CMS Declines to Extend Temporary Moratorium

On January 30, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it had elected not to extend its temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These enrollment moratoria expired on January 29, 2019.

AAA Releases 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2019 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 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor (2.3%) and continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

Download the 2019 Rate Calculator

Update on Government Shutdown and Sequestration

As the government shutdown drags on the negative impacts continue to grow. If the shutdown continues through January 24, 2019, which is looking likely at this point, current law will require the Trump Administration to cut about $839 million from non-exempt federal benefit programs to avoid increasing the deficit. This is a result of the “PAYGO” (pay as you go) law which requires spending increases or tax cuts to be offset with cuts to programs or additional revenue to avoid increasing the deficit. As the largest nonexempt benefit program, it is likely that Medicare would experience the worst of these cuts through sequestration.

While the Trump Administration has not yet issued a sequestration order, there is a distinct possibility that one could be issued if the shutdown continues much longer. A sequestration order would mean an additional across the board cut to all Medicare providers, including ambulance services. Ambulance service providers are still feeling the impact of the 2% sequestration cut that has been in effect the past few years. Any new cuts would likely start out being targeted at administrative tasks which could slow payments to providers. Temporary cuts would be expensive for the administration to facilitate and is made more challenging by the fact that many important staff members are currently furloughed. There are also some at the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) who believe that these cuts could not actually be administered until the government is reopen.

The AAA will keep members informed of any new developments.

Reports of Ambulance Pilot Programs

Earlier this week, health care trade press reported that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) will be rolling out in the coming weeks several innovation pilot programs including a couple related to ambulance services. Over the last several months, the AAA has been meeting with CMMI and CMS officials about a pilot or change in policy to allow for coverage of transports by ambulance to destinations other than emergency departments. These efforts have coincided with efforts by others in the industry on alternative destination as well as reimbursement on some form of treat and refer of a patient.

The AAA is pleased that CMMI and CMS have listened to the recommendations of the AAA and other groups in moving forward on testing different policy changes. However, it is critical that the AAA and our members see the specifics of any pilot programs before we determine whether to support the initiative. CMMI cannot provide details of the program until available publicly and all the specifics of such programs are critical to whether they will be a success and if it will be a positive change for the industry and our ability to provide quality patient care.

We will provide you details of the pilot programs and the position of the AAA as soon as the details are made public. 

CMS Posts 2019 Public Use File

On November 28, 2018, CMS posted the 2019 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files. These files contain the amounts that will be allowed by Medicare in calendar year 2019 for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage. These allowables reflect a 2.3% inflation adjustment over the 2018 rates.

The 2019 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. Members can access this reformatted fee schedule here.

View Reformatted Fee Schedule

CMS Announces 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor

On November 30, 2018, CMS issued Transmittal 4172 (Change Request 11031), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2019.

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 2.9%. CMS further indicated that the CY 2019 MFP will be 0.6%. Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for calendar year 2019 will be 2.3%.

CMS Announces Extension of Prior Authorization Program

On November 30, 2018, CMS issued a notice on its website 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 2018. 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, 2019. 

CMS indicated that the extension will provide it with an additional year to evaluate the prior authorization program, and to determine whether the program meets the statutory requirements for nationwide expansion under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015.

CMS has also updated its Ambulance Prior Authorization FAQs and its Physician/Practitioner Letter to reflect the expansion of the program. The updated FAQ and Physician Letter can be downloaded from the CMS Ambulance Prior Authorization webpage by clicking here.

2017 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2017 Medicare Payment Data Report. This report is based on the Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary Master File. This report contains information on all Part B and DME claims processed through the Medicare Common Working File and stored in the National Claims History Repository.

The report contains an overview of total Medicare spending nationwide in CY 2017, and then a separate breakdown of Medicare spending in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the various other U.S. Territories.

For each jurisdiction, the report contains two charts: the first reflects data for all ambulance services, while the second is limited solely to dialysis transports. Each chart lists total spending by procedure code (i.e., base rates and mileage). For comparison purposes, information is also provided on Medicare spending in CY 2016.

2017 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

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

 

MedPAC Examines Beneficiary Use of Emergency Departments

During its October meeting, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), reviewed Medicare’s current policies related to non-urgent and emergency care, as these topics relate to the use of hospital emergency departments (EDs) and urgent care centers (UCCs). The Commission is examining this topic because the use of ED services in recent years has grown faster than that of physician offices.  At the same time, the share of ED visits that are coded as high acuity has increased.

