the COVID-19 supplies and Amazon’s legendary logistics and delivery expertise will assist ambulance services in meeting the needs of their communities during this challenging and stressful time.

CMS Waives Restrictions on Ground Ambulances During COVID-19 Pandemic

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promulgated an interim final rule with comment period (IFC) entitled “Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”  Consistent with the recommendations the AAA made to CMS, for the duration of the public health emergency (PHE), the IFC allows ground ambulance service providers and suppliers to transport patients both on an emergency or non-emergency basis to any destination that is equipped to treat the condition of the patient consistent with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) protocols established by state and/or local laws where the services will be furnished.  In related guidance, CMS has suspended most Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) medical review during the emergency period due to the COVID-19 pandemic, waived patient signature requirements, and is pausing the Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model. The policies of the IFC are effective retroactively to March 1, 2020.

On March 11, the AAA sent CMS a letter specifically requesting for the agency to waive during the COVID-19 pandemic the regulatory restrictions that prevent coverage for transport to alternative destinations.  Separately, the AAA has been pressing CMS to provide relief from signature requirements. The AAA had also been working with CMS to lifting of these restrictions and others to eliminate barriers the current Medicare regulations in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Paying for Transports to Alternative Destinations.  During the duration of the crisis, CMS has expanded the list of destinations for which Medicare covers ambulance transportation to include all destinations, from any point of origin, that are equipped to treat the condition of the patient consistent with Emergency Medical Services (EMS) protocols established by state and/or local laws where the services will be furnished.

These destinations may include, but are not limited to: any location that is an alternative site determined to be part of a hospital, critical access hospital (CAH) or skilled nursing facility (SNF), community mental health centers, federal qualified health clinic (FQHCs), rural health clinics (RHCs), physicians’ offices, urgent care facilities, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), any location furnishing dialysis services outside of an ESRD facility when an ESRD facility is not available, and the beneficiary’s home.

This expanded list of destinations applies to medically necessary emergency and non-emergency ground ambulance transports of beneficiaries during the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic.  The IFC does not waive the medically necessary requirements for ground ambulance transport of a patient in order for an ambulance service to be covered.

The AAA is working closely with CMS to confirm that patients who require isolation meet the medical necessity requirements.

Suspension of Audits and Relief on Patient Signatures.  In guidance released separately, CMS indicates that it is suspending nearly all audits of providers and suppliers for the duration of the PHE.

CMS has suspended most Medicare Fee-For-Service (FFS) medical review during the emergency period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes pre-payment medical reviews conducted by Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) under the Targeted Probe and Educate program, and post-payment reviews conducted by the MACs, Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC) reviews and Recovery Audit Contractor (RAC). No additional documentation requests will be issued for the duration of the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic. Targeted Probe and Educate reviews that are in process will be suspended and claims will be released and paid. Current postpayment MAC, SMRC, and RAC reviews will be suspended and released from review. This suspension of medical review activities is for the duration of the PHE. However, CMS may conduct medical reviews during or after the PHE if there is an indication of potential fraud.

CMS also indicates in this guidance that a beneficiary’s signature will not be required for proof of delivery, as it relates to durable medical equipment services, during the PHE.  In a follow-up exchange with CMS, the AAA has confirmed that this policy of not requiring a beneficiary’s signature also applies to ground ambulance providers and suppliers. The AAA has requested that this clarification for ground ambulances also be provided in a written FAQ.

Pause in the Non-Emergency Prior Authorization Model.  CMS has paused the claims processing requirements for the Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model, effective March 29 until the end of the PHE.  During this pause, claims for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ground ambulance transports for the COVID-19 pandemic in States in which the model operates will not be stopped for pre-payment review if prior authorization has not been requested by the fourth round trip in a 30-day period. During the pause, the MAC will continue to review any prior authorization requests that have already been submitted, and ambulance suppliers may continue to submit new prior authorization requests for review during the pause. Claims that have received a provisional affirmative prior authorization decision and are submitted with an affirmed unique tracking number (UTN) will continue to be excluded from future medical review. Following the end of the PHE for the COVID-19 pandemic, the MACs will conduct postpayment review on claims otherwise subject to the model that were submitted and paid during the pause.

