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

March CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum & Follow Up Q&A

CMS LogoThe next CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum is scheduled for Wednesday, March 7 at 2:00 PM Eastern. Please dial in at least 15 minutes before the call. View Agenda.

CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum
March 7 | 2:00 PM ET
1-800-837-1935
Conference ID: 31612304

Questions?

Have questions after the CMS Open Door Forum? 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
March 7 | 3:00 PM ET
1-800-250-2600
Pin: 73556603#

AAA Releases Updated 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator

CMS Posts Updated 2018 Public Use File; OIG Guidance on Waiver of Small Cost-Sharing Balances Updated AAA 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has posted an updated version of the 2018 Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files (PUF). These files contain the Medicare allowed base rate reimbursement amounts for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage rates. These files reflect the restoration, retroactive to January 1, 2018, of the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services (2% for urban transports, 3% for rural transports, and the “super-rural” bonus) pursuant to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which was enacted on February 9, 2018.

2018 Fee Schedule

Accuracy of Rates and AAA Fee Calculator

The American Ambulance Association has reviewed the rates in this file and confirmed that the rates are accurate. The AAA has also revised its Medicare Ambulance Rate Calculator to reflect the five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons as well as other policy changes including the two-year extension (2026 and 2027) of the 2% Medicare provider cut under sequestration and the additional 13% (23% total) cut to BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers. The additional dialysis transport cut takes effect on October 1, and as a modifier, is not included in the Public Use File.

Download the 2018 Rate Calculator

Reformatted Version of PUF

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 ambulance services would necessarily know off-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 on the AAA website.

CMS has yet to announce a timetable for adjusting claims that were paid at the original fee schedule amounts. It is anticipated that CMS will make an announcement on this timetable in the next few weeks.

Coinsurance

One issue that frequently arises in these situations is how ambulance providers and suppliers should treat the additional coinsurance amounts that are generated when CMS and its contractors adjust claims from the original allowed amounts to the now higher allowed amounts. These additional coinsurance amounts are typically quite small. Ambulance providers and suppliers may determine that the costs associated with trying to collect these small amounts would likely exceed the amounts they could reasonably hope to collect. The question is whether writing off these small balances could be construed as a routine waiver of cost-sharing amounts, a practice prohibited under Medicare’s rules.

In 2010, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued guidance on this issue. Specifically, the OIG indicated that it would not seek to impose administrative sanctions on Medicare providers and suppliers that waive these amounts provided the following conditions are met:

• The waiver is limited to the increased cost-sharing amounts generated upon adjustment of claims previously paid at the lower allowable, i.e., it does not apply to cost-sharing amounts associated with claims paid at the increased allowables;
• The waiver is limited to the small balances created by the adjustment of claims, i.e., it does not apply to the cost-sharing amounts originally imposed on the beneficiary when the claim was paid at the lower amounts;
• The waiver must be offered uniformly to all affected beneficiaries;
• The waiver must not be advertised; and
• The waiver must not be conditioned on the beneficiary’s receipt of any items, suppliers, or services.

Assuming the above-referenced conditions are met, ambulance providers and supplier can safely write-off these small balances. Please note that the OIG is not indicating that ambulance providers and suppliers must write-off these amounts. Rather, the OIG is simply indicating that this is an option available to health care providers and suppliers impacted by retroactive adjustment of claims.

Download the 2018 Rate Calculator

2018 Fee Schedule

Congress Passes Ambulance Medicare Add-Ons

 

It is my pleasure to share with you that—just minutes ago—Congress passed the 5 year extension of the Medicare ambulance add-ons. The extension was part of the two-year budget deal reached by congressional leaders and passed by the Senate early this morning and then shortly thereafter by the House. The ambulance provisions in the final deal differ from the provisions passed earlier this week by the House in one key area – the collection of ambulance cost data. This means that we are truly in the endzone of the add-on payment extension process.

While we ask your continued patience as we jump through one last procedural hoop, I am confident that the add-ons will be back in effect as soon as the President signs the legislation. In today’s deeply divided political climate, I am proud of what we have accomplished through collaboration as an association and industry.

Here are the specifics of the final package:

  • 5 year extension of the ambulance Medicare add-ons through December 31, 2022, retroactive to January 1, 2018.
  • AAA’s preferred method of Cost data collection that provides flexibility to the Secretary of HHS in developing the system. Consultation with the industry is required so that it strikes the appropriate balance between obtaining meaningful data while not overly burdening or onerously penalizing the ambulance services.
  • The penalty for failing to report required data would be a reduction in payment up to 10% for the year following the year in which the data should have been submitted. AAA objected to the house proposed penalty of up to a year of Medicare payments clawback or withholding of payments. A clause is included to wave the penalty in cases of hardship.
  • A “pay-for” for the 5-year extension of the add-ons with a 13% cut to non-emergent dialysis transports – the AAA had objected to the offset and pushed for a cut targeted to just those entities which abuse the dialysis transport benefit. We were successful in reducing the initial cut from 22% to 13%. The AAA is actively working on other pay-for options that would replace the 13% cut with something targeting dialysis fraud and abuse.

