CMS Posts 2023 Public Use File

On November 23, 2022, CMS posted the 2023 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files. These files contain the amounts that will be allowed by Medicare in the calendar year 2023 for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage. These allowable reflect an 8.7% inflation adjustment over the calendar 2022 rates. The 2023 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use File can be downloaded from the CMS website by clicking here.

Please note that these files reflect the Medicare allowable based on current federal law.  Accordingly, the 2023 Public Use Files do not include the current add-ons (i.e., 2% for urban, 3% for rural, and the super-rural bonus), as these add-ons are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2022.

The AAA is actively working with congressional offices to not only extend but hopefully increase, the Medicare ambulance add-ons by the end of the year. If you have not already written to your members of Congress about extending the add-ons at increased levels, please do so today by using the AAA online advocacy tool by clicking here.

Unfortunately, in recent years, CMS has elected to release its Public Use Files without state and payment locality headings. As a result, in order to look up the rates in your service area, you would need to know the CMS contract number assigned to your state. This is not something the typical ambulance service would necessarily have on hand. For this reason, the AAA will be publishing a reformatted version of the CMS Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule that includes the state and payment locality headings. The reformatted fee schedule will be available on the AAA website in the coming days.

The AAA will also be publishing an updated version of its Medicare Rate Calculator, which we expect to have available on our website once we have a better sense of the timing of the extension of the add-ons.

CMS Update-CY 2023 Final Ambulance Fee Schedule

Member Advisory:  CMS Issues CY 2023 Final Ambulance Fee Schedule Rule Updated Data Ground Ambulance Data Collection System

by Kathy Lester, JD, MPH

CMS has released the “CY 2023 Payment Policies under the Physician Fee Schedule and Other Changes to Part B Payment Policies; Medicare Shared Savings Program Requirements; Medicare and Medicaid Provider Enrollment Policies, Including for Skilled Nursing Facilities; Conditions of Payment for Suppliers of Durable Medicaid Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, and Supplies (DMEPOS); and Implementing Requirements for Manufacturers of Certain Single-dose Container or Single-use Package Drugs to Provide Refunds with Respect to Discarded Amounts” (Final Rule).  The Final Rule includes proposals affecting ground ambulance services in terms of medical necessity requirements and documentation requirements, as well as to the ground ambulance cost collecting tool.

I.           Medical Necessity and Documentation Requirements for Nonemergency, Scheduled, Repetitive Ambulance Services

              CMS finalizes the modifications to the documentation requirements codified in regulation pertaining to the medical necessity and documentation requirements for nonemergency, scheduled, repetitive ambulance services, such as those to/from dialysis facilities.  The Final Rule clarifies that the Physician Certification Statement (PCS), and additional documentation from the beneficiary’s medical record, may be used to support a claim that transportation by ground ambulance is medically necessary.  It also notes that the PCS and additional documentation must provide detailed explanations that: (1) are consistent with the beneficiary’s current medical condition; and (2) explain the beneficiary’s need for transport by an ambulance.  Coverage includes observation or other services rendered by qualified ambulance personnel.  It maintains the following requirements:

  • In all cases, the provider or supplier must keep appropriate documentation on file and, upon request, present it to CMS;
  • The ambulance service must meet all program coverage criteria including vehicle and staffing requirements; and
  • A signed PCS does not alone demonstrate that transportation by ground ambulance was medically necessary.

             CMS declines to “confine this regulatory clarification to the RSNAT prior authorization program, as there may be non-emergent, scheduled, repetitive ambulance transport services outside of that program that would be affected.” (Display Copy 1756)  CMS also does not provide further clarification about what it means by the term “additional documentation” because it believes that “the data elements needed will vary depending upon the beneficiary’s specific conditions and needs.” (Id.)  CMS also states that “[t]his proposal does not establish new obligations for documentation; rather, it merely clarifies existing requirements.” (Id. at 1757).  In response to a comment, CMS also writes, “In addition, our pre-proposal language and proposed regulatory language both reflect that the presence of a PCS alone is not sufficient to demonstrate medical necessity, and, therefore, must be supported by medical documentation.” (Id.)  CMS also declined to extend authorization to nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants, stating that to do so would be outside of the scope of the rule.

