Tag: Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

Add-Ons Update & Impact of Partial Government Shutdown

Call To Action:  Ambulance Add-Ons Update &
Impact of Partial Government Shutdown

Congress is heading toward a possible partial shutdown of the federal government without taking action on our expired Medicare add-on payments. While the AAA and other industry stakeholders have pressed hard for Congress to immediately pass a five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons, our message is not being heard loud enough amongst all the other noise. We need you to contact your members of Congress today in support of extending the 2% urban, 3% rural and 22.6% super rural increases!

Write to Your Member of Congress

Last night, the House of Representatives mostly along party lines passed a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government through February 16. The fate of the bill in the Senate is uncertain. If Congress does not pass by midnight tonight a measure extending funding for the federal government, there will be a partial government shutdown.

The AAA had pushed for Congress to attach a Medicare provider extender package including a five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons to the Continuing Resolution.  Since the extender package was not included in the Resolution, we are pressing Congress to consider a separate extenders only package including the five-year ambulance extension or attach the package to another moving legislative vehicle.  We are also pushing Congress to at the very least pass a short-term extension retroactive to January 1 until a Medicare extender package can move.

It is critical that we get the Medicare ambulance add-ons reinstated as soon as possible.
So please write your members of Congress today!

In the meantime, here are answers to questions about whether you should continue to hold claims and what a partial government shutdown would mean for Medicare and Medicaid payments.

Should my organization still hold Medicare claims?

CMS has not formally stated whether it is holding claims beyond the requirement for contractors to not pay claims until two weeks after receiving them.  AAA members may want to consider holding claims until the issue is resolved, assuming their financial position permits.  Holding claims would potentially allow members to avoid the need to have claims subsequently adjusted at a later date.

Will CMS pay claims during a partial government shutdown?

Yes. CMS has issued the following:  CMS would continue key Federal Exchange activities, such as open enrollment eligibility verification, using Federal Exchange user fee carryover. In the short term, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption during a lapse in appropriations. Additionally, other non-discretionary activities including Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control, and Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation activities would continue. States will have sufficient funding for Medicaid through the second quarter, due to the continuation of authority under the CR for appropriated entitlements, and CMS will maintain the staff necessary to make payments to eligible states from remaining Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) carryover balances.

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 until legislation extending the add-ons has passed both chambers of Congress and the President has signed the bill into law.  CMS will make similar statements relative to the other Medicare extenders as well.

Second, prepare. To the extent you are able to do so, you may hold your claims. Medicare requires providers to files claims no later than 12 months after the date when the services were provided. (See Medicare: File a Claim; see also section 6404 of the Affordable Care Act). While this may not work for all claims, holding claims will reduce the number that would have to be reprocessed once the add-ons become law. If CMS believes at some point the legislation will pass, it may also break with its own precedent and indicate that has asked the contractors to hold claims for a short period of time as well. It did this in 2014 when it discovered errors in a final fee schedule rule. Once the claims are processed, so long as the add-ons have been extended by law, the add-on dollars will appear in the reimbursement amounts sent to providers and suppliers.

Third, retroactivity can be expensive, but CMS can mitigate the costs. CMS did this most recently in May of 2017. Then, CMS announced that it would implement the retroactive extension of a transitional payment for durable medical equipment suppliers by having the contractors automatically reprocess claims from the period when the transitional payment was made retroactive. This approach reduced the burden on providers and suppliers by eliminating the need to resubmit claims.

Despite the fact that there are ways to mitigate the problem, the American Ambulance Association (AAA) remains deeply concerned that the Congress did not extend the add-ons before they left for the holidays. We understand that for ambulance services across the country receiving timely payments from Medicare can be the difference between being able to make payroll or not. Having the dollars from the add-ons is also crucial to ensuring adequate cash flow. Therefore, while we advise you to think through your options and take the steps that best meet your needs and the needs of your employees, patients, partners, and businesses, we also ask that you reach out to the Congress and let them know how important it is to get the add-ons extended as early in January as possible. Make your voice heard by going to the AAA’s grassroots page. There you can send an email or reach out through social media to your Members of Congress.  We need everyone, including your employees, patients, and others who support high quality ambulance services, to reach out today.

Write to Your Members of Congress

The AAA will continue our direct efforts on Capitol Hill to make sure these add-ons are extended and overly burdensome new requirements are not placed on ambulance services. With your help, we can get the add-ons extended. For more information please visit https://ambulance.org/advocacy/.

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, Congress mandated that the program be expanded to six additional states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia by January 1, 2016, and then potentially to the rest of the nation by January 1, 2017. However, CMS never issued the required report; as a result, the contemplated national expansion never occurred.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If you operate in a state that is not currently operating under prior authorization, the answer to this question is relatively straightforward, i.e., nothing will change.