The Commission is exploring Medicare beneficiaries’ use of EDs and UCCs for non-urgent services. In addition, the Commission is analyzing ED coding to determine if the increase in coding high-acuity visits reflects real change in the patients treated in EDs. This slide deck shows the potential savings Medicare could realize if beneficiaries shift certain care to the UCC setting.

During the meeting, the staff sought feedback from Commissioners for developing next steps. This topic will likely continue to be addressed in future meetings.

From the perspective of ambulance payment reform, the observations made by the Commissioners and staff would also seem to support incorporating scope-appropriate ambulance services in the context of community paramedicine or treatment at the scene with referral. While additional work needs to be done by the ambulance community before these services can be incorporated into the Medicare reimbursement program, discussions like the one at MedPAC last week, show the importance of getting the details right so that ambulance services can be part of new payment models likely to be considered.

The American Ambulance Association is leading the effort with the Medicare program to develop appropriate models that account for the cost of providing services through sustainable reimbursement rates, rather than the use of temporary grants. We are also focused on ensuring services align with the scope of practice laws. Led by the Payment Reform and the Medicare Regulatory Committees, our efforts include regular meetings and discussions with leaders at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as well as key Members of Congress. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about our ongoing efforts.

CMS Announces Revisions to Provider Enrollment Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program

CMS Announces Revisions to Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program

On August 20, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a notice in the Federal Register that it would be revising the terms of its Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program. These revisions became effective on August 20, 2018.

Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse. Based on this authority, CMS has implemented temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Under the Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program, CMS has the authority to grant waivers to statewide enrollment moratorium on a case-by-case basis in response to access to care issues.  However, since the implementation of the PEWD Program in 2016, CMS has identified a handful of technical issues that have complicated the implementation of the PEWD Program.  The revisions in this notice are intended to resolve these technical issues.

The specific revisions CMS is making include:

  1. In December 2016, Congress enacted the 21st Century Cures Act. Section 17004 of that law prohibits payment for items or services furnished within moratoria areas by any newly enrolled provider or supplier that falls within a category of health care provider that is subject to the enrollment moratoria.  This provision became effective on October 1, 2017.  CMS is revising the PEWD Program to waive the requirements of Section 17004 of the Cures Act with respect to providers and suppliers who were granted waivers under the PEWD.
  2. CMS is further revising the PEWD to create a second category of waivers for those providers or suppliers that had submitted an enrollment application prior to the implementation of the moratoria, but who were denied as a result of the implementation of the moratoria. CMS indicated that this new waiver authority was necessary to protect providers and suppliers that spent substantial amounts of time and money preparing for enrollment at the time the enrollment moratoria were county-based, only to be denied once the moratoria were expanded to the entire state.
  3. CMS is revising the PEWD to provide additional discretion regarding the effective date of billing privileges for providers and suppliers granted waivers under the PEWD.

Talking Medicare: DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing

Talking Medicare: Recent DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing

On July 17, 2018, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine issued a press release on a settlement that had been reached with an ambulance service in Maine. As a result of this settlement, the ambulance service agreed to pay $16,776.74 to resolve allegations that it had submitted false claims to the Medicare and Maine Medicare Programs.

While the Department of Justice’s press release referred to the matter as a civil health care fraud, that headline is somewhat misleading. The ambulance service was not alleged to “up-coded” its claims or to have billed for patients that did not require ambulance transportation. Rather, the ambulance service was accused of using monies paid to it by these federal health care programs to pay the salary and benefits of a woman hired to assist the company’s billing manager. The woman, who was not identified in news reports, had previously been excluded from participation in federal health care programs after surrendering her license as a pharmacy technician after being found to have inappropriately diverted certain controlled substances. The ambulance service apparently failed to conduct an exclusion test on this individual prior to placing her on its payroll. The ambulance service’s side of the story is discussed in greater detail in this article from the local newspaper.

This settlement provides a reminder of the potential liabilities associated with the employment excluded individuals. As the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) noted in its May 2013 Special Advisory Bulletin, the effect of exclusion goes beyond direct patient care. The OIG noted that excluded individuals are prohibited from providing transportation services paid by a federal health care program, using the example of ambulance drivers and ambulance dispatchers. The OIG further indicated that excluded individuals cannot provide administrative and/or management services that are payable by federal health care programs, even if these administrative or management services are not separately billable. In the above-referenced case, the prohibition was applied to the wages and benefits payable to the excluded employee.

