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

CMS Increases Medicare Payment for COVID-19 Vaccinations

CMS Increases Medicare Payment for COVID-19 Vaccinations

 

                                                                        By Brian S. Werfel, Esq.

On March 15, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it would be increasing the Medicare payment amount for administrations of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The original Medicare reimbursement rate depended, in part, on whether the vaccine being administered required a two-dose regimen (as is the case for the Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna vaccines), or a single dose (Johnson & Johnson vaccine).  For vaccinations that require a two-dose regime, CMS initially paid: (1) $16.04 for the administration of the first dose and (2) $28.39 for the administration of the second dose.  For vaccines that require only a single dose, Medicare paid $28.39 for the administration of that single dose.

Effective for vaccinations administered on or after March 15, 2021, CMS has increased these payments to $40 per administration.  Thus, the total reimbursement for a vaccine requiring a single dose will be $40, while the total reimbursement for a vaccine requiring a two-dose regimen will be $80.

CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum Oct 22

From CMS on October 16

Open Door Participation Instructions:

October 22, 1:00–2:30 on ET

This call will be Conference Call Only.

To participate by phone:

Dial: 1-888-455-1397 & Reference Conference Passcode: 9375124

Persons participating by phone do not need to RSVP. TTY Communications Relay Services are available for the Hearing Impaired.  For TTY services dial 7-1-1 or 1-800-855-2880. A Relay Communications Assistant will help.

Instant Replay: 1-866-448-2572; Conference Passcode: No Passcode needed

Instant Replay is an audio recording of this call that can be accessed by dialing 1-866-448-2572 and entering the Conference Passcode beginning 1 hours after the call has ended. The recording is available until October 24, 11:59PM ET.

The next CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum is scheduled for:

Date:  Thursday October 22, 2020

Start Time:  1:00pm-2:30pm PM Eastern Time (ET);

Please dial-in at least 15 minutes before call start time.

Conference Leaders: Jill Darling, Susanne Seagrave

**This Agenda is Subject to Change**

1. Opening Remarks

  • Acting Chair- Susanne Seagrave, Acting Director, Division of Data Analysis and Market-Based Pricing (Center for Medicare)
  • Moderator – Jill Darling (Office of Communications)

2. Announcements & Updates

3. Open Q&A

**DATE IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE**

Next Ambulance Open Door Forum: TBA

ODF email: AMBULANCEODF@cms.hhs.gov

———————————————————————

This Open Door Forum is open to everyone, but if you are a member of the Press, you may listen in but please refrain from asking questions during the Q & A portion of the call. If you have inquiries, please contact CMS at Press@cms.hhs.gov. Thank you.

 

For ODF schedule updates and E-Mailing List registration, visit our website at http://www.cms.gov/OpenDoorForums/.

Were you unable to attend the recent Ambulance ODF call? We encourage you to visit our CMS Podcasts and Transcript webpage where you can listen and view the most recent Ambulance ODF call. Please allow up to three weeks to get both the audio and transcript posted to: https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Outreach/OpenDoorForums/PodcastAndTranscripts.html.

CMS provides free auxiliary aids and services including information in accessible formats. Click here for more information. This will point partners to our CMS.gov version of the “Accessibility & Nondiscrimination notice” page. Thank you.

 

Newsmax | Will Trump Get Ambulance Services Needed Pay From Government?

By John Gizzi via Newsmax.com

Although President Donald Trump promised Newsmax earlier this month that he would “certainly look into it,” several ambulance professionals and their representatives have since told us they have seen none of the operating funds in question from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Continue Reading on Newsmax.com

Preliminary Calculation of 2020 Ambulance Inflation Update

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

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

For the 12-month period ending in June 2020, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 0.646%.

Cautionary Note Regarding CPI-U.  Members should be advised that the BLS’ calculations of the CPI-U are preliminary, and may be subject to later adjustment.  Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP for calendar year 2021.  Since its inception, this number has fluctuated between 0.3% and 1.2%.  For calendar year 2020, the MFP was 0.7%.  Under normal circumstances, it would be reasonable to expect the 2021 MFP to be within a percentage point or two of the 2020 MFP.  However, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic makes predictions on the MFP difficult at this point.

