Tag: Balance Billing

America First Healthcare Executive Order on Surprise Coverage

President Trump’s “An America-First Healthcare Plan” Executive Order on Surprise Billing Policy

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:

  • Whether the hospital is in compliance with the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule;
  • Whether, upon discharge, the hospital provides patients with a receipt that includes a list of itemized services received during a hospital stay; and
  • How often the hospital pursues legal action against patients, including to garnish wages, to place a lien on a patient’s home, or to withdraw money from a patient’s income tax refund.

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.

KHN | With No Legal Guardrails for Patients, Ambulances Drive Surprise Medical Billing

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.

Read the article

HHS Report Calls for Congressional Action to Combat Surprise Billing

From HHS.gov on July 29, 2020

HHS Secretary’s Report Calls for Congressional Action to Combat Surprise Billing and Promote Price Transparency

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:

  • Patients receiving emergency care should not be forced to shoulder extra costs billed by a care provider but not covered by their insurer;
  • Patients receiving scheduled care should have information about whether providers are in or out of their network and what costs they may face;
  • Patients should not receive surprise bills from out-of-network providers they did not choose; and
  • Federal healthcare expenditures should not increase.

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.

CNBC | Why Ambulance Rides Are So Expensive In The United States

Thank you to American Ambulance Association Payment Reform Chair Asbel Montes for eloquently representing the EMS perspective on surprise coverage in this video from CNBC:


It’s an open secret in America that calling for an ambulance can be a financial gamble because of surprise bills. There’s no way for patients to know how much an ambulance will cost before they get inside the vehicle, and the final bill can be thousands of dollars. Here’s why ambulances are so expensive in the United States and what can be done to change it.

HealthAffairs | Ambulance Balance Billing

HealthAffairs is a  subscription-based publication, so a paid subscription is required to view the full article. The abstract is reproduced below.

Most Patients Undergoing Ground And Air Ambulance Transportation Receive Sizable Out-Of-Network Bills

Karan R. Chhabra, Keegan McGuire, Kyle H. Sheetz, John W. Scott, Ushapoorna Nuliyalu, and Andrew M. Ryan

ABSTRACT

“Surprise” out-of-network bills have come under close scrutiny, and while ambulance transportation is known to be a large component of the problem, its impact is poorly understood. We measured the prevalence and financial impact of out-of-network billing in ground and air ambulance transportation. For members of a large national insurance plan in 2013–17, 71 percent of all ambulance rides involved potential surprise bills. For both ground and air ambulances, out-of-network charges were substantially greater than in-network prices, resulting in median potential surprise bills of $450 for ground transportation and $21,698 for air transportation. Though out-of-network air ambulance bills were larger, out-of-network ground ambulance bills were more common, with an aggregate impact of $129 million per year. Out-of-network air ambulance bills averaged $91 million per year, rising from $41 million in 2013 to $143 million in 2017. Federal proposals to limit surprise out-of-network billing should incorporate protections for patients undergoing ground or air ambulance transportation.

House Committees Consider Balance Billing Proposals

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, the House Ways & Means and Education & Labor Committees marked up their proposals on balance or “surprise” billing. As we reported on Monday of this week, the Ways & Means Committee proposal, the Consumer Protections Against Surprise Medical Bills Act (H.R. 5826), did not include a provision on ground ambulance services. The House Education & Labor proposal, The Ban Surprise Billing Act (H.R. 5800), however, included a provision to create a federal advisory committee to recommend restrictions on the ability of ground ambulance service providers and suppliers to balance bill.

The Ways & Means Committee reported out H.R 5826 favorably by voice vote. While the Education & Labor Committee also reported out H.R. 5800 favorably, the vote was 30 to 13 as a block of its Committee members preferred the approach of the Ways & Means proposal on how to address balance billing for other providers. It is now up to House leadership to determine next steps on how the chamber will approach a final package on balance billing.

While H.R. 5800 as reported out by the Education & Labor Committee still includes the provision on ground ambulance services, Chairman Scott (D-VA) and Ranking Member Foxx (R-NC) prior to mark up had removed the most problematic language in the bill. As introduced, H.R. 5800 would have given the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to issue regulations to restrict balance billing based on the findings of the advisory committee. This would have eliminated federal lawmakers from being able to evaluate the recommendations prior to the changes being implemented. The language was removed in the chairman’s mark of the bill, and thus the Congress would now have an opportunity to debate and craft legislation on the recommendations.