Telehealth Services.  While CMS does not provide authority for ambulance organizations to bill directly for telehealth services, it does modify for the duration of the PHE the “direct supervision” requirements to allow physicians enter into a contractual arrangement with an entity that provides ambulance services to allow the physician to use the ambulance organization’s personnel as auxiliary personnel under a leased agreement.  Under such circumstances, the provider or supplier would seek payment for any services it provided from the billing physician and would not submit claims to Medicare for such services directly.

Ongoing work of the AAA.  The rule does not address two critical issues:  (1) reimbursement for treatment in place and (2) direct reimbursement for telehealth services.  The AAA will continue to work with CMS and the Congress to address these issues that are critical to meeting the needs of patients and your community during the epidemic.

AAA Social Media Campaign During COVID-19

Demonstrate the value of EMS in the COVID-19 crisis!
#EMS is on the very front lines of the #COVID19 epidemic. We provide on-demand #mobilehealthcare for the most vulnerable patient populations, 24/7. Help AAA showcase the incredible importance of #Paramedics#EMTs, and #Dispatchers in the response to this pandemic. Would you please capture a photo of yourselves in action, holding a simple sign? It is essential that we communicate visually with legislators, regulators, and the general public to help them understand the critically important role we play in saving and sustaining lives. #AlwaysOpen #StayHomeForUs

If practical, please consider showing your medics standing apart from one another (social distancing) if they are not in PPE.

Instructions on Facebook►

COVID-19 Message from President Aarron Reinert

Aarron Reinert
President
American Ambulance Association

Dear Fellow AAA Members,

I write to you today during what we all recognize as an extraordinary time for EMS. As we collectively serve on the very front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic, we know that the most challenging times are still ahead. However, I am heartened by the collective resolve of the members of the American Ambulance Association to provide 24/7 on-demand mobile healthcare, no matter the circumstances.

As President of the Association, I am sharing below a brief summary of the AAA’s activities to support its members in the face of this devastating disease.

COVID-19 Content & Approach

  • Coronavirus Working Group—AAA Region III Director Tom Tornstrom, Executive Director of Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance, has been appointed to lead the AAA Coronavirus Working Group. The team includes AAA’s lobbyists, leadership, staff, and members from across the nation. We meet frequently and collaborate constantly to track challenges and find solutions to EMS issues relating to COVID-19 response. Sample topics include:
    • First responder safety and wellness
    • Reimbursement for alternative destinations, treatment in place, and mobile testing
    • Paperwork reduction / waivers
    • Advocating for policies in federal legislation that support mobile healthcare and redacting those that can negatively impact the industry

Members will receive updates via our Digest e-newsletter as we continue to make progress on these and other issues.

  • Representation in Stakeholder Groups—From CMS to Congress to local mayors, AAA has representatives and members working with legislators, regulators, and officials at every level of government to advocate for EMS. Simultaneously, AAA leaders are working to showcase mobile healthcare’s unique strengths and capabilities for addressing the viral threat.
  • Member Newsletter—The frequency of our member Digest e-newsletter has been increased from weekly to near-daily to ensure that we are curating and communicating the most relevant and important information.
  • COVID-19 Archive—All AAA posts related to the virus can be found on our website. A COVID-19 resource link has been added to the top navigation of the AAA website for easy access by providers.

Association Events & Operations

  • Stars of Life—Out of an abundance of caution, the Stars of Life event in Washington has been canceled. All blocked rooms will be canceled and refunded by the hotel, and all attendee registration fees will be refunded by diflucan. Staff is working on the development of meaningful ways to celebrate 2020 Stars outside of the context of an in-person event.
  • Ambulance Cost Education (Cost Collection)—A plan is in place to move ACE Gold cost collection education from face-to-face to an interactive online learning environment. Subscribers can expect additional updates in early April.
  • Headquarters—Association staff is all working remotely whenever possible. Staff is adhering to strict health, hygiene, and social distancing. All order fulfillment, mail processing, and other functions have been moved offsite.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to staff at info@ambulance.org or 202-802-9020 if we can be of any assistance. Thank you again for your service to your communities during this very difficult time.

Aarron Reinert
President, American Ambulance Association

COVID-19 Update II for EMS

First Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States

The New England Journal of Medicine has rapidly published a peer-reviewed paper on the Snohomish County WA ‘Patient 1’. This was the first reported case of COVID 19 in the US. This seminal document, which given the magnitude of the case and its initial findings is released in full here

The work by Michelle L. Holshue, M.P.H., Chas DeBolt, M.P.H., Scott Lindquist, M.D., Kathy H. Lofy, et al for the Washington State 2019-nCoV Case Investigation Team was turned round in just over 5 weeks and below is an ‘Executive summary’ ( as extracted from the paper) but the full paper and range of results should be read in full.