Accordingly, the AAA is not in a position to confidently project the 2021 Ambulance Inflation Factor at this point in time.  However, the relative low increase in the CPI-U strongly suggests that the 2021 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be significantly lower than last year’s increase of 0.9%.

The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2021 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

 

 

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HHS | Post-Payment Notice of Reporting Requirements

From HHS on July 20, 2020

General and Targeted Distribution Post-Payment Notice of Reporting Requirements

July 20, 2020

Purpose

The purpose of this notice is to inform Provider Relief Fund (PRF) recipients that received one or more payments exceeding $10,000 in the aggregate from the PRF of the timing of future reporting requirements. Detailed instructions regarding these reports will be released by August 17, 2020.

Overview

Congress appropriated funding to reimburse eligible health care providers for health care related expenses or lost revenues attributable to coronavirus. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) is administering the distribution of payments under the PRF program, funded through appropriations in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (P.L. 116-136) and the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (P.L. 116-139). Each recipient of a payment from the PRF that used any part of that payment agreed to a set of Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) which, among other obligations, require each recipient to submit reports to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The reports shall be in such form, with such content, as specified by the Secretary of HHS in future program instructions directed to all recipients. HHS will be releasing detailed reporting instructions by August 17, 2020.

These reporting instructions will provide directions on reporting obligations applicable to any provider that received a payment from the following CARES Act/PRF distributions:

General Distributions:
  • Initial Medicare Distribution
  • Additional Medicare Distribution
  •  Medicaid, Dental & CHIP Distribution
Targeted Distributions:
  • High Impact Area Distribution
  •  Rural Distribution
  •  Skilled Nursing Facilities Distribution
  •  Indian Health Service Distribution
  •  Safety Net Hospital Distribution

The reports will allow providers to demonstrate compliance with the T&Cs, including use of funds for allowable purposes, for each PRF payment. HRSA plans to provide recipients with Question and Answer (Q&A) Sessions via Webinar in advance of the submission deadline. Additional details will follow regarding the Q&A Sessions.

Notice on Timing of Reports

The reporting system will become available to recipients for reporting on October 1, 2020.

  • All recipients must report within 45 days of the end of calendar year 2020 on their expenditures through the period ending December 31, 2020.
  •  Recipients who have expended funds in full prior to December 31, 2020 may submit a single final report at any time during the window that begins October 1, 2020, but no later than February 15, 2021.
  •  Recipients with funds unexpended after December 31, 2020, must submit a second and final report no later than July 31, 2021.
  •  Detailed PRF reporting instructions and a data collection template with the necessary data elements will be available through the HRSA website by August 17, 2020.

 

CMS Announces Resumption of Program Integrity Functions

On July 7, 2020, CMS updated its Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Provider Burden Relief Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).  As part of this update, CMS indicated that it would resume several program integrity functions, starting on August 3, 2020.  This includes pre-payment and post-payment medical reviews by its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs), the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), and the Recovery Audit Contractors (RACs).  This also includes the resumption of the Prior Authorization Model for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency ambulance transports.  These programs had been suspended by CMS in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resumption of Medicare Fee-For-Service Medical Reviews

 CMS suspended most Medicare FFS medical reviews on March 30, 2020.  This included pre-payment medical reviews conducted by its MACs under the Targeted Probe and Educate program, as well as post-payment reviews by its MACs, the SMRC, and the RACs.  CMS indicated that, given the importance of medical review activities to CMS’ program integrity efforts, it expects to discontinue its “enforcement discretion” beginning on August 3, 2020.

CMS indicated that providers selected for review should discuss any COVID-related hardships that might affect the provider’s ability to respond to the audit in a timely fashion with their contractor.

CMS further indicated that its contractors will be required to consider any waivers and flexibilities in place at the time of the dates of service of claims selected for future review.

