Response to Kaiser Health News Ambulance Billing Article

Below is the American Ambulance Association’s Response to a recent Kaiser Health News article on ambulance billing. It was reprinted in several metropolitan areas on November 20, 2017.

To the Editor:

I write today in response to Melissa Bailey’s November 20 piece about ambulance balance (“surprise”) billing. While we disagree with the characterization of ambulance services in the article, we welcome the ongoing public dialogue about how unsustainable reimbursement for emergency medical services results in cost-shifting to patients.

Missing from the article is a true understanding of the sky-high cost of readiness for emergency medical services. Ambulance service providers offer their communities 24/7/365 on-demand mobile healthcare. Skilled staff and ambulances—high-tech emergency rooms on wheels—are ready to respond to a 9-1-1 call at a moment’s notice to help patients with issues ranging from stroke to heart attack to trauma to childbirth. EMS is also on the very front lines of the surge in opioid overdoses, providing naloxone (Narcan) to hundreds of patients each day. Keeping supplies, medications, equipment, and personnel at-the-ready requires a significant ongoing investment, regardless of whether or not an ambulance is out responding to a call. Cost comparisons between EMS and the rideshare app Uber may make for catchy sound bites, but they are misleading and misguided.

The piece states that our nation’s 14,000 ambulance service providers received 1,200 Better Business Bureau complaints spread over three years. While certainly not optimal, this is a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of the tens of millions of responses ambulance service providers conduct annually. In fact, BBB 2016 statistics show that ambulance services receive far fewer complaints than hospitals, physicians, dentists, and many other trusted healthcare providers.

The article also offhandedly mentions that balance billing occurs when private insurers and ambulance service providers are unable to agree about fair reimbursement rates. This glosses over the dark reality that it would be hard to categorize the process that occurs between the insurer and ambulance services as a “negotiation.” Instead, insurers often present an all-or-nothing proposition to force ambulance service providers to accept contracts at unsustainably low reimbursement rates. Unlike the multi-billion dollar insurance behemoths, most ambulance services are small and operate on razor-thin margins. In fact, 73% of ambulance services provide fewer than 1,000 Medicare transports per year—just three per day. Ambulance services do not turn down insurance network contracts out of greed, but instead out of necessity. Facing reimbursement rates below the cost of the services they provide, they must decline these agreements in order to keep their doors open and continue to provide healthcare to their communities. Unfortunately, this sometimes creates a situation where out-of-network ambulance costs are shouldered by patients via balance billing, instead of insurers.

In addition to challenges receiving fair compensation from private insurance, EMS is stretched thin by ultra-low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. In fact, in 2007 and 2012 GAO studies showed that without temporary, Congress-authorized percentage increases in EMS payments, ambulance services would receive reimbursement from government payors below the cost of operations. These are often the very same unsustainable rates that private insurers are attempting to strong-arm EMS providers into accepting for network contracts.

Finally, when someone calls 9-1-1 in need of emergency medical care, it is key to recall that, unlike in other industries, an ambulance responds regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. In many cases, the patient does not have insurance and is financially unable to reimburse the ambulance service provider. Therefore, EMS provides a significant amount of uncompensated care, the cost of which must be spread across all payors in order for them to continue their life-saving operations.

Ambulance services provide an essential, on-demand healthcare benefit to their communities. Unfortunately our current healthcare payment structure means that much of this care is not compensated equitably, resulting in the necessity of balance billing patients. While there are no quick fixes for this issue, we encourage consumers to educate themselves about their own insurance coverage. We also ask for your support of legislation that provides sustainable reimbursement for ambulance providers, including the bipartisan US Senate Bill 967. Together, we can ensure the future of mobile healthcare in our great nation.

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

 

CMS Announces Ambulance Inflation Update for 2018

CMS Announces Ambulance Inflation Update for 2018

On October 27, 2017, CMS issued Transmittal 3893 (Change Request 10323), which announced the Medicare Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2018.

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 2017, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has calculated that the CPI-U has increased 1.6%.

In Transmittal 3893, CMS indicated the CY 2018 MFP will be 0.5%. Accordingly, CMS indicated that the Ambulance Inflation Factor for calendar year 2018 will be 1.1%.

Transmittal 3893 can be downloaded from the CMS website.

President’s Perspective: October 2017

Dear Fellow AAA Members,

As I reflect on the past few months, I am awed by the dedication of ambulance services across the nation as they responded to emergencies ranging from hurricanes to wildfires to the Las Vegas MCI. As always, EMS aided their communities with humanity, efficiency, and deep-rooted professionalism. The outcomes of each of these incidents would assuredly have been far worse without the selfless service of our fellow healthcare providers.