Next Steps

All that remains to bring the add-ons into effect retroactively to January 1, 2018 are a few administrative formalities and the signature of the President, who has indicated his support of the agreement. Given the government shutdown, we are cautiously optimistic that this will proceed quickly. However, bumps are always a possibility—we will keep you informed! (Follow AAA on Twitter at @amerambassoc or Facebook for instant updates.)

Thank You

This week’s tremendous progress would not have been possible without months of effort by AAA volunteer leaders, advocacy experts, and staff, as well as support from our key champions in Congress.

I’d like to personally thank the AAA Government Affairs Committee, including Chair Jamie Pafford-Gresham and Vice Chair Shawn Baird, as well as the entire AAA Board for their hundreds of hours of hard work on this issue. We are all truly grateful for your dedication to moving mountains to find sustainable funding for EMS.

Last but certainly not least, thank you to the dozens of state ambulance associations and thousands of individual members who wrote letters to their Members of Congress in support of the add-ons. We truly couldn’t have made it this far without your support.

Again, thank you, and please stay tuned for final updates!

Mark Postma
President
American Ambulance Association
“Representing EMS in America”

House Passes Ambulance Medicare Add-Ons

Moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation which includes a five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance add-ons. The House voted 245 to 182 to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the federal government beyond the current expiration date of February 8. The CR included a package of Medicare provider extenders including an extension of the temporary Medicare ambulance add-ons.

The ambulance provisions in the CR include the following:

  • A five-year extension of the temporary Medicare ambulance increases of 2% urban and 3% rural to base and mileage rates and 22.6% to the base rate in super rural areas. The extension would be retroactive to January 1, 2018 and expire on December 31, 2022.
  • The requirement for ambulance service suppliers to submit cost reports. The language is based on H.R. 3729 as reported by the House Ways and Means Committee but with new language providing the CMS Administrator with the discretion to apply a payment suspension or overpayment as the penalty for suppliers that do not submit timely, accurate and complete data after the initial two years.
  • To offset the cost of the add-ons extension, a further reduction of 13% in Medicare reimbursement for BLS non-emergency transports to and from dialysis centers. The initial reduction was 22% but the AAA was able to help lower the estimated cost of the add-ons and thus lower the percentage of the offsetting cut.

The CR now goes to the Senate for its consideration. The Senate is likely to act tomorrow, February 7.

We will keep you posted of new developments. Thank you for your continued support of the American Ambulance Association.

Mark Postma
President
American Ambulance Association
“Representing EMS in America”

New Medicare Card Project CMS ODF Follow Up

CMS’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) held its special Open Door Forum on the New Medicare Card Project on Tuesday, February 6 at 2:00 PM Eastern.

Following the CMS call, AAA AAA Medicare Consultant, Brian Werfel, Esq.; and AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair, Rebecca Williamson hosted a debrief and Q & A.

Slides from today’s presentation are now available: View the Slides

Talking Medicare: Low Volume Settlement Option

Low Volume Settlement Option – A Viable Solution to the ALJ Backlog?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced a new initiative to help relieve some of the appeals backlog at the ALJ level. Titled the “Low Volume Settlement Option,” this new initiative appears, on its face, to offer ambulance providers and suppliers a viable alternative to the multi-year wait for an ALJ hearing.

First some background. In January 2017, CMS announced that there has been a 1,222% increase in the number of appeals submitted to the Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals, which operates the ALJ hearing system. The dramatic increase in the number of appeals was the result of several program integrity initiatives implemented by CMS in prior years, most notably, the creation of the Recovery Audit Contractor Program (RACs). As a result, there were more than 650,000 appeals pending at the ALJ-level as of September 30, 2016. CMS simultaneously disclosed that it currently processed approximately 92,000 appeals per year.

Doing the math, this meant that CMS could clear the existing ALJ backlog in a little over 7 years at its current pace. Of course, that made no allowance for new appeals that would be filed during that 7-year period. Moreover, appeals are not treated equally at the ALJ level. Appeals filed by beneficiaries are given priority, with the intent of issuing a decision within 60-90 days of filing. This necessarily means that appeals filed by providers and suppliers are moved to the end of the queue. A good metaphor would be airport security, with beneficiaries being given TSA Preè, and providers and suppliers being stuck in the normal lane of traffic.

Enter the American Hospital Association. On behalf of its members, who were disproportionately targeted by the RACs, the AHA filed suit seeking a writ of mandamus that would require CMS to adjudicate ALJ-level appeals within the 60-day time limit prescribed in the regulations. This case bounced back and forth between the circuit and appeals courts for several years, until December 2016, when a district court judge ordered CMS to eliminate the ALJ backlog by 2020.

CMS appealed that decision, arguing that it would be impossible for the agency to comply with the judge’s order without either (1) a massive increase in its funding level or (2) offering mass settlements to entire classes of appellants. CMS argued that only Congress could appropriate additional funds. CMS simultaneously argued that existing law prohibited it from offering mass settlements. Essentially, CMS was arguing that it lacked the authority to take the only step (i.e., mass settlements) that could reasonably be expected to alleviate the ALJ backlog. In August 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with CMS, and remanded the case back to the district court to determine whether CMS could legally comply with the order to reduce the backlog.