Patient Presentation

On January 19, 2020, a 35-year-old man presented to an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, with a 4-day history of cough and subjective fever. On checking into the clinic, the patient put on a mask in the waiting room. After waiting approximately 20 minutes, he was taken into an examination room and underwent evaluation by a provider. He disclosed that he had returned to Washington State on January 15 after traveling to visit family in Wuhan, China. The patient stated that he had seen a health alert from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the novel coronavirus outbreak in China and, because of his symptoms and recent travel, decided to see a health care provider.

On admission, the patient reported persistent dry cough and a 2-day history of nausea and vomiting; he reported that he had no shortness of breath or chest pain. Vital signs were within normal ranges. On physical examination, the patient was found to have dry mucous membranes. The remainder of the examination was generally unremarkable. After admission, the patient received supportive care, including 2 liters of normal saline and ondansetron for nausea.

Viral Presence

Both upper respiratory specimens obtained on illness day 7 remained positive for 2019-nCoV, including persistent high levels in a nasopharyngeal swab specimen (Ct values, 23 to 24).

Stool obtained on illness day 7 was also positive for 2019-nCoV (Ct values, 36 to 38).

Nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal specimens obtained on illness days 11 and 12 showed a trend toward decreasing levels of virus

Day 8: Condition Improves

On hospital day 8 (illness day 12), the patient’s clinical condition improved. Supplemental oxygen was discontinued, and his oxygen saturation values improved to 94 to 96% while he was breathing ambient air. The previous bilateral lower-lobe rales were no longer present. His appetite improved, and he was asymptomatic aside from intermittent dry cough and rhinorrhea. As of January 30, 2020, the patient remains hospitalized. He is afebrile, and all symptoms have resolved with the exception of his cough, which is decreasing in severity.

History Taking

This case report highlights the importance of clinicians eliciting a recent history of travel or exposure to sick contacts in any patient presenting for medical care with acute illness symptoms, in order to ensure appropriate identification and prompt isolation of patients who may be at risk for 2019-nCoV infection and to help reduce further transmission. Finally, this report highlights the need to determine the full spectrum and natural history of clinical disease, pathogenesis, and duration of viral shedding associated with 2019-nCoV infection to inform clinical management and public health decision making.

Conclusion

There is little doubt that this paper is about to become a globally sited document as we continue to deal with COVID 19. As far as EMS and our first response to it goes, the paper reinforces the key actions currently being taken

 

Sample COVID-19 Policies for Mobile Healthcare Providers

Thank you to the following organizations for sharing their policies as examples.

Global Medical Response maintains a COVID-19 page to provide information to all members of the GMR community—clinicians and non-clinicians.

Updates from GMR Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ed Racht

GMR Procedures

General Information for Caregivers

Compliance

HIPAA Reminder

FirstWatch Solutions

The intention of the COVID-19 Process/Policy Template is to provide agencies, medical directors, or others who want to utilize it, an outline/template on which to build an agency-specific policy/protocol to address COVID-19. This includes suggestions for development and/or oversight committees, outside partners and stakeholders, as well as preparation and process for EMS workers who provide best practice care for patients as well as providing for the protection of pre-hospital providers and medical director(s). Its application is totally up to the user.

This document is meant to be a living document that can be revised as circumstances or guidance changes. It can also be a discussion piece for those who choose to develop a different type of policy but may want to use some of the components of the document as a starting point.

Agency Guidance

CDC Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID-19 in the United States
NEW March 6, 2020: CMS COVID-19 FAQs for Healthcare Providers (PDF Download)

March 5, 2020: CMS issued a second Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) code for certain COVID-19 laboratory tests, in addition to three fact sheets about coverage and benefits for medical services related to COVID-19 for CMS programs.  https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cms-develops-additional-code-coronavirus-lab-tests

March 4, 2020: CMS issued a call to action to healthcare providers nationwide and offered important guidance to help State Survey Agencies and Accrediting Organizations prioritize their inspections of healthcare. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cms-announces-actions-address-spread-coronavirus