I was privileged to see this commitment to excellence firsthand as our staff at Sunstar responded to Hurricane Maria here in Florida, assisted by hundreds of EMTs, Paramedics, and strike team leaders who drove hours or days to help. Thanks to each of you for your service in our country’s time of need.

Advocacy Update

The AAA continues working hard to ensure the Medicare add-on payments don’t expire at the end of this year. In the Senate, S. 967 would make the add-on payments permanent. In the House, two versions of a bill (H.R. 3236, H.R. 3729) would extend the payments for five years. Extensions of Medicare provider provisions, including the ambulance add-on payments, will likely be addressed closer to the end of the year.

We have seen progress already in the House on the ambulance add-ons. On September 11, the House Ways and Means Committee marked up H.R. 3729, the Comprehensive Operations, Sustainability, and Transport Act of 2017. Similar to H.R. 3236, which the AAA supports, H.R. 3729 would extend the Medicare add-on payments for five years and require ambulance service suppliers to report cost data. However, H.R. 3729 would subject suppliers to an overpayment penalty which could potentially put all Medicare payments at risk for a supplier who does not submit timely, accurate, and complete data.

H.R. 3729 also includes a 22% across-the-board cut to all ambulance providers and suppliers for non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis centers. The 22% cut was the figure estimated as necessary to offset the cost of the five-year extension of the add-on payments. Since then, the AAA was able to demonstrate to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that our estimate of a five-year extension of the add-ons was the more appropriate approach. As a result, AAA has received a commitment from the Ways and Means Committee to lower the amount of any cut to cover the lower estimate. However, the AAA opposes any across-the-board cut and is working with the Committee and the bill sponsors to focus on addressing fraud and abuse within the dialysis transport benefit.

The AAA is working with key congressional offices as well as industry stakeholders to make changes to H.R. 3729. We remain hopeful that we can come to a consensus on these outstanding issues.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, S. 967 is up to 12 co-sponsors with the addition of Sen. Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Boozman (R-AR), and Sen. Cassidy (R-LA). AAA encourages members to continue reaching out to their Senators to ask them to co-sponsor S. 967. The AAA will keep you updated on our progress working on extending the add-ons. Thank you for your continued support.

AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show

As we face this challenging political and regulatory climate, it is essential that ambulance leaders stay abreast of new developments and best practices in reimbursement, operations, leadership, and human resources. In addition to myriad industry experts, this year’s AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show program features three inspiring keynotes—Steven M.R. CoveyMel Robbins, and Dr. Zubin “ZDoggMD” Damania—plus a ceremony honoring AMBY Award winners for their community impact.

I hope that you will join me and hundreds of our colleagues for networking, learning, and fun in Las Vegas November 13–15. Online registration for Annual is open now.

AAA Board Election

It’s that time again! The 2017 AAA Board of Directors election is underway. This year, active members will elect Regional Directors (Regions 1–5) and new members of the Ethics Committee. Voting opened on Wednesday, October 11th, and closes at 11:59pm Eastern on Thursday, November 2nd. Best of luck to all of the candidates! (If you are the primary contact for an active member organization and did not receive your e-ballot, please contact acamas@ambulance.org.)

Renew Your Support of AAA

Has your organization yet 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.

Capital Campaign

Lastly, many of you are aware that during my presidency I began a Capital Campaign to raise $1,000,000 to help sustain our organization and to increase our “rainy day” fund. The funds raised by this effort can only be used in the case of a majority vote by the Board of Directors.

Today, we have raised $250,000 of the $1,000,000 goal, for which I am grateful to our member supporters. But this is not enoughwe need to be strong when a crises hits our industry and we must deploy more resources for our advocacy programs. If you have already given, I would ask that you consider another commitment to this fund. If you have not already contributed, I respectfully ask you to support your national association as it works to fight for the future of ambulance services. Thank you in advance! Contribute online now.

It continues to be my pleasure to serve so many talented, dedicated healthcare professionals. Thank you again for your service, and I look forward to seeing you at AAA Annual in Las Vegas!

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

Time to handle 911 call demands with Paramedics

When discussing this new and growing field of pre-hospital care, there seems to be two unique paths that services are following. The first is the hospital-owned or contracted service, where community providers seek ways to decrease readmission rates for CHF, COPD, Pneumonia, Sepsis, MI and other chronic illnesses.