That brings us to the Low Volume Settlement Option (LVSO). Despite CMS’ previous argument that it lacked the authority to offer mass settlements, that is precisely what the LVSO does. Providers and suppliers will be given the option to settle eligible claims at 62% of the net allowed amount, regardless of the merits of the appealed claims.

How will it work? Providers and suppliers will submit an Expression of Interest (EoI) through a CMS web portal, indicating that they would like to explore the option of settlement. Depending on the provider’s or supplier’s NPI, they will need to submit their EoI during one of two 30-day periods, with the first (for NPIs ending in an even number) starting on February 5, 2017. CMS will determine the provider’s or supplier’s eligibility, and then provide a list of the claims it believes are eligible to be settled. The provider or supplier will have the ability to suggest additions or removals from that list. Once the list is finalized, the provider or supplier will have to make a decision on whether to settle all of the claims on that list. In other words, CMS’ offer is an all-or-nothing proposition.

There are some additional criteria for eligibility. Perhaps the most important one is the requirement that the provider or supplier have fewer than 500 total Medicare appeals across all of its associated NPIs. Once the provider or supplier is determined to be eligible, there are also restrictions on the types of claims that can be settled. To be eligible for settlement, the claims must have been appealed on or before November 3, 2017, and must still be pending. The total billed charges for all claims in a particular appeal must total less than $9,000. The claims must also be fully denied, i.e., they must not be denied in part or downgraded. Finally, this settlement option only applies to Fee-For-Service Medicare claims, i.e., it does not apply to Medicare Advantage claims.

Providers and suppliers that elect to accept the settlement offer can expect to receive payment within 180 days.

Brian, that is all fine and good, but will this actually help my organization?

Ultimately, that is a determination that every provider or supplier will need to make for itself. If you have already been given an ALJ hearing date and are 100% convinced you will win your appeal, there is little benefit in settling the appeal. If you are convinced you will loss the appeal, the offer to settle at 62% probably looks like a windfall. However, it is unlikely that your appeal falls close to one of those two extremes. The main difficulty in valuing CMS’ offer is not knowing how long you might wait to get an ALJ hearing. A year is one thing, a 10-year wait is something else entirely.

That being said, there is little harm in submitting an Expression of Interest, and seeing which claims CMS would be willing to settle. For that reason, my recommendation is for every A.A.A. member to enroll in the program, and to wait for CMS to provide the spreadsheet of the claims it would be willing to settle before making any decision.

If you are interested in learning more about the Low Volume Settlement Offer, the AAA hosted a recent webinar on the initiative. Order the webinar on demand.


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

On January 30, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice in the Federal Register extending 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 July 29, 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 or before July 29, 2018, CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium.


Have any Medicare questions? Contact Brian at bwerfel@aol.com

CMS ODF and Follow Up Call Cancelled

UPDATE: The CMS Open Door Forum and Follow Up Q&A Call have been postponed until further notice.

CMS’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) will hold a special Open Door Forum on the New Medicare Card Project on Tuesday, January 23 at 2:00 PM Eastern. If you plan to attend, please dial in at least 15 minutes before the call.

Following the CMS call, AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tristan North, will moderate a Q&A call for members. To answer your questions, AAA Medicare Consultant, Brian Werfel, Esq.; AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair, Rebecca Williamson; and AAA Medicare Regulatory Vice-Chair, Angie (Lehman) McLain will be on the line.

 

Should I Hold My Medicare Claims?

The Great Medicare Debate: Should I Hold My Medicare Claims?

By: Brian S. Werfel, Esq. and Rebecca Williamson, Chair, AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee

Ambulance suppliers face an important decision at the start of every calendar year on whether to hold their Medicare claims for the first few weeks of the calendar year.

This decision historically revolved around the patient’s Medicare Part B deductible ($183 in 2018).  The argument in favor of holding claims was that a brief claims hold would allow time for the patient’s deductible to be satisfied by another health care provider, thereby relieving the ambulance supplier of the time and expense involved in billing the patient (or their secondary insurance) for the deductible.  Ambulance suppliers that hold claims believe that this ultimately results in higher collections.  The argument against holding claims is that any increase in overall collections is likely to be minimal, and that the resulting disruption to the company’s cash flow more than offsets any potential benefits from those higher collections.

This year, the debate is complicated by the events surrounding the expiration of the temporary add-ons for urban, rural, and super-rural ground ambulance transports on December 31, 2017.  These temporary add-ons increased the Medicare allowables by 2%, 3%, and 22.6%, respectively.  Congress failed to act upon these temporary add-ons prior to its adjournment.  However, there remains strong bipartisan support for reinstating these add-ons – – and Medicare extenders for other types of Medicare providers – – early in the 2018 Legislative Calendar.  The AAA’s political consultants believe these Medicare extenders will likely be included in the next government funding legislation, which must be passed by January 19, 2018.

Assuming our temporary add-ons are reinstated, they are likely to be made retroactive to January 1, 2018.  This would require CMS to retroactively adjust claims previously paid at the current (lower) rate.  This may also require secondary payers, including State Medicaid Programs, to retroactively adjust their payment amounts to reflect increased cost-sharing amounts.  There is precedent for these sort of retroactive adjustments.  Most recently, the Affordable Care Act, which was enacted on March 23, 2010, provided for a reinstatement of these same temporary add-ons, retroactive to January 1, 2010.