Resumption of Prior Authorization Model

 Under the Repetitive, Scheduled, Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport Prior Authorization Model, ground ambulance providers in affected states are required to seek and obtain prior authorization for the transportation of repetitive patients beyond the third round-trip in a 30-day period.  The Prior Authorization Model is currently in place in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

On March 29, 2020, CMS suspended certain claims processing requirements under the Prior Authorization Model.  During this “pause,” claims for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergency transports were not be stopped for pre-payment review to the extent prior authorization had not been requested prior to the fourth round trip in a 30-day period.  However, CMS continued to permit ambulance providers to submit prior authorization requests to their MACs.

CMS indicated that full model operations and pre-payment review would resume for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation submitted in the model states on or after August 3, 2020.  CMS stated that the MACs will be required to conduct postpayment review on claims that were subject to the model, and which were submitted and paid during the pause.  CMS further indicated that it would work with the affected providers to develop a schedule for postpayment reviews that does not significantly increase the burden on providers.

CMS stated that claims that received a provision affirmation prior authorization review decision, and which were submitted with an affirmed Unique Tracking Number (UTN) will continue to be excluded from most future medical review.

Stat | Treatment in Place

From Stat on June 29, 2020 by Hanan Cohen of Empress EMS and Patient Care EMS Solutions

Medicare shouldn’t make ground ambulance services take a financial hit for providing at-home care

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began sweeping across the U.S., ambulance crews have been treating some patients at home rather than risking a hospital surge — and aren’t getting paid for it. At a time when ambulance services are on the frontlines of care, not just transport, Medicare is treating ambulances like expensive taxicabs.

Treating people in place — at the scene of a medical emergency, which can include the home, a long-term care facility, or other location — has become the expected standard of care, especially during the pandemic. Some states even mandate it. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicare payments, refuses to pay companies for the cost of providing medically necessary health care services if the patient is not transported to a hospital or other designated destination.

As a result, ground ambulance organizations that are fighting the Covid-19 pandemic on the frontlines by treating people with everything from low blood sugar to dehydration are taking a massive financial hit. And it’s coming at the worst time.

Continue reading►

HHS Posts FAQ on Healthcare COVID-19 Relief Fund

Earlier today, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) posted a revised set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding the terms and details of payments distributed under the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to Medicare providers including ground ambulance service providers and suppliers. The updated FAQs cover a range of topics regarding the acceptance of funds, revenue data submission and eligibility criteria.

Download FAQ

CMS Modifies the Cost Data Collection System Year 1 Data Collection

CMS has issued a blanket waiver modifying the data collection period for the ground ambulance services that were selected to report in Year 1.  Under the current law, these organizations would have been required to collect data beginning January 1, 2020, and through December 31, 2020.  The waiver allows these organizations to select a new continuous 12-month data collection period that begins between January 1, 2021 and ends December 31, 2021.  This modification means that such organizations will collect and report data during the same time period as the ground organizations that CMS will select for Year 2 of the cost collection program.

From the summary of the waiver, it appears that organizations will have the choice of submitting data in Year 1 or Year 2.  CMS has not moved the timeline for any other data collection year, so there is the potential for a substantial number of organizations to report in Year 2, which would increase the amount of data available.

The AAA has supported the data collection system to make sure that CMS and the Congress have valid and reliable data to support maintaining the geographic add-ons to the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule and to support efforts to address the chronic underfunding of the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule.

The complete FAQ is below and also available at: https://www.cms.gov/files/document/summary-covid-19-emergency-declaration-waivers.pdf (on page 29).

“CMS is modifying the data collection period and data reporting period, as defined at 42 CFR § 414.626(a), for ground ambulance organizations (as defined at 42 CFR § 414.605) that were selected by CMS under 42 CFR § 414.626(c) to collect data beginning between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 (year 1) for purposes of complying with the data reporting requirements described at 42 CFR § 414.626. Under this modification, these ground ambulance organizations can select a new continuous 12-month data collection period that begins between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, collect data necessary to complete the Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection Instrument during their selected data collection period, and submit a completed Medicare Ground Ambulance Data Collection Instrument during the data reporting period that corresponds to their selected data collection period. CMS is modifying this data collection and reporting period to increase flexibilities for ground ambulance organizations that would otherwise be required to collect data in 2020- 2021 so that they can focus on their operations and patient care.”

