Federal District Court Judge Strikes Down the ACA

On December 14, 2018, a federal district court judge for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the grounds that the Individual Mandate was unconstitutional, and that the rest of the law cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny without the Individual Mandate. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor’s decision relates to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by 20 states and two individuals. The plaintiffs argued that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 — which amended the Individual Mandate to eliminate the penalty on individuals that failed to purchase qualifying insurance effect January 1, 2019 — rendered the Individual Mandate unconstitutional. The plaintiffs further argued that the Individual Mandate was inseverable from the rest of the ACA, and, therefore, that the entire ACA should be struck down. The defendants in this case were the United States of America, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, in his capacity as the Secretary of HHS, and David J. Kautter, in his capacity as the Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 16 states and the District of Columbia intervened as additional defendants. In order to properly understand the district (more…)

HHS Releases Communication Checklist to Aid First Responders

HHS Releases Checklist to Aid First Responders in Communicating Effectively with Patients The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has released a plain language checklist that is intended to aid First Responders during emergencies that involve individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and communications related disabilities. The AAA issued numerous articles to its members in 2016 about the newly published requirements for all healthcare providers, including EMS agencies, under the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Section 1557. The requirements are intended to prevent discrimination in the provision of healthcare and ensure that all individuals can meaningfully participate in their healthcare treatment, including those patients with LEP and other communications related disabilities. The announcement yesterday is intended to provide additional resources for healthcare providers to ensure compliance with the ACA Section 1557. The checklist includes numerous recommendations and action steps that EMS agencies can utilize to ensure that they are serving all members of a community in a meaningful way. These recommendations include conducting research about the communities by accessing U.S. Census Bureau data, engaging Centers for Independent Living and local assistance groups, and by preparing emergency messaging that can be...

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

CMS Announces Revisions to Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program On August 20, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) published a notice in the Federal Register that it would be revising the terms of its Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program. These revisions became effective on August 20, 2018. Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse. Based on this authority, CMS has implemented temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Under the Provider Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration (PEWD) Program, CMS has the authority to grant waivers to statewide enrollment moratorium on a case-by-case basis in response to access to care issues.  However, since the implementation of the PEWD Program in 2016, CMS has identified a handful of technical issues that have complicated the implementation of the PEWD Program.  The revisions in this notice are intended to resolve these technical issues. The specific revisions CMS is making include: In December 2016, Congress enacted the 21st...

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CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Services

CMS Extends Temporary Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Services in New Jersey and Pennsylvania The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that it intends to extend the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  The extended moratoria will run through January 29, 2019.  Notice of the extension of the temporary moratorium will appear in the Federal Register on August 2, 2018. Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse.  On July 31, 2013, CMS used this new authority to impose a moratorium on the enrollment of new ambulance providers in Houston, Texas and the surrounding counties.  On February 4, 2014, CMS imposed a second moratorium on newly enrolling ambulance providers in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas.  These moratoriums were subsequently extended on August 1, 2014, February 2, 2015, July 28, 2015, and February 2, 2016. On August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to the moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers. ...

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ACA Affordability Adjustment

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced on May 21, 2018 that it would be increasing the employee shared responsibility premium percentage under the ACA for 2019. Today, employers are compliant with the ACA if their health plans provide “essential health benefits” that are “affordable” for employees. The “affordability” requirement states that an employer’s health plan premium cost for employees must not exceed 9.56% of household income for the lowest cost, self-only plan. The IRS is adjusting that rate based upon inflation to 9.86% for 2019. With the average cost of health insurance single premium increasing 4% in 2017, this is a bit of relief as employers struggle with maintaining the affordability requirement....

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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...

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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...

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Alert: Medicare Increases Will Expire For Now: What You Need to Know

While the Congress succeeded in passing the Republican tax bill and keeping the federal government open with a short-term continuing resolution that included a temporary extension for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), it did not act upon the several Medicare extenders that expire on December 31, 2017. This extenders package includes the ambulance add-ons for urban, rural, and super-rural areas, as well as a moratorium on therapy caps, extenders for hospitals, and several other extenders important to other Medicare providers. Despite the fact that the Congress left town, there is still strong bipartisan support for reinstating these extenders – including the ambulance extenders – early in January 2018. The most likely time frame will be for the extenders to be added to the next government funding legislation, which must be passed by January 19. First, do not panic. As you may have already heard, CMS is telling providers and suppliers that the add-ons will expire at the end of the month. Technically that is true. The Agency is simply stating the obvious; but no one should imply from such statements that the Congress will not fix them or not make them retroactive. Historically, CMS has followed this pattern of indicating the add-ons have expired (more…)

EMS Employer Year-End Wrap-Up and Preview

2017 was a bit of a wild ride in the employment realm.  The Trump Administration worked to change the trajectory set during the eight years of the Obama Administration.  This past year, we saw the undoing or attempts to undo many of the Obama Administration initiatives, including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) updates, changes to the Persuader Rule, interpretations of Title VII as it relates to transgender protections.  Not to mention the repeated attempts to chip away at the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In addition, there were several new requirements for employers that went into effect in 2017 and a few upcoming in 2018.  Here is a quick review to ensure that your service is up-to-date and compliant. The Fair Labor Standards Act Changes These changes, which would have more than doubled the minimum salary levels for those “White Collar” exemptions, were set to go into effect back in 2016.  A Federal Court in Texas enjoined and put on hold these changes until the question of whether the Department of Labor (DOL) had the authority to unilaterally change the Regulations.  In July, 2016, the DOL published an Request For Information (RFI) with responses due in late September, requesting input...

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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...