February 13, 2020: CMS issued a new HCPCS code for providers and laboratories to test patients for COVID-19.  https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/public-health-news-alert-cms-develops-new-code-coronavirus-lab-test

February 6, 2020: CMS gave CLIA-certified laboratories information about how they can test for SARS-CoV-2. https://www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certificationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and-memos-states-and/notification-surveyors-authorization-emergency-use-cdc-2019-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-real-time-rt

February 6, 2020: CMS issued a memo to help the nation’s healthcare facilities take critical steps to prepare for COVID-19.  https://www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certificationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and-memos-states-and/information-healthcare-facilities-concerning-2019-novel-coronavirus-illness-2019-ncov

COVID-19 Coronavirus EMS Advisory 1

This guidance is written to offer American Ambulance Association members the situational background and a list of resources and websites with which to draw guidance and further updates on the latest situation with COVID-19, colloquially referred to as “Coronavirus.” Key information for this update has been drawn from the NHTSA EMS Focus series webinar What EMS, 911 and Other Public Safety Personnel Need to Know About COVID-19, which took place on February 24, 2020. The on-demand recording is available below.

General Information

Background

The COVID-19 Coronavirus Disease was first reported in Wuhan China in December 2019. CDC identifies that it was caused by the virus SARS – CoV-2. Early on, many patients were reported to have a link to a large seafood and live animal market. Later, patients did not have exposure to animal markets which indicates person-to-person transmission. Travel-related exportation of cases into the US was first reported January 21, 2020. For reference the first North American EMS experience of  COVID-19 patient transport, including key lessons learned, can be found in the EMS 1 article Transporting Patient 1.

Spread and Identification

Global investigations are now ongoing to better understand the spread. Based on what is known about other coronaviruses, it is presumed to spread primarily through person-to-person contact and may occur when respiratory droplets are produced when an infected person costs or sneezes. Spread could also occur when touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and when touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. Again, research is still ongoing, and advice and guidance will inevitably follow.

For the cases that have been identified so far, those patients with COVID19 have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms including fever and shortness of breath. Symptoms have typically appeared 2 to 14 days after exposure. Both the WHO and CDC advise that patients that have been to China and develop the symptoms should call their doctors.

COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment

To date, 30 international locations, in addition to the US, have reported confirmed cases of   COVID-19 infection. Inside the US, two instances of person-to-person spread of the virus have been detected. In both cases, these occurred after close and prolonged contact with a traveler who had recently returned from Wuhan, China.

The CDC activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on January 21 and is coordinating closely with state and local partners to assist with identifying cases early; conducting case investigations; and learning about the virology, transmission, and clinical spectrum for this disease. The CDC is continuing to develop and refine guidance for multiple audiences, including the first responder and public safety communities.

As at the date of publication there is still no specific antiviral treatment licensed for   COVID-19, although the WHO and its affiliates are working to develop this.

The following are recommended preventative measures for  COVID-19 and many other respiratory illnesses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw it away.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Interim Guidance for EMS and 911

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued its Interim Guidance for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Systems and 911 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) for COVID-19 in the United States.

The guidance identifies EMS as vital in responding to and providing emergency treatment for the ill. The nature of our mobile healthcare service delivery presents unique challenges in the working environment. It also identifies that coordination between PSAPs and EMS is critical.

Key points are summarized below:

Recommendations for 911 PSAP Locations

The link between PSAPs and EMS is essential. With the advent of COVID19 there is a need to modify caller queries to question callers and determine the possibility that the call concerns a person who may have signs or symptoms and risk factors for COVID19.

The International Academy of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) recommends that agencies using its Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) should use its Emerging Infectious Disease Surveillance (EIDS) Tool within the Sick Person and Breathing Problem protocols. For those that are not MPDS users, IAED is offering its EIDS surveillance Tool for Coronavirus, SRI, MERS and Ebola-free of charge under a limited use agreement.

