Tag: Medicare

Update on AAA Legislative Priorities

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

Balance/Surprise Billing

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

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

Public Safety Officers Death Benefit (PSOB)

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

Dialysis Off-Set Restructuring

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

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

Medicare Priorities Bill

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

VA Legislation

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

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

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

Questions? Contact Us

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your continued membership and support

New SNF PPS Edits Highlight the Importance of Facility Agreements

On April 1, 2019, CMS implemented a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits that are intended to better identify ground ambulance transports that are furnished in connection with an outpatient hospital service that is properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime.

These edits work by comparing the ambulance claim to the associated outpatient hospital claim.  Hospital claims were already subject to CWF edits designed to identify outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF.  These hospital edits operate by referencing a list of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that correspond to outpatient hospital services that are expressly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.  Hospital claims for outpatient services that are submitted with one of these excluded codes bypass the existing CWF edits, and are then sent to the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor for further editing and payment.  Hospital claims submitted without one of these codes are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing.

The new ambulance edits will extend these process one step further.  The ambulance claim will be associated with the outpatient hospital claim on the same date.  To the extent that hospital claim is bundled under SNF Consolidated Billing, the associated ambulance claim will also be bundled.  To the extent the hospital claim is unbundled, the associated ambulance claim will be unbundled.

In order for these new edits to work properly, there must be an outpatient hospital in Medicare’s claim history. If the ambulance claim beats the hospital claim into the system, the ambulance claim will be rejected. If and when an outpatient hospital claim with the same date of service enters Medicare’s system, the initial rejection of the ambulance claim will be overturned, and the ambulance claim will be reprocessed using the same edits.

It is important to note that the new edits were designed to reject the ambulance claim as a bundled service unless the hospital claim indicates that it should not be bundled.  In other words, these edits are designed to be “over inclusive.”  This over-inclusiveness creates the potential for ambulance denials in situations that, on their face, would not appear to be bundled.

A few examples will help illustrate this point. Imagine a situation where the patient elects, for whatever reason, to pay out-of-pocket for their hospital care (in a situation where that care would not be bundled to the SNF), and, as a result, the hospital does not submit a bill to Medicare for its services.  Based on how the new edits are designed, your ambulance claim for the transport to that excluded service will be rejected based on the lack of a hospital claim. Or maybe the patient has both Medicare and the V.A., and has elected to have the V.A. be the primary payer for their required hospital care.  Again, there would likely be no outpatient hospital claim submitted to Medicare on that date of service, resulting in the rejection of your ambulance claim.

I can see your point, but those examples are pretty far-fetched.  How big an issue is this really?

I agree those examples are pretty far-fetched.  However, there are other situations that create the same problem.  For example, what about an emergent response to transport an SNF patient to the hospital for necessary emergency services?  Imagine if you are called to respond late at night (e.g., 11:30 p.m.) tonight.  Now imagine that, by the time you get to the patient, load them into the vehicle, and transport them to the ED, it has crossed over midnight into the next day.

What date of service is going to be on the hospital’s claim?  Almost certainly, the hospital will use tomorrow’s date.  As a result, when your claim hits Medicare’s system, there will not be an associated hospital claim, which will result in your claim being rejected as the responsibility of the SNF.  In this situation, Medicare’s edit has worked as intended, but the result is the denial of a claim that should be separately payable by Medicare Part B.

Okay, I can see how this might be annoying,
but I can appeal the claim and likely win on appeal, right? 

Yes and no.  The problem is that you are not likely to win on either of the first two levels of appeal, as they are likely going to rely upon the information in the CWF.  I can see you possibly winning your appeal at the ALJ level…5 to 7 years from now.

In other words, the appeals process is unlikely to provide an acceptable resolution.  Instead, I think the majority of ambulance providers are going to look to the SNFs to make good in these situations.  Of course, the SNFs are likely going to disclaim liability, arguing (correctly) that ambulance transportation to an ED is an excluded service.