II.         Ground Ambulance Data Collection Instrument

            CMS finalizes the proposed changes to the ground ambulance data collection instrument and instructions with a few additional modifications in response to comments.  They fall within four areas:  (1) editorial changes for clarity and consistency; (2) updates to reflect the web-based system; (3)  clarifications responding to feedback from questions from interested parties and testing; and (4) typos and technical corrections.  The updated instrument that includes all of the CY 2023 proposed changes to review and provide comments on is posted on the CMS website at https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/AmbulanceFeeSchedule/Downloads/Medicare-Ground-Ambulance-Data-Collection-System-Instrument.pdf.

            One of these modification is to Section 5, Question 3c, which now reads: Does your organization respond to calls with another non- transporting agency such as a local fire department that is not part of your organization? After the question, the following instructions will be provided: This includes joint responses with other ground ambulance organizations as well as cases where a fire, police, or other public safety department responses to calls for service with your organization. Only consider cases where your ground ambulance does or would have transported the patient, if necessary.

            The Final Rule notes that the system already includes an “autosave” feature that saves responses as they are entered. The system also allows the same user to enter information at different times, and/or multiple users to enter information at different times. The system also already includes many validation and error checking steps that are automatically applied as respondents enter information. CMS also noted that it has no plans to adopt additional import functionality prior to the launch of the system, but that it will continue to explore the option of an API.  CMS also indicates that the final written tool and web-based platform will align before the system goes live.  A print function will also be available for the online submissions.

            CMS indicates that the data from the collection system will be made available to the public through posting on the CMS website at least every 2 years.  Summary results will be posted by the last quarter.  The data collected under the ground ambulance data collection system will be publicly available beginning in 2024.

            CMS also indicates that it will not require a ground ambulance organization to fill the data entry submitter and data certifier roles with different individuals.

            CMS has also provided additional guidance, including FAQs available at:  https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service- Payment/AmbulanceFeeSchedule/Downloads/Medicare-Ground-Ambulance-FAQs.pdf.

            CMS also finalizes its proposal for an automated process for submitting a hardship exemption request and informal review request.

III.        Origin and Destination Requirements Under the Ambulance Fee Schedule

            In the Final Rule, CMS also responds to comments it received on the Interim Final Rule that expanded the origin and destination requirements.  It finalizes the interim final policy that the expanded list of covered destinations for ground ambulance transports including, but are not limited to, any location that is an alternative site determined to be part of a hospital, CAH or SNF, community mental health centers, FQHCs, RHCs, physician offices, urgent care facilities, ASCs, any location furnishing dialysis services outside of an ESRD facility when an ESRD facility is not available, and the beneficiary’s home.  The policy will be In effect for the duration of the PHE for the COVID-19 only.

CMS Announces 2023 Ambulance Inflation Factor

On October 14, 2022, CMS issued Transmittal 11642 (Change Request 12948), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for the calendar year 2023.

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

For the 12-month period ending in June 2022, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U increased by 9.1%.  CMS further indicated that the CY 2023 MFP would be 0.4%.  Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for the calendar year 2023 will be 8.7%. 

This is the largest inflation update since the implementation of the current Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule in April 2002.  The increase from last year’s 5.1% increase is also the single largest year-over-year increase on record.

Administration Includes Ambulance Add-Ons Extension on CR List

The Biden Administration has issued a list of expiring programs and items that they would like to see or have no objection to being, extended as part of the FY2023 Continuing Resolution.  The list includes “Medicare add-on payments for ground ambulance services”. The list also includes a “Suspension of Medicare Sequestration” on which the AAA has been advocating. Congress will need to pass a CR by September 30 to avoid a partial government shutdown.

No determination has been made by congressional decision-makers as to when Congress will address Medicare extenders that expire at the end of the year but most key congressional staff believe extenders will be addressed after the election. Even if extenders are not included in the CR, the list demonstrates the overall support and/or recognition of the Administration for the listed programs and items including the Medicare ambulance add-on payments and suspension of sequestration.

Authorization Issues

Note: The following list is provided for your information. In the event that authorizing
legislation is not enacted in a timely manner, these items will allow either for the
continuation of programs that will be funded in the continuing resolution (CR) or for other
legislative fixes.