In this inaugural edition of the Great Medicare Debate, AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair Rebecca Williamson and AAA Medicare Consultant Brian S. Werfel, Esq. debate the merits of holding claims pending a resolution of the add-on issue vs. submitting claims.

Ambulance suppliers would likely benefit from holding their claims for some period of time pending clarity on the status of our temporary add-ons.


Rebecca Williamson, Chair of the AAA’s Medicare Regulatory Committee:

According to CMS, 73% of all ambulance service suppliers bill less than 1,000 Medicare covered transports per year. Additionally, 54% of ambulance suppliers bill less than 250 Medicare covered transports per year. Assuming an average claim amount of $400.00 per call (base rate plus mileage), an ambulance supplier with 1,000 Medicare covered transports per year could collect approximately $320,000.00 per year in a best case scenario ($400,000.00 X 80%). This leaves the service with copays of $80,000.00 to be collected from patients. By adding $183.00 as a deductible for each of these 1,000 patients, the collection from Medicare decreases to only $173,600.00. This means the service now must collect an additional $43,400.00 . In other words, if the patient has not met the deductible, the deductible is applied first and a $400.00 allowable becomes a $217.00 allowable. Medicare now pays 80% of $217.00 which is $173.60. Multiplied by 1,000 claims, Medicare pays a total of $173,600.00 and the balance owed to the supplier is the deducible of $183,000.00 and copayments of $43,400.00.

By holding claims for a brief period, usually thirty days, ambulance services increase the likelihood that another provider, often a hospital, will file claims with Medicare first, meaning collecting patients’ deductibles becomes the facilities’ responsibility.

Of course these numbers are only examples and many factors affect the actual billing and collection process. Some Medicare beneficiaries will promptly pay the deductible, many will have secondary payers or insurances, and a certain percentage will be dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, all of which results in higher collection ratios for the ambulance service. However, in plain terms, collecting $320,000.00 versus $173,600.00  can make a very real difference in the viability of a small service.  Each service should look carefully at its own payer mix, patient statistics, and demographics to determine individual service projections.

Another good reason to hold claims, this year in particular, is the almost certainty of Congress reinstating the extenders. For those of us who have been in this industry for a long time, the expiration of the add-ons this year is a painful reminder of 2010  when the extenders expired and were not reinstated until March 23, 2010. It wasn’t until July 2010 that CMS even began the process of correcting previously processed claims , and by January 2011 many claims were still outstanding and had not been completely reprocessed. Also by that time, which could have been as long as a year after the date of service, many secondary payers were either unwilling or unable to retroactively correct the reprocessed claims. Some Medicaid states, such as Oklahoma, simply did not have the manpower or ability to even attempt it.

The administrative burden imposed on ambulance suppliers by having claims retroactively reprocessed by CMS, then reprocessed again by secondary payers – potentially incorrectly, if at all – along with the many manual adjustments required in-house, make it even more attractive to advocate and advise holding claims for as long as financially feasible. Of course not every service has the cash reserve to be able to do this, and I would generally not advise holding claims for as long as it may take for Congress to reinstate the extenders and for CMS to implement the correction  for services who cannot afford to, but for those who can, not only will they almost certainly increase the amount of payments collected, they will decrease overhead administrative costs.

I am very optimistic that Congress will include the ambulance extenders in legislation as well as being optimistic that it will be sooner rather than later. I know others disagree, but the higher likelihood of it happening versus not, make this a good bet to take. 

Ambulance suppliers should disregard the status of the temporary add-ons when making their decision on whether to hold claims for some period of time


By: Brian S. Werfel, Esq.:

Rebecca makes a strong argument about the benefits of holding claims.  Moreover, I have long advocated in favor of holding claims for the patient’s deductible.  For these reasons, I would understand if ambulance suppliers elect to hold claims for the patient deductible.  However, I would question the wisdom of holding claims pending further clarity on the status of the temporary add-ons.

My argument against holding claims for that reason boils down to a single word: uncertainty.  In this context, I am referring to four specific types of uncertainty:

  1. Uncertainty over whether the temporary add-ons will be extended.
  2. To the extent legislation is passed extending the temporary add-ons, uncertainty as to whether the higher rates will be made retroactive to January 1, 2018.
  3. To the extent legislation is passed extending the temporary add-ons, uncertainty as to how quickly CMS will implement the revised rates for new claims and adjust claims paid at the original, lower rates.
  4. Uncertainty over how the various secondary payers will handle their adjustments.

With respect to the extension of the add-ons, I agree that they are likely to be included with other Medicare adjusters in the budget resolution that must pass before January 19, 2018.  Likewise, at this point, there is no reason to think that these add-ons will not be made retroactive to January 1, 2018.  However, there are no guarantees.  It is possible that the Republicans and Democrats fail to reach agreement on the larger budgetary issues, including the status of the so-called “Dreamers”, and a government shutdown results.

My larger concern relates to how quickly CMS revises its fee schedule, and implements instructions to its contractors.  As Scott noted above, the last time we faced this issue was in 2010.  The Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010.  However, CMS didn’t issue a transmittal to its contractors until May 21, 2010, and even then, didn’t instruct its contractors to start paying the higher rates until July 6, 2010.