The AAA along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) and National Association of EMTs (NAEMT) had advocated against the ground ambulance provision. We thank Chairman Scott, Ranking Member Foxx and members of the Committee for listening to our concerns and removing the regulation authority language.

Only one of the four pieces of legislation on balance billing reported out by congressional committees includes a provision on ground ambulance services. We will continue to advocate to preserve the ability of local governments to determine the rates and standards for their EMS systems and against the inclusion of a ground ambulance provision in a final package on balance billing.

We will keep you apprised of new developments on the issue.

House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee Takes Action on Balance Billing

On July 11, 2019, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Health Subcommittee held a markup in which they advanced 10 health care bills, including legislation on surprise/balance billing. This legislation, H.R. 3630, the No Surprises Act attempts to address out-of-network surprise medical bills. The AAA Government Affairs team has been in regular communication with the Energy and Commerce Committee and member offices leading up to the markup to ensure that the ground ambulance industry and AAA members were not negatively impacted by the legislation or any introduced amendments.

Thanks to the attentive efforts of AAA members, staff, and consultants, there was no mention of ground ambulance during the markup of H.R. 3630, the No Surprises Act. While ground ambulance was not mentioned, Rep. Lujan (D-NM) highlighted the air ambulance transparency language that is included in the No Surprises Act and called for it to be strengthened further before this legislation is considered by the full Energy and Commerce Committee.

Over the course of the markup, Subcommittee Chairwoman Eshoo (D-CA) thanked Rep. Lujan for bringing attention to the “extraordinary costs” associated with air ambulance. Rep. Ruiz (D-CA) then expressed his ongoing concerns regarding the balance billing provisions of the No Surprises Act, citing the experience to date under California’s law. Rep. Ruiz asked to continue working with the Committee to address these issues before the bill is considered by the full Committee.  In response, Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) noted that the Energy and Commerce Committee’s approach had bipartisan support within the committee, and that it also had bipartisan support in the Senate HELP Committee. While the Chairman expressed a desire to secure all Members’ support for the bill as it moves through the full Committee, he made no promises to further change the bill.

The educational efforts undertaken during the last several months appears to have helped the Members of the Energy and Commerce Committee to understand the complexities involved in the local control and oversight of ground ambulance services; however, the risk that the Congress could modify this approach to supporting local control remains as the legislation moves forward. The AAA Government Affairs team and Balance Billing Working Group will remain vigilant regarding all balance billing proposals in order to prevent any that would negatively impact AAA members and the ground ambulance industry.

Update on AAA Legislative Priorities

The American Ambulance Association has been working hard to accomplish the legislative goals of the membership in the 116th Congress. The AAA would like to take this opportunity to provide an update on what we have accomplished thus far in the 116th Congress.

Balance/Surprise Billing

Balance/surprise billing is a hot button issue that recently came into the spotlight at the start of the 116th Congress. With the President’s announcement calling for Congress to pass legislation that would end surprise billing for patients, there has been an increase in Congressional action on the issue including introduced legislation, discussion drafts and hearings in all committees of jurisdiction. The AAA has been working tirelessly with the Congressional committees of jurisdiction to educate Members and staff on the unique characteristics of EMS systems and that it would be inappropriate to apply the same restrictions on balanced billing to ground ambulance services.

The AAA has formed a working group comprised of AAA member volunteers that have worked on policy and messaging on balance billing. The working group has submitted comments to the Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate HELP committees advocating that the ambulance industry is unique from other stakeholders, and as such, should be looked at differently. Ambulance service providers and suppliers are required by law to treat and transport all patients, regardless of their ability to pay and are heavily regulated at the local level. The AAA has been working to communicate these factors that place the ambulance industry in a different situation than many other stakeholders.

Public Safety Officers Death Benefit (PSOB)

The Public Safety Officers Death Benefit (PSOB), a one-time benefit paid to families of first responders killed in the line of duty, is an issue that the AAA has passionately advocated for over many years. In the 116th Congress, the AAA has secured introduction of legislation in the House of Representatives, H.R. 2887, the Emergency Medical Service Providers Protection Act. H.R. 2887 would extend the PSOB to first responders employed by private for-profit EMS agencies. The AAA was able to secure several commitments from Members of Congress to cosponsor the legislation during Stars of Life meetings in Washington, DC. In addition to taking action to move H.R. 2887 through the legislative process, the AAA will be engaging in an outreach campaign in the next few weeks.