Agriculture/Rural Development:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Agriculture, Livestock Mandatory Reporting

No Objection to Inclusion in a CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
HHS, FDA User Fees
HHS, Exclusivity of Certain Drugs Containing Single Enantiomers
HHS, Medical device programs expiration: 1) Authority to accredit 3rd parties to review certain medical device applications; 2) Conformity Assessment Pilot Program for Devices; 3) Device Postmarket Pilot Projects; 4) Inspections by Accredited Persons; 5) Modification to Humanitarian Device Exemption

Commerce/Justice/Science:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Justice, Additional Special Assessment (Expires 9/11/22)
Justice, U.S. Parole Commission (NOTE: Extension for two years is recommended)
Justice, Protection of certain facilities and assets from unmanned aircraft (Also DHS)
Justice, Extending Temporary Emergency Scheduling of Fentanyl Analogues Act (Expires 12/31/22)

Defense:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Defense, North Atlantic Treaty Organization Security Investment Program (NSIP)
Defense, Authority to Provide Temporary Adjust in Rates of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) if the Actual Costs of Adequate Housing for Civilians in That Military Housing Area or Portion Thereof Differs from the Current BAH Rates by More than 20 Percent
Defense, Authority for reimbursement of certain coalition nations for support provided to United States military operations (Expires 12/31/22)
Defense, Authority to provide assistance to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Expires 12/31/22)
Defense, Authority to provide assistance to the vetted Syrian groups and individuals. (Expires 12/31/22)
Defense, Authority to provide temporary increase in rates of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) under certain circumstances (Expires 12/31/22)
Defense, Authority to Support Operations and Activities of the Office of Security Cooperation In Iraq (Expires 12/31/22)
Defense, Authority to waive annual limitation on premium pay and aggregate limitation on pay for Federal civilian employees working overseas (Expires 12/31/22)
Defense, Extension of Certain Expiring Bonus and Special Pay Authorities (Expires 12/31/22)
Defense, Income Replacement Payments for Reserve Component Members Experiencing Extended and Frequent Mobilization for Active Duty Service (Expires 12/31/22)

No Objection to Inclusion in a CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Defense, Information Operations, and Engagement Technology Demonstrations
Defense, One-time Uniform Allowance for Officers Who Transfer to the Space Force
Defense, Increased Percentage of Sustainment Funds Authorized for Realignment to Restoration and Modernization at Each Installation
Defense, Pilot Program for the Temporary Exchange of Cyber and Information Technology Personnel
Defense, Reauthorization of Authority to Order Retired Members to Active Duty in Highdemand, Low-density Assignments

Financial Services/General Government:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
FCC, FCC General, and Incentive Auction Authority Continuation (NOTE: Extension of auction authority through 9/30/2024 is recommended)
GSA, Pilot Programs for Authority to Acquire Innovative Commercial Items Using General Solicitation Competitive Procedure (NOTE: also covered by DHS)
SBA, Assistance for Administration, Oversight, and Contract Processing Costs
SBA, Commercialization Readiness Pilot Program for Civilian Agencies
SBA, Phase 0 Proof of Concept Partnership Pilot Program
SBA, Pilot Program to Accelerate DOD Awards
SBA, SBIR Commercialization Assistance Pilot Programs
SBA, SBIR Phase Flexibility
SBA, Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR)
SBA, Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)

Homeland Security:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Homeland Security, DHS Joint Task Forces
Homeland Security, E-Verify Program
Homeland Security, National Computer Forensics Institute
Homeland Security, National Flood Insurance Program
Homeland Security, Raising the H-2B Cap
Homeland Security, National Cybersecurity Protection System (NCPS) Authorization, including EINSTEIN
Homeland Security, Counter Threats Advisory Board
Homeland Security, Pilot Programs for Authority to Acquire Innovative Commercial Items Using General Solicitation Competitive Procedure (NOTE: also covered by GSA)
Homeland Security, Protection of certain facilities and assets from unmanned aircraft (Also DOJ)

No Objection to Inclusion in a CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Homeland Security, Authority to grant special immigrant status to religious workers other than ministers
Homeland Security, Waiver of Foreign Residence Requirements for Physicians Working in Underserved Areas (“Conrad State 30” Program)

