CMS Grants State of Florida’s 1135 Waiver Request for Coronavirus Response

On March 16, 2020, CMS approved an 1135 Waiver request submitted by the State of Florida. The State had requested the flexibility to waive prior authorization requirements, streamline its Medicaid enrollment process, and allow care to be provided in alternative settings to the extent an existing health care facility needs to be evacuated. The key provisions of the waiver are summarized below:

1. Payments to Out-of-State Providers: Under current CMS coverage guidelines, the Florida Medicaid Program had the authority to reimburse out-of-state providers that were not enrolled in the Florida Medicaid Program provided certain criteria were met. However, this authority was limited to situations involving: (a) a single instance of care furnished over a 180-day period or (b) multiple instances of care furnished to a single Florida Medicaid beneficiary over a 180-day period. Under the waiver, CMS is removing the 180-day restriction for the duration of the emergency.

2. Expedited Enrollments: With respect to providers that are not currently enrolled in the Medicare Program or with another State Medicaid Agency, CMS is waiving the following screening requirements: (a) the payment of the application fee, (b) the fingerprint-based criminal background checks, (c) the required site visits, and (d) the in-state/territorial licensing requirements. Under the waiver, the state would still be required to check enrolling providers against the OIG exclusion list, and confirm that the out-of-state provider is properly licensed in their home state.

3. Cessation of Revalidation Efforts: CMS granted Florida the authority to temporarily cease the revalidation of enrolled in-state Medicaid providers and suppliers who are directly impacted by the emergency.

4. Waiver of Prior Authorization Requirements: CMS has granted Florida the right to waive any prior authorization requirements that are currently part of the State Medicaid Plan. This waiver applies to services provided on or after March 1, 2020, and will continue through the termination of the emergency declaration.

5. Waiver Allowing Evacuating Facilities to Provide Services in Alternative Settings: CMS will allow facilities, including nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, psychiatric residential treatment facilities, and hospitals to be reimbursed for services rendered during an emergency evacuation to an otherwise unlicensed facility. This waiver will extend for the duration of the declared emergency; however, CMS will require the unlicensed facility to seek licensure with the state after 30 days.

Understanding Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Coverage of Ambulance Services under a Declared National State of Emergency

On March 13, 2020, President Donald J. Trump announced a national state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Previously, HHS Secretary Alex Azar had declared a public health emergency under Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act in response to COVID-19.

This has prompted many AAA members to ask what impact, if any, these declarations have on the coverage of ambulance services under federal health care programs?

The short answer is that these declarations give CMS the authority under Section 1135 of the Social Security Act to waive certain Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Program requirements. This waiver authority includes, but is not necessarily limited to:

• Waiving certain conditions of participation and/or certification requirements;
• Waiving certain pre-approval requirements;
• Waiving the requirements that a provider or supplier be licensed in the state in which they are providing services;
• Waiving EMTALA requirements related to medical screening examinations and transfers; and
• Waiving certain limitations on payments for services provided to Medicare Advantage enrollees by out-of-network providers.

One situation where an 1135 waiver may be of use to an ambulance provider or supplier would be where the ambulance provider or supplier is sending vehicles and crews to a state that is outside its normal service area. The ambulance provider or supplier is unlikely to be licensed by the state in which it is responding. As a result, under normal circumstances, it would be ineligible for payment under federal health care program rules. The 1135 waiver would permit it to submit claims for the services it furnishes in the other state.

Of more immediate significance to the current national emergency, an 1135 waiver may permit hospitals and other institutional health care providers to establish an off-site treatment center for initial screenings of patients. For example, hospitals may establish triage sites in parking lots and other open spaces for the initial intake of patients suspected of being infected with the COVID-19 virus. In theory, this waiver could also extend to drive-thru testing sites to the extent they are operated by the hospital or another health care provider. When a hospital has obtained an 1135 waiver to operate an off-site treatment center, the off-site area becomes a part of the hospital for Medicare payment purposes. Therefore, ambulance transports to an approved off-site treatment area should be submitted to Medicare using the “H” modifier for the destination.