This is where the agreement with the SNF comes into play.  One key purpose of contracts is to allocate known risks between the parties.  In this instance, the “risk” that needs to be addressed is the possibility that Medicare might incorrectly reject your claim thinking it is bundled to the SNF.  I would argue that this risk should be absorbed by the SNF.  The transport to the ED should have suspended the patient’s SNF stay, which would have allowed you to receive a separate payment from Medicare.  However, the fact that your claim was rejected is proof positive that the CWF does not reflect the suspension of the patient’s SNF stay.  Indirectly, it also serves as proof that the SNF received a per diem payment for the patient on that date.  To me, the fact that they accepted the per diem payment means they accepted the risk of a bundled ambulance service on that date.  I would also argue that it was their failure to properly suspend the patient’s SNF stay that set in motion your denial.  Either way, I would be looking to the SNF for payment.

Based on my experience, the typical agreement with an SNF does not address this situation.  Frequently, these agreements do not even address the specifics of SNF Consolidated Billing.  Instead, I tend to see general language indicating that the ambulance provider will bill the SNF when payment responsibility lies with the SNF under an applicable federal or state health care program.  I doubt that language is going to convince an SNF to take financial responsibility for the situation discussed above.

The good news is that your existing agreements can easily be revised to address this situation.  The language I would recommend is something along the lines of:

“The parties acknowledge and agree that a denial from Medicare for SNF consolidated billing shall constitute conclusive evidence that a transportation service is the financial responsibility of the facility.” 

In sum, the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits are going to increase the frequency with which we are forced to look to the SNFs for payment.  In most instances, it will be a situation where the SNF is legally responsible under SNF Consolidated Billing.  However, there will also be situations where the over-inclusive nature of the edits results in the claim being incorrectly denied as the SNF’s responsibility.  The question becomes how you want to handle these incorrect denials.  Do you want to appeal and hope CMS reverses its decision?  Or do you want to hold the SNF responsible?  If you want to hold the SNF responsible, you will likely need to revise your agreements with the SNFs.

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

Update on New SNF Edits

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing.

In a Member Advisory issued last week, the AAA provided an update on a series of new Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

In our discussion of the implementation specifics, we attempted to answer the question of what would happen when an ambulance claim is submitted prior to the receipt of the associated hospital outpatient claim, and where the associated hospital claim eventually hit Medicare’s system. Specifically, we indicated as follows:

“The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code.  Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim.  At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment.  The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.”

On March 15, 2019, CMS responded to our request for clarification. Specifically, CMS indicated that it has instructed the SSM and/or its Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) to automatically reprocess claims that were rejected for lack of an associated hospital outpatient claim.

Upon reprocessing, the claims will pass the edits to the extent the associated hospital claim contains a HCPCS or CPT code that indicates that the hospital outpatient service was excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Such claims would then be forwarded to the MAC for further editing, and either paid or denied. By contrast, when the associated hospital outpatient claim contains HCPCS or CPT codes that suggest the hospital services should be bundled to the SNF, the claim will be reprocessed and denied by the MAC with a remittance advice code indicating that the SNF is financially responsible.

AAA Webinar on New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

CMS SNF Edits Go Into Effect – April 1, 2019

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing

On November 2, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 2176 (Change Request 10955), which would establish a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

Why these edits are necessary?

In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that, with limited exceptions, the SNF’s per diem payment includes medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay. The OIG’s report was issued in February 2019.

The OIG conducted a review of all SNF beneficiary days from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016 to determine whether the beneficiary day contained a ground ambulance claim line. The OIG excluded beneficiary days where the only ambulance claim line related to: (1) certain emergency or intensive outpatient hospital services or (2) dialysis services, as such ambulance transportation would be excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. The OIG determined that there were 58,006 qualifying beneficiary days during this period, corresponding to $25.3 million in Medicare payments to ambulance suppliers.