Do we need to conduct exclusion testing, and, if so, how frequently?

The OIG recommends that all health care providers conduct exclusion testing prior to an individual’s employment, and then periodically thereafter. However, the OIG takes no formal position on how frequently these periodic exclusion checks should be conducted. The OIG does note, however, that it updates its List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) on a monthly basis.

Given the potential risks involved, I think monthly testing of all employees should definitely be considered a best practice. The hope is that this case serves as a cautionary tale for other ambulance providers.

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

CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Services

CMS Extends Temporary Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Services in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that it intends to extend the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  The extended moratoria will run through January 29, 2019.  Notice of the extension of the temporary moratorium will appear in the Federal Register on August 2, 2018.

Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse.  On July 31, 2013, CMS used this new authority to impose a moratorium on the enrollment of new ambulance providers in Houston, Texas and the surrounding counties.  On February 4, 2014, CMS imposed a second moratorium on newly enrolling ambulance providers in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas.  These moratoriums were subsequently extended on August 1, 2014, February 2, 2015, July 28, 2015, and February 2, 2016.

On August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to the moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers.  Specifically, CMS announced that: (1) the enrollment moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier and (2) the enrollment moratoria on non-emergency ambulance services would be expanded to cover the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.  At the same time, CMS announced the creation of a new “waiver” program that would permit the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in these states under certain circumstances.  The revised moratorium on newly enrolling non-emergency ground ambulance providers was subsequently extended on January 9, 2017 and July 28, 2017.

On September 1, 2017, CMS issued a notice on its website indicating that it had elected to lift the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017.  CMS indicated that this decision was made to assist in the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey.  CMS published formal notice of the lifting of this moratorium on November 3, 2017.

On January 30, 2018, CMS announced an extension of the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium on or before January 29, 2019.

CMS Non-Emergency Ambulance Transport Open Door Forum 7/26

CMS Issues Data Elements and Templates for Non-Emergency Ambulance Transports (NEAT): Open Door Forum for
Thursday, July 26, 2018 Just Announced

As part of its Patients Over Paperwork Project, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Provider Compliance Group (PCG) has been hosting quarterly listening sessions and reviewing the Request for Information submissions. The American Ambulance Association has been actively engaged in these efforts, highlighting the recommendations we submitted to CMS and the House Ways & Means Committee last year. These recommendations included suggestions as to how CMS could streamline regulatory requirements to eliminate duplicative requirements and reduce regulatory burdens.  In addition to these efforts, CMS has been working to standardize documentation data elements and establish templates that providers and suppliers can use to help make the current documentation processes less burdensome as well.

On July 24, CMS released draft documentation-related clinical data elements and clinical templates that could be used for the Physician Certification Statement, Progress Notes, and Prior Authorization requests. View the Documents. These documents are not intended to change current law.

CMS also announced yesterday that it will discuss the templates on a Special Open Door Forum which is scheduled for July 26 at 2-3 pm ET.  The call-in information is:

  • Participant Dial-In Number: 1-(888)-989-4575
  • Conference ID: 3068545

We have shared our concern about the short notice about the call and CMS has indicated it will continue to take comments on the documents after the call as well. The AAA is in the process of reviewing these documents closely and will develop a written comment letter to provide to CMS after the call on Thursday. We welcome input from all our members as part of this process.

While these new documents may be helpful for many services, the AAA also remains committed to move its recommendations which would result in some changes in the PCS and other ambulance provider and supplier requirements.

 

 

OIG Report on Overpayments For Non-Emergency Transports

OIG Report – Overpayments For Non-Emergency Ambulance Transports To Non-Covered Destinations

The Office of the Inspector General released its report Medicare Improperly Paid Providers for Non Emergency Ambulance Transports to Destinations Not Covered by Medicare“.

In sum, the OIG reviewed claims that Medicare paid for 2014 – 2016 non-emergency ambulance transports. The review focused on transports to non-covered destinations. OIG found that $8,633,940 was paid by Medicare for non-emergency ambulance transports under codes A0425 (ground mileage), A0426 (ALS non-emergency) and A0428 (BLS non-emergency) during this period of time.

The review was based solely on the claims and not based on a medical review or interviews of providers.

The claims that should not have been paid were to the following destinations:

  • 59% – to diagnostic or therapeutic sites other than a hospital or physician’s office, that did not originate at a SNF.
  • 31% – to a residence or assisted living facility (and not meeting the origin/destination requirement).
  •  6% – to the scene of an acute event.
  •  4% – to a destination code not used for ambulance claims or where no destination modifier was used.
  • <1% – to a physician’s office.