Interior/Environment:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Interior, Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009

Labor/HHS/Education:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Labor, Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Workers Program (Expired 7/1/22)
HHS, TANF
HHS, Promoting Safe and Stable Families Program
HHS, Liability protections for health professional volunteers at community health centers (HRSA)
HHS, Medical Countermeasures Innovations Partner
HHS, Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program
HHS, Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee
HHS, Increase in Medicaid FMAP for territories
SSA, Demonstration Project Authority (Expires 12/31/22)

No Objection to Inclusion in a CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
HHS, Additional support for Medicaid home and community-based services during the COVID-19 emergency (Expired 3/31/22)
HHS, Suspension of Medicare Sequestration (Expired 3/31/22)
HHS, Medicare IPPS adjustment for low-volume hospitals
HHS, Medicare-dependent hospital (MDH) program
HHS, Puerto Rico Medicaid Payment
HHS, Restriction on Alaska Native Regional Health Entities
HHS, Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group
HHS, Exception for eligible professionals based in ambulatory surgical centers with respect to incentives for meaningful use of certified EHR technology (Expires 12/31/22)
HHS, Incentives for Qualifying Alternative Payment Model Participants (Expires 12/31/22)
HHS, Medicare add-on payments for ground ambulance services (Expires 12/31/22)
HHS, Medicare add-on payments for rural home health services (Expires 12/31/22)
HHS, Temporary Increase in Medicare Physician and Non-physician Practitioners Payments (Expires 12/31/22)

Military Construction/VA:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
VA, Adaptive Sports Assistance Program (formerly limited to Paralympics)
VA, Co-Pays for Hospital and Nursing Home Care
VA, Homeless and Seriously Mentally Ill Veterans- Additional Services at Certain Locations
VA, Homeless and Seriously Mentally Ill Veterans- Treatment/ Rehab
VA, Manila, Philippines Regional Office
VA, SAH – Assistive Technology Grants
VA, Transportation of Beneficiaries
VA, Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans
VA, Advisory Committee on Education (Expires 12/31/22)
VA, Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans (Expires 12/31/22)
VA, SAH for Veterans Temporarily Residing with Family (Expires 12/31/22)

Transportation/HUD:

Necessary For Extension or Inclusion in the CR if Not Enacted First in Other Legislation
Transportation, Next Generation 9-1-1

CMS End of PHE Roadmap

CMS Prepares Providers and Suppliers for the End of the Public Health Emergency:

CMS Issues Updates on the End of Emergency Waivers and Flexibilities Issued during the PHE

By Kathy Lester, J.D., M.P.H.

 

Even though it appears that the Biden-Harris Administration will extend the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) for at least another 90 days, CMS has begun the process of preparing for the termination of waivers and flexibilities that have been in effect during the pandemic.  During the PHE, the American Ambulance Association has worked closely with CMS and Congress to make sure that ground ambulance services were prioritized and provided with waivers and flexibilities to support their integral role as a front-line medical response during the pandemic.

 

CMS announced its roadmap for the end of the PHE on August 18.  The roadmap includes a summary of the policies that will terminate at the end of the PHE, but also notes that CMS intends to keep some policies in place even after the PHE ends. Examples of policies that will continue after the PHE is allowed to expire include certain morbidity and mortality reporting requirements on long-term care facilities and certain telehealth services expanded by Congress.

 

In its announcement, CMS indicated particular concern about patient safety.  “As mentioned by Lee A. Fleisher, M.D.; Michelle Schreiber, M.D.; Denise Cardo, M.D.; and Arjun Srinivasan, M.D., in February 17, 2022, New England Journal of Medicine Perspective, ‘Safety has also worsened for patients receiving post-acute care, according to data submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Quality Reporting Programs…’”

 

As part of this announcement, CMS released a fact sheet detailing the current status of the Medicare waivers and flexibilities for ambulance providers and suppliers.  Some of the policies highlighted in this fact sheet include:

 

  • Vaccine Reimbursement Rates: CMS will continue to pay approximately $40 per dose for administering COVID-19 vaccines in outpatient settings for Medicare beneficiaries through the end of the calendar year that the COVID-19 PHE ends.  Effective January 1 of the year following the year that the COVID-19 PHE ends, CMS will set the payment rate for administering COVID-19 vaccines to align with the payment rate for administering other Part B preventive vaccines.  CMS plans to continue to pay a total payment of approximately $75 per dose to administer COVID-19 vaccines in the home for certain Medicare patients through the end of the calendar year that the COVID-19 PHE ends.

