The first meeting (virtual) of the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee scheduled for January 17 and 18 has been postponed. According to CMS, the meeting is being postponed due to “operational impediments”. We will let you know the new dates for the meeting when announced by CMS.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today appointed American Ambulance Association President Shawn Baird to the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory Committee (GAPBAC), established by the Congress under “The No Surprises Act.” Shawn will represent the ground ambulance service provider and field personnel community.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve,” stated Baird. “I look forward to representing the interests of EMS providers and professionals as they care for our communities.
The Congress recognizes that the one-size-fits all approach to addressing surprise medical bills would not work for EMS. State and local governments regulate EMS agencies services and rates, as both first responders and medical care providers, which adds another level of complexity. As a result, the Congress established GAPBAC so the unique characteristics of ground ambulance services could be taken into consideration when evaluating private insurer billing policies to protect access to EMS, respect state and local government regulation, and protect patients.
Patients with private insurance should not be caught in the middle when their insurers do not adequately reimburse for vital ground ambulance services,” said Baird. “EMS must receive fair reimbursement by insurance companies for providing critical medical services to patients.”
Baird will bring to the Committee his years of firsthand experience and expertise as a paramedic and operator of an ambulance service in both urban and rural areas. He will also share knowledge gained from his years of volunteer leadership at the American Ambulance Association and the Oregon State Ambulance Association, as well as his term as an appointee to the National EMS Advisory Committee.
The GAPBAC is charged with “reviewing options to improve the disclosure of charges and fees for ground ambulance services, better inform consumers of insurance options for such services, and protect consumers from balance billing.” The Committee will submit a report that includes recommendations with respect to disclosure of charges and fees for ground ambulance services and insurance coverage, consumer protection and enforcement authorities of the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Treasury and State authorities, and the prevention of balance billing to consumers. The report must be received no later than 180 days after the date of its first meeting.
The American Ambulance Association safeguards the future of mobile healthcare through advocacy, thought leadership, and education. AAA advances sustainable EMS policy, empowering our members to serve their communities with high-quality on-demand healthcare. For more than 40 years, we have proudly represented those who care for people first.
From FAIR Health in February 2022
“Currently, no federal law protects consumers against “surprise” bills from out-of-network ground ambulance providers. Some state and local governments regulate ground ambulance surprise billing practices; however, such laws may not apply to all health plans or ambulance providers in an area. Because of the substantial policy interest in ground ambulance services, FAIR Health drew on its vast database of private healthcare claims to illuminate multiple aspects of such services across the nation, including utilization, costs, age, gender, diagnoses and differences across states.”
Yesterday, the American Ambulance Association Board of Directors approved the Association’s advocacy priorities for 2022. Our key initiatives reflect the challenges we face this year, including short-sighted threats to EMS balance billing, a worsening workforce shortage, the expiration of the temporary Medicare increases, and potential sequestration cuts.
We also continue to fight for you as you care for people first on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will sustain our efforts at securing additional funding for ground ambulance services to help address the increased costs of providing medical care and transport during the Public Health Emergency.
To achieve our collective goals, the AAA Board will need to mobilize the full voice of influence of the EMS community this year. If you have not already sent an email using the AAA advocacy system to your members of Congress, please do so today!
Staff will be reaching out to you at key points later in the year about letter writing for specific individual policy requests. But it is important that they hear from you now on all the top issues for ground ambulance services. They are:
With the persistent shortage of ground ambulance service field personnel raising to a crisis level with the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAA moved the issue to a top policy priority. The AAA is currently working with key Congressional Committees of jurisdiction to hold hearings on the EMS workforce shortage. We are also developing legislation to specifically target increasing access for ground ambulance service organizations to federal programs and funding for the retention and training of health care personnel.
The AAA successfully educated the Congress on the role of local government oversight and other unique characteristics of providing ground ambulance service organizations. As a result, the Congress directed the establishment of a Ground Ambulance and Balance Billing Advisory Committee to address the issue. The Committee is in the process of being formed and then has 180 days in which to make recommendations to the Congress. The AAA will be involved with the Committee and advocating that the Congress implement policies that meet the needs of our members.
The AAA is advocating for additional financial assistance for ground ambulance service organizations to help address the increased costs of labor and other higher costs associated with providing health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The temporary Medicare ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment expire at the end of the year. The AAA will continue to push for passage of the provisions of the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act (S. 2037, H.R. 2454) before the provisions expire as well as for the adoption of language to ensure truly rural areas remain rural following changes to geographical designations based on the 2020 census.
The Congress delayed the additional 4% sequestration cut for only one yea. The AAA is working with other EMS and health care provider and supplier groups to permanently prevent the cut from going into effect as well as further extending the moratorium on the long-standing 2% cut.
With the 2-year delay of ambulance data collection due to the pandemic, the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC) will have little to no data to analyze in March 2023 in which to make recommendations to the Congress on Medicare ambulance payment policy and rates. The AAA is asking the Congress to push back the date of the MedPAC report and also expand the modified data collection timeline of two years to the intended four years.