“As a result of this modification, ground ambulance organizations selected for year 1 data collection and reporting will collect and report data during the same period of time that will apply to ground ambulance organizations selected by CMS under 42 CFR § 414.626(c) to collect data beginning between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021 (year 2) for purposes of complying with the data reporting requirements described at 42 CFR § 414.626.”

House Vote Scheduled today on HEROES Act

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote later today on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act “HEROES Act” (H.R. 6800). The HEROES Act is the House Democratic proposal for the latest legislative effort on economic relief related to COVID-19. The House is expected to pass the HEROES Act along party lines with the Senate developing its own legislative proposal with consideration in the coming weeks.

The HEROES Act contains numerous provisions of interest to ground ambulance service providers and suppliers. For a comprehensive summary of those provisions, please click HERE.

Here are a few of the highlights:

$100 Billion for Health Care Fund

  • $100 billion in additional funding for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund. This is the Fund under which ground ambulance service providers and suppliers have received direct payments to partially offset lost revenue as well as eligibility for grant funds to cover the cost of treating uninsured presumptive and actual COVID-19 patients. The bill would also set forth a methodology for the distribution of the new funds and all previously unallocated funds, based on the lost revenue and expenses of a provider or supplier. The AAA continues to advocate for a program under the Fund specifically for ground ambulance services.

Employee Retention Tax Credit Improvements

  • Increases the retention credit from 50% to 80% and the wage cap from $10,000 to $15,000 per quarter. The bill would also change the definition of a large employer from organizations with over 100 employees to those with over 1,500 employees. The Employee Retention Tax Credit is intended for companies not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program and allows employers to offset employment taxes, with any excess treated as refundable tax credits.

Payroll Protection Program

  • Eliminates the limitation for employers to take advantage of the payroll tax deferral period to the extent they qualified for loan forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program or the U.S. Treasury Program Management Authority.

$500 Tax Credit for First Responders and Frontline Employees

  • Provides a $500 above the line deduction for 2020 for the uniforms, supplies, and equipment of governmental and non-governmental first responders and COVID19 frontline employees.

The AAA has already turned its sights on the Senate as we continue to advocate for ground ambulance service providers and suppliers in our vital role as frontline medical responders in combating COVID-19.

 

Savvik: COVID-19 Survey

Savvik Buying Group is trying to find out what your services are still needing in the way of COVID related items.  They have created a quick, 4 question survey to assist.  As an incentive, Savvik will be selecting five entries who will win a $500.00 gift certificate from 5.11 tactical.

Take Survey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compliant Hazard Pay Practices

MEMBER ADVISORY

Recently there have been several states where legislative efforts have been filed or legislation passed related to the provision of Hazard Pay for front line healthcare and public safety workers.  In addition, there are suggestions that the next federal stimulus package may include provisions for hazard pay for those responding to this pandemic. While this financial relief would be incredibly helpful to those working on front lines, there are important considerations for employers to understand as they implement these pay measures.

Hazard Pay or premium pay is broadly defined as compensation paid to an employee for performing hazardous duty or work involving physical hardship. This can include work duty that causes extreme physical discomfort and distress which is not adequately alleviated by protective devices.  The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not directly address Hazard Pay.  However, it is important for employers to know that the payment of Hazard Pay will impact the calculation of an employee’s regular rate of pay and the corresponding overtime compensation.  As many EMS employers are already aware, the payments of differentials, incentive pay, or other premium compensation require a special “weighted” average overtime calculation.  The United States Department of Labor provides a Fact Sheet which details how an employer must calculate an employee’s overtime when certain additional compensation, including Hazard Pay, is included.

We recognize that many EMS agencies are already aware of the impact different premium pays, such as shift differentials or bonuses have on an employee’s wage calculation.  It is important that EMS employers know that amounts paid as Hazard Pay must be handled similarly.  If your organization utilizes a payroll service, often they can provide assistance to ensure the calculation is accurate.  I suggest strongly that you perform a random audit to ensure that the payroll software platform is calculating the wages correctly.

Please be sure to contact the American Ambulance Association if you have questions or need further clarification regarding compliant Hazard Pay practices.