AAA Releases 2020 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2020 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2020 Medicare Rate Calculator tool. The AAA believes this is a valuable tool that can assist members in budgeting for the coming year. This calculator has been updated to account for recent changes in Medicare policies, including the 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor (0.9%) and the continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

2020 calculator

CMS Posts 2020 Public Use File

On December 2, 2019, CMS posted the 2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files. These files contain the amounts that will be allowed by Medicare in calendar year 2020 for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage. These allowables reflect a 0.9% inflation adjustment over the 2018 rates.

The 2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use File can be downloaded from the CMS website by clicking here.

Unfortunately, CMS has elected in recent years 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 has created a reformatted version of the CMS Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule, which includes the state and payment locality headings. AAA members can access this reformatted fee schedule at the link below.

2020 Ambulance Fee Schedule▶

 

CMS Cost Collection Call – December 5th

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has scheduled a call for Thursday, December 5 from 1:30-3:00 PM Eastern to review the new Ambulance Cost Data Collection System. If you plan to attend, register here.

CMS Ambulance Cost Data Collection

December 5 | 1:30 PM ET

2018 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2018 Medicare Payment Data Report. This report is based on the “Early Edition” of the 2018 Part B National Summary Data File (previously known as the Bess Report). The report consists of an overview of total Medicare spending nationwide, and then a separate breakdown of Medicare spending in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the various other U.S. Territories.

For each jurisdiction, the report contains two charts: the first reflects data for all ambulance services, with the second limited to dialysis transports. Each chart is further broken down by HCPCS code. The charts provide information on the total number of allows services and the total Medicare payments for CYs 2017 and 2018. Percentage changes will allow members to view payment trends over the past year.

2018 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

Questions? Contact Brian Werfel at bwerfel@aol.com.

 

CMS Open Door Forum & Member Q&A – November 7th

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has scheduled its next Ambulance Open Door Forum for Thursday, November 7 from 2:00-3:30 PM Eastern. If you plan to attend, please dial in at least 15 minutes before the call.

CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum

November 7 | 2:00 PM ET
Participant Dial-In Number:  1-888-455-1397
Conference ID #: 4676500

Questions?

Have more questions? The AAA is here to help! Following the ODF the AAA will be publishing a follow up blog post going over any updates and important announcements.

AAA Follow Up Q&A

November 7 | 4:00 PM ET
1-800-250-2600
Pin: 82802314#
Speakers: AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tristan North; AAA Healthcare Lobbyist, Kathy Lester, Esq.

CMS Announces 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor

On October 4, 2019, CMS issued Transmittal 4407 (Change Request 11497), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2020.

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 2018, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased 1.6%. CMS further indicated that the CY 2020 MFP will be 0.7%. Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for calendar year 2019 will be 0.9%.

CMS Announces Comment Period for National Expansion of Prior Authorization Process

On October 29, 2019, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted a notice in the Federal Register announcing an opportunity for the public to provide comments on the proposed national expansion of the prior authorization process for repetitive, scheduled non-emergent ground ambulance transportation.  CMS refers to this process as its “RSNAT Prior Authorization Model.”  The CMS Notice can be viewed in its entirety at: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2019-10-29/pdf/2019-23584.pdf.

Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, federal agencies are required to publish a notice in the Federal Register concerning each proposed collection of information, and to allow 60 days for the public to comment on the proposed action.  Interested parties are encouraged to provide comments regarding the agency’s burden estimates and other aspects of the proposed collection of information, including the necessity and utility of the proposed information for the proper performance of the agency’s functions, and ways in which the collection of such information can be enhanced.

In this instance, CMS is indicating that it is pursuing approval to potentially expand the existing RSNAT Prior Authorization Model nationwide.  Currently, the RSNAT Prior Authorization Model is in place in 8 states (DE, MD, NJ, NC, PA, SC, VA, and WV) and the District of Columbia.  National expansion is contingent upon CMS’ determination that certain expansion criteria have been met.  CMS is indicating that if the decision is made to expand the program, such expansion may occur in multiple phases.  CMS intends to use the information collected pursuant to this notice to determine the proper payment for repetitive scheduled non-emergent ambulance transportation.

