Tag: COVID-19

Legislative Update: EMS Counts Act

While negotiations for a fourth Stimulus package to address the impacts of the coronavirus remain at an impasse, the AAA continues to monitor Congressional activity for other legislation which impacts ambulance service providers and suppliers:

H.R. 8592 – EMS Counts Act of 2020

Introduced on October 13, 2020, by Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA-07) H.R. 8592 requires the Secretary of Labor to revise the Standard Occupational Classification System to accurately count the number of emergency medical services practitioners in the United States.

The Standard Occupational Classification system is a statistical standard used by federal agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data. All workers are classified into one of 867 detailed occupations according to their occupational definition.

H.R. 8592 has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor for consideration.

The AAA will continue to press the Congress and federal agencies for help to ensure ambulance service organizations, and our paramedics and EMTs serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, have the necessary resources and financial assistance to serve their communities.

If you have any questions about the AAA’s advocacy efforts, please do not hesitate to contact us at Info@Ambulance.org.

CMS: Revised Repayment Terms for Medicare Accelerated Payments

On October 8, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Fact Sheet setting forth the repayment terms for advances made under the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments Program (AAPP).  These changes were mandated by the passage of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act, which was enacted on October 1, 2020.

Background

On March 28, 2020, CMS expanded the existing Accelerated and Advance Payments Program to provide relief to Medicare providers and suppliers that were experiencing cash flow disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated economic lockdowns.  Under the AAPP, Medicare providers and suppliers were eligible to receive an advance of up to three months of their historic Medicare payments.  These advances are structured as “loans,” and are required to be repaid through the offset of future Medicare payments.

CMS began accepting applications for Medicare advances in mid-March 2020, before ending the program in late April following the passage of the CARES Act.  CMS ultimately approved more than 45,000 applications for advances totaling approximately $100 billion, before it suspended the program in late April 2020.

Under the pre-existing terms of the AAPP, repayment through offset was required to commence on the 121st day following the provider or supplier’s receipt of the advance funds.  The program also called for a 100% offset until all advanced funds had been repaid.

Revised Payment Terms

Under the revised payment terms announced by CMS, providers and suppliers will not be subject to recoupment of their Medicare payments for a period of one year from the date they received their AAPP payment.  Starting on the date that is one year from their receipt of the AAPP payment, repayment will be made out of the provider’s or supplier’s future Medicare payments.  The schedule for such repayments will be as follows:

  • 25% of the provider’s or supplier’s Medicare payments will be offset against the outstanding AAPP balance for the next eleven (5) months; and
  • 50% of the provider’s or supplier’s Medicare payments will be offset against the outstanding AAPP balance for the next six (6) months

To the extent there remains an outstanding AAPP balance after that 17 month period (i.e., 29 months after the date the provider or supplier received its AAPP payment, the provider or supplier will receive a letter setting forth their remaining balance.  The provider or supplier will have 30 days from the date of that letter to repay the AAPP balance in full.  To the extent the AAPP balance is not repaid in full within that 30-day period, interest will begin to accrue on the unpaid balance at a rate of 4%, starting from the date of the letter.

Medicare providers and suppliers are also permitted to repay their accelerated or advance payments at any time by contacting their Medicare Administrative Contractor.

 

FEMA Grants for Public & Non-Profit EMS Providers

From EMS.gov on October 9, 2020

American Ambulance Association members are advised that these grants are regrettably open ONLY to public and non-profit non-hospital-based EMS providers.

FEMA Accepts New Applications for COVID-19 Assistance to Firefighters Grant

FEMA is providing an additional chance for volunteer and combination fire departments to apply for funding under this year’s Assistance to Firefighters COVID-19 Supplemental grant.

FEMA made $100 million available in funding for personal protective equipment (PPE) and related supplies. This includes reimbursement for expenditures made since Jan. 1, 2020.

Volunteer and combination fire departments are eligible to apply in this round even if they had a successful application in the first round earlier this year. Departments that applied in the first round but were unsuccessful must reapply to be considered for funding in this round. Applications from the first round will not automatically carry over to this round for consideration.

FEMA will host live webinars on Tuesday, Oct. 13, and Thursday, Oct. 15, demonstrating the application process and walking through the questions. Access the full training schedule and information on how to login to the webinars here.

FEMA will accept applications until 5 p.m. ET on Nov. 13. More information on eligibility requirements and how to apply is available on the FEMA website.