In other words, if you elected to hold claims to avoid having them paid and then reprocessed, you would have needed to hold claims for more than 6 months.

To me, the strongest argument for holding claims is not how Medicare would handle the adjustment.  I recognize the administrative burden created by having to post and then re-post the same claim once it was adjusted.  However, I trust that CMS will eventually get it right (emphasis on eventually).

I have far less confidence in how the secondary payers, including State Medicaid Programs, will handle the adjustments.  When this happened in 2010, we had numerous reports from A.A.A. members of secondary payers incorrectly processing the adjustment.  For example, some State Medicaid Programs didn’t simply issue a supplemental check for the higher copayment.  Instead, the Medicaid Program took back its initial payment, and then reprocessed the claim in its entirety.  Unfortunately, in some instances, the Medicaid rates changed in the interim, and Medicaid then repaid a lower amount.  In other instances, they failed to repay the patient’s deductible.  Similar issues were noted with commercial secondary payers, Medicaid managed care organizations, etc.

In sum, if your company has historically held claims during the first few weeks of the year for the patient’s deductible, I see no reason to discontinue that practice.  If, however, you historically submitted claims without regard to the patient’s deductible, I see little benefit to holding claims pending action by Congress on our add-ons.


Have any Medicare questions? Contact Brian at bwerfel@aol.com

AAA Spearheads Medicare Provider Extension Letter

AAA Spearheads Medicare Provider Letter
Supporting Add-ons Extension

The AAA spearheaded a letter by a coalition of Medicare providers urging congressional leaders to pass a Medicare provider extender package by January 19. This is part of the AAA’s ongoing efforts to ensure that the Medicare ambulance add-ons are extended as soon as possible.

Many thanks to John Jonas and the team at Akin Gump for taking the lead on reaching out to other Medicare provider organizations. The AAA was able to secure the support of twenty organizations on the letter and the letter has been to congressional leaders as well as all congressional offices.

Read the Letter

The organizations that singed on to the letter are:

American Ambulance Association (AAA)
American Health Care Association (AHCA)
American Medical Rehabilitation Providers Association (AMRPA)
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
Association of Critical Care Transport (ACCT)
Brain Injury Association of America
Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
Emergency Department Practice Management Association
Falling Forward Foundation
Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes, Inc. (FOTO)
National Association for Home Care & Hospice
National Association for the Support of Long Term Care (NASL)
National Association of Emergency Medical Service Physicians
National Center for Assisted Living
National Rural Health Association (NRHA)
Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare
Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association
Texas Association for Home Care and Hospice
United Spinal Association

While we believe we may be approaching the endzone on the extender renewals, we must continue to push Congress to do what is right for EMS. Now, more than ever, we need you to add your voice to those of AAA, state-level ambulance associations, and thousands of your peers. Please take a moment today to send Congress your message of support for the Medicare ambulance add-ons—it takes just two clicks. Write a letter now

 

President’s Perspective: January 2018

Dear Fellow AAA Members,

Happy New Year from the American Ambulance Association!

This year promises to bring new challenges and opportunities for ambulance services. As your association, AAA, its experts, and the whole member community will be there to support you every step of the way.

Advocacy Update

If you’ve missed your recent member advocacy emails, you may be wondering “What is going on with the add-ons?!” I’d like to address this first and foremost.

Despite the best efforts of the American Ambulance Association and other industry stakeholders, the temporary Medicare ambulance increases expired December 31. However, please rest assured that the AAA lobbying team, volunteer leadership, and staff are working tirelessly around-the-clock to advocate for this critical EMS revenue.

The good news is that the end may be in sight. However, we must remain engaged, active, and unified as an industry to carry this effort through in the face of the today’s contentious and unpredictable political climate.

Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate are working toward a long-term extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  As part of these negotiations, the House and Senate are working through the details of a Medicare provider extender package. Thanks to the work of our lobbying team and countless Hill visits, phone calls and letters by dedicated AAA members and our supporters on Capitol Hill, both the House and Senate proposals include five-year extensions of the ambulance increases retroactive to January 1, 2018.

We are cautiously optimistic that Congress will include CHIP in the next Continuing Resolution (CR) on or around January 19. Depending on the outcomes of last-minute discussions, the Medicare provider extender package may be attached to the CHIP bill or moved forward separately shortly thereafter.  However, of course, Congress in 2018 is predictably unpredictable: we ask for your patience, and your continued confidence that AAA is doing everything possible on this issue.

To support this effort, AAA joined forces with other healthcare industry groups to send a letter to Congress urging them to pass the larger Medicare provider extender package. The AAA has also made the case to Congress that it must act now on the ambulance extension as ambulance service providers and suppliers are first responders and cannot afford to hold claims for prolonged periods of time. Congress must therefore move immediately to ensure that our nation’s health care safety net is not put at risk. We pointed out that submitting claims with the increases paid retroactively could result in long delays in providers and suppliers getting the additional funds, an unacceptable risk for an EMS network made up primarily of small providers. As a last resort, we have asked that if Congress cannot address a Medicare provider extender package by January 19 that they pass a short-term extension of the ambulance increases to sustain our operations.