Recommended Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

The CDC recommends that while involved in the direct care of patients the following PPE should be worn:

  • Single pair of disposable examination gloves
  • Disposable isolation gown
  • Respiratory protection (N95 or higher)
  • Eye Protection (goggles or disposable face shield)

EMS Transport of a Patient Under Investigation (PUI) or Patient with Confirmed COVID19

  • Notify receiving healthcare facility so appropriate precautions can be put in place
  • Discourage family and contacts from riding in transport vehicle
  • Isolate the vehicle driver from the patient compartment by closing the windows between compartments and ensuring that the vehicle ventilation system is set to the non-recirculated mode
  • Document patient care

Cleaning EMS Transport Vehicles After Transporting PUI or Patient

  • Don PPE for cleaning with disposable gown and gloves, facemask, and goggles or face shield if splashes are anticipated
  • Routine cleaning and infection procedures should follow organizational standard operating procedures
  • Use protect use products with EPA-approved emergent viral pathogens claims

Once transport is complete, organizations should notify state or local public health authorities for follow up. Additionally agencies should (if not done already) develop policies for assessing exposure risk and management of EMS personnel, report any potential exposure to the chain of command, and watch for fever or respiratory symptoms amongst staff.

Employers Responsibilities

While not specific to COVID-19, agencies should:

  • Assess current practices and policies for infection control
  • Job- or task-specific education and training
  • PPE training and supply
  • Decontamination processes and supplies

Local EMS Considerations

  • PPE supplies
  • 911 and EMD call taking activities
  • Appropriate approach to potential patients
  • Educational resources for EMS personnel
  • Interaction with local public health/healthcare systems/emergency management
  • Interaction with local fire and law enforcement
  • Considerations for local jails

Further Reading

Conclusion

The COVID19 situation constantly evolving. Agencies should defer to their local EMS authorities, Public Health departments, and the CDC for definitive guidance. Going forward, the AAA will continue to both monitor the disease and alert issues to the membership.

Non-Emergency Transport: Avoiding the Fraud Trap [Sponsored]

By Eric van Doesburg, MP Cloud Technologies
This sponsored post is not endorsed by the American Ambulance Association. It reflects the views of the author.

Did you know that one of the most common practices in our industry could put your company at financial risk? Transporting patients not qualified for ambulance transportation is a hot topic these days as it has heavily contributed to the rise of Medicare fraud cases. This issue has grown even more relevant recently with a case in Florida, where not only was the EMS company found liable of fraud, but it was the first time several hospitals were held culpable as well.¹


While the burden of proof falls on the government to satisfy the statutes in the Federal False Claims Act, the fact is investigators are becoming more aggressive in fighting these types of billing schemes.

“The fact is investigators are becoming more aggressive in fighting these types of billing schemes.”

Yes, there are some bad actors in our industry like any other, but more times than not employees simply may be unaware of the qualifications needed when dispatching non-emergency transport.

Thankfully, a company can protect its financial future simply by having the necessary protocols in place.


For ambulance transportation to be covered by Medicare for a patient, the answer must be “yes” to at least one of the three criteria listed below:

  • “Is the patient bed-confined?”
  • “Does the patient require assistance to get out of bed?”
  • “Is the patient unable to safely sit in a wheelchair for the duration of the transport?”

Dispatchers must ask these specific questions in order to understand the scope of the situation – a step that should be incorporated into your business’ procedures immediately. If it is determined that the patient meets none of the above criteria, then an alternative transportation source must be sought and you have a couple of options.


Non-EMS Transport Options

Rideshare Partnership

Uber™ and Lyft™ have not only affected how we approach transportation as a society but have left a prominent mark on the EMS industry as well. According to a University of Kansas study, the use of ambulance transportation dropped 7% in cities that adopted ride-sharing platforms.² Consider the formation of a partnership with these companies as a low-cost alternative for non-emergency transport that could reduce your liability and develop a sustainable revenue stream for the future without a lot of overhead. Of course, just because the patient may not meet the Medicare criteria for non-emergency transport doesn’t mean that they are in a condition to be able to ride in a car by themselves. This is where the situation can become a little tricky. Is Uber™ or Lyft™ really the bestoption for an elderly person who may have some mild form of dementia and is being released after having a medical episode?

Add Non-Emergency Fleet

As an alternative, another option would be setting up your own fleet of non-emergency transport to cater to your clients’ specific needs. These non-emergency shuttles can ensure a consistent and legal discharge process to keep you in compliance and managing dispatch on your terms. It also allows for a higher level of patient care during the transport than a ride-sharing service can provide.

____________________________________________________________________

With the stakes for fraudulent claims getting higher, you’ll want to make sure you have a protocol in place that protects your business, employees, and clients from any hint of impropriety. However, with the right planning and core systems/partnerships, it will make the process for handling non-emergency transport that much easier… and possibly lead to new revenue channels not available in the past. That’s something we can all get excited about.

