Tag: fraud and abuse

House Committee Passes Medicare Ambulance Relief Bill

House Committee Passes Medicare Ambulance Relief Bill

On Wednesday, the House Ways and Means Committee voted out favorably an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the Comprehensive Operations, Sustainability, ant Transport Act of 2017 (HR 3729) by Congressman Nunes (R-CA) and Sewell (D-AL). H.R. 3729 would extend for five years the Medicare ambulance add-on payments of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus. The legislation would also implement cost reporting for ambulance service suppliers.

H.R. 3729 is a revised version of the Ambulance Medicare Budget and Operations Act  (HR 3236)introduced by Congressmen Nunes (R-CA), Upton (R-MI) and Welch (D-VT). While the AAA supports H.R. 3236, there were several changes made in H.R. 3729  that are concerning to the AAA. In particular, the addition of an offset which would implement an additional 13%* cut to BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers and a change in the penalty for not filing a time, complete and accurate cost report.  The AAA has therefore taken a neutral position on H.R. 3729 as we work with the House Ways and Means Committee and Congressmen Nunes and Sewell on modifications to the bill.

This week, AAA Board Members and Volunteer Leaders were in DC and met with both sponsors of the bill and other key offices to express our concerns over these new provisions. The AAA was able to secure the commitment of House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Congressmen Nunes and Sewell to work with us on those two key provisions.

The inclusion of an offset in the bill was necessary for its consideration by the Committee and the AAA is pushing for the language from S. 967 on prior authorization or similar approach just targeting dialysis transport fraud and abuse to replace the current cut. The AAA is also pushing for the Senate to consider S. 967which would make the add-ons permanent and require a random sampling of ambulance services to collect data instead of mandatory annual cost reporting by all ambulance services suppliers.

The AAA encourages its members to write their Senators to cosponsor S. 967.

* This figure was previously 22%.  The AAA worked with the House Ways and Means Committee and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on the cost estimate for a five-year extension of the add-ons. As a result, CBO lowered its estimate to $1 billion over ten years instead of approximately $1.8 billion. The cut to dialysis as the offset was therefore lowered from 22% to 13%.


Ask your Senators to Support S.967 – 2017 Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act

The current 33-month extension of the Medicare add-on payments is set to expire at the end of December 2017. Losing these add-on payments would be a devastating blow to ambulance services across the country. It is crucial that the payments be made permanent as we push for a long-term solution. More details about the Bill can be found below. Let your Senators know that you support S. 967 — Here are three quick and easy ways to get involved!

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter(s) to your Senators – click “Submit Messages”

House Introduces H.R. 3236 – Write to Your Reps!

Take Action for Extending Medicare Ambulance Relief

Ask your Representatives to Support H.R. 3236 – The Ambulance Medicare Budget and Operations Act of 2017

The current 33-month extension of the Medicare add-on payments is set to expire at the end of December 2017. Losing these add-on payments would be a devastating blow to ambulance services across the country. It is crucial that the payments be extended as we push for a long-term solution. H.R. 3236 introduced by Reps. Nunes, Upton, and Welch would extend the current temporary Medicare add-ons for five years. More details about the Bill can be found below. Let your Representative know that you support H.R. 3236 — Here are three quick and easy ways to get involved!

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter to your Representative (Message 1) and the letter(s) to your Senators  (Message 2) – click “Submit Messages”
Feel free to personalize your letter(s) before submitting them.

Active on Social Media? Tweet at your Representative asking for their support of H.R. 3236!

  • Authorize Your Account
  • Enter Contact Information
  • Tweet! (Tweet will be auto-generated with your Senators tagged)
Know your Senators’ Twitter accounts already? Tweet:
“#ambulance svs in your district need you, @[your Representative]! Please co-sponsor HR 3236  to help us continue to provide quality #EMS!”

Post on Facebook why H.R. 3236  is important! Be sure to tag your Representative and encourage others to share your post! Ask others to write letters of support as well! http://bit.ly/AAAbill

More About Our Bill H.R. 3236, the Ambulance Medicare Budget and Operations Act of 2017:
Legislation to extend the Medicare ambulance add-on payments for five years has been introduced by Representatives Nunes, Upton, and Welch (H.R. 3236).
Specifically, the bill:

  • Provides Medicare Ambulance Relief, by extending for five years the current temporary 2 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and super rural bonus payments.
  • Requires the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) to submit a report to Congress detailing the burden of cost reports on the ambulance industry and accuracy of the data received through ambulance cost reports and making recommendations on whether the system should be modified no later than July 1, 2019.
  • Requires CMS to work with stakeholders in the development of an ambulance cost report.