The OIG then selected a random sample of 100 beneficiary days for review. The OIG determined that 78 of these 100 beneficiary days contained an overpayment for the associated ambulance claims, as the services the beneficiary received did not suspend or end their SNF resident status, nor was the transport for dialysis. The OIG determined that ambulance providers were overpaid a total of $41,456 for these ambulance transports. The OIG further determined that beneficiaries (or their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $10,723 in incorrect coinsurance and deductibles.

Based on the results of its review, the OIG estimates that Medicare made a total of $19.9 million in Part B overpayments to ambulance suppliers for transports that should have been bundled to the SNFs under SNF Consolidated Billing regime. The OIG estimated that beneficiaries (and their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $5.2 million in coinsurance and deductibles related to these incorrect payments.

The OIG concluded that the existing edits were inadequate to identify ambulance claims for services associated with hospital outpatient services that did not suspend or end the beneficiary’s SNF resident status, and which were not related to dialysis. The OIG recommended that CMS implement additional edits to identify such ambulance claims.

Overview of new claims processing edits

In response to the OIG’s report, CMS issued Transmittal 2176, which implements a new series of claims processing edits to identify ambulance claims associated with outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF. As noted above, these edits will go into effect on April 1, 2019.

These new claims processing edits are somewhat complicated. In order to properly understand how these claims edits will work, it is helpful to understand that CMS already has claims processing edits in place to identify hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF. These CWF edits operate by referencing a list of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that correspond to outpatient hospital services that are expressly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Hospital claims for outpatient services that are submitted with one of these excluded codes bypass the existing CWF edits, and are then sent to the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor for further editing and payment. Hospital claims submitted without one of these codes are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. For convenience, the list of HCPCS and CPT codes excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing is hereinafter referred to as the “Exempted Codes.”

The new edits for ambulance claims will compare Part B ambulance claims to the associated outpatient hospital claim to see whether or not that hospital claim is excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.

Specifics related to new claims processing edits

Under these new edits, the CWF will reject an incoming ambulance claim whenever the beneficiary is determined to be in an SNF Part A stay if either:

  1. There is no associated outpatient hospital claims for the same date of service on file; or
  2. There is an associated outpatient hospital claim for the same date of service on file (paid or denied), but where that outpatient hospital claim does not contain at least one Exempted Code.

When an incoming ambulance claim is rejected by the CWF, it will be sent to the applicable Medicare Administrative Contractor and rejected (Part A Ambulance Providers) or denied (Part B Ambulance Suppliers) using the applicable Claim Adjustment Reason Code/Remittance Advice Remark Code for SNF Consolidated Billing.  In other words, the ambulance claim will be denied with an indication that youshould bill the SNF.

The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code. Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim. At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment. The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.

Potential concerns for ambulance providers and suppliers

Based on the current experience of hospital providers, the AAA is cautiously optimistic that the new edits can be implemented in a way that proper identifies ambulance transports associated with hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF vs. those that correctly remain separately payable by Medicare Part B.

However, the AAA has some concerns with the manner in which CMS intends to apply these edits.  Ambulance providers and suppliers are typically in a position to submit their claims earlier than the corresponding hospital, many of which submit claims on a biweekly or monthly cycle.  This creates a potential timing issue. This timing issue arises because the edits will reject any ambulance claim that is submitted without an associated hospital claim on file.  In other words, even if the hospital outpatient service is properly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing, the ambulance claim will still be rejected if it beats the hospital claim into the system. The hope is that CMS will subsequently reprocess the ambulance claim once the hospital claim hits the system. However, at this point in time, it is unclear whether these claims will be automatically reprocessed, or whether ambulance providers and suppliers will be forced to appeal these claims for payment.

One option available to ambulance providers and suppliers would be to hold these claims for a period of time, in order to allow the hospitals to submit their claims. By waiting for the hospital to submit its claim, you can ensure that your claims will not be denied solely due to the timing issue. This should eliminate the disruption associated with separately payable claims being rejected and then subsequently reprocessed and/or appealed. It would also give you a degree of certainty when billing the SNF for claims that are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. However, holding claims carries an obvious downside, i.e., it will disrupt your normal cash flow.