¹https://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150511/NEWS/150519994

HHS OIG Issues Advisory Opinion on Community Paramedicine

HHS OIG Issues Advisory Opinion Permitting Community Paramedicine Program Designed to Limit Hospital Readmissions

On March 6, 2019, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) posted OIG Advisory Opinion 19-03. The opinion related to free, in-home follow-up care offered by a hospital to eligible patients for the purpose of reducing hospital admissions or readmissions.

The Requestor was a nonprofit medical center that provides a range of inpatient and outpatient hospital services. The Requestor and an affiliated health care clinic are both part of an integrated health system that operates in three states. The Requestor had previously developed a program to provide free, in-home follow-up care to certain patients with congestive heart failure (CHF) that it has certified to be at higher risk of admission or readmission to a hospital. The Requestor was proposing to expand the program to also include certain patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to the Requestor, the purpose of both its existing program and its proposed expansion was to increase patient compliance with discharge plans, improve patient health, and reduce hospital inpatient admissions and readmissions.

Under the existing program, clinical nurses screen patients to determine if they meet certain eligibility criteria. These include the requirement that the patient have CHF and either: (1) be currently admitted as an inpatient at Requestor’s hospital or (2) be a patient of Requestor’s outpatient cardiology department, and who had been admitted as an inpatient at Requestor’s hospital within the previously 30 days. The clinical nurses would identify those patients at higher risk of hospital admission based on a widely used risk assessment tool. The clinical nurses would also determine whether the patient had arranged to receive follow-up care with Requestor’s outpatient CHF center. Patients that do not intend to seek follow-up care with the CHF center, or who have indicated that they intend to seek follow-up care with another health care provider, would not be informed of the current program. Eligible patients would be informed of the current program, and offered the opportunity to participate. The eligibility criteria for the expanded program for COPD patients would operate in a similar manner.

Eligible patients that elect to participate in the current program or the expanded program would receive in-home follow up care for a thirty (30) day period following enrollment. This follow up care would consist of two visits every week from a community paramedic employed by the Requestor. As part of this in-home care, the community paramedic would provide some or all of the following services:

  • A review of the patient’s medications;
  • An assessment of the patient’s need for follow-up appointments;
  • The monitoring of the patient’s compliance with their discharge plan of care and/or disease management;
  • A home safety inspection; and/or
  • A physical assessment, which could include checking the patient’s pulse and blood pressure, listening to the patient’s lungs and heart, checking the patient’s cardiac function using an electrocardiogram, checking wounds, drawing blood and running blood tests, and/or administering medications.

The community paramedic would use a clinical protocol to deliver interventions and to assess whether a referral for follow-up care is necessary. To the extent the patient requires care that falls outside the community paramedic’s scope of practice, the community paramedic would direct the patient to follow up with his or her physician. For urgent, but non-life threatening conditions, the community paramedic would initiate contact with the patient’s physician.

The Requestor certified that the community paramedics would be employed by the Requestor on either full-time or part-time basis, and that all costs associated with the community paramedic would be borne by the Requestor or its affiliates.  The Requestor further certified that no one involved in the operation of the program would be compensated based on the number of patient’s that enroll in the programs. While one of the states in which the Requestor operates does reimburse for community paramedicine services, Requestor certified that it does not bill Medicaid for services provided under the program.

The question posed to the OIG was whether any aspect of the program violated either the federal anti-kickback statute or the prohibition against the offering of unlawful inducements to beneficiaries.

In analyzing the program, the OIG first determined that the services being offered under the program offer significant benefit to enrolled patients. The OIG specifically cited the fact that one state’s Medicaid program reimbursed for similar services as evidence of this value proposition. For this reason, the OIG concluded that the services constitute “remuneration” to patients. The OIG further concluded that this remuneration could potentially influence a patient’s decision on whether to select Requestor or its affiliates for the provision of federally reimbursable items and services.  Therefore, the OIG concluded that the program implicated both the anti-kickback statute and the beneficiary inducement prohibition.

The OIG then analyzed whether the program would qualify for an exception under the so-called “Promoting Access to Care Exception.” This exception applies to remuneration that improves a beneficiary’s ability to access items and services covered by federal health care programs and which otherwise pose a low risk of harm. The OIG determined that while some aspects of the program would likely fall within this exception, other aspects would not. Specifically, the OIG cited the home safety assessment as not materially improving a beneficiary’s access to care.