Write to Your Senators! Support S.967

Take Action for Permanent Medicare Ambulance Relief

Ask your Senators to Support S.967 – 2017 Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act

The current 33-month extension of the Medicare add-on payments is set to expire at the end of December 2017. Losing these add-on payments would be a devastating blow to ambulance services across the country. It is crucial that the payments be made permanent as we push for a long-term solution. More details about the Bill can be found below. Let your Senators know that you support S. 967 — Here are three quick and easy ways to get involved!

Writing to your members of Congress only takes 2 clicks, follow these simple steps:

1. Enter contact information below (required by Congressional offices) and click “Submit”
2. On the next page you’ll see the letter(s) to your Senators – click “Submit Messages”

Active on Social Media? Tweet at your Senators asking for their support of S. 967!

  • Authorize Your Account
  • Enter Contact Information
  • Tweet! (Tweet will be auto-generated with your Senators tagged)
Know your Senators’ Twitter accounts already? Tweet:
“#ambulance svs in your state need you, @[your Senators]! Please co-sponsor S. 967 to help us continue to provide quality #EMS!”


Post on Facebook why S. 967 is important! Be sure to tag your Senators and encourage others to share your post! Ask others to write letters of support as well! http://bit.ly/AAAbill

More About Our Bill S. 967, the 2017 Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act:
Permanent ambulance relief legislation has been introduced by Senators Stabenow, Roberts, Schumer, Collins, and Leahy (S. 967). This legislation will allow ambulance service providers to maintain high quality ambulance services and budget for the future.
Specifically, the bill:

  • Provides Medicare Ambulance Relief, by permanently incorporating the current temporary 2 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and super rural bonus payments into the Medicare ambulance fee schedule rates.
  • Requires the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to submit a report to Congress detailing the features of a reformed payment system for ambulance services under the Medicare program no later than July 1, 2019.
  • Modifies the process for the transport of dialysis patients by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a process for the prior authorization of coverage for such patients.
  • Treat ambulance services designated as “suppliers” as “providers” for certain purposes under Medicare.
  • Specifies CMS to work with stakeholders in the development of a data collection system for ambulance entities that defines the various types of ambulance entities as well as the relevant cost and data elements required for submission.

Member Advisory: Follow Up Regarding Recent OIG Report on Questionable Billing Practices for Ambulance Suppliers

HHS OIG Analysis Part 2 of 2 – Read Part One of the Analysis


October 1, 2015

Yesterday, the American Ambulance Association summarized a report from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on certain questionable billing practices by ambulance suppliers.

In this report, the OIG indicated that 1 in 5 ambulance providers had engaged in one or more of the following “questionable billing” practices”:

  • Billing for a transport without a Medicare service being provided at either the origin
  • Billing for excessive mileage for urban transports
  • Billing for a high number of transports per beneficiary
  • Billing using compromised beneficiary ID numbers
  • Billing for an inappropriate or unlikely transport level
  • Billing for a beneficiary that is being shared among multiple ambulance suppliers
  • Billing for transports to/from a partial hospitalization program

In this member advisory, I want to devote additional attention to the questionable billing practice the OIG referred to as “inappropriate or unlikely transport levels”.

The OIG identified 268 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (2%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of claims submitted with inappropriate or unlikely combinations of transport levels and destinations.  The OIG summarized its findings as follows:

“We identified two types of transports billed with inappropriate combinations of destinations and transport levels. First, we identified emergency transports that suppliers indicated were to a destination other than a hospital or the site of a transfer between ground and air transports. We also identified specialty care transports that suppliers indicated were to or from destinations other than hospitals, SNFs, or transfer sites.”

The OIG went on to state that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s transports with inappropriate or unlikely transport levels (given the destination) could be indicative of “upcoding”.  The OIG identified 268 ambulance suppliers that had particularly high numbers of claims submitted with unlikely or inappropriate transport levels/destinations combinations.  These ambulance suppliers submitted 3% or more of their claims with these suspect combinations, compared to less than 1% for most ambulance suppliers.  The OIG identified 19 companies that used a suspect combination on more than 25% of their claims.