 

  • Alternative Destination: CMS indicates that it will include this issue in future rulemaking.

 

  • Treat in Place: CMS indicates that the waiver will end with the end of the PHE.

 

  • Repetitive, Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport (RSNAT) Prior Authorization: CMS notes that it has already returned to the full model operations including post-payment reviews of claims submitted during the PHE.

 

  • Signature Requirements: Absent indications of potential fraud and abuse, CMS will not review claims for dates of service during the COVID-19 PHE for compliance with the signature requirements.

 

  • Appeal Flexibilities: CMS will allow some of the flexibilities related to the timing of appears to continue consistent with existing authority for appeals once the PHE ends.

 

The AAA will continue to monitor the PHE and any changes in the waivers and flexibilities specific to ground ambulance services.  We encourage members to reach out to our team if concerns or questions arise as CMS winds down the PHE.

CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum Summary

On August 18, 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) held its most recent Ambulance Open Door Forum (ODF). As is typically the case, CMS started the ODF with a series of announcements, before opening the call to questions from the ambulance industry.

 

The first announcement related to proposed changes to the regulations governing the medical necessity requirements for non-emergency, scheduled, repetitive ground ambulance services. Specifically, CMS is proposing to modify the so-called “special rule” for repetitive, scheduled non-emergency services (set forth in the regulations at 42 C.F.R. §410.40(e)(2)(ii)). CMS indicated that these proposed changes would provide necessary and ensure the consistent application of the documentation requirements by its contractors. The proposed change would add language indicating that both the Physician Certification Statement and “additional documentation from the beneficiary’s medical record” could be used to support medical necessity for the ambulance transport. The new language would further indicate that these documents must provide detailed explanations that are consistent with the beneficiary’s current medical condition. On the ODF, CMS encouraged the industry to submit comments on these proposed changes. However, CMS indicated that, because these changes were the subject of ongoing rulemaking, it would not be able to answer any questions on the ODF.

 

The second announcement related to the proposed changes to the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection System (GADCS) included in the July 2022 Proposed Rule. CMS and its contractor, the Rand Corporation, went through a detailed PowerPoint presentation that summarized these proposed changes. That PowerPoint presentation can be accessed by clicking here.

 

As part of its discussion of the GADCS, CMS also announced the implementation of an automated process for requesting hardship exemptions and informal review of determinations that an ambulance provider is subject to a financial penalty for failing to properly submit its cost data.

 

The final announcement related to ambulance services furnished by Rural Emergency Hospitals (REHS). In the FY 2023 Outpatient Hospital Proposed Rule, CMS is proposing to codify in its regulations the statutory requirement that ambulance services furnished by entities that are owned and operated by REHS will be paid under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule. CMS is also proposing to revise the origin and destination requirements to include REHS as both a covered origin and covered destination for ambulance services.

 

The ODF concluded with a brief Q&A period. All of the questions posed to CMS related to the GADCS.  One of the questions placed to CMS was whether it would permit ambulance suppliers to prospectively seek a hardship exemption, i.e., to permit an ambulance supplier to ask now that it be relieved of the financial penalties for failing to report its cost data. The person posing the question specifically referenced ambulance suppliers impacted by the severe flooding in the State of Kentucky. CMS confirmed that an ambulance supplier had to be notified that it was subject to a financial penalty before it was eligible to seek a hardship exemption.

Medicare Ambulance Relief Bill introduced in Senate

Yesterday, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021 (S. 2037). Senators Cortez Masto and Collins were joined by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) as primary cosponsors and leads on the legislation.

S. 2037 is identical to H.R. 2454 by Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and would extend the temporary Medicare ground ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment for five years. The increases are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2022. The five-year extension would allow for the increases to remain in place during the two-year delay on ambulance data collection due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, an analysis of the data by MedPAC and subsequent action by the Congress to reform the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.