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Senate GOP Releases Revised BCRA

This afternoon Senate Republican leaders released the revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). Legislative language and section-by-section summaries are now available.. The material was provided by our team at Akin Gump. The AAA will continue to keep members up to date in regards to the Obamacare repeal and replacement efforts. Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) Revised Text BCRA Section by Section Summary Please contact info@ambulance.org if you have any questions....

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House Passes American Health Care Act (AHCA)

The House this afternoon voted 217-213 to pass the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628), as amended. The bill now heads to the Senate where it will be up for intense debate. The AAA will continue to monitor this legislation as it makes its way through the Senate. The House also voted 429-0 to pass a bill (H.R. 2192) from Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) that would eliminate a congressional exemption from health care changes. The exemption was included in AHCA to comply with budget reconciliation rules. Two key amendments were added to the healthcare bill in order to ensure Republican support, the Upton Amendment and the MacArthur Amendment. These amendments were two of the more substantial changes to the bill since it was originally introduced. The AAA is currently working on drafting a detailed overview of this legislation and will distribute to members once completed.  

ACA Repeal and Replace Update

Congress returns to Washington next week, and House Republican Leadership maintains an ambitious agenda to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA) despite an unclear path navigating its moderate and conservative factions. President Trump, who refuses to let health care reform disappear from the agenda, is especially eager for a victory, and today predicted AHCA would pass within the next few weeks. During the in-district work period these past two weeks, the White House, House Leadership and Republican committee staff have kept conversations going with the two disagreeing factions within their caucus – the moderate Tuesday Group and the conservative Freedom Caucus. At this stage, there appears to be no agreement within the Republican Caucus, and there are varying reports on how close are discussions. The wild card is whether President Trump and his team can help force a deal. As soon as a deal materializes, the House will move the bill to the floor. In addition to health care, the discretionary aspects of the Federal government are under a temporary continuing resolution which expires at the end of next week. An effort is underway to pass a measure that will fund the government through the remainder of the 2017...

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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 (more…)

ACHA Update – High-risk Pool Amendment

The House Rules Committee met last week to consider a new amendment to the American Health Care Act (AHCA) to establish a federal risk-sharing fund and appropriate $15 billion for a high-risk pool program from 2018 to 2026. The amendment, which aims to reduce premiums for those with pre-existing conditions, is sponsored by Reps. Gary Palmer (R-AL) and Dave Schweikert (R-AZ), both members of the House Freedom Caucus. Washington Post: “GOP House leaders say health bill tweak shows progress, but larger divisions remain“ The program is reportedly modeled after a successful initiative in the State of Maine. The federal government would run the program initially, but each state will have the ability to take over the high-risk pool after three years. The amendment represents one area of limited agreement in the broader AHCA debate. Conservative House Members are likely to support it to the extent it shifts authority and funding to the states to help keep premiums down, and moderates are likely to support it because it would add a layer of protection for individuals with pre-existing conditions. It is unclear whether the level of funding appropriated will be sufficient to meet the need, however. The development is not evidence...

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Status of the American Health Care Act

Today, citing “growing pains” of his Republican majority, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), in consultation with President Donald Trump, determined not to proceed with a planned vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which repealed and replaced important elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The Speaker indicated that the House Republican Caucus “came up short” in the number of votes needed for the bill.  House Republican Leadership had been moving AHCA through the Chamber at a rapid pace.  The bill was officially released on March 6, and had been changed several times to try to appease various conservative and moderate voting blocs within the Republican Caucus.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) originally estimated the bill would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion, and subsequently downgraded the deficit reduction to $150 billion based on additional substantive policy changes to the bill.  The CBO estimates the bill would have increased the country’s number of uninsured by about 24 million people. In negotiating the provisions of AHCA, the House Republican Leadership had faced a constant seesaw, as efforts to appease one ideological bloc upset the other.  Ultimately, throughout the day in advance of the scheduled vote, an increasing number of moderate Republicans,...

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ACA Repeal & Reform – What It Means for Ambulance Services

By: Tristan North and Kathy Lester, JD, MPH This is the first of a two part Member Advisory by Tristan North and Kathy Lester on ACA Repeal & Reform. To continue reading, see Part Two: ACA Repeal & Reform – What It Means for Ambulance Services (Pt. 2). Overview A top priority of President Trump and congressional Republicans is to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Since Republicans retook control of Congress in 2012 after passage of the ACA in 2010, they have sought to repeal the ACA. However, they had not developed a consensus on a replacement package, as they knew then-President Obama would veto the repeal bill. Now with President Trump in the White House and Republicans controlling the House and Senate, Republicans in the House have agreed upon a package and moved it through three Committees of jurisdiction: the Ways and Means Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Budget Committee. Republicans in the Senate are less aligned and are said to be working on their own package, which is likely to differ in important ways from the House version. For ambulance services, there are several key components to watch. These are: Coverage for ambulance...

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Administration’s Proposed Rule on Marketplace Stabilization

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the “Marketplace Stabilization Proposed Rule” (Proposed Rule). Overall, the rule proposes a series of modifications to the Marketplaces that align with requests made by issuers in an attempt to keep them in the Marketplaces. The background section of the Proposed Rule emphasizes the concerns of issuers and the Agency’s interest in making sure that consumers have more plan options for 2018. Comments are due March 7. While ambulance services are not directly mentioned, the Proposed Rule could affect the ability of individuals in the marketplace to enroll and remain enrolled in plans. Another provision that could impact the ambulance industry is the proposal to rely more upon the States to enforce the network adequacy requirements of the ACA.   Changes to Open Enrollment/Special Enrollment Periods CMS proposes to tighten the enrollment rules in several ways. First, the Proposed Rule would change the open enrollment period to November 1 – December 15 to “increase the incentives for individuals to maintain enrollment in health coverage and decrease the incentives for individuals to enroll only after they discover they require services.”[1]  Individuals may still be eligible for a special enrollment period that would allow...

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