If, however, operate in a state that is currently subject to prior authorization, this question is a bit trickier. What we do know is that the actual mechanics of submitting claims will revert to the same process you experienced prior to the implementation of prior authorization. You will submit claims for repetitive patients directly to the Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC), who will likely process them in same manner they process other Medicare claims. In other words, 14 days after the submission of the claim, you will likely receive a remittance notice indicating that the claim has either been paid or denied.

We also know that you will no longer benefit from the protections against post-payment review of these claims. Under the prior authorization model, CMS made clear that it would not audit claims paid based on a valid authorization, except in instances where it could demonstrate that the prior authorization was fraudulently procured.

What We Can Expect from Medicare and its Contractors

What we don’t know is whether the MACs will implement any temporary measures to guard against ongoing over-utilization and/or fraud. To better understand what I mean, put yourself in the position of the MAC. You have empirical evidence (see the chart to the right) that prior authorization has resulted in dramatic reductions in the amount of Medicare dollars paid for dialysis transports. You have further seen little evidence that this reduction in payments has resulted in any serious access to care issues.

The logical conclusion you would draw is that the amounts paid for dialysis prior to the implementation of prior authorization were likely excessive. If so, you might consider some proactive steps to prevent dialysis utilization from increasing back to the levels seen prior to the implementation of prior authorization.
So, it is possible (perhaps even likely) that ambulance suppliers in some of these states may see their MAC elect to implement prepayment reviews for dialysis patients. This could be similar to the process Novitas used for the initial three round trip transports to dialysis.

I also think it is reasonable to expect that the MACs, the Zone Program Integrity Contractors, and the OIG will monitor utilization trends, with an eye towards conducting post-payment reviews on ambulance suppliers that see their dialysis volume increase sharply next year.

Other Potential Impacts

In the previous section, I touched on the steps Medicare and its contractors might take to prevent a return to pre-prior authorization levels of dialysis utilization. In this section, I want to talk about some of the knock-on effects ambulance providers are likely to see.

One of the more interesting changes we saw in the prior authorization regime was a re-balancing of the power dynamic between ambulance suppliers and facilities, i.e., assisted living facilities and skilled nursing homes. Prior to the implementation of prior authorization, that power dynamic was slanted heavily in favor of the facility. By that I mean they could exert tremendous pressure on ambulance suppliers to take marginal patients by ambulance. If you were involved in the industry prior to 2015, you undoubtedly heard an SNF administrator tell you something to the effect of “if your company won’t take the patient by ambulance, I can easily find another company that will.” In competitive markets, that statement was usually accurate.

Under the demonstration project, prior authorization or lack thereof traveled with the patient. What that meant is that if your ambulance company submitted a prior authorization request that was denied, that denial would apply to any other ambulance company that might be interested in taking the patient. As a result, the nursing home could no longer hold the threat of going elsewhere with their business over your head.

Prior authorization also affected the standing policies of dialysis centers. Many free-standing dialysis centers have standing policies that they will not assist in transferring the patient to and from the dialysis treatment chair. This meant that patients that could be transported in a wheelchair van, but who required assistance to transfer out of their wheelchair presented a conundrum. There wouldn’t be medical necessity for the ambulance, but there would be no easy way for you to transfer them into the treatment chair without a second crew member (something most wheelchair van services don’t offer). Under prior authorization, it was easier for the ambulance company to push back, since they knew they wouldn’t be paid for the ambulance. As a result, I have heard that dialysis employees in these states had started to assist patients in transferring.

No really, it’s true…

One potential consequence of the prior authorization going away is that it may shift this power dynamic back to the facilities, with all of the negative consequences that are likely to result.

“Okay, I get what you are saying, but what I really want to know is whether I should loosen our standards for accepting a dialysis patient or not?”

Good question. Unfortunately, not one that permits an easy answer. The implementation of prior authorization shifted the cost-benefit analysis associated with transporting dialysis patients. It was likely that you were going to have a smaller number of patients approved and paid, but you could rest easy that you wouldn’t be at risk of having to return that money years later as the result of a Medicare audit.

The expiration of prior authorization shifts the cost-benefit analysis yet again. It is likely that you have tightened up your criteria for who you accept for dialysis transportation as a result of prior authorization. Loosening those criteria would almost certainly result in an increase in your short-term revenues. However, that would be offset, to some degree, by the increased risk of a Medicare audit.

For that reason, the course of action I have been recommending to people is not to dramatically loosen your standards. Instead, I typically ask whether they currently have patients that they believe do require an ambulance, but who were rejected for prior authorization by the MAC. Most providers respond that they do. Put another way, we are trying to identify the patients that you would feel comfortable defending in an audit. That is the additional population I would target for transportation next year.