When a patient discharged with one of these targeted conditions is readmitted within a 30 day window, “hospitals face penalties of up to 3 percent of Medicare payments in 2018” (Gluck, 2017, para. 10). That is a lot of money. Consider, “Lee Health, Southwest Florida’s largest hospital operator, which is expected to lose $3.4 million in payments” (Gluck, 2017, para. 2). This model represents the if, or, and type of service, meaning if we can do it for less and there are providers willing to do this type of medicine, then we can save the expensive penalties from CMC.

The other model of community paramedicine is 911 abuse reduction. For years EMS has conditioned the public to call 911 for any emergency. But today, what we consider an emergency is far from the public’s perception of an emergency. “EMS has experienced a 37% increase in 911 calls since 2008.” (White, 2016, para. 6) Yet have we increased staffing proportionally to meet the demand? Afraid not since “only 50% of EMS services in 2008 were fully staffed, and more than 63% had a volunteer component as part of their staffing level” (“Critical Staffing Shortages,” 2015, para. 2).

The article references increasing wages to help compensate for the decrease in trained providers by attracting more professionals to the field. With the CMC limiting payments and the major insurance companies following suit, doubtful this will be an option in the near future.

To reduce calls and increase levels of service, we can try to reeducate the public to what is a true emergency, but that is a long and slow process. For example, Philadelphia has started the trend and placed several billboards up around neighborhoods that contribute an ordinarily high amount of non-emergent 911 calls. Will this work? Time will tell but I would believe not enough to affect the volume of calls.

What about enlisting Community Paramedics in these situations? I believe this is a viable solution with nurses triaging the low acuity calls in the 911 center. Dispatching Community Paramedics armed with not only the usual equipment, but also the knowledge base to connect these patients with primary care physicians, social workers, and the programs that are available to them. This will help people receive the long-term care they deserve.

Scott F. McConnell is Vice President of EMS Education for OnCourse Learning and one of the Founders of Distance CME. Since its inception in 2010, more than 10,000 learners worldwide have relied on Distance CME to recertify their credentials. Scott is a true believer in sharing not only his perspectives and experiences but also those of other providers in educational settings.

References
* Critical Staffing Shortages (2015)
* Gluck, F. (2017, February 7th, 2017). Lee Health will lose $3.4 million in Medicare payments because of readmission rates. USA Today
* White, D. (2016, February 16th, 2016). Community paramedic? program intended to reduce 911 calls. Manatee Technical College

CMS Lifts Moratorium Enrollment Non-Emergency Providers (TX)

In order to assist with the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey, CMS has announced that it has lifted the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017. The lifting of this moratorium applies to new enrollments in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CMS indicated that it will publish a notice in the Federal Register to formally announce the lifting of the moratorium.

As a result, Part B ambulance suppliers that are not otherwise already enrolled as non-emergency ambulance provider in the State of Texas will be permitted to enroll in the Medicare Program. The lifting of the moratorium will also permit companies that are already enrolled as non-emergency ambulance suppliers to add additional practice locations throughout the state. CMS has indicated that both new enrollments and changes in enrollment to add additional practice locations will be subject to “high” screening under 42 C.F.R. §424.518(c)(3)(iii).

Summary of September 2017 Ambulance Open Door Forum

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

  1. “Locality” Rule – On 6/16/17 CMS issued Transmittal 236, to amend the Benefit Policy Manual, Chapter 10, section 10.3.5 to give Medicare Administrative Contractors discretion to determine the “locality”. This is for the issue of the nearest appropriate facility.

Transmittal 236

  1. ALS Assessment – The same Transmittal also amended section 30.1.1 to indicate that if an ALS assessment is performed, then the ALS emergency base rate shall be paid, even if there is no ALS intervention.
  2. Multiple Patient Transports – On 9/1/17, CMS issued Transmittal 3855 to restore to its Claims Processing Manual, Chapter 15, section 30.1.2 instructions for multiple patients transported in the same vehicle. This is not a change in policy. The section was inadvertently omitted from the Internet Only Manual.

Transmittal 3855

  1. Temporary Adjustments – The 2%, 3% and 22.6% temporary adjustments for ground ambulance transports originating in urban, rural and super-rural areas will expire 12/31/17, unless legislation is enacted. Later on the call, they indicated that they are aware of a legislative initiative in Congress that includes this issue (S.967, H.R. 3236).

Support Extending the Medicare Add-ons!

       Following these announcements, a Q & A period ensued. Most of the questions were not answered on the call, other than to advise the caller to submit their question via e-mail and CMS will respond to their concern via e-mail or to contact their Medicare Administrative Contractor.

Two items of note in the Q & A were as follows:

  • CMS has left it up to the MACs to define the “locality” for purposes of the nearest appropriate facility requirement. Therefore, providers and suppliers should ask their MAC for their definition.
  • CMS was asked whether the prior authorization program would continue nationwide, after this year. The representatives from CMS did not answer the question other than to advise the person who asked the question to submit it in writing to CMS.