OIG recommended (and CMS agreed) that CMS:

  1. Notify the Medicare Administrative Contractors to recover that portion of the overpayment that is within the 4-year period in which claims can be re-opened.
  2. For the balance of the overpayment that is outside the 4-year period, CMS should provide the information needed for the MACs to notify the providers of the overpayments and have the providers exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and refund improper payments.
  3. Direct the MACs to review the origin/destination requirements for any overpayments following the audit period.
  4. Require the MACs implement edits to ensure they only pay for non-emergency transports that meet the Medicare requirements.

There is a chart in the report that indicates the improper payments for each jurisdiction. It is interesting to note that the overpayments range from a low of $515 (First Coast) to a high of $5,006,696 (Cahaba).

The report can be obtained at: https://go.usa.gov/xU5vf

CMS Open Door Forum & Follow Up AAA Member Q&A Call – Thursday, June 14

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has scheduled its next Ambulance Open Door Forum for Thursday, June 14 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

June 14 | 2:00 PM ET
Participant Dial-In Number:  1-800-837-1935
Conference ID #: 33271311

Questions?

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

AAA Follow Up Q&A

June 14 | 3:00 PM ET
1-800-250-2600
Pin: 73556603#
Speakers: AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tristan North; AAA Medicare Consultant, Brian Werfel, Esq.; AAA Healthcare Lobbyist, Kathy Lester, Esq.; AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair, Rebecca Williamson; and AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Vice-Chair, Angie McLain

Talking Medicare: A Good Thing Poorly Explained

On April 13, 2018, CMS released two Transmittals, Transmittal 243 and Transmittal 4021, and a related MedLearns Matter Article (MM10550). Collectively, these documents clarify Medicare’s coverage of ambulance transportation of SNF residents in a stay not covered by Part B, but who have Part B benefits, to the nearest supplier of medically necessary services that are not available at the SNF. This clarification relates to both the ambulance transport to the site of medical care, and the return trip.

In order to properly understand the clarification, it is helpful to review Medicare’s coverage of ambulance transportation provided to SNF residents. At the onset, it is important to note that Medicare draws a distinction between the first 100 days of a beneficiary’s SNF stay, and any subsequent days of the same stay. The first 100 days are commonly referred to as the “Part A Period.” Under current Medicare rules, all ambulance transportation provided during the Part A Period is the financial responsibility of the SNF, unless a specific exemption applies. Outside the Part A Period, Medicare’s coverage rules generally mirror the rules applicable to ambulance transports that originate at the patient’s residence. However, there is an exception that relates to transportation to and from therapeutic or diagnostic sites (i.e., those facilities identified with the “D” modifier). This clarification relates to transportation to and from diagnostic sites.

Medicare rules are clear that transportation of an SNF resident outside the Part A Period for the purpose of receiving medically necessary care that could not be provided at the SNF will be covered to the extent the ambulance transportation was both medically reasonable and necessary. This is true regardless of the type of facility to which the patient is transported. In this context, the term “reasonable” refers to the costs of transporting the patient to the site of medical care. Where it is cheaper to bring the patient to the service (e.g., an MRI or CT scan), Medicare will cover the service. Where it is cheaper to bring the service to the patient (e.g., certain minor procedures), Medicare rules indicate that the transportation would not be covered.

In other words, once an SNF resident is outside the Part A Period, Medicare will cover a medically necessary ambulance transport to a diagnostic site provided that it is cheaper to transport the patient to that site than to transport the equipment needed to provide care to the SNF.

As you can imagine, determinations as to the reasonableness of a particular service can be quite subjective. Moreover, these determinations can typically only be made on a case-by-case basis, i.e., it is extremely difficult for Medicare Administrative Contractors to make such decisions without seeing the ambulance trip report and other supporting documentation. As a result, CMS has historically given its MACs broad discretion to make these determinations.

The MACs have elected to utilize this discretion in various ways. Some MACs have essentially elected to rely upon the ambulance provider to make such determinations prior to submitting the claims. These MACs have therefore elected not to implement front-end edits for such claims.

Other MACs have elected to issue an initial denial, and handle reasonableness determinations through the appeals process. These MACs do so by implementing edits into their claims processing system that automatically deny claims submitted with the “ND” modifiers. However, because Medicare coverage rules indicate that transportation from anywhere to an SNF may be covered, these MACs do not have a corresponding edit to deny claims submitted with the “DN” modifiers.