In plain English, CMS is soliciting comments from stakeholders as to the efficacy of the current process, including whether the existing paperwork requirements are sufficient to ensure that approved patients meet the medical necessity requirements for an ambulance.  CMS is also seeking suggestions for how to best expand the program nationally, e.g., whether it makes sense to expand the program in phases, etc.

The AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee has been monitoring the current model for several years.  As a result, the AAA is in a good position to provide constructive feedback to CMS regarding the potential national expansion of the RSNAT Prior Authorization Model.  These suggestions will be included in the AAA’s comment letter.  The AAA also encourages members to offer their own comments.  The AAA anticipates providing members with a sample comment letter in early December that members can use to submit their own comments.

To be considered, comments must be submitted no later than 5 p.m. on December 30, 2019.  Comments may be submitted electronically by going to: http://www.regulations.gov.  Commenters would then need to click the link for “Comment or Submission,” and follow the instructions from there.  Comments may also be submitted by regular mail to the following address: CMS, Office of Strategic Operations and Regulatory Affairs, Division of Regulations Development, Attention: Document Identifier: CMS-10708, Room C4-26-05, 7500 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21244-1850.

CMS Announces Extension of Prior Authorization Program

On September 16, 2019, CMS published a notice in the Federal Register that it would be extending the prior authorization demonstration project for another year. The extension is limited to those states where prior authorization was in effect for calendar year 2019. The affected states are Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia. The extension will run through December 1, 2020. 

In its notice, CMS indicated that the prior authorization demonstration project is being extended “while we continue to work towards nationwide expansion.”  This strongly suggests that CMS believes the program has met the statutory requirements for nationwide expansion under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.  However, CMS indicated that it would use the additional year to continue to test whether prior authorization helps reduce expenditures, while maintaining or improving the quality of care offered to Medicare beneficiaries.

CMS has also updated its CMS Ambulance Prior Authorization webpage to reflect the expansion of prior authorization in the existing states through December 1, 2020.

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 2019, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased by 1.65%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2020. However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the number is likely to be in the 0.6% range.

Accordingly, the AAA is currently projecting that the 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be approximately 1.1%. 

Cautionary Note Regarding these Estimates

Members should be advised that the BLS’ calculations of the CPI-U are preliminary, and may be subject to later adjustment. The AAA further cautions members that CMS has not officially announced the MFP for CY 2020. Therefore, it is possible that these numbers may change. The AAA will notify members once CMS issues a transmittal setting forth the official 2020 Ambulance Inflation Factor.

CMS Open Door Forum & Member Q&A – August 28

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has scheduled its next Ambulance Open Door Forum for Wednesday, August 28 at 2:00 PM Eastern. If you plan to attend, please dial in at least 15 minutes before the call.

CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum

August 28 | 2:00 PM ET
Participant Dial-In Number:  1-888-455-1397
Conference ID #: 6609831

Questions?

Have more questions? The AAA is here to help! Following the ODF the AAA will be publishing a follow up blog post going over any updates and important announcements.

AAA Follow Up Q&A

August 28 | 3:00 PM ET
1-800-250-2600
Pin: 82802314#
Speakers: AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tristan North; AAA Healthcare Lobbyist, Kathy Lester, Esq.; AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair, Krista Cuthbert; and AAA Payment Reform Committee Chair, Asbel Montes.

New SNF PPS Edits Highlight the Importance of Facility Agreements

On April 1, 2019, CMS implemented a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits that are intended to better identify ground ambulance transports that are furnished in connection with an outpatient hospital service that is properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime.

These edits work by comparing the ambulance claim to the associated outpatient hospital claim.  Hospital claims were already subject to CWF edits designed to identify outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF.  These hospital edits operate by referencing a list of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that correspond to outpatient hospital services that are expressly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.  Hospital claims for outpatient services that are submitted with one of these excluded codes bypass the existing CWF edits, and are then sent to the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor for further editing and payment.  Hospital claims submitted without one of these codes are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing.