COVID-19 Continuity of Operations Checklist

Download as PDF

As you begin the process of returning employees to their usual on-campus workspace, be sure to consider all angles and implications of a returning workforce. It can be helpful to create a Re-Entry Task Force as part of this process. Including representatives from all areas of your business ensures needs, concerns, and challenges are identified and considered as decisions are made and re-entry processes begin. A suggested list of departments/partners to include:

  •  Operations
  • Communications
  • Patient Billing Services
  • Education & Training
  • Fleet & Facilities Maintenance
  • Human Resources
  • Information Technology (IT/IS)
  • Safety & Risk (OSHA, compliance, HIPAA)
  •  Legal
  • Human Resources/Workforce

Position Analysis

As you work with your task force to determine who, when, and how to return employees to their usual on-campus workspace, it may be helpful to work through an analyze of each position. We suggest using the SWOT analysis tool as you determine which positions should return, when or how the position might change to better meet the needs of your organization. Below is a sample table with some example considerations.

Sample considerations:

  • Productivity:
    • Has productivity for any position/employee increased or decreased while working off-site?
    • Is it possible to maintain on-site productivity with a staggered re-entry plan?
    • Is it possible to maintain on-site productivity and return employees to on campus workspaces with staggered shifts?
  • Cost:
    • Has the cost of any position/employee increased or decreased while working off-site? (IT support, supplies, lost productivity, time off, etc.)
    • Will the cost of maintaining a sanitary workspace for returning employees be cost prohibitive for our organization?
    • Are necessary cleaning products and equipment available?
  • Technology:
    • Do we have the necessary technology for employees to reasonably work off-site while
      maintaining information security, communication, etc.?
    • Do we have the IT support available to troubleshoot any issues?
  • Physical Space:
    • Have we reviewed the CDC’s Guidance on Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes
    • Is our office/building set up in a way that we can return people to work while practicing
      recommended social distancing measures?
    • Will we need to install any physical barriers, hands-free door systems, or other otherwise
      reconfigure our office layout as employees return to campus?
    • Do we need to install handwashing, physical distancing signs throughout our facility?
    • Have all physical spaces been disinfected, and is there a schedule to maintain a clean and
      sanitary environment?
  • Equipment:
    • Do we have enough equipment so that we can limit shared equipment use between staff, or
      are we able to limit equipment use to certain staff only? (i.e. copiers, fax machines, phones, etc.)
    • If implementing a staggered shift arrangement or office/work from home plan, is there sufficient equipment to ensure functionality and productivity?
    • Do we have possession of or access to all necessary PPE for employees returning to an on-campus workspace? (i.e. face coverings/masks)
    • Fleet & Facility Maintenance
    • Do we have the necessary supplies to keep our non-clinical fleet vehicles clean and disinfected?
    • Do we need to change air filters, etc. to reduce exposure and cross contamination in the building?
    • If we added new chemical disinfectants, are the MSDS sheets in present, up to date, and
      accessible for all employees?
    • Have all employees responsible for using chemical disinfectants been trained proper use to
      avoid injury?
  • Mental Health & Wellness
    • What is the cost of continuing a remote workforce? Are there mental health resources available to them through health insurance, employee assistance programs, or other wellness programs?
    • Is it feasible to have regular check-ins with employees to ensure they are coping with
      increased stress, lack of childcare, and change of workplace structure?
    • As employees return to on-campus workspaces, do we need to implement temperature screenings upon arrival?
    • Continue to work off-site requests
    • Some employees may request to continue working off-site. Is there a process in place to screen and evaluate those requests?

Resources

Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
CDC Guidance on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility
World Health Organization Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19

CMS Issues Additional Staffing and Licensing Waivers

On May 1, 2020, CMS updated its “COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Medicare Fee-for-Service (FFS) Billing.”  The full document can be viewed by clicking here.