On behalf of my fellow board members, I again thank you for your continued membership and participation. We look forward to serving you for many years to come.
We also encourage all of our AAA members to contact their members of Congress through our online advocacy tool.
Should you have any questions regarding our advocacy priorities, please contact AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North at email@example.com.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has filed for publication in the Federal Register the Solicitation of Nominations Notice for the Ground Ambulance and Patient Billing (GAPB) Advisory Committee. The Notice is scheduled to be included in the Federal Register for tomorrow, Tuesday, November 23.
The Congress created the GAPB Advisory Committee as part of The No Surprises Act enacted last year and currently being implemented by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury. The American Ambulance Association, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, and the National Volunteer Fire Council successfully advocated that the Congress take into consideration the unique characteristics of ground ambulance services when determining balance billing policy for our services. The Congress excluded ground ambulance services from the provisions of The No Surprises Act and created the GAPB Advisory Committee to address balance billing.
The AAA has identified candidates, including AAA President Baird, who we will be supporting for inclusion on the Advisory Committee who we believe are well-positioned to represent the AAA membership. Once formed, the Advisory Committee has 180 days in which to report its recommendations to the Congress. The directive of the Committee is to review options to “improve the disclosure of charges and fees for ground ambulance services, better inform consumers of insurance options for such services, and protect consumers from balance billing.” We will be keeping the AAA membership continually informed of the actions and deliberations of the GAPB Advisory Committee.
Should you have any questions regarding the GAPB Advisory Committee, please contact AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and the U.S. Treasury Department (Departments) have issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) on “surprise billing” that will take effect September 13, 2021. However, the Departments are taking comments on the IFR. While the Congress expressly excluded ground ambulance organizations from the statute that the IFR seeks to implement, the Departments have included a prohibition on balance billing for nonemergency ground ambulance transports that occur after a patient has been stabilized in a facility.
The Congress established an Advisory Committee to consider the best way to address balance billing in the context of ground ambulance services, and the Departments should wait to be advised by that group before subjecting nonemergency ground ambulance transports to the broader balancing billing prohibition.
It is important that the Departments hear from as many stakeholders as possible opposing this expansion of the law. To help you develop a comment letter, we provided the following template that we ask you to tailor to your experience and organization. Tailored letters will be of greater value to the Department as they consider the rules. At a minimum, please customize the templated language to insert information about who you are and where you operate.
The must be submitted by September 7, 2021.
Webinar July 7, 2021 | 13:00–13:30 ET | Free to AAA Members
Speakers: Kathy Lester, Esq. & Asbel Montes
On July 1, CMS issued a proposed rule on Surprise Billing which applies to those providers and physicians identified in the No Surprises Act. This statute subjected ground ambulance suppliers to an HHS Advisory Committee process prior to any rulemaking addressing these services.
The consultants and staff of the American Ambulance Association are doing a deep dive into the 400+ page rule and evaluating its nuances. We continue to understand from our conversations that ground ambulances are not included and instead are subjected to the Advisory Committee.
The American Ambulance Association will soon provide a summary to members, and will address any confusion with the Administration. Join AAA for a quick take live webinar on July 7 at 13:00 ET to learn more!
Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives followed soon after by the United States Senate passed an approximately $900 billion legislative package to provide additional economic relief to businesses and individuals struggling from the COVID-19 pandemic. The package also contained numerous unrelated policy changes with several provisions on interest to ground ambulance service organizations. The AAA is currently analyzing the legislative text of the massive 3,000 plus page package and will provide members with the final analysis. In the meantime, below are some highlights.
Sequestration, which reduces Medicare reimbursement by 2% for Medicare providers and suppliers, is suspended through March 31, 2021.
Provider Relief Fund
An additional $3 billion is added to the Provider Relief Fund administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Health care providers will no longer be able to balance bill patients with private insurance. Rates will be determined through an arbitration process. The restrictions do not apply to ground ambulance services. The AAA along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters and National Association of EMTs successfully educated lawmakers about the oversight role of local governments in 911 EMS systems. The legislation instead establishes an Advisory Committee on Ground Ambulance Billing which will issue a report to Congress on its findings. The AAA will be pushing for representatives of the AAA to be on the Committee.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
Another round of $284 billion in PPP funding is made available to small businesses hit especially hard by the pandemic. Businesses must employ 300 or fewer employees and report losses of 25% or more in order to qualify. For ground ambulance service organizations which receive PPP funds under the past round or the current one, expenses covered by forgiven funds will now be deductible.
Today’s AAA webinar, “Wrapping Up a Year for the Record Books”, will include an overview of the stimulus package. This webinar is free for AAA members. Register Here!
by Kathy Lester, J.D., M.P.H.
As the American Ambulance Association (AAA) reported yesterday, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) “An America-First Healthcare Plan.” The EO includes several provisions, including related to drug importation generally and for insulin specifically. It also includes statements that indicate if the Congress does not act before the end of the year, the President will have the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “take administrative action to prevent a patient from receiving a bill for out-of-pocket expenses that the patient could not have reasonably foreseen.” It does not mention ground ambulances.