Since the publication of the OIG’s report, the AAA has received numerous inquiries from members asking for guidance on how they can identify whether their company is at risk for submitting claims with these suspect combinations.  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to that question.  However, based on my experience, I can offer the following general guidelines:

  1. Define the types of claims that would potentially be problematic. The OIG identified two distinct categories of suspect combinations.  The first involves emergency transports.  The OIG indicated that a claim would presumably not qualify for payment of an emergency base rate to the extent the patient was being transported to somewhere other than a hospital or an intercept site (i.e., the “I” modifier).  In other words, the OIG is looking at claims billed for an emergency base rate (HCPCS Codes A0427 or A0429) with a destination modifier that is either an “R” (Residence), “N” (Skilled Nursing Facility), “E” (Other Custodial Facility), “J” (Free-Standing Dialysis Facility).  The second category involved specialty care transports (SCT).  To qualify as SCT, a transport must be “interfacility”, which CMS has defined to be transports between hospitals (including hospital-based dialysis facilities), skilled nursing facilities, or any combination thereof.  Therefore, the OIG would consider a claim to be suspect if the origin or destination modifier was an “R”, “N”, “E”, or “J”.
  2. Investigate the claim submission edits within your billing system. Having defined the types of claims that the OIG would consider suspect, I suggest that you investigate the claims submission edits within your billing system.  Specifically, you want to see whether there is anything currently in place that would make it impossible for you to submit a claim with any of these suspect combinations.  For example, would your billing system prevent you from submitting the following claim:  A0427 HR?  This may require you to attempt to submit test claims with each possible combination to see whether your billing software would reject any or all of these combinations.
  3. To the extent these claim submission edits are not already in place, you should investigate whether your billing software permits you to create them. Assuming your billing system does not currently have edits in place to prevent the submission of claims with these suspect combinations, you want to investigate whether these types of edits can be added.  Many billing software products have optional submission edits that you can enable for certain payers.  Other products may permit you to create specialized edits for these purposes.  You may want to contact your billing vendor to ask whether there is any way to put these edits in place for your Medicare claims.  Assuming your software has the capability of putting these edits in place, it almost certainly makes sense to do so, in order to eliminate the possibility of submitting claims with these suspect combinations going forward.

The suggestions listed in paragraphs #1 and #2 above address the issue of whether it was possible for your company to have inadvertently submitted claims with any of these suspect combinations.  Even if you determine that it was theoretically possible for you to have submitted claims with any of these suspect combinations, it does not necessarily follow that any such claims were actually submitted.  Most ambulance companies have numerous controls in place to guard against inadvertent mistakes in the coding/billing of claims.  For example, while many billing software products permit an ambulance coder to duplicate an earlier transport for the patient, many companies elect not to use this functionality, preferring instead to code each claim from scratch.  This removes one possible mechanism by which these types of inadvertent errors can occur.  Moreover, even if it a claim was submitted with a suspect combination, it does not necessarily follow that the claim was paid by Medicare.  Your Medicare contractor may have its own edits in place to deny claims submitted with these suspect combinations.  Finally, even if a claim was accidentally submitted with a suspect combination and paid by the Medicare contractor, it is possible that you may have caught the error at the time you posted Medicare’s payment.  Assuming that you properly refunded the incorrect payment at that time, there is no need for further concern.

Conclusion

Ambulance supplier should attempt to determine whether their billing software was designed in such a way as to prevent these suspect combinations from being submitted to Medicare.  To the extent you are confident that it is impossible for these claims to be submitted to Medicare, there is nothing further that needs to be done.

To the extent an ambulance supplier determines that their current billing software edits do not make it impossible for such claims to be submitted to Medicare, they should determine whether the necessary edits could be implemented on a go forward basis.  The ambulance supplier will also need to make an organizational determination on whether to investigate its past claims universe.  This determination should be made in consultation with the company’s legal advisers.  Your legal advisers will also guide you on the steps that should be taken if you discover that you remain paid for any claims with any of these suspect combinations.

Member Advisory: OIG Issues Report on Questionable Billing Practices for Ambulance Suppliers

HHS OIG Analysis Part 1 of 2 – Read Part Two of the Analysis


On September 29, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “Inappropriate Payments and Questionable Billing for Medicare Part B Ambulance Transports” (OEI-09-12-00351).  The report, conducted by the Office of Evaluation and Inspections (OEI), looked at claims data for 7.3 million ambulance transports furnished during the first half of 2012.  The OIG reviewed this claims data to determine whether claims were billed appropriately to the Medicare program.