The new ambulance edits will extend these process one step further.  The ambulance claim will be associated with the outpatient hospital claim on the same date.  To the extent that hospital claim is bundled under SNF Consolidated Billing, the associated ambulance claim will also be bundled.  To the extent the hospital claim is unbundled, the associated ambulance claim will be unbundled.

In order for these new edits to work properly, there must be an outpatient hospital in Medicare’s claim history. If the ambulance claim beats the hospital claim into the system, the ambulance claim will be rejected. If and when an outpatient hospital claim with the same date of service enters Medicare’s system, the initial rejection of the ambulance claim will be overturned, and the ambulance claim will be reprocessed using the same edits.

It is important to note that the new edits were designed to reject the ambulance claim as a bundled service unless the hospital claim indicates that it should not be bundled.  In other words, these edits are designed to be “over inclusive.”  This over-inclusiveness creates the potential for ambulance denials in situations that, on their face, would not appear to be bundled.

A few examples will help illustrate this point. Imagine a situation where the patient elects, for whatever reason, to pay out-of-pocket for their hospital care (in a situation where that care would not be bundled to the SNF), and, as a result, the hospital does not submit a bill to Medicare for its services.  Based on how the new edits are designed, your ambulance claim for the transport to that excluded service will be rejected based on the lack of a hospital claim. Or maybe the patient has both Medicare and the V.A., and has elected to have the V.A. be the primary payer for their required hospital care.  Again, there would likely be no outpatient hospital claim submitted to Medicare on that date of service, resulting in the rejection of your ambulance claim.

I can see your point, but those examples are pretty far-fetched.  How big an issue is this really?

I agree those examples are pretty far-fetched.  However, there are other situations that create the same problem.  For example, what about an emergent response to transport an SNF patient to the hospital for necessary emergency services?  Imagine if you are called to respond late at night (e.g., 11:30 p.m.) tonight.  Now imagine that, by the time you get to the patient, load them into the vehicle, and transport them to the ED, it has crossed over midnight into the next day.

What date of service is going to be on the hospital’s claim?  Almost certainly, the hospital will use tomorrow’s date.  As a result, when your claim hits Medicare’s system, there will not be an associated hospital claim, which will result in your claim being rejected as the responsibility of the SNF.  In this situation, Medicare’s edit has worked as intended, but the result is the denial of a claim that should be separately payable by Medicare Part B.

Okay, I can see how this might be annoying,
but I can appeal the claim and likely win on appeal, right? 

Yes and no.  The problem is that you are not likely to win on either of the first two levels of appeal, as they are likely going to rely upon the information in the CWF.  I can see you possibly winning your appeal at the ALJ level…5 to 7 years from now.

In other words, the appeals process is unlikely to provide an acceptable resolution.  Instead, I think the majority of ambulance providers are going to look to the SNFs to make good in these situations.  Of course, the SNFs are likely going to disclaim liability, arguing (correctly) that ambulance transportation to an ED is an excluded service.

This is where the agreement with the SNF comes into play.  One key purpose of contracts is to allocate known risks between the parties.  In this instance, the “risk” that needs to be addressed is the possibility that Medicare might incorrectly reject your claim thinking it is bundled to the SNF.  I would argue that this risk should be absorbed by the SNF.  The transport to the ED should have suspended the patient’s SNF stay, which would have allowed you to receive a separate payment from Medicare.  However, the fact that your claim was rejected is proof positive that the CWF does not reflect the suspension of the patient’s SNF stay.  Indirectly, it also serves as proof that the SNF received a per diem payment for the patient on that date.  To me, the fact that they accepted the per diem payment means they accepted the risk of a bundled ambulance service on that date.  I would also argue that it was their failure to properly suspend the patient’s SNF stay that set in motion your denial.  Either way, I would be looking to the SNF for payment.

Based on my experience, the typical agreement with an SNF does not address this situation.  Frequently, these agreements do not even address the specifics of SNF Consolidated Billing.  Instead, I tend to see general language indicating that the ambulance provider will bill the SNF when payment responsibility lies with the SNF under an applicable federal or state health care program.  I doubt that language is going to convince an SNF to take financial responsibility for the situation discussed above.