Having concluded that there was no specific exception that would permit the arrangement, the OIG then analyzed the arrangement under its discretionary authority, ultimately concluding that the program posed little risk of fraud or abuse. In reaching this conclusion, the OIG cited several factors:

  1. The OIG felt that the potential benefits of the program outweighed the potential risks of an improper inducement to beneficiaries. The OIG cited the fact that beneficiaries must have already selected Requestor or its associated clinic as their provider of services before learning about the program. As the OIG indicated “the risk that the remuneration will induce patients to choose Requestor or the Clinic for CHF- or COPD-related services is negligible because patients already have made this selection.” The OIG also noted that the community paramedic will inform beneficiaries of their right to choose a different provider prior to referring the beneficiary to the Requestor or its clinic for services outside the scope of the program.
  2. The OIG noted that, to the extent the program works as intended, it would be unlikely to lead to increased costs to federal health care programs. As noted above, Requestor had certified that it would not bill federal health care programs for the services of the community paramedic.
  3. The program was designed in a way as to minimize the potential for interference with clinical decision-making.
  4. The Requestor certified that it would not advertise or market the program to the public, thereby minimizing the chances of beneficiaries learning about the program prior to selecting Requestor for their CHF- or COPD-related care.
  5. The OIG noted that the program appeared to be reasonably tailored to accomplish the goal of reducing future hospital admissions. For example, the OIG cited the fact that the Requestor limited inclusion in the program to patients deemed to be at a higher-than-normal risk of hospital admission or readmission, and that it made these determinations using a widely used risk assessment tool.  The OIG noted that these patients would likely benefit from the continuity of care offered under the program. In addition, the OIG noted that the community paramedics would be in a position to keep the patients’ physicians appraised of their health by documenting all of their activities.

Potential Impact on Mobile Integrated Health and/or Community Paramedicine Programs

OIG advisory opinions are issued directly to the requestor of the opinion. The OIG makes a point of noting that these opinions cannot be relied upon by any other entity or individual. Legal technicalities aside, the OIG’s opinion is extremely helpful to the industry, as it lays out the factors the OIG would consider in analyzing similar arrangements. Thus, the opinion is extremely valuable to ambulance providers and suppliers that current operate, or are considering the operation of, similar mobile integrated health and/or community paramedicine programs. 

4 Tips: Add Empathy to EMS Care

Empathy is about trying to understand, as best we can, someone else’s situation or experience. The question is, do we in EMS truly understand the word? Are we empathetical to ourselves and to the people we work with?

While some say that empathy comes from proper upbringing, today’s decline in civility means we see less and less of it displayed. A major contributing factor is the “tough” exterior we favor in each other: how often have you heard comments like “come on, just suck it up buttercup,” “you need to be tougher than that to be a medic,” or “we’re EMS, we eat our young.” Why are we like this, and why can’t we reinforce the empathy that naturally resides in all of us?

Empathy is a big part of our jobs, and we need to teach it to our students, our employees and each other. People need to feel that it’s OK to be empathetic and that it’s a natural part of the whole EMS picture.

One of the best techniques to foster empathy is active listening — not only to our patients but also to staff and co-workers. When you actively listen, you H.E.A.R. …

 Halt: Stop whatever else you are doing, end your internal dialogue on other thoughts, and free your mind to give the speaker your attention.

 Engage: Focus on the speaker. We suggest a physical component, such as turning your head slightly so that your right ear is toward the speaker as a reminder to be engaged solely in listening.

Anticipate: By looking forward to what the speaker has to say, you are acknowledging that you will likely learn something new and interesting, which will enhance your motivation to listen.

Replay: Think about what the speaker is saying. Analyze and paraphrase it in your mind or in discussion with the speaker and other classmates. Replaying and dialoguing the information you have heard will aid in understanding what the speaker is attempting to convey.”1

So always look at the other’s point of view and try to understand what he or she is facing. It just might change your attitude and make you a better provider.

References:
1  Wilson, Donna & Conyers, Marcus, “4 Proven Strategies for Teaching Empathy”. Edutopia, January 4, 2017.

Your EMS Reputation Depends on Three Cs

Your EMS Reputation Depends on Three Cs—Credentials, Courtesy, Community

In EMS, your reputation is critical. Your character moves with you from provider to provider and from squad to squad; EMS is a small world where people know about you before you even step foot in the door.