Summary of the OIG’s Findings

The OIG determined that Medicare paid $24.2 million in the first half of 2012 for ambulance transports that did not meet certain program requirements for payment.  The OIG identified an additional $30.2 million paid for transports for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the pick-up or drop-location, or anywhere else.  Finally, the OIG determined that 1 in 5 ambulance suppliers met certain criteria that indicated they may have engaged in questionable billing practices.  According to the OIG, more than half of all questionable transports were provided to beneficiaries residing in 4 metropolitan areas.

Detailed OIG Findings

Medicare paid $24.2 million for ambulance transports that did not meet certain Medicare requirements justifying payment.  This included transports to a non-covered destination, as well as transports to a covered destination but where the level of service was inappropriate. 

The OIG determined that Medicare paid $17.4 million for ambulance transports to non-covered destinations.  This amount also include return trips following treatment at the non-covered destination.  These transports represented 0.6% of all Medicare payments during the first half of 2012.

The OIG indicated that transports to a physician’s office were the most common type of non-covered destination.  Payments for transports to and from a physician’s office accounted for $8.7 million in improper payments.  Medicare also paid $5.8 million for transports of beneficiaries to and from community mental health centers or psychiatric facilities (other than duly-licensed psychiatric hospitals).  Other transports to non-covered destinations included independent laboratories, diagnostic or therapeutic sites (i.e., “D” modifiers), non-SNF nursing facilities, long-term care and hospice facilities.

The OIG determined that Medicare paid $7 million for transports with inappropriate combinations of the level of service billed and the type of destination.  This included $4.3 million in payments for specialty care transports (SCT) where either the origin or destination was something other than a hospital, SNF, or intercept site.  The majority of these inappropriate SCT transports involved transports between the patient’s SNF or residence and a free-standing dialysis facility.  The OIG also determined that Medicare paid $2.7 million for emergency transports where the destination was not a hospital.

Medicare paid $30.2 million for ambulance transports for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at any origin or destination. 

The OIG identified $30.2 million in payments for ambulance transports where the beneficiary did not appear to receive any Medicare services at either the origin or destination within 1 day of the date of transport.  To account for the possibility that the ambulance supplier may have submitted a claim with the wrong origin or destination, the OIG only flagged a claim as questionable if its records determined that the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at any other facility type within 1 day of the transport.  The OIG stated its belief that, since there was no record of the beneficiary receiving Medicare services at or close to the date of transport, the OIG believed that it was likely that Medicare inappropriately paid for the ambulance transports.  The OIG did note the possibility that these transports occurred during an inpatient hospital or SNF stay, and therefore may have been the responsibility of the inpatient facility.  These transports represented 1.1% of all Medicare payments during the first half of 2012.

The OIG determined that 1 in 5 ambulance suppliers had questionable billing

As part of the methodology used for this report, the OIG developed a set of 7 measure that it believed could be evidence of questionable billing practices.  These seven measures were:

  1. No Medicare service provided at either the origin or destination – The OIG believes that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the origin or destination could be indicative of either: (a) billing for transports to non-covered destinations or (b) billing for transports that were not provided.
  2. Excessive mileage for urban transports – The OIG believes that high average mileage for transports within an urban area could be indicative of either: (a) billing for more miles than the ambulance supplier actually drove or (b) billing for mileage beyond the nearest appropriate facility.
  3. High number of transports per beneficiary – The OIG believes that a high average of per-beneficiary transports could be indicative of billing for transports that were not medically necessary.
  4. Compromised Beneficiary Number – The OIG believes that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s transports provided to beneficiary with compromised beneficiary ID numbers could be indicative of billing for transports that were not medically necessary, or which were not provided.
  5. Inappropriate or unlikely transport level – The OIG believes that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s transports with inappropriate or unlikely transport levels (given the destination) could be indicative of “upcoding”.
  6. Beneficiary sharing – The OIG believes that when multiple ambulance suppliers all provide dialysis transports to the same beneficiary that it could be evidence of the misuse of a beneficiary’s ID number, or it could be evidence that the beneficiary is shopping his or her ID number for kickbacks.
  7. Transports to or from partial hospitalization programs – The OIG believes that transports to and from a partial hospitalization program (PHP) is unlikely to be medically necessary because beneficiary’s that meet Medicare’s coverage requirements for PHP services generally do not qualify for ambulance transportation.