The good news is that your existing agreements can easily be revised to address this situation.  The language I would recommend is something along the lines of:

“The parties acknowledge and agree that a denial from Medicare for SNF consolidated billing shall constitute conclusive evidence that a transportation service is the financial responsibility of the facility.” 

In sum, the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits are going to increase the frequency with which we are forced to look to the SNFs for payment.  In most instances, it will be a situation where the SNF is legally responsible under SNF Consolidated Billing.  However, there will also be situations where the over-inclusive nature of the edits results in the claim being incorrectly denied as the SNF’s responsibility.  The question becomes how you want to handle these incorrect denials.  Do you want to appeal and hope CMS reverses its decision?  Or do you want to hold the SNF responsible?  If you want to hold the SNF responsible, you will likely need to revise your agreements with the SNFs.

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

Summary of March 28, 2019 Ambulance ODF

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) held its latest Open Door Forum on Wednesday, March 28, 2019.  As with past Open Door Forums, CMS started the call with the following announcements:

  1. Ambulance Cost Data Collection – CMS reminded the industry that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, enacted on February 9, 2018, requires CMS to create a new cost data collection system by December 31, 2019.
  2. Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport Model – A representative from the Innovation Center within CMS provided an overview of the “Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport Model” or “ET3.” This is a 5-year pilot program intended to provide ambulance providers with greater flexibility to handle low-acuity 911 calls, by providing Medicare payment for: (a) ambulance transportation to alternative treatment destinations and (b) treatment at the scene. The CMS representative indicated that CMS is in possession of data that suggests that 16% of emergency ambulance transports to a hospital emergency department could have been resolved by transporting the patient to an alternative treatment site, e.g., an urgent care center. CMS estimates that had all of these patients elected to receive care in the lower-acuity setting, it would have saved the Medicare Program approximately $560 million each year. With respect to the operation of the model itself, CMS essentially repeated the information that had been previously provided on its webinars. You can view the AAA Member Advisory on the ET3 Model by clicking here.
  3. Ambulance Inflation Factor – CMS reiterated that the 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor is 2.3%.

Following the announcements, CMS moved into a Question & Answer period. The majority of the questions related to the ET3 pilot program. As is typical, many questions were not answered on the call; instead, CMS asked the individual to submit their question in writing. However, the following questions were answered on the call:

  1. Payment Rates under ET3 – CMS was asked whether the BLS base rate payment would be the BLS emergency base rate. It was not clear that the CMS representative fully understood the question, although she indicated that it would.
  2. Eligibility for Government Agencies – CMS was asked whether governmental agencies that operate 911 centers would submit applications to participate as part of the RFA process in the Summer of 2019. CMS responded that governmental agencies that operate 911 centers would not submit RFAs, but would rather wait for the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO), which will be issued after the ambulance providers and suppliers are selected for participation (expected to be the late Fall/Winter of 2019). CMS further confirmed that if the governmental agency also operated its own ambulance service that it would be eligible to apply for both aspects of the ET3 Model.
  3. Limit on Ambulance Providers – CMS was asked whether it would cap the number of ambulance providers and suppliers selected to participate in the program. CMS responded that, at the present time, it has no intent to cap the number of participating ambulance providers and suppliers at any specific number.
  4. Return Transports from Alternative Treatment Destinations – CMS was asked whether the model would provide for ambulance payment for the return transport after a patient was transported to an alternative treatment site. CMS indicated that the model does not provide for payment for the return transport.
  5. Definition of “Telehealth” – CMS confirmed that the model will use the same definition of “telehealth” used in other areas of the Medicare Program. CMS further confirmed that telehealth encounters require both audio and video connections.
  6. Approval of Alternative Treatment Sites – CMS confirmed that state and local regulatory agencies would have final approval over acceptable alternative treatment sites.
  7. Qualified Health Care Practitioner – CMS confirmed that a “qualified health care practitioner” would be an individually enrolled Medicare practitioner, which includes physicians and nurse practitioners. In some instances, it can also include physician’s assistants. CMS confirmed that the definition would not include registered nurses or advance scope paramedics.
  8. NOFO Funding – CMS indicated that, at the present time, it is not prepared to release additional details on the nature or size of the funding opportunities available to governmental agencies and their designees that operate or have authority over 911 centers.
  9. Medicare Advantage and Other Payers – CMS confirmed that the ET3 Model applies only to Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in FFS Medicare. It does not apply to Medicare Advantage enrollees, Medicaid recipients, etc.