The result is various inconsistencies in the ways claims for these situations are handled. Depending on the MAC jurisdiction in which you operate, a claim for an ambulance transport from an SNF to a diagnostic site (“ND”) for a beneficiary outside the Part A Period may be paid or denied. For those of you that operate in jurisdictions where the MAC denies this claim, you may also see the return trip either paid or denied. Note: if the transportation to the diagnostic site is denied as not being “reasonable,” the return trip should be denied as well.

It is these inconsistencies that CMS is addressing. Essentially, CMS is instructing those MACs that use claims processing edits to deny the “ND” transport to remove those edits. The practical effect is to force the MACs to use some other criteria to determine whether the roundtrip is reasonable (and, therefore, covered by Medicare Part B).

Please note that the coverage rules and clarification summarized above applies only to therapeutic and diagnostic facilities. It does not apply to ambulance transportation to and from a physician’s office. With the narrow exception of emergency ambulance transportation to a physician’s office as an interim stop on the way to a hospital, such transportation has always been and remains a non-covered service.

While I believe the change is, on net, a positive one for the industry, I would caution against reading too much into this clarification. CMS is not indicating that these transports will be covered in all instances. CMS is simply saying that, with respect to the initial processing of claims, it is willing to sacrifice some potential accuracy for the sake of greater national consistency. CMS in not restricting its MACs from using other means to make reasonableness determinations, e.g., the use of development requests, prepayment review, etc. While it is reasonable to assume that most MACs will elect not to utilize these tools, only time will tell if that is indeed what comes to pass. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy one of those rare instances where CMS used common sense, and removed an additional burden on our industry.

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

Update on Medicare Reimbursement Issues

The AAA would like to take this opportunity to update members on a number of issues related to Medicare reimbursement:

  1. CMS and its contractors have begun adjusting claims for ground ambulance services to reflect the restoration of the temporary add-ons. Section 50203(a) of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 retroactively reinstated the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services. These add-ons increase the applicable Medicare allowables by 2% in urban areas, 3% in rural areas, and 22.6% in “super rural” areas (over and above the corresponding rural rate), retroactive to January 1, 2018. On a March 7, 2018 Open Door Forum, CMS indicated that it had updated the Medicare Ambulance fee schedule to reflect these higher rates, and that it has provided a Change Request to each of its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). The AAA has confirmed that all MACs have successfully implemented the new rates, and that all are paying current claims at the correct rate. The AAA has further confirmed that MACs have started to adjust 2018 claims paid at the original (lower) rates. Unfortunately, neither CMS nor its MACs have committed to a firm timetable for the completion of all required adjustments; however, a number of MACs have indicated that they anticipate completing all required adjustments by the end of the second quarter of 2018.
  1. Further reduction in Medicare’s payment for non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 further required CMS to implement an additional 13% reduction in Medicare’s payment for scheduled, non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis. This reduction is on top of the existing 10% payment reduction. Collectively, this means that dialysis transports will be reimbursed at a rate that is 23% less than the rate that would otherwise be applicable to BLS non-emergency transports in your area. The AAA. is reminding members that this additional reduction in payments will go into effect for transports on or after October 1, 2018.
  1. CMS has updated its SNF Consolidated Billing file to resolve the error that resulted in certain ambulance claims being incorrectly denied as being the responsibility of the SNF. Each year, CMS updates the SNF Consolidated Billing file provided to MACs. This file contains several lists of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) codes, and provides instructions to the MACs on whether these codes: (i) should be accepted for separate payment under Medicare Part B or (ii) should always be denied for inclusion in the SNF Consolidated Billing system. Ambulance HCPCS codes (A0425, A0426, A0427, etc.) have always been included in the first list, as the issue of whether an ambulance transportation is bundled to the SNF is conditioned on the nature of the services that the patient will receive at the destination. To the extent the service the patient will receive at the destination is bundled, the ambulance services to and from that service will also be bundled, and vice versa. Note: there are two exceptions to this general rule. The first is that ambulance transportation to and from dialysis is specifically exempted from the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, and therefore will always be separately billable to Medicare Part B. The second exception relates to the provision of chemotherapy services furnished on an outpatient basis in a hospital. Chemotherapy services are generally bundled to the SNF; however, several years ago, Congress elected to exempt a number of particularly expensive forms of chemotherapy from the SNF bundle. In these instances, while the SNF is not responsible for the payment of the expensive chemotherapy, the SNF remains responsible for payment of the ambulance transportation to and from the hospital. Because ambulance codes may or may not be bundled to the SNF based on the nature of the transport, they are not automatically denied. Instead, the MACs are supposed to use further edits to identify those situations in which the ambulance transport would be bundled vs. separately payable. Unfortunately, in its 2018 update, CMS inadvertently left the ambulance HCPCS codes off the list of codes that are not automatically denied as being bundled to the SNF.  As a result, ambulance providers have indicated that claims were being denied using remark code “OA109.”  In some cases, claims for dates of service in 2016 or 2017 that were previously paid were being recouped. CMS recognized its error fairly quickly, and updated the SNF Consolidated Billing file in mid-February. All MACs were provided with updated instructions by February 27, 2018. Therefore, the issue has been resolved for current claims. What remains to be resolved is how CMS and its MACs will adjust or reprocess claims that were incorrectly denied. Several MACs have notified providers of the issue, and asked that they refrain from appealing the claims. These MACs are indicating that they will automatically adjust/reprocess affected claims. In other instances, the MACs have asked the providers to make a refund of affected claims that were previously paid, promising to then reprocess the entire claim. The AAA is advising members to carefully track the claims that were affected by this mistake, and to follow the instructions issued by their MAC for ensuring their reprocessing.
  1. CMS has delayed the mailing new ID cards to all Medicare beneficiaries. As part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, Congress mandated that CMS remove a beneficiary’s social security number (SSN) from their Medicare ID card by April 2019. As part of this initiative, CMS will be replacing the SSN-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) with the new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). CMS has already started mailing cards with the MBI to newly enrolling Medicare beneficiaries. CMS originally announced that it would be mailing new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries starting in April 2018, but recently indicated that it would delay the mailing of new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries until May 2018. From May to June, CMS will mail new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries residing in Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The mailing program will then be extended to additional states in 5 “waves” over the coming year. To the extent you provide services in the above-mentioned states, you may want to educate crewmembers and other employees on the differences between the HICN and the MBI. You may want to also consider updating your existing patient databases to include the new identifier. As a reminder, CMS will permit claims to be submitted with either the HICN or the MBI during a transition period running through December 31, 2019.  Effective January 1, 2020, claims must be submitted with a patient’s MBI. This requirement applies regardless of whether the date of service occurred prior to the expiration of the transition period.
  1. Extension of prior authorization project for scheduled, repetitive transports. In December 2017, CMS indicated that it would be extending the prior authorization program for an additional year. This program is currently in place for the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The extension of the program is limited to those states. CMS has further indicated that it will be making a determination on possible national expansion at some point in the near future. CMS recently released its first interim report on the prior authorization program. As expected, that report indicated that prior authorization has been successful in reducing Medicare expenditures on scheduled, repetitive transports, without any material impact on beneficiary access to and quality of care.

Have any questions about these updates? Contact Brian Werfel at bwerfel@aol.com

First Interim Evaluation Report on Medicare Prior Authorization

Talking Medicare: First Interim Evaluation Report on Medicare Prior Authorization (An 80-page report confirming what you already likely suspected)

On February 28, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted an interim report on its prior authorization demonstration project for repetitive, scheduled, non-emergent ambulance transportation. The report, titled First Interim Evaluation Report of the Medicare Prior Authorization Model for Repetitive Scheduled Non-Emergent Ambulance Transport (RSNAT), was conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan think tank. Mathematica studied the impact of the prior authorization model on Medicare payments, ambulance utilization, and patient quality of care.

Background

CMS implemented the prior authorization demonstration project in December 2014 in three states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina (referred to in the report as “Year 1 States”). These states were selected based on higher-than-average utilization rates and high rates of improper payment for these services. The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA) subsequently expanded the demonstration project to five additional states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia on January 1, 2016 (referred to in the report as “Year 2 States”).

The goal of the demonstration project was to study the impact of prior authorization on the utilization of ambulance transportation. Under the program, ambulance suppliers in the affected states would be required to submit documentation related to medical necessity to their Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) prior to Medicare payments being authorized. The MACs would review this documentation, and approve those they felt were medically necessary, while denying those patients that they believed could be safely transported by other means.