The OIG indicated that 21% of ambulance suppliers met one of the seven measures it developed for identifying questionable billing practices.  17% of ambulance suppliers met only 1 of the 7 measures, while 4% met 2-4 of these measures.  No ambulance suppliers met more than 4 of these measures.

The OIG identified 2,038 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (13%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of their transports where the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the origin or destination.  The OIG flagged an ambulance supplier’s billing as questionable if 3% or more of its transports involved situations where no Medicare service was billed at the destination.  46 ambulance suppliers had 95% or more of their transports involve situations where the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the origin or destination.  By contrast, the median for all ambulance suppliers was zero transports where the beneficiary did not receive services at either the origin or destination.

The OIG identified 642 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (4%) that had questionable billing based on the average mileage they billed for beneficiaries residing in urban areas.  The OIG indicated that the typical ambulance supplier average 10 miles for an urban transport.  By contrast, the average mileage for the 642 suppliers identified by the OIG was 34 miles.  The OIG identified 48 suppliers with an average urban mileage of more than 100 miles.

The OIG identified 533 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (3%) that had questionable billing based on the average number of transports per beneficiary.  Beneficiaries transported by the typical ambulance supplier that provided dialysis transports received an average of 4 ambulance transports during the first 6 months of 2012.  Beneficiaries transported by the 533 suppliers identified by the OIG received an average of 21 transports during the first half of 2012.

The OIG identified 358 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (2%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of their transports that were associated with compromised beneficiary ID numbers.  In studying this measure, the OIG excluded ambulance suppliers that did not bill for any transports involving the use of compromised beneficiary ID numbers.  Among those suppliers that billed any transports that involved the use of a compromised ID number, only 1% of the typical supplier’s involved the compromised ID numbers.  The 358 suppliers identified by the OIG used a compromised ID number for at least 7% of their claims.  31 suppliers used a compromised ID number for more than 95% of their submitted claims.

The OIG identified 268 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (2%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of claims submitted with unlikely or inappropriate transport levels and destinations.  For the typical supplier that billed any claims with an inappropriate combination of transport level and destination, these claims accounted for less than 1% of all claims submitted in the first half of 2012.  For the 268 suppliers identified by the OIG, these claims accounted for more than 3% of all claims submitted in the first half of 2012.  The OIG identified 19 suppliers that used an inappropriate or unlikely combination on at least 25% of the claims they submitted during the first half of 2012.

Finally, the OIG noted that the ambulance suppliers that tested “positive” for any of the questionable billing practices it identified were disproportionately likely to provide BLS non-emergency transports (including dialysis).  The OIG noted that BLS non-emergency transports accounted for only 36% of transports billed by providers that did not meet any of its questionable billing measures, while BLS non-emergency transports accounted for 65% of all claims submitted by those suppliers it identified as having at least one questionable billing practice.

More than half of questionable ambulance transports were provided to beneficiaries residing in 4 metropolitan areas

The OIG determined that questionable billing was concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.  These 4 areas accounted for 18% of all ambulance transports during the first half of 2012, but 52% of all questionable transports.  Collectively, these areas accounted for $104 million of the $207 million in Medicare payments for “questionable” ambulance transports during the first half of 2012.

The OIG also determined that, on average, ambulance suppliers that provided transports to beneficiaries in these 4 metropolitan areas transported more Medicare beneficiaries and received more in Medicare payments than suppliers in other metropolitan areas.  For example, the average ambulance supplier in Los Angeles received a total of $105,696 in Medicare payments, compared with an average of $16,137 in Medicare payments per supplier in other metropolitan areas.  The numbers in NY ($85,606), Philadelphia ($56,667), and Houston ($34,951) were also far in excess of the national average.