In addition to suggesting action if the Congress does not pass legislation, the EO also states that within 180 days, the Secretary will update the Medicare.gov Hospital Compare website to inform beneficiaries of hospital billing quality, including:
The narrative related to balance billing (surprise coverage) reads as follows:
My Administration is transforming the black-box hospital and insurance pricing systems to be transparent about price and quality. Regardless of health-insurance coverage, two‑thirds of adults in America still worry about the threat of unexpected medical bills. This fear is the result of a system under which individuals and employers are unable to see how insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, insurance brokers, and providers are or will be paid. One major culprit is the practice of “surprise billing,” in which a patient receives unexpected bills at highly inflated prices from providers who are not part of the patient’s insurance network, even if the patient was treated at a hospital that was part of the patient’s network. Patients can receive these bills despite having no opportunity to select around an out-of-network provider in advance.
On May 9, 2019, I announced four principles to guide congressional efforts to prohibit exorbitant bills resulting from patients’ accidentally or unknowingly receiving services from out-of-network physicians. Unfortunately, the Congress has failed to act, and patients remain vulnerable to surprise billing.
In the absence of congressional action, my Administration has already taken strong and decisive action to make healthcare prices more transparent. On June 24, 2019, I signed Executive Order 13877 (Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First), directing certain agencies — for the first time ever — to make sure patients have access to meaningful price and quality information prior to the delivery of care. Beginning January 1, 2021, hospitals will be required to publish their real price for every service, and publicly display in a consumer-friendly, easy-to-understand format the prices of at least 300 different common services that are able to be shopped for in advance.
We have also taken some concrete steps to eliminate surprise out‑of-network bills. For example, on April 10, 2020, my Administration required providers to certify, as a condition of receiving supplemental COVID-19 funding, that they would not seek to collect out-of-pocket expenses from a patient for treatment related to COVID-19 in an amount greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay for care by an in-network provider. These initiatives have made important progress, although additional efforts are necessary.
Not all hospitals allow for surprise bills. But many do. Unfortunately, surprise billing has become sufficiently pervasive that the fear of receiving a surprise bill may dissuade patients from seeking appropriate care. And research suggests a correlation between hospitals that frequently allow surprise billing and increases in hospital admissions and imaging procedures, putting patients at risk of receiving unnecessary services, which can lead to physical harm and threatens the long-term financial sustainability of Medicare.
Efforts to limit surprise billing and increase the number of providers participating in the same insurance network as the hospital in which they work would correspondingly streamline the ability of patients to receive care and reduce time spent on billing disputes.
The AAA will continue to advocate for the resources necessary to sustain life-saving mobile healthcare.
This week’s Kaiser Health News piece on surprise coverage includes less than a paragraph of the information provided by AAA Executive Director Maria Bianchi and Communications Chair Rob Lawrence. AAA is deeply disappointed by the lack of balance and inadequate representation of the EMS perspective in this coverage.
Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the HHS Secretary’s Report on Addressing Surprise Billing. The report, called for in Section 7 of President Trump’s Executive Order 13877, Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First, outlines critical steps, including Congressional action, to implement the Administration’s principles on surprise billing. Sound surprise billing legislation will not only protect patients but will encourage a fairer, more transparent, patient-centered healthcare system that benefits all Americans.
“Americans have the right to know what a healthcare service is going to cost before they receive it,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “President Trump and his administration have done their part to deliver historic transparency around the prices of many procedures. Now it’s time for Congress to do what we all agree is necessary: combat surprise billing with an approach that puts patients in control and benefits all Americans.”
Surprise medical billing is a widespread and costly problem in the United States, and the need to address it has been highlighted during the Public Health Emergency (PHE) presented by COVID-19. Research shows that 41 percent of insured adults nationwide were surprised by a medical bill in the past two years alone, and that two thirds of adults worry about their ability to afford an unexpected medical bill. At a time when Americans are increasingly seeking medical care, practices such as surprise billing leave many patients vulnerable to the financial burdens presented by a nationwide pandemic.
HHS has taken regulatory and administrative action to increase price transparency permanently. On June 24, 2019, President Trump signed Executive Order 13877. Following direction from this Executive Order, HHS published two rules supporting the Administration’s mission to improve accessibility of healthcare price information to help patients make informed decisions about their use of healthcare services. The first, poised to go into effect January 1, 2021, requires hospitals operating in the United States to establish, update, and make public, at least annually, a list of their standard charges for the items and services that they provide. The second companion proposed rule would demand similar transparency from most group health plans and issuers of health insurance coverage within both the individual and group markets.
To supplement this progress, Congress must take additional action to build on the achievements of the Administration to eliminate the threat of surprise billing once and for all. This should be accomplished with the following principles in mind, as laid out by the Trump Administration on May 9th, 2019:
If done swiftly, a remarkable burden will be lifted from the shoulders of millions of Americans. By building on the foundation placed by Executive Order 13877, there is an opportunity to fill the remaining gaps and solve comprehensively a longstanding flaw, equivalent to price-gouging, within our healthcare industry.