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CMS Announces New AAP Repayment Terms

CMS Announces New Repayment Terms for Medicare Loans made to Providers during COVID-19

New recoupment terms allow providers and suppliers one additional year to start loan payments

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced amended terms for payments issued under the Accelerated and Advance Payment (AAP) Program as required by recent action by President Trump and Congress.  This Medicare loan program allows CMS to make advance payments to providers and are typically used in emergency situations.  Under the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act repayment will now begin one year from the issuance date of each provider or supplier’s accelerated or advance payment.  CMS issued $106 billion in payments to providers and suppliers in order to alleviate the financial burden healthcare providers faced while experiencing cash flow issues in the early stages of combating the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Public Health Emergency (PHE).

“In the throes of an unprecedented pandemic, providers and suppliers on the frontlines needed a lifeline to help keep them afloat,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma.  “CMS’ advanced payments were loans given to providers and suppliers to avoid having to close their doors and potentially causing a disruption in service for seniors.  While we are seeing patients return to hospitals and doctors providing care we are not yet back to normal,” she added.

CMS expanded the AAP Program on March 28, 2020 and gave these loans to healthcare providers and suppliers in order to combat the financial burden of the pandemic.  CMS successfully paid more than 22,000 Part A providers, totaling more than $98 billion in accelerated payments.  This included payments to Part A providers for Part B items and services they furnished.  In addition, more than 28,000 Part B suppliers, including doctors, non-physician practitioners, and Durable Medical Equipment (DME) suppliers, received advance payments totaling more than $8.5 billion.

Providers were required to make payments starting in August of this year, but with this action, repayment will be delayed until one year after payment was issued.  After that first year, Medicare will automatically recoup 25 percent of Medicare payments otherwise owed to the provider or supplier for eleven months.  At the end of the eleven-month period, recoupment will increase to 50 percent for another six months.  If the provider or supplier is unable to repay the total amount of the AAP during this time-period (a total of 29 months), CMS will issue letters requiring repayment of any outstanding balance, subject to an interest rate of four percent.

The letter also provides guidance on how to request an Extended Repayment Schedule (ERS) for providers and suppliers who are experiencing financial hardships.  An ERS is a debt installment payment plan that allows a provider or supplier to pay debts over the course of three years, or, up to five years in the case of extreme hardship.  Providers and suppliers are encouraged to contact their Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) for information on how to request an ERS.  To allow even more flexibility in paying back the loans, the $175 billion issued in Provider Relief funds can be used towards repayment of these Medicare loans.  CMS will be communicating with each provider and supplier in the coming weeks as to the repayment terms and amounts owed as applicable for any accelerated or advance payment issued.

CMS Updates Medicare COVID-19 Snapshot

From CMS on October 2, 2020

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released our monthly update of data that provides a snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 on the Medicare population. The updated data show over 1 million COVID-19 cases among the Medicare population and over 284,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Other key findings:

  • The rate of COVID-19 cases among Medicare beneficiaries grew 30% since the August release to 1,562 cases per 100,000 beneficiaries.
  • Similarly, the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries grew 32% since the August release to 444 hospitalizations per 100,000 beneficiaries.
  • The rate of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations grew the most among rural beneficiaries, Hispanic beneficiaries, and Medicare-only beneficiaries (those who are not dually eligible for Medicaid).
  • Medicare Fee-for-Service (Original Medicare) spending associated with COVID-19 hospitalizations grew to $4.4 billion or just under $25,000 per hospitalization.
  • Data on discharge status and length of stay for COVID-19 hospitalizations remained similar to previously reported figures in the August release. 31% of beneficiaries went home at the end of their hospital stay and 22% died. Nearly half of the hospitalizations lasted 7 days or less while 5% lasted more than 31 days.

The updated data on COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries covers the period from January 1 to August 15, 2020. It is based on Medicare Fee-for-Service claims and Medicare Advantage encounter data CMS received by September 11, 2020.

HHS Funding Portal Open for Tranche 3

The online portal for ambulance service providers and suppliers to submit applications for additional funding under the HHS Provider Relief Fund is now open.

Access Portal Now

Apply Soon for Funds!

While providers and suppliers have until November 6 to apply for funding, we strongly recommend that AAA members submit applications as soon as you are prepared as funding is on a first-come, first-served basis. HHS allocated a total of $20 billion for this round of funding.

Attend Today’s AAA Funding Webinar

The AAA will be hosting a webinar today, Monday, October 5, at 11:00 am (eastern), on how to apply for the funds and what information you will need in applying.

Register for the Webinar

Thank You AAA Members!

As reported by the AAA on October 1, the additional funds are a direct result of the efforts of the AAA and our members and we thank all of you who reached out to the White House or your members of Congress advocating for the funds.