Dialysis Off-Set Restructuring

The AAA has worked toward reintroduction of legislation to restructure the offset that was passed into law in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (H.R. 1892) in the 115th Congress. This offset included a total cut of 23% to the Medicare reimbursement for basic life support (BLS) non-emergency transports performed by all ambulance service suppliers and providers to and from dialysis centers. This cut served as an offset to the 5-year extension of Medicare add on payments that our industry worked hard to get extended.

The AAA has secured introduction of legislation in both the House and Senate. H.R. 3021 was introduced by Representatives LaHood (R-IL) and Sewell (D-AL) and S. 228 by Senators Cassidy (R-LA) and Jones (D-AL). If passed, this legislation would change the cut that is currently in place so that it applies specifically to companies conducting over 50% ESRD non-emergency transports. Those ambulance services with over 50% ESRD transports would get a cut of 29.5%, while those doing less would receive a 15.5% cut. The AAA will continue to work toward movement and passage of this legislation that would better distribute the reduction to those providers which do almost exclusively non-emergency dialysis transports and thus have a lower cost of providing services.

Medicare Priorities Bill

The AAA has crafted legislation that is specifically aimed at addressing major Medicare ambulance industry issues. The issues that will be included in future legislation include making Medicare ambulance add-ons permanent, implementing a prior-authorization program across the nation, allowing for transportation to alternative destinations, reducing regulatory burdens, and providing relief through maintaining many zip codes as rural following the next census. The AAA is working to get this Medicare priorities legislation introduced in the coming months so that we can get to work on solving these Medicare issues that impact our industry as a whole.

VA Legislation

Another priority that that the AAA has been diligently working toward getting introduced is Veterans Affairs (VA) legislation. The Veterans Reimbursement for Emergency Ambulance Services Act (VREASA) introduced by Congressman Tipton (R-CO) would provide veterans with reimbursement for emergency ambulance services when a Prudent Layperson would have a reasonable expectation that a delay in seeking immediate medical attention will jeopardize the life or health of the veteran. This legislation was introduced as a result of the VA consistently requiring all medical records be provided, including the records of treatment after the emergency service has taken place. Should those records show that it was not a life threatening emergency or a false alarm, the claim for reimbursement is being denied. The VA legislation would mandate that the VA apply the “prudent layperson” definition of emergency to determine coverage of ambulance claims.

The AAA is also working toward addressing two other issues with the VA to enforce more prompt payment by the VA and treating the VA as the first payor, similar to Medicare, as it is determined whether there is a different primary payor. The AAA has been working with Senators Collins and Tester on language help solve this ongoing and serious reimbursement issue.

In our next update, we will be reporting on the progress the AAA has made this year on regulatory issues.

Questions? Contact Us

If you have questions about the discussion draft or balance billing initiatives being undertaken by the AAA, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the AAA Government Affairs Team.

Tristan North – Senior Vice President of Government Affairs
tnorth@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9025

Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
rhazdovac@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9027

Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
acamas@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9026

Thank you for your continued membership and support

Member Update on Balance Billing

This morning Ruth Hazdovac and Aidan Camas of AAA staff and Kathy Lester, Esq, Healthcare Consultant to the AAA attended a briefing held by the House Energy & Commerce Committee on the issue of surprise/balance billing. At the briefing, staff for Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) announced that they would be releasing a bipartisan discussion draft, the No Surprises Act, which would “protect consumers from surprise medical bills and increase transparency in our health care system.”

As of now, ground and air ambulances are NOT included in the discussion draft. However, the committee is asking for comments on ground and air ambulance and recommendations on how to provide relief to the consumer in this area. The AAA has a Balance Billing Work Group that is hard at work developing a policy recommendation that will work for our members.

The House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Lloyd Doggett also announced today that the Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing next week entitled “Hearing on Protecting Patients from Surprise Medical Bills.” AAA Staff will be at the briefing and provide a timely update to membership on any developments.

The AAA team will be submitting comments and policy recommendations based off the work of the Balance Billing Work Group to both the Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means Committee to ensure that the views of our members are well represented. We will also be reaching out to AAA members in the states of key policymakers on the Committees to submit comments, as well. The AAA will also provide members with key talking points in the event they are contact by their Members of Congress or their staff.