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

2016 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2016 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 2016, 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 2015.

2016 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

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

 

Preliminary Estimate of 2018 Medicare Rates

A Preliminary Estimate of 2018 Medicare Rates

In this blog, I will provide a preliminary estimate of the Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2018.  The AIF is main factor that determines the increase (or decrease) in Medicare’s payment for ambulance services.

Calculating the 2018 AIF

The AIF is calculated by measuring the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) for the 12-month period ending with June of the previous year. For 2018, this means the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2017. Starting in calendar year 2011, the change in the CPI-U is 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 resulting AIF is then applied to the conversion factor used to calculate Medicare payments under the Ambulance Fee Schedule.

The formula used to calculate the change in the CPI-U is limited to positive increases. Therefore, even if the change in the CPI-U was negative over a 12-month period (a rarity in the post-war era), the change in the CPI-U cannot be negative. However, when the MFP reduction is applied, the statute does permit a negative AIF for any calendar year. That is precisely what occurred in 2016, where the change in the CPI-U was 0.1% and the MFP was 0.5%. As a result, the industry saw an overall reduction in its Medicare rates of 0.4%.

Based on current data, it is highly unlikely that the AIF will be negative in 2018. For the 12-month period ending in June 30, 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently calculates the change in the CPI-U to be approximately 1.6%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2018. However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the 2018 MFP is likely to be in the 0.3% to 0.5% range.

Therefore, at this time, my best guess is that the 2018 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be a positive 1.1% to 1.3%.

Please note that this estimate assumes the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not subsequently revise its inflation estimates. Please note further that this projection is based on the MFP being similar to last year.  To the extent either of these numbers changes in the coming months (up or down), my estimate of the 2018 AIF would need to be adjusted accordingly. Ultimately, the 2018 AIF will be finalized by CMS by Transmittal, which typically occurs in the early part of the 4th quarter.

Impact on the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule

Assuming all other factors remained the same, calculating your 2018 Medicare rates would be a relatively simple exercise, i.e., you would simply add 1.1 to 1.3% to your 2017 rates. However, as part of its 2018 Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule (issued July 21, 2017), CMS proposed minor changes to the GPCIs. These changes can be viewed by going to the Physician Fee Schedule page on the CMS website, and clicking the link for the “CY 2018 PFS Proposed Rule Addenda” (located in the Downloads section). You would then need to open the file for “Addendum E_Geographic Practice Cost Indicies (GPCIs).”

If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to increase, you can expect your 2018 Medicare rates to increase by slightly more than 1.1 – 1.3%. If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to decrease, you can expect your 2018 Medicare rates to increase by slightly less than 1.1 to 1.3%.

If you are looking for a more precise calculation of your rates, you will need to use the following formulas:

Ground Ambulance Services

Medicare Allowable = (UBR x .7 x GPCI) + (UBR x .3)

 Air Ambulance Services

Medicare Allowable = (UBR x .5 x GPCI) + (UBR x .5)

 In this formula, the “UBR” stands for the unadjusted base rate for each HCPCS code. These are calculated by multiplying the national conversation factor by the relative value unit assigned to each base rate. To save some time, estimates for the 2018 unadjusted base rates are reproduced below (using the low-end estimate for the AIF):

Base Rate (HCPCS Code) 2018 Unadjusted Base Rate
BLS non-Emergency (A0428) $224.74
BLS emergency (A0429) $359.58
ALS non-emergency (A0426) $269.68
ALS emergency (A0427) $427.00
ALS-2 (A0433) $618.02
Specialty Care Transport (A0434) $730.39
Paramedic Intercept (A0432) $393.29
Fixed Wing (A0430) $3,049.69
Rotary Wing (A0431) $3,545.72

Plugging these UBRs into the above formulas will result in adjusted base rates for each level of ground and air ambulance service. The final step is to apply whatever temporary adjustments are in effect under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule. For example, in 2017, there were adjustments in place for urban (2%), rural (3%) and super-rural (22.6% over the corresponding rural rate) transports. Note: these temporary adjustments are currently set to expire on December 31, 2017. Therefore, absent further legislation, they should not be added to the adjusted base rates for 2018.