The AAA is also working with congressional offices and committees of jurisdiction to implement a workable system for collecting cost data from ambulance service providers and suppliers and on an offset focused on reducing reimbursement just for those entities which abuse the dialysis transport benefit. The reality is that ambulance services will have to report their costs to the federal government. However, AAA will work to ensure that the system implemented is fair and does not place undue burden on ambulance services or subject ambulance services to standards and penalties that are not applied to other Medicare providers.

While we believe we may be approaching the endzone on the extender renewals, we must continue to push Congress to do what is right for EMS. Now, more than ever, we need you to add your voice to those of AAA, state-level ambulance associations, and thousands of your peers. Please take a moment today to send Congress your message of support for the Medicare ambulance add-onsit takes just two clicks. Write a letter now>

Our advocacy team will continue to provide frequent updates as we work to keep this issue at the forefront.

Stars of Life

Despite the challenges on the Hill, I look forward to seeing many of you in Washington, DC in June at Stars of Life. Stars recognizes EMS providers from across the nation who have served their communities with great distinction. The Stars, accompanied by their executive-level Hosts, meet with legislators to shine a light on the importance of ambulance services to our healthcare network. Nominate your Stars today, and help AAA celebrate the best in EMS! (Early bird registration rates end March 31.)

Renew Your Support of AAA

Has your organization renewed its AAA membership? Your continued support is critically important as AAA fights for fair ambulance reimbursement. Membership also include benefits such as free use of the Savvik Buying Group, complimentary CISM and EAP-based counseling for your employees, and access to industry experts on Medicare, operations, and HR.

If you have already renewed, please accept our most sincere thanks. If you have not yet submitted payment for this year’s membership, I encourage you to renew online or reach out to staff at info@ambulance.org for assistance.

AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show

The 2017 AAA Annual Conference was an overwhelming success. In addition to powerful industry-centric presentations on leadership, reimbursement, and operations, this year’s AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show featured three inspiring keynotes—Steven M.R. Covey, Mel Robbins, and Dr. Zubin “ZDoggMD” Damania. Additionally, we honored AMBY Award winners and those who responded to the tragic Route 91 shootings. Check out the photo album for AAA 2017 on our Facebook page.

I hope that you will join me and hundreds of our colleagues for networking, learning, and fun in Las Vegas at next year’s Annual event September 6–8Early bird registration is open now!

Webcasts & Regional Workshops

AAA is working hard to make it easier than ever to educate your team. Join us in 2018 for a variety of live and on-demand webcasts as well as convenient regional workshops. Upcoming webinar topics include sexual harassment, CMS low volume settlements, and cybersecurity. This year, we are also proud to host one-day workshops in each of AAA’s five regions (calendar soon to be announced).

Thank You, Members!

I would like to give special thanks to the members who dedicate their time and thought to AAA’s board, committees, and task forces. We literally could not do it without you.

It continues to be my pleasure to serve these individuals, as well as the many other talented, dedicated healthcare professionals who make up the AAA membership. We deeply appreciate your continued support, participation, and unity. Thank you!

—POST!
Mark Postma—President
American Ambulance Association
Representing EMS in America

 

Summary of December 2017 Ambulance Open Door Forum

On December 14, 2017, CMS held its latest Open Door Forum. As usual, it started with a few announcements, as follows:

  1. Ambulance Inflation Factor – CMS announced that it had published Transmittal 3893 on October 27, 2017, which sets forth the Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2018. In that Transmittal, CMS indicated that the CY 2018 AIF would be 1.1%. This is based on an increase in the CPI-U of 1.6%, and a multi-factor productivity adjustment of 0.5%.
  1. Expiration of Temporary Adjustments – CMS indicated that the current temporary adjustments for urban (2%), rural (3%) and super rural ground ambulance transports are set to expire on December 31, 2017. CMS also indicated that they were aware of proposed legislation that would extend these adjustments for 2018 and beyond, but that they have yet to be enacted into law.
  1. CY 2018 Public Use File – CMS indicated that the Public Use File on its website has been updated to include Medicare allowables for 2018. CMS made a point of noting that the 2018 rates do not include the temporary adjustments, as they are set to expire on December 31, 2017.
  1. Prior Authorization Demonstration Project – CMS indicated that it had decided to extend the Prior Authorization Demonstration Project for schedule, non-emergency ground ambulance transportation of repetitive patients for another year. The extension is limited to the 8 states (DE, MD, NJ, NC, PA, SC, VA, and WV) and the District of Columbia in which the program was in effect in 2017.  CMS further indicated that the extension would be effective for dates of service on or after December 5, 2018.  As a result, claims for dates of service between December 2 and December 4 would not be subject to prepayment review if a prior authorization was not received; however, ambulance providers in these states would be permitted to request prior authorization for those dates. CMS further indicated that it had developed a “streamlined” process to allow for prior authorization of transports in situations where the patient was approved for transport, but where the duration of the authorization was shortened from the normal 60-day period to account for the program’s scheduled expiration on December 1, 2017. An example would be an authorization that was granted for transports starting on November 1, 2017. The provider was likely given authorization for only a 30-day period. The streamlined process would allow them to submit a request to allow that 30-day authorization to be extended to a fully 60 days. CMS indicated that the streamlined process would not require the submission of medical records to establish medical necessity for the ambulance.