People react to you based on judgments from not only real life, but also your digital life. With Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and other social media networks so prevalent today, your social media profile serves as the basis of your reputation both professionally and privately.

Unfortunately, social media blunders abound among EMS providers, affecting their reputations and their future hiring ability. You can find hundreds of examples doing a quick online search; here are just two.

Three South Carolina responders fired for making statements like “idiots shutting down I-126. Better not be there when I get off work …” (Kaplan, 2016, para. 3)

A Brockton, Mass. dispatcher who said of a pregnant overdose patient, “She needs to be left to rot …” (Shephard, 2018, para. 5)

A better way to think of your reputation is the “Three Cs” — Credentials, Courtesy and Community.

  • Credentials may also be called Continuing Education, as it’s vital to keep learning throughout your career. Many of the best paramedics and EMTs are lifelong learners; in contrast there are others who take the NREMT exam and then never do more to see EMS from a wider perspective.
  • Courtesy means being courteous not only to your patients and coworkers but also to yourself. When others feel comfortable around you, it is easier to develop those close ties and professional relationships that boost your reputation.
  • Community refers to both where you live and the broader EMS community at large. The public and our industry look to us to build and improve a framework where we can all grow and thrive. Professional norms promote collaboration, knowledge sharing and a collective responsibility for improving ourselves and our treatments.

So, let’s follow the “Three Cs” to improve EMS as a community. Let’s have better, more convenient education that goes beyond the “same old, same old.” Let’s push our medical directors for improved, evidence-based treatments. Let’s pull each other up and be leaders at the healthcare table. Lastly, let’s stand out in the community with reputations that reflect the consummate professionals we truly are.

Scott F. McConnell is Vice President of EMS Education for OnCourse Learning and one of the Founders of Distance CME, which recently launched a new learning platform. Since its inception in 2010, more than 10,000 learners worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings

References

(Kaplan, 2016, para. 3) “Three S.C. first responders fired for threatening comments about protesters” Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/07/13/three-s-c-first-responders-fired-for-threatening-comments-about-protesters/ 

(Shephard, 2018, para. 5) “Dispatcher put on leave for harsh Facebook comments” Retrieved from https://www.ems1.com/ems-social-media/articles/378700048-Dispatcher-put-on-leave-for-harsh-Facebook-comments/

Make a Difference: EMS and Human Trafficking

When we think of trafficking, we generally think of drugs or weapons, not human beings. Yet the problem exists in numerous communities where EMS responders deliver care.

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means for an improper purpose.” (End Slavery Now, 2018, para. 1) A more succinct definition comes from Kathryn Brinsfield, MD, MPH, Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Homeland Security: “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.” (DHS, 2017, para. 3)

Why is this so important in today’s EMS field? We are the first on scene, we are the ones invited inside where others are not and we are the ones who see an injured person’s environment.  Our interactions with others can help us spot some of the tell-tale indicators.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons people are trafficked:

  • Domestic Slavery: People are brought into private homes to work as slave labor, with no options to leave.
  • Sex Trafficking: Children, men and women are forced into the commercial sex industry
  • Forced and Bonded Labor: People are forced to work under the threat of violence for no pay — often to repay a debt — without the ability to leave
  • Forced Marriage: Women and children are forced to marry another against their will and without their consent.

As an industry, there is much that EMS can do. We must keep our ears and eyes open, and report things that raise red flags in our minds. Some of the most common indicators we will see as emergency responders are:

  • Signs of abuse, wounds or bruising in various stages of healing or malnutrition
  • Scars or mutilations, including tattoos showing ownership
  • Language or cultural barriers preventing injured persons from communicating with you
  • Submissive or nervous appearances
  • Security measures like overly hardened doors or windows preventing movement of people

DHS has a great educational sheet with additional indicators to look for: click here for a printable copy. While a particular situation may turn out not to be what you suspect, report your suspicions regardless so trained law enforcement experts can evaluate the situation. Your hunch may save a life or multiple lives. Call Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) or online here. You can also receive additional training here.

References

Slavery Today (2018). Retrieved from   http://www.endslaverynow.org/learn/slavery-today

EMS’s Role in the Effort to End Human Trafficking (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ems.gov/newsletter/marapr2016/end-human-trafficking.html

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