Questions? Email Brian at bwerfel@aol.com

UPDATED: CMS Open Door Forum – Thursday, March 28

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has scheduled its next Ambulance Open Door Forum for Thursday, March 28 at 2:00 PM Eastern. If you plan to attend, please dial in at least 15 minutes before the call.

CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum

March 28 | 2:00 PM ET
Participant Dial-In Number:  1-800-837-1935
Conference ID #: 6695896

Questions?

Have more questions? The AAA is here to help! Following the ODF the AAA will be publishing a follow up blog post going over any updates and important announcements.

Update on New SNF Edits

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing.

In a Member Advisory issued last week, the AAA provided an update on a series of new Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

In our discussion of the implementation specifics, we attempted to answer the question of what would happen when an ambulance claim is submitted prior to the receipt of the associated hospital outpatient claim, and where the associated hospital claim eventually hit Medicare’s system. Specifically, we indicated as follows:

“The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code.  Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim.  At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment.  The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.”

On March 15, 2019, CMS responded to our request for clarification. Specifically, CMS indicated that it has instructed the SSM and/or its Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) to automatically reprocess claims that were rejected for lack of an associated hospital outpatient claim.

Upon reprocessing, the claims will pass the edits to the extent the associated hospital claim contains a HCPCS or CPT code that indicates that the hospital outpatient service was excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Such claims would then be forwarded to the MAC for further editing, and either paid or denied. By contrast, when the associated hospital outpatient claim contains HCPCS or CPT codes that suggest the hospital services should be bundled to the SNF, the claim will be reprocessed and denied by the MAC with a remittance advice code indicating that the SNF is financially responsible.

AAA Webinar on New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

CMS SNF Edits Go Into Effect – April 1, 2019

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing

On November 2, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 2176 (Change Request 10955), which would establish a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

Why these edits are necessary?

In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that, with limited exceptions, the SNF’s per diem payment includes medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay. The OIG’s report was issued in February 2019.

The OIG conducted a review of all SNF beneficiary days from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016 to determine whether the beneficiary day contained a ground ambulance claim line. The OIG excluded beneficiary days where the only ambulance claim line related to: (1) certain emergency or intensive outpatient hospital services or (2) dialysis services, as such ambulance transportation would be excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. The OIG determined that there were 58,006 qualifying beneficiary days during this period, corresponding to $25.3 million in Medicare payments to ambulance suppliers.

The OIG then selected a random sample of 100 beneficiary days for review. The OIG determined that 78 of these 100 beneficiary days contained an overpayment for the associated ambulance claims, as the services the beneficiary received did not suspend or end their SNF resident status, nor was the transport for dialysis. The OIG determined that ambulance providers were overpaid a total of $41,456 for these ambulance transports. The OIG further determined that beneficiaries (or their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $10,723 in incorrect coinsurance and deductibles.

Based on the results of its review, the OIG estimates that Medicare made a total of $19.9 million in Part B overpayments to ambulance suppliers for transports that should have been bundled to the SNFs under SNF Consolidated Billing regime. The OIG estimated that beneficiaries (and their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $5.2 million in coinsurance and deductibles related to these incorrect payments.

The OIG concluded that the existing edits were inadequate to identify ambulance claims for services associated with hospital outpatient services that did not suspend or end the beneficiary’s SNF resident status, and which were not related to dialysis. The OIG recommended that CMS implement additional edits to identify such ambulance claims.

Overview of new claims processing edits

In response to the OIG’s report, CMS issued Transmittal 2176, which implements a new series of claims processing edits to identify ambulance claims associated with outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF. As noted above, these edits will go into effect on April 1, 2019.