The legislation would also help ensure that rural zip codes in large urban counties remain rural following geographical changes under the fee schedule as a result of the 2020 census data. The current definition using rural urban commuting areas (RUCA) in Goldsmith Modification areas would be modified for zip codes with 1,000 people or less per square mile would also be rural. Ground ambulance service providers and suppliers could also petition the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make the argument that a specific zip code should be rural. It is vital that this provision be implemented before CMS makes changes from the 2020 census data which will likely occur in 2023.

The AAA has been leading the effort on the legislation with the support of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of EMTs, National Rural Health Association and the National Volunteer Fire Council.

The AAA will be launching a Call to Action shortly requesting AAA members to ask their Senators to cosponsor S. 2037, and reach out to their Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 2454 if they have not already done so.

We greatly appreciate the leadership of Senators Cortez Masto, Collins, Stabenow, Cassidy, Leahy, and Sanders on this vitally important legislation.

CMS Bolsters Payments for At-Home COVID-19 Vaccines

From CMS on June 9, 2021

Biden Administration Continues Efforts to Increase Vaccinations by Bolstering Payments for At-Home COVID-19 Vaccinations for Medicare Beneficiaries

As part of President Biden’s commitment to increasing access to vaccinations, CMS announced an additional payment amount for administering in-home COVID-19 vaccinations to Medicare beneficiaries who have difficulty leaving their homes or are otherwise hard-to-reach. This announcement further demonstrates continued efforts of the Biden-Harris Administration to meet people where they are and make it as easy as possible for all Americans to get vaccinated. There are approximately 1.6 million adults 65 or older who may have trouble accessing COVID-19 vaccinations because they have difficulty leaving home.

While many Medicare beneficiaries can receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a retail pharmacy, their physician’s office, or a mass vaccination site, some beneficiaries have great difficulty leaving their homes or face a taxing effort getting around their communities easily to access vaccination in these settings. To better serve this group, Medicare is incentivizing providers and will pay an additional $35 per dose for COVID-19 vaccine administration in a beneficiary’s home, increasing the total payment amount for at-home vaccination from approximately $40 to approximately $75 per vaccine dose. For a two-dose vaccine, this results in a total payment of approximately $150 for the administration of both doses, or approximately $70 more than the current rate.

“CMS is committed to meeting the unique needs of Medicare consumers and their communities – particularly those who are home bound or who have trouble getting to a vaccination site. That’s why we’re acting today to expand the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine to people with Medicare at home,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-Lasure. “We’re committed to taking action wherever barriers exist and bringing the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic to the door of older adults and other individuals covered by Medicare who still need protection.”

Delivering COVID-19 vaccination to access-challenged and hard-to-reach individuals poses some unique challenges, such as ensuring appropriate vaccine storage temperatures, handling, and administration. The CDC has outlined guidance to assist vaccinators in overcoming these challenges. This announcement now helps to address the financial burden associated with accommodating these complications.

The additional payment amount also accounts for the clinical time needed to monitor a beneficiary after the vaccine is administered, as well as the upfront costs associated with administering the vaccine safely and appropriately in a beneficiary’s home. The payment rate for administering each dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the additional in-home payment amount, will be geographically adjusted based on where the service is furnished.

How to Find a COVID-19 Vaccine:

As this action demonstrates, a person’s ability to leave their home should not be an obstacle to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. As states and the federal government continue to break down barriers – like where vaccines can be administered – resources for connecting communities to vaccination options remain key. Unvaccinated individuals and those looking to assist friends and family can:

  • Visit vaccines.gov (English) or vacunas.gov (Spanish) to search for vaccines nearby
  • Text GETVAX (438829) for English or VACUNA (822862) for Spanish for near-instant access to details on three vaccine sites in the local area
  • Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline at 1-800-232-0233 (TTY: 1-888-720-7489) for assistance in English and Spanish

Coverage of COVID-19 Vaccines:

The federal government is providing the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge or with no cost-sharing for all people living in the United States. As a condition of receiving free COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, vaccine providers cannot charge patients any amount for administering the vaccine.