As with previous forums, CMS then fielded questions from the audience. The majority of these questions focused on the prior authorization process. As with previous ODFs, CMS declined to answer most of the questions on the call, instead asking the provider to submit their questions to CMS via email.

CMS did answer the following questions on the call:

  1. CMS was asked when it anticipated issuing its report on the effectiveness of the Prior Authorization Demonstration Program.  CMS responded that it expected to issue that report during the first quarter of 2018.
  2. CMS was asked when it expected to expand the Prior Authorization Demonstration Program to additional states and/or the nation as a whole.  CMS responded that it was still evaluating the effectiveness of the program.  Therefore, CMS indicated that no decision on national expansion had been made at this time.

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

AAA Releases 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2018 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 2018 Ambulance Inflation Factor (1.1%) and continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

To access the Fee Schedule, please CLICK HERE.

(Please note: the 2018 Fee Schedule does not include the temporary Medicare add-ons that are set to expire on 12/31/2017. The AAA is working hard to get these add-ons extended. Please write your members of Congress today to show your support!)

Download the 2018 Rate Calculator

2018 Fee Schedule

December CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum & Follow Up Q&A

CMS LogoThe next CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum is scheduled for Thursday, December 14 at 2:00 PM Eastern. Please dial in at least 15 minutes before the call. View Agenda.

CMS Ambulance Open Door Forum
December 14 | 2:00 PM ET
1-800-837-1935
Conference ID: 61764351

Questions?

Have questions after the CMS Open Door Forum? 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
December 14 | 3:00 PM ET
1-800-250-2600
Pin: 82802314#

CMS Posts Ambulance 2018 Public Use File – Contact Congress

On December 7, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted the public use files for reimbursement rates under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule for 2018. In posting the rates, CMS did not include the temporary Medicare ambulance increases of 2% to the urban base and mileage rates, 3% to the rural base and mileage rates and the 22.6% to the super rural base rate. CMS also stated the increases will expire on December 31, 2017.

 

The statement by CMS and the rates in the public use file do not reflect the efforts of the AAA and our champions on Capitol Hill to help ensure the temporary Medicare ambulance increases do not expire at the end of this year. The AAA is fighting for Congress to extend the increases for five years. The House and Senate are currently negotiating a Medicare provider extender package and both the House and Senate positions include the 5-year ambulance increase extension. As usual, Congress is waiting to the last minute to address Medicare provider extenders and other expiring policies.

 

However, we should not take the renewal of an extension of the Medicare ambulance increases as a given. Please write your members of Congress today to ask them to support the five-year extension! 

 

Write to Your Representatives

Navigating a Post-Prior Authorization World

Talking Medicare: Navigating a Post-Prior Authorization World

Novitas Solutions, Inc. recently announced that it will no longer issue prior authorizations for scheduled, repetitive non-emergency transports, effective December 1, 2017. This announcement was based on Novitas’ expectation that the demonstration project will expire at the end of this calendar year. For ambulance suppliers in the states that currently operate under prior authorization, the focus invariably turns to what that means for their repetitive patient populations?

First a little background. In May 2014, CMS announced the implementation of a three-year prior authorization demonstration project for repetitive scheduled non-emergency ambulance transports. This demonstration project was initially limited to the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. These states were selected based on higher-than-average utilization rates and high rates of improper payment for these services. In particular, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) had singled out these states as having higher-than-average utilization of dialysis transports in a June 2013 report to Congress. As initially conceived, the prior authorization demonstration project first went into effect on December 15, 2014.

Congress subsequently elected to expand this demonstration project to additional states as part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA). Specifically, Congress mandated that the program be expanded to six additional states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia by January 1, 2016, and then potentially to the rest of the nation by January 1, 2017. However, CMS never issued the required report; as a result, the contemplated national expansion never occurred.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If you operate in a state that is not currently operating under prior authorization, the answer to this question is relatively straightforward, i.e., nothing will change.

If, however, operate in a state that is currently subject to prior authorization, this question is a bit trickier. What we do know is that the actual mechanics of submitting claims will revert to the same process you experienced prior to the implementation of prior authorization. You will submit claims for repetitive patients directly to the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), who will likely process them in same manner they process other Medicare claims. In other words, 14 days after the submission of the claim, you will likely receive a remittance notice indicating that the claim has either been paid or denied.

We also know that you will no longer benefit from the protections against post-payment review of these claims. Under the prior authorization model, CMS made clear that it would not audit claims paid based on a valid authorization, except in instances where it could demonstrate that the prior authorization was fraudulently procured.

What We Can Expect from Medicare and its Contractors

What we don’t know is whether the MACs will implement any temporary measures to guard against ongoing over-utilization and/or fraud. To better understand what I mean, put yourself in the position of the MAC. You have empirical evidence (see the chart to the right) that prior authorization has resulted in dramatic reductions in the amount of Medicare dollars paid for dialysis transports. You have further seen little evidence that this reduction in payments has resulted in any serious access to care issues.