2018 Projected Rates for Mileage:

 At this time, I am estimating the following rates for Medicare mileage:

Base Rate (HCPCS Code) 2018 Unadjusted Base Rate
Ground Mileage – Urban $7.23
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 1 – 17 $10.84
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 18+ $7.23
Fixed Wing Mileage – Urban $86.5
Fixed Wing Mileage – Rural $12.98
Rotary Wing Mileage – Urban $23.09
Rotary Wing Mileage – Rural $34.64

Please keep in mind that a number of assumptions went into these projections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics can revise its inflation figures in the coming months. CMS may announce an MFP projection that differs from what we expect. CMS may also announce that it is electing not to finalize its proposed changes to the GPCI (highly unlikely). If any of these assumptions was to change, these projections would need to be revised. Therefore, I would suggest that you view these as rough estimates at best.  The AAA will update members as more information becomes available in the coming months.

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

 

 

 

VIDEO: Support Sustainable EMS Funding


EMS needs your support to survive! Learn from American Emergency Vehicles founder Mark Van Arnam what you can do to advocate for sustainable funding for ambulance services, then visit the AAA Advocacy page to reach out to your elected officials.

(AAA is deeply grateful to REV Group, Inc. for developing this video.)

CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance

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

On July 28, 2017, 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, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The extended moratoria will run through January 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.

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 moratoria have been extended on these terms every six months thereafter.

On or before January 29, 2018, CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium.

Court Decision Overpayment Determination Statistical Sampling

Maxmed is a home health agency. In 2011, Medicare reviewed a sample of 40 claims involving 22 Medicare beneficiaries and determined that all but one were not medically necessary. The sample was extrapolated to their universe of claims, resulting in an overpayment of $773,967. The Administrative Law Judge invalidated the extrapolation methodology, but the Medicare Appeals Council reversed and Maxmed appealed to Federal District Court, where it lost. Maxmed then appealed claiming:
  • the extrapolation was invalid because the contractor failed to document the random numbers used in the sample and how they were selected.
  • a valid random sample must be for claims that are “defined correctly and independent” and here the same Medicare beneficiary had multiple claims in the sample.
On June 22, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, found the extrapolation and sampling methodology used was proper. The decision, Maxmed Healthcare Inc. v. Price, is just the latest in a recent line of decisions making it harder and harder to challenge statistical sampling and extrapolation of overpayments.

CBO Estimates Senate Bill Would Leave 22M More Uninsured

From Akin Gump:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this afternoon released its cost estimate of the Senate’s health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), projecting that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law. This is slightly fewer than the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA). CBO also estimates that the BCRA would reduce federal deficits by $321 billion over 10 years, $202 billion more than estimated net savings for the House bill.

According to the Senate Budget Committee, below is a brief summary of the changes that were made to the previous draft:

  • Conforming amendments to Sec. 106 – Changes made to better align the purposes of stability funding to the underlying CHIP statute.
  • Adds a new Sec. 206 – Starting in 2019, individuals who had a break in continuous insurance coverage for 63 days or more in the prior year will be subject to a six month waiting period before coverage begins.  Consumers will not have to pay premiums during the six month period.
  • Redesignates Secs. 206-208 to Secs. 207-209, to accommodate for the new Sec. 206 on continuous coverage.

Read the CBO report.

 

OIG Looking into SNF Consolidated Billing Claims

Over the past few weeks, we have been contacted by a number of ambulance suppliers that have received letters from the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). These letters indicate that the OIG is conducting a national review of ambulance services that are subject to the consolidated billing provisions of the skilled nursing facility (SNF) prospective payment system. The review covers claims for ambulance services with dates of service from July 2014 through June 2016.

In each case, the ambulance supplier is being asked to provide documentation on a handful of round trip transports of an SNF patient. The letter indicates that these services were furnished to a Medicare beneficiary during the beneficiary’s Part A SNF stay, and therefore “may be subject to consolidated billing.” The letter asks the ambulance supplier to complete a short (3-page) questionnaire related to the identified transports, and to return the completed questionnaire to the OIG within seven business days.

The questionnaire asks some fairly basic questions related to the identified transports, including whether the ambulance supplier actually furnished the identified transports, whether it was paid by Medicare, the point of pickup and destination, and information on who called to request the transport. The questionnaire also asks for information on how the ambulance supplier determined whether the patient was in the Part A period, and what information the ambulance supplier obtained in order to make its determination that the claims were separately payable by Medicare Part B.

The OIG has conducted similar reviews in the past. For example, in August 2009, the OIG issued a report on payments for ambulance transportation provided to SNF beneficiaries during calendar year 2006. That report concluded that 61 of the 114 claims it reviewed (53%) were incorrectly billed to Medicare Part B, as opposed to the SNF. Based on its sample, the OIG estimated that Medicare made $12.7 million in incorrect payments to ambulance suppliers during calendar year 2006.