Reports Methodology

Mathematica was retained by CMS to conduct a five-year evaluation of the impact of the RSNAT prior authorization model.  Specifically, Mathematica was asked to evaluate the program on five specific measures:

  1. The effect of prior authorization on Medicare use and cost. Did the model realize savings for the Medicare Program?
  2. How does the prior authorization model affect the quality of and access to care for Medicare beneficiaries?
  3. How does the prior authorization model affect Medicare program operations? What was the impact, if any, of the model on MAC operations?
  4. How does the prior authorization model impact non-emergency ambulance suppliers’ and other health care providers’ behavior? Did ambulance suppliers and other health care providers change their behavior in response to the model?
  5. Does prior authorization impact improper payment rates, the rate at which claims are denied, and related program integrity concerns?

Mathematica indicated that it conducted its review using both quantitative and qualitative data analysis. It analyzed data from January 2012 through June 2016. Mathematica noted that it estimated program effects by measuring the change over time in certain key metrics between the pre-model years (2012 through 2014 for Year 1 States, 2012 through 2015 for Year 2 States) and post-implementation years (2015 through 2016 for Year 1 States, 2016 for Year 2 States) in the nine model states. It also compared these states against non-model states.

Because dialysis patients account for more than 75% of all repetitive transports, the report focused on ESRD patients.

Key Findings

The study concluded that the RSNAT prior authorization model successfully reduced the utilization of ambulance, as well as Medicare’s expenditures on repetitive ambulance transportation.  The report indicated that a reduction of nearly 70% in the nine states combined. This was associated with an approximately $171 million reduction in Medicare payments for dialysis transports. Interestingly, the study concluded that it also led to a reduction in total Medicare FFS expenditures for ESRD beneficiaries.

Not surprisingly, the Year 1 States saw more dramatic reductions than the Year 2 States. Mathematic attributed this to the fact that the Year 1 States were specifically selected based on higher-than-average utilization rates, while the Year 2 States were selected based on their geographic proximity to the Year 1 States. Mathematic concluded that national expansion would likely result in additional reductions in Medicare payments, but that the impact would likely be less than what was seen with the Year 1 States.

With respect to issues related to access and quality of care, Mathematica found little quantitative evidence to suggest that prior authorization had a negative impact on quality or access to care. The authors noted that they defined a negative impact quite narrowly, limiting it to emergency department visits, emergency ambulance utilization, unplanned hospital admissions, and death. The study did note a 15% increase in emergency dialysis use, which the authors noted might suggest that some beneficiaries were delayed in receiving ESRD treatment. The authors further noted that some beneficiaries who were denied approval could experience difficulty in accessing alternative means of transportation. Finally, the study did note that stakeholders, including ambulance suppliers, expressed concerns that some beneficiaries may have turned to other services — including emergency ambulance transportation and ED services — in response to being turned down for ambulance transportation.

The study indicated that the MACs reported that they successfully implemented the prior authorization model, and that they have adequate staffing to ensure that they meet CMS’ timelines for responding to prior authorization requests. The MACs did note, however, that there were some difficulties in implementing the program in the Year 1 States, which they attributed to their underestimating the required amount of training. The MACs self-reported that they did far better implementing the program in the Year 2 States.

The impact on the ambulance supplier community was mixed. Mathematica noted a 15% decrease in the number of ambulance suppliers per 100,000 beneficiaries in the model states after implementation. The majority of the ambulance suppliers that (euphemistically) “left the program” were smaller services that specialized in dialysis transports. Other companies reported that they reduced their volume of dialysis transports, or stopped transporting dialysis patients entirely. Not surprisingly, the ambulance supplier community believed that the coverage standards being used by the MACs were too strict.

Finally, Mathematica indicated that it was difficult to determine the prior authorization model’s impact on improper payments. This was partly due to the fact that improperly paid claims for ambulance services increased in both the model states and non-model states during the review period.

Analysis

Mathematica’s findings do not come as a surprise. Rather, they pretty much confirm what our industry has long recognized. The HHS Office of the Inspector General has long warned that dialysis transports are susceptible to overutilization. The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) concluded the same thing in a June 2013 report to Congress.

Moreover, the A.A.A. has acknowledged the potential for fraud and abuse in connection with these transports. It was for this precise reason that the A.A.A. pushed for prior authorization as a better alternative to reductions in Medicare’s payment for dialysis transports. Our position was that payment reductions failed to adequately address the underlying incentives for overutilization, and, therefore, primarily punished the legitimate providers of such transports.