OIG’s Recommendations

In this report, the OIG makes a number of recommendations to CMS to reduce the number of inappropriate payments and questionable billing practices.  These recommendations include:

  1. Expanding the temporary moratoria on new enrollments to additional metropolitan area. The OIG is recommending that CMS consider whether the existing moratoria (in place in Houston and Philadelphia) should be expanded to NY and Los Angeles.CMS concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it will continue to monitor these geographic areas, and will impose additional temporary moratoria if warranted.
  2. Require ambulance suppliers to include the National Provider Identifier (NPI) of the certifying physician on non-emergency claims that require a certification. The OIG is recommending that when a physician certification is required (e.g., for dialysis transports), that the physician’s NPI be listed on the claim.  The OIG notes that the NPI of the ordering physician is already required for laboratory and DME claims.  The OIG also recommended that the physician’s NPI be listed on PCS forms.CMS concurred with the recommendation, and indicated that it will explore the best way to implement this recommendation.
  3. Implement new claims processing edits, or improve existing edits, to prevent inappropriate payments for ambulance transports. The OIG is recommending that CMS update its edits to prevent payment: (a) for transports to non-covered destinations and (b) for transports with inappropriate combinations of the destination and the level of service billed (e.g., emergency transports to a patient’s residence).CMS partially concurred with the recommendation, but indicated that it wanted to review the data on the claims identified by the OIG in the report before taking any actions.
  4. Increase CMS’ monitoring of ambulance billing. The OIG is recommending that CMS continue to monitor the billing of ambulance claims using the measures of questionable billing that the OIG developed.CMS appeared to concur with the recommendation, indicating that it would continue its current monitoring.  However, the OIG indicated that its recommendation was not to continue monitoring at the current levels, but rather to increase the monitoring of ambulance claims.
  5. Determine the appropriateness of the claims billed by the ambulance suppliers identified in this report and take appropriate action. The OIG indicated that it would be providing CMS with a separate memorandum that lists the claims it identified that did not meet Medicare billing requirements.  The OIG was suggesting that CMS or its contractors should take a closer look at these providers, for example by reviewing medical records or performing unannounced site visits to determine whether additional actions are appropriate.CMS partially concurred with the recommendation, but indicated that it wanted to review the data on the claims identified by the OIG in the report before taking any actions.

Member Advisory: OIG Issues Report on Questionable Billing Practices for Ambulance Suppliers

HHS OIG Analysis Part 1 of 2 – Read Part Two of the Analysis


On September 29, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a report titled “Inappropriate Payments and Questionable Billing for Medicare Part B Ambulance Transports” (OEI-09-12-00351).  The report, conducted by the Office of Evaluation and Inspections (OEI), looked at claims data for 7.3 million ambulance transports furnished during the first half of 2012.  The OIG reviewed this claims data to determine whether claims were billed appropriately to the Medicare program.

Summary of the OIG’s Findings

The OIG determined that Medicare paid $24.2 million in the first half of 2012 for ambulance transports that did not meet certain program requirements for payment.  The OIG identified an additional $30.2 million paid for transports for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the pick-up or drop-location, or anywhere else.  Finally, the OIG determined that 1 in 5 ambulance suppliers met certain criteria that indicated they may have engaged in questionable billing practices.  According to the OIG, more than half of all questionable transports were provided to beneficiaries residing in 4 metropolitan areas.

Detailed OIG Findings

Medicare paid $24.2 million for ambulance transports that did not meet certain Medicare requirements justifying payment.  This included transports to a non-covered destination, as well as transports to a covered destination but where the level of service was inappropriate. 

The OIG determined that Medicare paid $17.4 million for ambulance transports to non-covered destinations.  This amount also include return trips following treatment at the non-covered destination.  These transports represented 0.6% of all Medicare payments during the first half of 2012.

The OIG indicated that transports to a physician’s office were the most common type of non-covered destination.  Payments for transports to and from a physician’s office accounted for $8.7 million in improper payments.  Medicare also paid $5.8 million for transports of beneficiaries to and from community mental health centers or psychiatric facilities (other than duly-licensed psychiatric hospitals).  Other transports to non-covered destinations included independent laboratories, diagnostic or therapeutic sites (i.e., “D” modifiers), non-SNF nursing facilities, long-term care and hospice facilities.

The OIG determined that Medicare paid $7 million for transports with inappropriate combinations of the level of service billed and the type of destination.  This included $4.3 million in payments for specialty care transports (SCT) where either the origin or destination was something other than a hospital, SNF, or intercept site.  The majority of these inappropriate SCT transports involved transports between the patient’s SNF or residence and a free-standing dialysis facility.  The OIG also determined that Medicare paid $2.7 million for emergency transports where the destination was not a hospital.