These new claims processing edits are somewhat complicated. In order to properly understand how these claims edits will work, it is helpful to understand that CMS already has claims processing edits in place to identify hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF. These CWF edits operate by referencing a list of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that correspond to outpatient hospital services that are expressly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Hospital claims for outpatient services that are submitted with one of these excluded codes bypass the existing CWF edits, and are then sent to the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor for further editing and payment. Hospital claims submitted without one of these codes are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. For convenience, the list of HCPCS and CPT codes excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing is hereinafter referred to as the “Exempted Codes.”

The new edits for ambulance claims will compare Part B ambulance claims to the associated outpatient hospital claim to see whether or not that hospital claim is excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.

Specifics related to new claims processing edits

Under these new edits, the CWF will reject an incoming ambulance claim whenever the beneficiary is determined to be in an SNF Part A stay if either:

  1. There is no associated outpatient hospital claims for the same date of service on file; or
  2. There is an associated outpatient hospital claim for the same date of service on file (paid or denied), but where that outpatient hospital claim does not contain at least one Exempted Code.

When an incoming ambulance claim is rejected by the CWF, it will be sent to the applicable Medicare Administrative Contractor and rejected (Part A Ambulance Providers) or denied (Part B Ambulance Suppliers) using the applicable Claim Adjustment Reason Code/Remittance Advice Remark Code for SNF Consolidated Billing.  In other words, the ambulance claim will be denied with an indication that youshould bill the SNF.

The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code. Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim. At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment. The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.

Potential concerns for ambulance providers and suppliers

Based on the current experience of hospital providers, the AAA is cautiously optimistic that the new edits can be implemented in a way that proper identifies ambulance transports associated with hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF vs. those that correctly remain separately payable by Medicare Part B.

However, the AAA has some concerns with the manner in which CMS intends to apply these edits.  Ambulance providers and suppliers are typically in a position to submit their claims earlier than the corresponding hospital, many of which submit claims on a biweekly or monthly cycle.  This creates a potential timing issue. This timing issue arises because the edits will reject any ambulance claim that is submitted without an associated hospital claim on file.  In other words, even if the hospital outpatient service is properly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing, the ambulance claim will still be rejected if it beats the hospital claim into the system. The hope is that CMS will subsequently reprocess the ambulance claim once the hospital claim hits the system. However, at this point in time, it is unclear whether these claims will be automatically reprocessed, or whether ambulance providers and suppliers will be forced to appeal these claims for payment.

One option available to ambulance providers and suppliers would be to hold these claims for a period of time, in order to allow the hospitals to submit their claims. By waiting for the hospital to submit its claim, you can ensure that your claims will not be denied solely due to the timing issue. This should eliminate the disruption associated with separately payable claims being rejected and then subsequently reprocessed and/or appealed. It would also give you a degree of certainty when billing the SNF for claims that are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. However, holding claims carries an obvious downside, i.e., it will disrupt your normal cash flow.

To summarize, the implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on whether to hold claims to minimize the potential for problems, or to continue their existing submission practices and deal with any issues as they arise.

AAA webinar on new SNF Consolidated Billing edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

CMS ET3 Model Webinar & Follow Up AAA Member Q&A Call – Wednesday, Feb. 27

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has scheduled a webinar on the new Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) Model announced on February 14, 2019.

The webinar will be held on Wednesday, February 27th at 1:00 PM EasternRegistration is open.

CMS ET3 Model Webinar

February 27 | 1:00 PM ET

Questions?

Have more questions? The AAA is here to help! Following the ET3 Webinar, the AAA will host a Q&A conference call open to all members.

AAA Follow Up Q&A

February 27 | 3:00 PM ET
1-800-250-2600
Pin: 73556603#
Speakers: AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tristan North; AAA Healthcare Lobbyist, Kathy Lester, Esq.; AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair, Rebecca Williamson; AAA Payment Reform Committee Chair, Asbel Montes.

Release: CMMI Announces Ambulance Innovative Payment Pilot Program

February 14, 2019

For Immediate Release
Contact Maria Bianchi
American Ambulance Association
202-802-9020
info@ambulance.org

CMMI Announces Ambulance Innovative Payment Pilot Program

Washington, DC – Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) announced the launch of the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model.  During the next five years, this model will test paying ambulance providers and suppliers when they transport beneficiaries to locations other than an emergency department, if the alternative location is more appropriate medically for the patient.  It will also test paying for health care services provided by qualified health care professionals or through telehealth at the scene even if the ambulance does not transport the patient.