 

 

 

JEMS | How Empress EMS (NY) Responded to COVID-19 in the Pandemic’s Epicenter

From JEMS on October 2, 2020 | By Hanan Cohen

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created extraordinary new challenges for the emergency medical services (EMS) industry. Frequently shifting state and federal guidance and emerging information about the novel virus has required EMS agencies to be even more nimble in delivering care.

This is true for Empress EMS, a PatientCare EMS Solutions company, which serves New Rochelle, New York – the first epicenter of America’s COVID-19 pandemic. Empress first began monitoring for COVID-19 on February 15, 2020, as it recognized the New York City area’s high risk for the virus.

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CMS: COVID Testing and Screening Guidance for SNF and Long-Term Care Facilities

On August 25, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published an interim final rule with a comment period titled “Medicare and Medicaid Programs, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA), and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”  The interim final rule sets forth a number of new requirements designed to limit the COVID-19 exposure and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within nursing homes.

Specifically, the interim final rule requires skilled nursing and other long-term care facilities to test residents and staff for COVID-19.  The frequency of such testing is based on the positivity rate in which the facility is located, and can require COVID-19 testing as frequently as twice per week.  Regardless of the frequency of required COVID-19 tests, facilities must also screen all staff, residents, and persons entering the facility for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

These requirements extend to individuals that provide services to nursing homes under arrangements, including health care personnel rendering care to residents within the facility.  In subsequent guidance, CMS clarified that these testing and screening requirements apply to EMS personnel and other health care providers that render care to residents within the facility.  However, in that same guidance, CMS indicated that EMS personnel must be permitted to enter the facility provided that: (1) they are not subject to a work exclusion as a result of to an exposure to COVID-19 or (2) showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 after being screened.”  CMS further indicated that “EMS personnel do not need to be screened so they can attend to an emergency without delay.”

In plain terms, CMS has created an affirmative obligation on nursing homes to ensure that any individual that provides services under a contractual arrangement with the nursing home comply with these testing and screening requirements.  CMS has expressly waived the screening requirements for EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies at a nursing home.  However, CMS has not specifically addressed the testing and screening requirements applicable to EMS personnel responding to nursing homes in non-emergency situations. 

The A.A.A. is aware that a handful of State Health Agencies have issued their own guidance on this issue.  The A.A.A. is also aware that individual nursing homes have started to require proof that EMS personnel have been tested for COVID-19 prior to allowing these individuals to enter the nursing home in a non-emergency situation.

EMS agencies may already be subject to state and local testing mandates.  EMS agencies may also have their own internal policies that require employees to be periodically tested for COVID-19.  As a result, there exists the potential for conflict where these existing testing policies conflict with the testing requirements of your local nursing homes.

The A.A.A. has been engaged in an ongoing conversation with CMS on these issues since the issuance of the interim final rule in August.  As part of that conversation, the A.A.A. pushed for the exclusion of EMS personnel from the screening requirement when responding to medical emergencies, which was included in the recent CMS guidance document.  The A.A.A. also continues to push for additional funding for COVID-19 testing for EMS agencies.  CMS has recognized that the frequent testing of health care workers is essential to reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.  CMS has allocated funding for these purposes to other industries, including hospitals and nursing homes.  As front-line health care workers, EMS agencies should have similar access to testing funds.  The A.A.A. will continue to push for funding equity for the EMS industry.

In the interim, we strongly encourage our members to work with their state associations and other stakeholders to advocate for reasonable rules related to testing on the state and local levels.  To the extent the applicable state or local agency has determined the appropriate frequency for the testing of EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies, those rules should also apply to EMS personnel responding to scheduled transports and other non-emergencies that start or end at a nursing home.  Requiring more frequent testing in these situations would impose an undue burden on EMS agencies that provide these services.  More frequent testing may also prove counterproductive, as it may discourage EMS agencies that cannot meet these higher requirements from responding in these situations.  We also encourage our members to continue to push for state and local funding for the testing of their employees.

 

COVID-19 fatalities among EMS clinicians

From EMS1
by
By Brian J. Maguire, Dr.PH, MSA, EMT-P
Barbara J. O’Neill, PhD, RN
Scot Phelps, JD, MPH, Paramedic
Paul M. Maniscalco, PhD(c), MPA, MS, EMT/P, LP
Daniel R. Gerard, MS, RN, NRP
Kathleen A. Handal, MD

The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic resonate around the world. Escalating infection and death rates are reported daily. While emergency medical services clinicians have been operating at the far forward front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic from the start, their infections, lost work time, long-term clinical manifestations and deaths have not been adequately reported or recorded [1]. In this article, we examine currently available EMS COVID-19 mortality data in order to describe the extent of EMS losses and to compare the risks for EMS clinicians to the risks for other related professions.