Because no patient can be billed for COVID-19 vaccinations, CMS and its partners have provided a variety of information online for providers vaccinating all Americans regardless of their insurance status:

  • Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage: Beneficiaries with Medicare pay nothing for COVID-19 vaccines or their administration, and there is no applicable copayment, coinsurance or deductible.
  • Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP):State Medicaid and CHIP agencies must cover COVID-19 vaccine administration with no cost sharing for nearly all beneficiaries during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) and for over a year after it ends. For the very limited number of Medicaid beneficiaries who are not eligible for this coverage (and do not receive it through other coverage they might have), providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to underinsured individuals through the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), as discussed below. Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP), signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, the federal matching percentage for state Medicaid and CHIP expenditures on COVID-19 vaccine administration is currently 100% (as of April 1, 2021), and will remain 100% for more than a year after the COVID-19 PHE ends. The ARP also expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccine administration under Medicaid and CHIP to additional eligibility groups. CMS recently updated the Medicaid vaccine toolkit to reflect the enactment of the ARP at https://www.medicaid.gov/state-resource-center/downloads/covid-19-vaccine-toolkit.pdf.
  • Private Plans: The vaccine is free for people enrolled in private health plans and issuers COVID-19 vaccine and its administration is covered without cost sharing for most enrollees, and such coverage must be provided both in-network and out-of-network during the PHE. Current regulations provide that out-of-network rates must be reasonable as compared to prevailing market rates, and the rules reference using the Medicare payment rates as a potential guideline for insurance companies. In light of CMS’s increased Medicare payment rates, CMS will expect health insurance issuers and group health plans to continue to ensure their rates are reasonable when compared to prevailing market rates. Under the conditions of participation in the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program, providers cannot charge plan enrollees any administration fee or cost sharing, regardless of whether the COVID-19 vaccine is administered in-network or out-of-network.

The Biden-Harris Administration is providing free access to COVID-19 vaccines for every adult living in the United States. For individuals who are underinsured, providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund administered by HRSA after the claim to the individual’s health plan for payment has been denied or only partially paid. Information is available at https://www.hrsa.gov/covid19-coverage-assistance.

For individuals who are uninsured, providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals without insurance through the Provider Relief Fund, administered by HRSA. Information on the COVID-19 Claims Reimbursement to Health Care Providers and Facilities for Testing, Treatment, and Vaccine Administration for the Uninsured Program is available at https://www.hrsa.gov/CovidUninsuredClaim.

More information on Medicare payment for COVID-19 vaccine administration – including a list of billing codes, payment allowances and effective dates – is available at https://www.cms.gov/medicare/covid-19/medicare-covid-19-vaccine-shot-payment.

More information regarding the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Requirements and how the COVID-19 vaccine is provided through that program at no cost to recipients is available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/vaccination-provider-support.html.

Medicare Ambulance Relief Bill Introduced in House

Yesterday, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL) introduced the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021 (H.R. 2454). Congresswoman Sewell was joined by Congressmen Devin Nunes (R-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) as primary cosponsors and leads on the legislation.

H.R. 2454 would extend the temporary Medicare ground ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment for five years. The increases are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2022. The five-year extension would allow for the increases to remain in place during the two-year delay on ambulance data collection period due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.  It would also permit the cost collection program to move forward so that the statutorily mandated MedPAC analysis could be completed before the Congress would have to act to either further extend the add-ons or make them permanent through reforming the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.

The legislation would help address potential problems that rural zip codes in large urban counties could face as a result of the 2020 census data.  As we saw after the 2010 Census, the new Census data collection methodology resulted in geographical changes under the fee schedule that shifted rural ZIP codes to urban, despite there being no significant change in their population. The current definition using rural urban commuting areas (RUCA) in Goldsmith Modification areas would be modified to ensure ZIP codes with 1,000 people or less per square mile would remain rural. Ground ambulance service providers and suppliers could also petition the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make the argument that a specific ZIP code should remain rural. It is vital that this provision be implemented before CMS makes changes from the 2020 Census data which will likely occur in 2023.

The AAA has been leading the effort on the legislation with the support of the Congressional Fire Services Institute, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of EMTs and the National Volunteer Fire Council.

The AAA is working with champions of the effort in the Senate on introduction of a companion bill. We expect the bill to be introducing in the coming weeks.