While there are several important details yet to be released, this model appears to track the recommendations the American Ambulance Association, our members, and other industry partners have been working with CMS to implement.

“Over the last 7 years, the AAA and our members have been working to develop an innovative payment framework to modernize the Medicare ambulance benefit,” said AAA President Aarron Reinert. “We are pleased that CMS is taking this important step and look forward to working closely with Administrator Verma, Director Boehler and their teams on the details of the ideas announced today to ensure the appropriate implementation.”

Representatives of the American Ambulance Association also participated in the CMS announcement of this model today in DC.  Senior Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials including Secretary Alex Azar, CMS Administrator Seema Verma and CMMI Director Adam Boehler spoke at the event. AAA President-Elect Shawn Baird represented the AAA at the announcement.

While the details of the program are still under development and will be communicated through program guidance, a few general details were provided at the event.

The Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) Model, would test two new ambulance payment methods. Under ET3, participating ambulance service providers or suppliers would be able to receive payment for:

  • treatment in place with a qualified health care practitioner, either on-the-scene or connected using telehealth; and
  • for unscheduled, emergency transport of Medicare beneficiaries to alternative destinations (such as 24-hour care clinics) other than destinations covered under current regulations (such as hospital EDs).

The program will be national in scope and thus open to all ambulance service suppliers and providers who meet the program requirements, which are still being finalized. The program will be voluntary so providers and suppliers who chose not to participate can continue to be paid under current policy. CMS anticipates releasing applications for the program this summer and an anticipated start date for the program in early 2020.

While seeing the specific details of the program will be crucial, we are very pleased that CMMI is announcing its commitment today to test multiple innovative payment models for ambulance service providers and suppliers. The AAA and our volunteer leaders and members have been working in a collaborative manner with other EMS organizations for the last 5 years to develop an evidence-based, data-driven structural framework to support the adoption of innovative payment models for ambulance emergency and non-emergency services. In 2016, the AAA issued a joint statement with NAEMSP, NAEMSO, and NAEMT outlining this framework. During the last two year, the AAA has worked closely with the Congress, CMS and the CMMI to seek the implementation of this framework. To encourage as broad an adoption as possible, we have focused on achieving these goals through the regulatory process.

The AAA is committed to the development and implementation of innovative payment models.  It is critical that they be designed in a manner that will ensure their success. Adoption of the framework along with having the necessary data to establish reimbursement rates that reflect the cost of providing ambulance services will usher in a new era of ambulance services for not only Medicare beneficiaries, but also for all Americans. As part of the effort to modernize the ambulance benefit, ambulance service suppliers should be recognized as providers of health care services and not merely a transportation benefit. The days of merely driving patients to and from other providers are long gone.

We believe that our efforts and those of the Administration will help us achieve this exciting goal. The AAA supports expanding the destination site for 9-1-1 and similar calls, which is currently limited to hospital emergency departments. For some patients, it is more appropriate to take them to other types of facilities, such as rural health clinics, substance or behavioral health facilities, and inpatient psychiatric hospitals. Allowing ambulance services to use state and local protocols to help triage patients to the most appropriate setting will help address the opioid epidemic and better care for patients with behavioral health issues, as well as urgent low acuity medical conditions.

We want to thank the Congress and the groups at CMS and CMMI who began to lay the ground work for the next phase of innovative payment models last winter as well. We also greatly appreciate the efforts of other EMS representatives who worked with the CMMI to help push for the pilot program.

The AAA will continue to advocate for data and evidence-based changes to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule which allow ambulance service providers and suppliers to provide even better medical services to patients.

###

About the American Ambulance Association
The American Ambulance Association, formed in 1979, represents 500 ambulance services across the United States that serve their communities with emergency medical services, interfacility mobile healthcare, and community paramedicine 24/7/365. The Association serves as a voice and clearinghouse for mobile healthcare, and views prehospital care as an essential part of the total public health care system.