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U.S. House of Representatives Approves Continuing Resolution

On September 22, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through December 11, 2020.  Under current law, government funding is set to expire at midnight on September 30, 2020.

The House resolution is a stopgap measure that would maintain funding for most government programs at their current Fiscal Year 2020 levels.  However, the Continuing Resolution omits $30 billion in agricultural aid sought by the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans.  As of last week, it appeared that a compromise had been struck between the Administration and Speaker Pelosi under which the agricultural aid would be tied to the extension of special food benefits to recipients of free or reduced-price school lunches authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  The Continuing Resolution also does not include new spending on economic aid for those impacted by the coronavirus.

The Continuing Resolution will now go to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

Impact on Repayment of Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payments

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CMS announced that it would be opening the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Program (AAPP) to all health care providers and suppliers that were impacted financially by the pandemic.  Under the AAPP, Medicare-enrolled providers and suppliers were eligible to receive an advance of up to three months of their historic Medicare payments.  These advances were structured as “loans,” and were required to be repaid through the offset of future Medicare payments.  CMS began accepting applications for Medicare advances in mid-March 2020, before ending the program in late April following the passage of the CARES Act.  CMS ultimately approved more than 45,000 applications for advances totaling approximately $100 billion, before it suspended the program in late April 2020.

Under the existing terms of the AAPP, repayment through offset was required to commence on the 121st day following the provider or supplier’s receipt of the advance funds.  The program also called for a 100% offset until all advanced funds had been repaid.

The American Ambulance Association, the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and numerous other advocacy groups have advocated that the AAPP be revised to give health care providers and suppliers greater flexibility to repay the advanced funds.  The AAA and others argued that these changes were necessary to avoid a financial crisis when CMS began offsetting Medicare payments to repay the advanced funds.  A copy of the AAA’s letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma can be viewed by clicking here.

In the Continuing Resolution, the House addressed this issue by making the following changes to the AAPP:

  • Hospitals and Other Part A Providers: Upon request of the hospital or other Part A provider: (1) provide for 1 year before claims are offset to recoup the advanced funds, (2) limit the offset to not more than 25% of the payment on a future claim for the first 11 months during which offsets are required, (3) limit the offset to not more than 50% during the next 6 months, (4) provide for up to 29 months (from the date the advanced payments were first received) before requiring that the outstanding balance be paid-in-full, and (5) limit the interest charged on the unpaid principal balance of any advanced funds to 4%.
  • Part B Suppliers: Upon request of the supplier: (1) provide for 1 year before claims are offset to recoup the advanced funds, (2) limit the offset to not more than 25% of the payment on a future claim for the first 11 months during which offsets are required, (3) limit the offset to not more than 50% during the next 6 months, (4) provide for up to 29 months (from the date the advanced payments were first received) before requiring that the outstanding balance be paid-in-full, and (5) limit the interest charged on the unpaid principal balance of any advanced funds to 4%.

The Continuing Resolution would require the HHS Secretary to post within 2 weeks of enactment (and updated every 2 weeks thereafter) the following information related to the AAPP on the CMS website:

  • The total amount of such payments under each part of the program, including the specific percentage of such payments made out of the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Supplementary Insurance Trust Fund;
  • The total amount of payments under each part of the program, by industry type;
  • The CMS identifier and the amounts received by each health care provider or supplier.

HHS would also be required to post periodic reports, starting in July 2021 and every six months thereafter until all AAPP amounts have been repaid, that contain the following:

  • The total amounts yet to be repaid;
  • The total amounts yet to be repaid, by industry type;
  • The total amounts repaid under each program, including the specific percentage of such repayments deposited back to the Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplementary Insurance Trust Fund; and
  • The total interest collected on all repayments

The Senate will most likely approve the House CR before the September 30, 2020 deadline.

 

CARES Act Reporting Requirements Released

All recipients of payments from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Provider Relief Fund (PRF) are required to comply with the reporting requirements described in the Terms and Conditions and specified in future directions issued by the Secretary.

Providers that received more than $10,000 in grants will have to report on how they spent funds on coronavirus-related expenses and lost revenue in 2020 by Feb. 15, 2021. If providers do not spend all their grant funds by the end of 2020, they will be required to submit a final report on the remaining funds by July 31, 2021.

Any recipient of PRF payments may be subject to auditing to ensure the accuracy of the data submitted to HHS for payment.  Any recipients identified as having provided inaccurate information to HHS will be subject to payment recoupment and other legal action.

For more details, please refer to the Terms and Conditions associated with each payment distribution and the Reporting Requirements and Auditing FAQs.

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