In the updated FAQ, CMS answers three important questions related to ambulance vehicle and staffing requirements:

  1. Expired Ambulance Operating Licenses. CMS was asked whether a ground ambulance vehicle operating under an expired license could nevertheless satisfy the Medicare regulations related to vehicle licensing.  CMS indicated that the ground ambulance would remain in compliance with Medicare Program rules to the extent it was permitted to operate without a renewed license under a valid state or local law, regulation, or legally adequate waiver.  It is important to note that this is not a “waiver” of CMS rules per se.  Rather, CMS correctly noted that additional flexibility being provided is based on the state waiving or relaxing its existing rules related to licensures.
  2. Modified Staffing Requirements. CMS was asked whether an ambulance service that staffs its vehicles with personnel that fall below the previously required levels of certification would be in compliance with Medicare Program rules.  The Medicare regulations at 42 C.F.R. §410.41(b) set forth the requirements for vehicle staffing.  These regulations largely defer to state and local laws.  However, they do require a certain minimum level of staffing.  Specifically, the Medicare regulations require that: (i) BLS vehicles be staffed with at least two people, at least one of whom must be certified as an EMT and (ii) ALS vehicles be staffed by at least two people, at least one of whom must be certified as a paramedic or an EMT that is permitted to perform one or more ALS services (e.g., an EMT-Intermediate).  CMS is indicating that it is waiving this minimum staffing requirement under its 1135 Waiver Authority for the duration of the Public Health Emergency.  Under this waiver, CMS will consider the vehicle staffing requirement to be met to the extent state or local law, regulation, or waiver permits an alternative staffing arrangement.  CMS specifically cited examples where the state or locality would permit BLS vehicles to be staffed with EMRs instead of EMT-Basics, or ALS vehicles staffed with RNs instead of paramedics.  Note: claims submitted in reliance upon this waiver should be submitted using the “CR” modifier after the origin/destination modifiers.
  3. Ambulance Services Rendered Across State Lines. CMS was asked whether an ambulance service that provides care across state lines, in a state where it is not certified to provider services or in which its personnel are not licensed, would be in compliance with Medicare Program rules.  CMS indicated that it is using its 1135 Waiver Authority to waive the requirement under 42 C.F.R. 410.41(b) that vehicle personnel be licensed in the state in which they are furnishing services to the extent that: (i) they have an equivalent licensing or certification in another state and (ii) they are not affirmatively excluded from practicing in that state or any other state.  Please note that this waiver only applies to the Medicare certification requirements.  CMS lacks the authority to waive the licensing requirements of the other state or locality.  Thus, for this waiver to apply, you must be permitted to operate in the other state pursuant to that state’s laws, regulations, and/or validly issued waiver.  Note: claims submitted in reliance upon this waiver should be submitted using the “CR” modifier after the origin/destination modifiers.

Ground Ambulance Organizations Responsibly Protecting Patients on the Frontlines

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

Ground ambulance services and the organizations who provide them play a critically important role in helping America combat the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.  The members of the American Ambulance Association (AAA) are on the frontlines and often the first health care providers to interact with patients who suspect they are infected with the virus.  At the same time, ground ambulance EMTs and paramedics continue to care for patients who have other medical emergency and are now frightened about seeking health care outside their homes.

The Medicare program has recognized these new realities and has provided important flexibility during the public health emergency that eliminate barriers to providing the necessary care. For example, Medicare has expanded the destinations where ground ambulance can transport patients and suspended some paperwork requirements (such as the signature requirements on the PCS form) and audits during the public health emergency.  The AAA supports these modifications and has recommended two others:  (1) that patients who require medical isolation can get to/from essential medical appointments; and (2) that Medicare pays for ground ambulance health care services provided without transportation to assist in reducing hospital surge and allow patients to remain quarantined in their homes when necessary.

With the additional flexibility provided by Medicare comes additional responsibility.  As America’s health care safety net providers, ground ambulance service organizations are also committed to protect against fraud and abuse in the health care system.  Our members are equally committed to providing services in an ethical and responsible manner.  We recognize that oversight has diminished to ensure that patients get the right care at the right place at the right time.  The AAA encourages all of our members and others in the health care community to use their best judgment and rely upon the relaxed guidance only when necessary.  These guidance documents are not an opportunity to justify fraudulent or abusive behaviors.