Medicare paid $30.2 million for ambulance transports for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at any origin or destination. 

The OIG identified $30.2 million in payments for ambulance transports where the beneficiary did not appear to receive any Medicare services at either the origin or destination within 1 day of the date of transport.  To account for the possibility that the ambulance supplier may have submitted a claim with the wrong origin or destination, the OIG only flagged a claim as questionable if its records determined that the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at any other facility type within 1 day of the transport.  The OIG stated its belief that, since there was no record of the beneficiary receiving Medicare services at or close to the date of transport, the OIG believed that it was likely that Medicare inappropriately paid for the ambulance transports.  The OIG did note the possibility that these transports occurred during an inpatient hospital or SNF stay, and therefore may have been the responsibility of the inpatient facility.  These transports represented 1.1% of all Medicare payments during the first half of 2012.

The OIG determined that 1 in 5 ambulance suppliers had questionable billing

As part of the methodology used for this report, the OIG developed a set of 7 measure that it believed could be evidence of questionable billing practices.  These seven measures were:

  1. No Medicare service provided at either the origin or destination – The OIG believes that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s for which the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the origin or destination could be indicative of either: (a) billing for transports to non-covered destinations or (b) billing for transports that were not provided.
  2. Excessive mileage for urban transports – The OIG believes that high average mileage for transports within an urban area could be indicative of either: (a) billing for more miles than the ambulance supplier actually drove or (b) billing for mileage beyond the nearest appropriate facility.
  3. High number of transports per beneficiary – The OIG believes that a high average of per-beneficiary transports could be indicative of billing for transports that were not medically necessary.
  4. Compromised Beneficiary Number – The OIG believes that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s transports provided to beneficiary with compromised beneficiary ID numbers could be indicative of billing for transports that were not medically necessary, or which were not provided.
  5. Inappropriate or unlikely transport level – The OIG believes that a high percentage of an ambulance supplier’s transports with inappropriate or unlikely transport levels (given the destination) could be indicative of “upcoding”.
  6. Beneficiary sharing – The OIG believes that when multiple ambulance suppliers all provide dialysis transports to the same beneficiary that it could be evidence of the misuse of a beneficiary’s ID number, or it could be evidence that the beneficiary is shopping his or her ID number for kickbacks.
  7. Transports to or from partial hospitalization programs – The OIG believes that transports to and from a partial hospitalization program (PHP) is unlikely to be medically necessary because beneficiary’s that meet Medicare’s coverage requirements for PHP services generally do not qualify for ambulance transportation.

The OIG indicated that 21% of ambulance suppliers met one of the seven measures it developed for identifying questionable billing practices.  17% of ambulance suppliers met only 1 of the 7 measures, while 4% met 2-4 of these measures.  No ambulance suppliers met more than 4 of these measures.

The OIG identified 2,038 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (13%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of their transports where the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the origin or destination.  The OIG flagged an ambulance supplier’s billing as questionable if 3% or more of its transports involved situations where no Medicare service was billed at the destination.  46 ambulance suppliers had 95% or more of their transports involve situations where the beneficiary did not receive Medicare services at either the origin or destination.  By contrast, the median for all ambulance suppliers was zero transports where the beneficiary did not receive services at either the origin or destination.

The OIG identified 642 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (4%) that had questionable billing based on the average mileage they billed for beneficiaries residing in urban areas.  The OIG indicated that the typical ambulance supplier average 10 miles for an urban transport.  By contrast, the average mileage for the 642 suppliers identified by the OIG was 34 miles.  The OIG identified 48 suppliers with an average urban mileage of more than 100 miles.

The OIG identified 533 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (3%) that had questionable billing based on the average number of transports per beneficiary.  Beneficiaries transported by the typical ambulance supplier that provided dialysis transports received an average of 4 ambulance transports during the first 6 months of 2012.  Beneficiaries transported by the 533 suppliers identified by the OIG received an average of 21 transports during the first half of 2012.

The OIG identified 358 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (2%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of their transports that were associated with compromised beneficiary ID numbers.  In studying this measure, the OIG excluded ambulance suppliers that did not bill for any transports involving the use of compromised beneficiary ID numbers.  Among those suppliers that billed any transports that involved the use of a compromised ID number, only 1% of the typical supplier’s involved the compromised ID numbers.  The 358 suppliers identified by the OIG used a compromised ID number for at least 7% of their claims.  31 suppliers used a compromised ID number for more than 95% of their submitted claims.