Questions? Contact Us

If you have questions about the discussion draft or balance billing initiatives being undertaken by the AAA, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the AAA Government Affairs Team.

Tristan North – Senior Vice President of Government Affairs
tnorth@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9025

Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
rhazdovac@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9027

Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
acamas@ambulance.org | (202) 802-9026

Thank you for your continued membership and support.

Senators Release Draft Balance Billing Legislation

On Tuesday, September 18, 2018 Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Todd Young (R-IN), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) released draft legislation that aims to protect patients from surprise medical bills. The discussion draft (view the entire draft) of this proposed legislation tackles three main aspects of balanced billing:

  • Emergency services provided by an out-of-network provider in an out-of-network facility
  • Non-Emergency services following an emergency service from an out-of-network facility
  • Non-Emergency services performed by an out-of-network provider at an in-network facility

The discussion draft outlines legislation that would prevent balanced billing of patients for emergency medical services and instead require insurers to pay the difference between out-of-network and in-network costs. This discussion draft was likely fueled, in part, by some recent headlines highlighting extremely high bills received by patients. In his press release, Senator Cassidy references two stories in particular, one of a patient who received a bill of nearly $109,000 for care after a heart attack, and another of a patient who received a bill for $17,850 for a urine test.

The AAA knows that balanced billing is a major issue for our members and will be monitoring this legislation closely. The AAA and member representatives worked with Senator Cassidy on the initial language as it pertained to ground ambulance service providers and suppliers. Our initial analysis of the most recent draft legislation indicates that the language would not apply to ground ambulance service suppliers but there is ambiguity as to whether it could apply to hospital-based providers. The AAA will continue to engage with Senator Cassidy on ground ambulance issues related to the discussion draft. At this point no AAA member action is needed, and we will keep our members informed of any potential issues.

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.

Statement for NBC Nightly News Balance Billing Story 3/9/18

Last night, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt ran a segment on ambulance balance billing. Although provided with a brief one-paragraph statement in advance, they chose to use less than one sentence of it during the broadcast. We have reproduced our original statement below to provide additional context.

For a better understanding of the forces driving the costs behind ambulance care, please see this recent longer media response by American Ambulance Association President Mark Postma.

Video Story

Original Statement Provided by American Ambulance Association

Emailed to Eric Salzman on January 28, 2018 | Very brief due to TV news format
Ambulance providers, both private and public, serve their communities with lifesaving on-demand mobile healthcare 24/7, regardless of patients’ ability to pay. Ambulance services are saddled with a high cost of readiness as they keep certified personnel, sophisticated technology, and costly medications ready round-the-clock. Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance often reimburse ambulance services at rates below the costs of providing this care, endangering their ability to continue serving families in their time of extreme need. Ambulance services bill patients as a last resort: This necessity is driven by a complex combination of rising patient deductibles, reduced insurance coverage, and unfair contractual negotiation techniques employed by insurers that leave patients with uncovered balances. Like most issues in our healthcare landscape, there are no quick fixes for these challenges. However, as dedicated healthcare professionals, we welcome ongoing public dialogue about how to bring sustainable reimbursement to ambulance providers in order to reduce cost-shifting to patients.

Balance Billing: AAA EVP Maria Bianchi on WOSU Ohio

The American Ambulance Association continues to defend ambulance providers in the face of misunderstandings regarding balance billing.

Today, AAA’s Executive Vice President Maria Bianchi provided context on WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher. Maria called in during an interview with Melissa Bailey, author of the November 20 Kaiser Health News article to which association President Mark Postma recently responded. Maria’s comments helped listeners understand the complex reality of EMS funding.

Listen on-demand now►

AAA 2016 State Balanced Billing & Direct Pay Survey Results Released

The AAA is providing its members with the results of two important surveys conducted of state laws impacting ambulance services.  The first chart entitled “2016 State Balance Billing Survey” shows whether a state restricts balancing billing of patients.  The second entitled “2016 State Direct Pay Survey” lists whether a state has a law requiring an insurer to send payment directly to a non-contracted ambulance service or a law allowing the insurer do send payment to the patient.  We thank AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel for compiling the data and members of the AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee and the AAA membership to which Brian reached out for their assistance.