It is possible that the OIG is simply updating its previous report on SNF Consolidated Billing and ambulance transports. However, there is another possible explanation for the OIG’s renewed interest in these types of transports. Many of the claims the OIG has requested information on relate to transports to what appears to be a physician clinic located on a hospital’s campus. If correct, the SNF would have been responsible for payment for the physician’s services (in addition to the ambulance claims). If so, it is possible that the OIG’s interest was triggered by the lack of a corresponding hospital claim being submitted to Medicare on that date.

If this sounds familiar to you, it should.

In September 2015, the OIG issued a report in which it highlighted seven so-called “questionable billing practices” by ambulance suppliers. One of these billing practices was the existence of an ambulance claim for a particular date of service, but where there was no corresponding hospital claim (or any other claim from a Part A institution) for the beneficiary on that same date. The OIG identified $30.2 million in payments during the first half of 2012 that tested positive for this measure.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), StrategicHealthSolutions, LLC. The SMRC is tasked with lowering the improper payment rate and increasing efficiencies of the medical review functions of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The SMRC has recently started auditing ambulance suppliers, and it appears to be focusing, in large part, on claims where patients were evaluated at a physician’s clinic located on a hospital’s campus. It is possible that the OIG is conducting its own inquiry of this same issue.

This leaves us with a basic question: Is the OIG simply updating an earlier report, or is this sort of audit going to be become the new “normal” for ambulance suppliers? Ultimately, time will tell.

However, regardless of the OIG’s motives, this recent string of audits serves as a valuable reminder to the industry that many hospitals do sublease space to physician practices, and that these independent practices are licensed separately from the hospital. A transport to these independent physician practices would be bundled to the SNF under SNF Consolidated Billing. As an industry, we need to identify these transports when they occur, and be sure to bill the SNF, whenever appropriate. Otherwise, the OIG is likely to continue these sorts of audits.

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

CMS – MLN Ambulance Transports Booklet

CMS has issued an MLN Ambulance Transports Booklet. The booklet (36 pages) can be downloaded here.

Download MLN Ambulance Transports Booklet

One section of the Booklet that you might want to keep handy involves Free-Standing Emergency Departments. Specifically, on page 15, CMS states the following:

Freestanding Emergency Department (ED)
If a freestanding ED is provider based (a department of the hospital), the ambulance transport from the freestanding ED to the hospital is not a separately payable service under Part B if the beneficiary is admitted as an inpatient prior to ambulance transport. For more information about criteria for coverage of ambulance transports separately payable under Part B or as a packaged hospital inpatient service under Part A, refer to Chapter 10, Section 10.3.3, of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual.

This may be useful, along with the Manual section cited, when you have a free-standing ED that is part of a hospital and they call for transports to the main building for the patient to be admitted, but the hospital lists the time of admission as being prior to the time of your transport. When the hospital admits the patient prior to your transport, the hospital becomes responsible for the ambulance charges. It may be useful to show the hospital and ED the booklet and Manual section to prove to them that the hospital is responsible if the patient is admitted to the hospital prior to your transport.

UnitedHealthCare Denials for ALS-2 Claims

Talking Medicare

with Brian S. Werfel, AAA Medicare Consultant

Over the past few weeks, we have received emails from ambulance providers across the country reporting that UnitedHealthCare (UHC) has started to deny claims for the ALS-2 base rate. Affected claims include both commercial and Medicare Advantage claims. These providers are reporting that UHC is requiring the use of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Codes to support the ALS-2 level of service.

When these providers call UHC to question the denials, the customer service representative refers them to UHC’s online policies and procedures manual. The section of that manual devoted to the ALS-2 base rate largely mirrors Medicare’s definition. For example, it indicates that ALS-2 can be billed based on three separate administrations of one or more medications by IV push/bolus or continuous infusion, or upon provision of one or more of the designated ALS-2 procedures (e.g., an endotracheal intubation).

However, the manual section then goes on to indicate that “Ambulance Providers or Suppliers are required to report CPT or HCPCS codes… when reporting A0433Ambulance transport services that do not include the services described in criteria 1 or 2 above should be reported with a more appropriate ambulance transport code.