The legislation is one of the policy issues being raised as part of EMS on the Hill Day and the AAA will be launching a Call To Action shortly requesting AAA members to ask their members of Congress to cosponsor the bill.

We greatly appreciate the leadership of Representatives Sewell, Nunes, Welch and Mullin on this vital issue.

CMS | 4/13 Webinar | HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program

From CMS on April 12, 2021

Upcoming Webinar for Providers on the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program: Interested in learning more about the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program? Participating providers are reimbursed at Medicare rates for testing, treating and administering COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured individuals.

Providers who have conducted COVID-19 testing to uninsured individuals, provided treatment for uninsured individuals with a COVID_19 diagnosis on or after February 4, 2020, or administered COVID-19 vaccines to uninsured individuals can begin the process to file claims for reimbursement. Providers can familiarize themselves with this process at https://www.hrsa.gov/coviduninsuredclaim, and learn more and file claims at https://coviduninsuredclaim.linkhealth.com/. Providers can also view Frequently Asked Questions about the program.

Join us on Tuesday April 13, 2021 at 2PM ET for an informational webinar.

Register Now

Feel free to share this with others who may be interested!

CMS | Sequestration Update | Temporary Claims Hold

From CMS on March 30, 2021

Temporary Claims Hold Pending Congressional Action to Extend 2% Sequester Reduction Suspension

In anticipation of possible Congressional action to extend the 2% sequester reduction suspension, we instructed the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to hold all claims with dates of service on or after April 1, 2021, for a short period without affecting providers’ cash flow. This will minimize the volume of claims the MACs must reprocess if Congress extends the suspension; the MACs will automatically reprocess any claims paid with the reduction applied if necessary.

Joint Letter on Sequestration Delay

On March 15, the AAA, IAFC, IAFF, NFVC, NAEMT, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute sent a letter to congressional leaders in support of legislation (H.R. 1868) to extend the current moratorium on the 2% Medicare sequestration cut. The moratorium is currently scheduled to expire on March 31 and H.R. 1868 would extend the moratorium until December 31. Below is a copy of the letter.

This week, the House passed House Resolution 233 with the rules for debate and consideration of H.R. 1868. Congressmen Schneider (D-IL) and McKinley (R-WV) introduced H.R. 315 and Senators Sheehan (D-NH) and Collins (R-ME) introduced S. 748 which would extend the moratorium through the end of the public health emergency.

March 16, 2021

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Charles Schumer Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell Minority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader McCarthy:

Thank you for your continued support of front-line medical workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and firefighters, as well as the organizations that they serve, take on substantial risk every day to treat, transport and test potential COVID-19 patients. We write today to express our deep concern with the impending 2% Medicare sequestration cut scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2021.

The American Ambulance Association (AAA), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) along with the Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) represent the providers of vital emergency and non-emergency ground ambulance services and the paramedics, EMTs and firefighters who deliver the direct medical care and transport for every community across the United States. We have all experienced the strain on our services, and need financial assistance and support as we remain the frontline responders to our nation’s coronavirus patients. The sequestered cuts, if implemented, would further strain the provision of these critical services.

Our costs of operating have increased exponentially in response to COVID-19, as we maintain full readiness to combat the pandemic and continue to provide 24-hour vital non-COVID-19- related services. Our costs for personal protective equipment (PPE), overtime pay, and other expenses directly related to COVID-19 remain high. At a time when we are facing considerable economic strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we respectfully urge Congress take action before April 1, 2021 to extend the 2% Medicare sequestration moratorium. We would like to voice our strong support for bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1868, to prevent the 2% sequester cut.

Our organizations greatly appreciate both the financial support provided through congressionally enacted COVID-19 relief legislation, as well as the recognition of the dangers of providing these critical services on a daily basis. However, the impact of the pandemic on our resources and services remains and the implementation of additional Medicare cuts at this time would be harmful to our members.

We thank you in advance for your consideration and helping ensure that EMS agencies and personnel have the resources they need to continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the funding to maintain the short and long-term viability of our operations.

Sincerely,

American Ambulance Association

Congressional Fire Services Institute

International Association of Fire Chiefs

International Association of Fire Fighters

National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians

National Volunteer Fire Council