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

Trump Administration Interim HHS Rule

In a surprising announcement by the Trump Administration late Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) the Administration released an interim rule that rolled back the Obama Administration rules regarding the requirement of employer sponsored health plans to pay for “preventative services” which included birth control and abortion procedures under religious or moral objections. The move has initiated legal action by the Attorney General in Massachusetts who announced yesterday that she has filed a suit in U.S. District Court yesterday.

Key facts about the interim final rules:

  • The regulations exempt entities only from providing an otherwise mandated item to which they object on the basis of their religious beliefs or moral conviction.
  • The regulation leaves in place preventive services coverage guidelines where no religious or moral objection exists. The Administration is asserting that out of millions of employers in the U.S., these exemptions would only impact about 200 entities.
  • Current law itself already exempts over 25 million people from the preventive-care mandate because they are insured through an entity that has a health insurance plan that existed prior to the Obamacare statute.
  • The regulations leave in place government programs that provide free or subsidized contraceptive coverage to low income women, such as through community health centers.
  • These regulations do not ban any drugs or devices.
  • The mandate as defined by the previous administration suffered defeats in court after court, including the Supreme Court, which ruled that the government cannot punish business owners for their faith.

Employers can read the final version of the interim rule. With certainty, there will be numerous legal challenges regarding these rules. We will keep our members updated regarding these new rules and the legal challenges as they develop.

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).

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, including Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), announced they would vote against the bill.  As the moderates disappeared, not enough members of the conservative Freedom Caucus decided to support the bill.

As disarray in the House Republican Caucus occurred, there appeared to be a similar lack of consensus amongst their Republican colleagues on the Senate side.  While Senate Leadership had planned to move the bill directly to the Senate floor as fast as within a week of receipt from the House, there were a number of Senators from a range of political perspectives with serious concerns about the bill.  On one side of the Republican spectrum, Senators Rand Paul (KY), Mike Lee (UT) and Ted Cruz (TX) had planned to push the limits of what can be included in a reconciliation bill to make it more conservative. Senator Paul had advocated for repealing the ACA in full and dealing with the replacement later on. On the other side, more moderate or “purple state” Members like Senators Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Cory Gardner (CO) and Dean Heller (NV) raised concerns about insurance affordability and the expedited rollback of Medicaid expansion in the House version of the bill. Other Senators who will likely play a prominent role in any further health reform developments include physician Senator Bill Cassidy (LA), and Senator Tom Cotton (AR), who advocated all along to slow the process down. Republicans can only lose two Senators and still pass any health reform bill, with the vote of Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie.

As a next step, House and Senate Republican Leadership plan to take more time to develop consensus in any future approach to health reform.  How much time is unclear – but it seems unlikely the bill will be the legislative focus in the short term.  Instead, there will likely be a cooling-off period on health reform legislative activity, since the fundamental disagreements within the caucus are not easily fixed.  There will continue to be significant messaging against ACA from conservatives, and there is the potential that the idea of “repeal and delay” may gain more traction.  Nonetheless, in the short term, the Speaker indicated he would move on to other items on his conference’s agenda – including tax reform.  Keep in mind, however, that since health-related tax provisions are a major component of the tax code, it would not be surprising to see some health issues resurface in tax reform.

The Speaker indicated that he expects the ACA marketplace to get worse – specifically citing rising premium costs.  In his own remarks on the failure to pass AHCA, the President suggested the Democrats will own any rising premiums, and provided a rare moment of optimism for the day when he indicated that a bipartisan health care reform bill may be achievable in the future when that happens.   As the Legislative Branch takes time to develop consensus, more focus will be placed on the Executive Branch.

We expect HHS Secretary Tom Price and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to take an increasingly important role in driving the health agenda.  It is unclear at this point whether the Trump Administration will let ACA drift in the wind, take administrative actions to try to improve the marketplace, or even actively work to derail it further.  A likely bellwether as to the Administration’s intent is how it approaches the pending litigation over cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies.  The House had sued the Obama Administration over the program, which funnels federal dollars to insurers to help keep out-of-pocket costs manageable for lower-income individuals, saying the funding had to be appropriated.  But after the inauguration, the House and Trump Administration sought a stay of the case until May 22 to allow time to resolve the issue.  If the Administration agrees to fold, the subsidies would be cut off, leading to further market instability.  If the House folds, the CSR payments would continue into the indefinite future.

From a health care legislative perspective, 2017 will still be far from a quiet year.  The President has proposed significant changes in the funding levels of important discretionary health programs.  Those budget battles will now move more front and center on the legislative agenda.  Furthermore, there continue to be “must pass” pieces of health care legislation, including CHIP reauthorization, FDA User Fee legislation, and certain Medicare extenders legislation.