The logical conclusion you would draw is that the amounts paid for dialysis prior to the implementation of prior authorization were likely excessive. If so, you might consider some proactive steps to prevent dialysis utilization from increasing back to the levels seen prior to the implementation of prior authorization.
So, it is possible (perhaps even likely) that ambulance suppliers in some of these states may see their MAC elect to implement prepayment reviews for dialysis patients. This could be similar to the process Novitas used for the initial three round trip transports to dialysis.

I also think it is reasonable to expect that the MACs, the Zone Program Integrity Contractors, and the OIG will monitor utilization trends, with an eye towards conducting post-payment reviews on ambulance suppliers that see their dialysis volume increase sharply next year.

Other Potential Impacts

In the previous section, I touched on the steps Medicare and its contractors might take to prevent a return to pre-prior authorization levels of dialysis utilization. In this section, I want to talk about some of the knock-on effects ambulance providers are likely to see.

One of the more interesting changes we saw in the prior authorization regime was a re-balancing of the power dynamic between ambulance suppliers and facilities, i.e., assisted living facilities and skilled nursing homes. Prior to the implementation of prior authorization, that power dynamic was slanted heavily in favor of the facility. By that I mean they could exert tremendous pressure on ambulance suppliers to take marginal patients by ambulance. If you were involved in the industry prior to 2015, you undoubtedly heard an SNF administrator tell you something to the effect of “if your company won’t take the patient by ambulance, I can easily find another company that will.” In competitive markets, that statement was usually accurate.

Under the demonstration project, prior authorization or lack thereof traveled with the patient. What that meant is that if your ambulance company submitted a prior authorization request that was denied, that denial would apply to any other ambulance company that might be interested in taking the patient. As a result, the nursing home could no longer hold the threat of going elsewhere with their business over your head.

Prior authorization also affected the standing policies of dialysis centers. Many free-standing dialysis centers have standing policies that they will not assist in transferring the patient to and from the dialysis treatment chair. This meant that patients that could be transported in a wheelchair van, but who required assistance to transfer out of their wheelchair presented a conundrum. There wouldn’t be medical necessity for the ambulance, but there would be no easy way for you to transfer them into the treatment chair without a second crew member (something most wheelchair van services don’t offer). Under prior authorization, it was easier for the ambulance company to push back, since they knew they wouldn’t be paid for the ambulance. As a result, I have heard that dialysis employees in these states had started to assist patients in transferring.

No really, it’s true…

One potential consequence of the prior authorization going away is that it may shift this power dynamic back to the facilities, with all of the negative consequences that are likely to result.

“Okay, I get what you are saying, but what I really want to know is whether I should loosen our standards for accepting a dialysis patient or not?”

Good question. Unfortunately, not one that permits an easy answer. The implementation of prior authorization shifted the cost-benefit analysis associated with transporting dialysis patients. It was likely that you were going to have a smaller number of patients approved and paid, but you could rest easy that you wouldn’t be at risk of having to return that money years later as the result of a Medicare audit.

The expiration of prior authorization shifts the cost-benefit analysis yet again. It is likely that you have tightened up your criteria for who you accept for dialysis transportation as a result of prior authorization. Loosening those criteria would almost certainly result in an increase in your short-term revenues. However, that would be offset, to some degree, by the increased risk of a Medicare audit.

For that reason, the course of action I have been recommending to people is not to dramatically loosen your standards. Instead, I typically ask whether they currently have patients that they believe do require an ambulance, but who were rejected for prior authorization by the MAC. Most providers respond that they do. Put another way, we are trying to identify the patients that you would feel comfortable defending in an audit. That is the additional population I would target for transportation next year.

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

Act Now: Support 5 Year Medicare Add-on Extension

Take Action for Permanent Medicare Ambulance Relief

Ask your Senators and Representatives to Support Medicare Ambulance Relief!

The temporary Medicare ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and 22.6% to the base rate in super rural areas are scheduled to expire on December 31 of this year. That is just one month away! Please write your members of Congress today in support of a 5-year extension of the increases.

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter to your Representative (Message 1) and the letter(s) to your Senators  (Message 2) – click “Submit Messages”
Feel free to personalize your letter(s) before submitting them.

Over the past 15 years, the AAA has lead efforts on Capitol Hill to establish the increases and ensure they do not expire.  Thanks to the work of our champions and supporters on Capitol Hill, there are provisions in both the House and Senate for a five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance increases.  However, passage of these provisions is in no way certain.  Your members of Congress need to hear that the 5-year extension is important to you!

In addition, the Congress is considering ways to collect Medicare cost data from ambulance service suppliers and providers.  The Senate version, which the AAA prefers, would require a statistically significant sampling of ambulance service suppliers and providers and would provide CMS with significant flexibility on how the system would be designed.  The House version would require all ambulance service suppliers and providers to submit an annual “cost report” which would be subject to a strict financial penalty for not providing timely as well as full data.  We continue to push for changes to the House version and there has been some confusion in the industry about these two provisions.  The bottom-line is that any collection of cost data needs to be tailored to meet the unique needs of ambulance services.

Members of Congress need to hear from you today!  Tell your Senators to support a five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance increases and to cosponsor S. 967.  Tell your Representatives to support a five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance increases and request revisions to cost reporting requirements.