The OIG identified 268 out of the 15,614 ambulance suppliers reviewed (2%) that had questionable billing based on the percentage of claims submitted with unlikely or inappropriate transport levels and destinations.  For the typical supplier that billed any claims with an inappropriate combination of transport level and destination, these claims accounted for less than 1% of all claims submitted in the first half of 2012.  For the 268 suppliers identified by the OIG, these claims accounted for more than 3% of all claims submitted in the first half of 2012.  The OIG identified 19 suppliers that used an inappropriate or unlikely combination on at least 25% of the claims they submitted during the first half of 2012.

Finally, the OIG noted that the ambulance suppliers that tested “positive” for any of the questionable billing practices it identified were disproportionately likely to provide BLS non-emergency transports (including dialysis).  The OIG noted that BLS non-emergency transports accounted for only 36% of transports billed by providers that did not meet any of its questionable billing measures, while BLS non-emergency transports accounted for 65% of all claims submitted by those suppliers it identified as having at least one questionable billing practice.

More than half of questionable ambulance transports were provided to beneficiaries residing in 4 metropolitan areas

The OIG determined that questionable billing was concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.  These 4 areas accounted for 18% of all ambulance transports during the first half of 2012, but 52% of all questionable transports.  Collectively, these areas accounted for $104 million of the $207 million in Medicare payments for “questionable” ambulance transports during the first half of 2012.

The OIG also determined that, on average, ambulance suppliers that provided transports to beneficiaries in these 4 metropolitan areas transported more Medicare beneficiaries and received more in Medicare payments than suppliers in other metropolitan areas.  For example, the average ambulance supplier in Los Angeles received a total of $105,696 in Medicare payments, compared with an average of $16,137 in Medicare payments per supplier in other metropolitan areas.  The numbers in NY ($85,606), Philadelphia ($56,667), and Houston ($34,951) were also far in excess of the national average.

OIG’s Recommendations

In this report, the OIG makes a number of recommendations to CMS to reduce the number of inappropriate payments and questionable billing practices.  These recommendations include:

  1. Expanding the temporary moratoria on new enrollments to additional metropolitan area. The OIG is recommending that CMS consider whether the existing moratoria (in place in Houston and Philadelphia) should be expanded to NY and Los Angeles.CMS concurred with this recommendation, and stated that it will continue to monitor these geographic areas, and will impose additional temporary moratoria if warranted.
  2. Require ambulance suppliers to include the National Provider Identifier (NPI) of the certifying physician on non-emergency claims that require a certification. The OIG is recommending that when a physician certification is required (e.g., for dialysis transports), that the physician’s NPI be listed on the claim.  The OIG notes that the NPI of the ordering physician is already required for laboratory and DME claims.  The OIG also recommended that the physician’s NPI be listed on PCS forms.CMS concurred with the recommendation, and indicated that it will explore the best way to implement this recommendation.
  3. Implement new claims processing edits, or improve existing edits, to prevent inappropriate payments for ambulance transports. The OIG is recommending that CMS update its edits to prevent payment: (a) for transports to non-covered destinations and (b) for transports with inappropriate combinations of the destination and the level of service billed (e.g., emergency transports to a patient’s residence).CMS partially concurred with the recommendation, but indicated that it wanted to review the data on the claims identified by the OIG in the report before taking any actions.
  4. Increase CMS’ monitoring of ambulance billing. The OIG is recommending that CMS continue to monitor the billing of ambulance claims using the measures of questionable billing that the OIG developed.CMS appeared to concur with the recommendation, indicating that it would continue its current monitoring.  However, the OIG indicated that its recommendation was not to continue monitoring at the current levels, but rather to increase the monitoring of ambulance claims.
  5. Determine the appropriateness of the claims billed by the ambulance suppliers identified in this report and take appropriate action. The OIG indicated that it would be providing CMS with a separate memorandum that lists the claims it identified that did not meet Medicare billing requirements.  The OIG was suggesting that CMS or its contractors should take a closer look at these providers, for example by reviewing medical records or performing unannounced site visits to determine whether additional actions are appropriate.CMS partially concurred with the recommendation, but indicated that it wanted to review the data on the claims identified by the OIG in the report before taking any actions.