To its credit, Mathematica acknowledged that factors other than the ambulance suppliers’ financial motives contribute to overutilization. Specifically, it cited the difficulty many beneficiaries face in accessing alternative means of transportation, even where such alternative means would meet the patient’s medical needs. Mathematica also noted the confusion that exists among other health care providers, particularly physicians, in terms of when Medicare would cover an ambulance. Long term, my hope is that this acknowledgement will pave the way towards more constructive conversations between the industry and Congress, CMS, and other stakeholders.

In the short term, the report clears a statutory hurdle that has prevented CMS from considering the expansion of the prior authorization model to the rest of the nation. It remains to be seen whether CMS believes this report is sufficient to make a determination on national expansion, or whether CMS will want to see additional evidence.

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 2018 Ambulance Open Door Forum

CMS held its latest Open Door Forum on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. As with past Open Door Forums, CMS started the call with the following series of announcements:

Medicare Fee Schedule – CMS indicated that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, enacted on February 9, 2018, contained several provisions that impacted the payment of ambulance claims under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule:

  • Temporary Add-Ons for Ground Ambulance – CMS indicated that Section 50203(a) of the bill extended the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services for an additional five years, retroactive back to January 1, 2018.  As extended, these add-ons will expire on December 31, 2022.  These add-ons increase Medicare’s allowable for ground ambulance base rates and mileage by 2% in urban areas, 3% in rural areas, and by 22.6% (over the applicable rural rate) for services provided in so-called “super rural” areas.
  • Cost Reporting – CMS indicated that Section 50203(b) of the bill would require ground ambulance providers and suppliers to submit cost data to CMS. CMS noted that the new law requires CMS to develop, no later than December 31, 2019, a data collection system to collect cost, revenue, utilization, and certain other information related to ground ambulance services. The law provides that cost data will be collected using a survey methodology, with a representative sample of ambulance providers and suppliers being asked to submit cost data in any given year.  Finally, CMS noted that, starting on January 1, 2022, providers or suppliers that fail to submit the requested cost data would be subject to a 10% reduction in their Medicare payments, unless otherwise exempted on the basis of significant hardship.
  • Additional Reduction in Medicare Payment for Dialysis Transports – Section 53108 of the bill provides that the Medicare allowable for non-emergency, basic life support transports to and from dialysis will be subject to a further 13% reduction.  This reduction would go into effect for dialysis transports with dates of service on or after October 1, 2018. This would be on top of the existing 10% reduction in Medicare’s payment for dialysis transports, for a total reduction of 23%.

Temporary Enrollment Moratorium – CMS indicated that the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new ground non-emergency ambulance providers in Texas was lifted on September 1, 2017. CMS further indicated that the enrollment moratorium was extended for the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania for an additional six months on January 29, 2018. CMS will need to make a determination on or before July 29, 2018 on whether to lift the moratorium or extent it for an additional six months in that state.

Following the announcements, CMS moved into a brief Question & Answer period.  Most of the questions were not answered on the call; instead, CMS took the contact information of the person asking the question, and indicated that they would respond directly to them at a later date.  However, the following questions were answered:

  1. CMS indicated that a Change Request had been sent to all Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) informing them of the new, adjusted fee schedule amounts. CMS further indicated that this Change Request, which it indicated was confidential, provided further instructions to the MACs on when and how to adjust claims initially paid at the original 2018 rates.
  1. CMS confirmed that the adjusted rates are retroactive to January 1, 2018. Accordingly, CMS indicated that claims paid at the original 2018 rates will be adjusted by the MACs at some future date.
  1. CMS indicated that it recently released its First Interim Evaluation Report on the Medicare Prior Authorization Model for repetitive, non-emergency ground ambulance transports. CMS further indicated that it was still reviewing this report, and that no decision has yet been made on the extension of this model within the existing 9 states and the District of Columbia and/or the expansion of the model to additional states.

Have questions? Please write to the Werfels at bwerfel@aol.com.

CMS Issues Notice on Extension of Add-ons

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice regarding the extension of Medicare provider provisions included in the Bipartisan Budget Act. The notice includes a paragraph with the details of the extension of the ambulance add-ons. The notice also states that “Medicare Administrative Contractors (MAC) will implement these changes no later than February 26, 2018 and will provide additional details on timelines for reprocessing or release of held claims impacted by these changes.”  As previously reported by the AAA, on February 14, CMS posted a revised Public Use File with the new Medicare ambulance fee schedule rates which include the 2% urban, 3% rural and super rural increases. We will keep you posted about any new developments about the reprocessing of previously submitted claims. 

Read the Notice

Questions? Please contact info@ambulance.org