The manual section concludes with links to two lists of CPT codes. The first list, designated as “ALS2 Criteria 1 Codes” relate to the intravenous administration of various medications. These codes fall within the range of: 96365 – 96376. The second list, designated as “ALS2 Criteria 2 Codes” correspond to the various ALS interventions:

CPT Code:                            Description:
31500                                    Endotracheal Intubation, Emergency
31603                                    Under Incision Procedures on Trachea and Bronchi
31605                                    Under Incision Procedures on Trachea and Bronchi
36000                                    Under Intravenous Vascular Introduction & Injection Procedure
36555                                    Central Venous Catheter Placement, Patient Under Five Years
36556                                    Central Venous Catheter Placement, Patient Over Five Years
36568                                    Insertion of Central Venous Access Device
36569                                    PICC Line Insertion
36680                                    Intraosseous Line Infusions
92950                                    Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
92953                                    Other Therapeutic Cardiovascular Services
92960                                    External Electrical Cardioversion, Non-Emergency
92961                                    External Electrical Cardioversion, Emergency

The ambulance providers have indicated that they have questioned UHC on the necessity of including CPT codes on these claims. These providers argue, correctly, that CMS does not require the use of CPT codes on Medicare claims. Instead, Medicare requires the ambulance provider to document in the billing narrative the justification for billing ALS-2. For example, a provider might list multiple administrations of epinephrine, the use of an intraosseous line, etc.

The fact that UHC is asking for the CPT codes suggests that it does not currently review the billing narratives. Instead, UHC appears to be using the CPT codes to ensure that the ALS-2 criteria are met.

Is UHC correct to insist upon the use of CPT codes? Probably not, at least for its Medicare Advantage claims. However, I think the more appropriate question to ask ourselves is whether it is worth fighting UHC on this issue? If using CPT codes ensure that UHC correctly processes and pays these claims with minimal delay, my opinion is that it is probably easier just to comply with their policy.

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

CMS Letter Regarding Merit-Based Incentive Payment System

Over the past week, multiple members have contacted the American Ambulance Association to report that they have received a letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) related to their participation in the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS). The letter appears to have been sent to any entity with a taxpayer identification number (TIN) that is enrolled in the Medicare Part B Program. The stated purpose of the letter is to inform the provider whether it is exempt from participation in the MIPS program.

This member advisory is being issued to advise ambulance suppliers that:

(1) they are not eligible to participate in the MIPS program
(2) no positive or negative adjustments will be made to the ambulance suppliers Medicare payments
(3) no further action is required on their part

Therefore, AAA members that received this letter can safely disregard it. 

 

Support AAA’s Medicare Relief Legislation, S. 967

Dear Fellow Members,

As you know, the Medicare ambulance add-on payments are set to expire on December 31, 2017. I’m proud to share with you that today, due to AAA advocacy efforts, permanent ambulance relief legislation was introduced by Senators Stabenow, Roberts, Schumer, Collins, and Leahy.

This bill, S.967, “Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act” would make permanent the vital urban and rural Medicare add-ons and super-rural bonus payments. Although some changes are likely during the committee markup process, we are cautiously optimistic that it will also carry through proposals to reclassify ambulance organizations as providers of health care (not suppliers of transportation), as well as a cost data collection system that does not place undue burden on ambulance services.

On behalf of the AAA, I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to Senators Stabenow, Roberts, Schumer, Collins, and Leahy for sponsoring the legislation, as well as the AAA Board, Government Affairs Committee, advocacy consultants, and staff who worked so diligently to build support on Capitol Hill.

Over the coming months, AAA will continue to connect with policymakers to build support for sustainable ambulance Medicare reimbursement. However, we need your help to ensure that this critical revenue remains in place. We ask that you please contact your Senators to voice your support for S. 967. AAA makes it easy to connect with your legislators through our online advocacy tool—please use it today to quickly send messages expressing the importance of the legislation to your ambulance service and the communities you serve.

If possible, we ask that you also work with fellow ambulance providers in your area to schedule in-person meetings with your legislators’ offices. If you arrange a meeting in your home state, please contact AAA staff at info@ambulance.org for talking points to support your conversation.

Now, more than ever, we need the active participation of each member organization to ensure our collective future! Thank you in advance for your assistance with advocacy outreach, as well as for your continued membership to the American Ambulance Association.

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

Time to Automate

Founded in 1964, now nationally recognized, Mohawk Ambulance Service is the largest privately owned ambulance service in upstate New York. Our organization services six emergency centers, makes 56,000 trips annually and employs a team of more than 250 staff members. Eighty percent of our trips are for emergency transports where patients are unknown, in critical condition or have no identifying information. Finding fast, efficient ways to verify demographics and discover insurance coverage for these patients is imperative for our revenue cycle and our bottom line.

We’ve always worked closely with our local hospitals and nursing homes to obtain information. Many standard processes have been refined over the years with checks and balances to verify coverage, screen deductibles and reduce eligibility-related rejections before claims are submitted to a payor. But our billing team knew we could do more to eliminate duplicate data entry and processing lag time.

