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...

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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,...

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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...

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Talking Medicare: Prior Authorization Spending Update

Prior Authorization Data Shows Continued Reduction in Overall Spending on Dialysis Transports; Pendulum Swings Back Slightly in New Jersey and Pennsylvania 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. Medicare payment data from calendar year 2015 showed the effect of the demonstration project. Total spending on dialysis transports was $559 million that year, down 22% from the year before.  That correlates to a cost savings to the federal government of $158 million. Telling, $137 million (86%) of those savings came from the three states that participated in the demonstration project. We now have Medicare payment data for 2016. This blog will focus on the second year of the prior authorization demonstration project. This includes tracking the effects of prior authorization on the five additional states (DE, MD,...

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Talking Medicare: CMS Transmittal 236

On June 16, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released Transmittal 236. This Transmittal makes some minor changes to Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. Specifically, CMS is clarifying its definitions related to the “ALS assessment” and “locality.” The change to the locality definition has prompted some discussion within the industry as to the impact on Medicare’s reimbursement for mileage beyond the nearest appropriate facility. In this month’s blog, I will explain the recent change, and hopefully convince you that this isn’t something that should cause you undue concern. Medicare’s Definition of “Locality” The definition of “locality” appears in Section 10.3.5 of Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. That definition reads as follows: The term “locality” with respect to ambulance service means the service area surrounding the institution to which individuals normally travel or are expected to travel to receive hospital or skilled nursing services. CMS then includes the following example to explain how that definition should be applied to real world situations: EXAMPLE: Mr. A becomes ill at home and requires ambulance service to the hospital. The small community in which he lives has a 35-bed hospital. Two large metropolitan hospitals are...

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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...

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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 A0433.  Ambulance 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...

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Understanding CERT

Talking Medicare: Understanding CERT Every year around this time, our firm receives a steady stream of questions from AAA members about the CERT Program. Typically, the provider has received a notice from what appears to be the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which asks for medical records for one or two patient transports. These providers naturally wonder whether they are being audited, and how they should respond. The intent of this post is to clear up any confusion. What is the CERT program? The Comprehensive Error Rate Testing (CERT) program is an attempt by CMS to measure the rate of improper payments in the Medicare Fee-for-Service Program. It does so by evaluating a statistically valid random sample of claims to determine whether these claims were properly paid under the applicable Medicare coverage, coding, and billing rules. In August 2016, CMS awarded responsibility for conducting CERT reviews to AdvanceMed. Therefore, if you receive a letter from AdvanceMed, and that review is asking for only a single claim, it is likely that you are being asked to participate in the FY 2017 CERT review. What is the National Error Rate for ambulance services? In its report for Fiscal Year 2016,...

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