This article describes our journey to a more streamlined billing process. It includes lessons learned and best-practice recommendations for other EMS providers looking to improve staff efficiency and reduce receivables.

First Stop: Real-Time Insurance Discovery

The first area we tackled was insurance discovery where we had three employees stationed. We focused on our self-pay patients and transports lacking complete demographic or insurance information. The goal was to eliminate manual steps and workflow lags—which we quickly achieved.

The original process involved building a list, submitting it to Payor Logic, waiting three days for feedback, and then re-entering information into our billing system. By bringing our vendors together to meet with our team, a real-time technology solution was developed and implemented.

Now our insurance verification team has immediate access to Payor Logic’s search capabilities. Insurance discovery is an online, real-time process. Lists, batches, searching websites and waiting for results have all been eliminated. Also, the two vendors built a crosswalk that integrates insurance coverage results back into our billing system to eliminate duplicate data entry and rekeying.

The productivity our verification team is now able to achieve is amazing. They now do the work of three staff with only two employees—a 30 percent boost in staff efficiency for insurance verification.

Billing also Gets Tech Boost

At Mohawk, we use a combination of technology solutions to support our revenue cycle. But each company worked independently—creating separate silos. Billers would have to search across several different systems, payor websites and the digital pages to collate all the various demographic and insurance data required to submit a claim. We had technology, but the process remained cumbersome and labor intensive.

By working with our vendors, we built points of integration to increase the number of claims processed without adding billing staff. For example, once a biller pulls up a trip, dozens of data elements from the billing system are uploaded into a single view to eliminate searching and save time.

Everything the biller needs to complete a claim is displayed in a consolidated view, consistent across all Mohawk companies. Billers can easily see patient signature, facility signature, narrative, vital signs, advanced life support and more. This level of integration eliminates the need to look at every page of the system to build the claim—saving dozens of hours every week.

Lessons Learned

Like most EMS providers, our mission is to uphold the highest standard of services with consistent devotion to delivering superior emergency medical care. And through this automation project, we took service excellence one step further—delivering world-class service throughout our billing process. We find more insurance coverage, reduce eligibility-related rejections, convert self-pay accounts and collect more revenue from the right source. Results thus far include:

  1. 30% improvement in staff efficiency for insurance verification
  2. 67% less time needed per case to screen for Medicare deductibles
  3. 100% elimination of wait times to discover billable insurance for self-pay patients

EMS providers looking to streamline the billing process should revisit their existing technology applications and engage in serious discussions with current vendors. New capabilities are out there and should be explored. The automation efforts described above have resulted in an efficiency uptick for Mohawk, despite being short staffed. New workflows for verification are being maintained by our team and next steps for automation expansion are being discussed. By keeping open communications and an ongoing dialogue with all parties involved, this automation experience has been a win-win for our business, our staff and our patients.

CMS Issues Final Market Stabilization Rule

On Thursday, April 13, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the final “Marketplace Stabilization Rule”. This is the final version of a rule that was first proposed on February 15, 2017. Last month, AAA consultant, Kathy Lester, published a blog post explaining the then proposed rule (“Administration’s Proposed Rule on Marketplace Stabilization”).

The final rule makes several policy changes to improve the market and promote stability, including:

    • 2018 Annual Open Enrollment Period: The final rule adjusts the annual open enrollment period for 2018 to more closely align with Medicare and the private market. The next open enrollment period will start on November 1, 2017, and run through December 15, 2017, encouraging individuals to enroll in coverage prior to the beginning of the year.
    • Reduce Fraud, Waste, and Abuse:  The final rule promotes program integrity by requiring individuals to submit supporting documentation for special enrollment periods and ensures that only those who are eligible are able to enroll. It will encourage individuals to stay enrolled in coverage all year, reducing gaps in coverage and resulting in fewer individual mandate penalties and help to lower premiums.
    • Promote Continuous Coverage: The final rule promotes personal responsibility by allowing issuers to require individuals to pay back past due premiums before enrolling into a plan with the same issuer the following year. This is intended to address gaming and encourage individuals to maintain continuous coverage throughout the year, which will have a positive impact on the risk pool.
    • Ensure More Choices for Consumers:  For the 2018 plan year and beyond, the final rule allows issuers additional actuarial value flexibility to develop more choices with lower premium options for consumers, and to continue offering existing plans.
    • Empower States & Reduce Duplication:  The final rule reduces waste of taxpayer dollars by eliminating duplicative review of network adequacy by the federal government.  The rule returns oversight of network adequacy to states that are best positioned to evaluate network adequacy.

Read the Final Rule