To summarize, the implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on whether to hold claims to minimize the potential for problems, or to continue their existing submission practices and deal with any issues as they arise.

AAA webinar on new SNF Consolidated Billing edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

AAA Releases 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2019 Medicare Rate Calculator tool. The AAA believes this is a valuable tool that can assist members in budgeting for the coming year. This calculator has been updated to account for recent changes in Medicare policies, including the 2019 Ambulance Inflation Factor (2.3%) and continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

Download the 2019 Rate Calculator

Update on Government Shutdown and Sequestration

As the government shutdown drags on the negative impacts continue to grow. If the shutdown continues through January 24, 2019, which is looking likely at this point, current law will require the Trump Administration to cut about $839 million from non-exempt federal benefit programs to avoid increasing the deficit. This is a result of the “PAYGO” (pay as you go) law which requires spending increases or tax cuts to be offset with cuts to programs or additional revenue to avoid increasing the deficit. As the largest nonexempt benefit program, it is likely that Medicare would experience the worst of these cuts through sequestration.

While the Trump Administration has not yet issued a sequestration order, there is a distinct possibility that one could be issued if the shutdown continues much longer. A sequestration order would mean an additional across the board cut to all Medicare providers, including ambulance services. Ambulance service providers are still feeling the impact of the 2% sequestration cut that has been in effect the past few years. Any new cuts would likely start out being targeted at administrative tasks which could slow payments to providers. Temporary cuts would be expensive for the administration to facilitate and is made more challenging by the fact that many important staff members are currently furloughed. There are also some at the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) who believe that these cuts could not actually be administered until the government is reopen.

The AAA will keep members informed of any new developments.

CMS Posts 2019 Public Use File

On November 28, 2018, CMS posted the 2019 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files. These files contain the amounts that will be allowed by Medicare in calendar year 2019 for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage. These allowables reflect a 2.3% inflation adjustment over the 2018 rates.

The 2019 Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use File can be downloaded from the CMS website by clicking here.

Unfortunately, CMS has elected in recent years to release its Public Use Files without state and payment locality headings. As a result, in order to look up the rates in your service area, you would need to know the CMS contract number assigned to your state. This is not something the typical ambulance service would necessarily have on hand. For this reason, the AAA. has created a reformatted version of the CMS Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule, which includes the state and payment locality headings. Members can access this reformatted fee schedule here.

View Reformatted Fee Schedule

2017 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2017 Medicare Payment Data Report. This report is based on the Physician/Supplier Procedure Summary Master File. This report contains information on all Part B and DME claims processed through the Medicare Common Working File and stored in the National Claims History Repository.

The report contains an overview of total Medicare spending nationwide in CY 2017, and then a separate breakdown of Medicare spending in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the various other U.S. Territories.

For each jurisdiction, the report contains two charts: the first reflects data for all ambulance services, while the second is limited solely to dialysis transports. Each chart lists total spending by procedure code (i.e., base rates and mileage). For comparison purposes, information is also provided on Medicare spending in CY 2016.

2017 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

Questions? Contact Brian Werfel at bwerfel@aol.com.

 

Talking Medicare: CMS Implements Further Dialysis Cuts

Talking Medicare: CMS Implements Further Cuts in Reimbursement for Dialysis Services; Medicare Payment Data Shows Continued Reduction in Overall Spending on Dialysis Transports, but Net Increase in Dialysis Payments in Prior Authorization States

On October 1, 2018, CMS implemented an additional thirteen (13%) cut in reimbursement for non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis. This cut in reimbursement was mandated by Section 53108 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. This on top of a ten (10%) cut in reimbursement for dialysis transports that went into effect on October 1, 2013. As a result, BLS non-emergency ambulance transports to and from dialysis that occur on or after October 1, 2018 will be reimbursed at 77% of the applicable Medicare allowable.

In related news, CMS has released its national payment data for calendar year 2017. This data shows a continued reduction in total Medicare payments for dialysis transports. Medicare paid $477.7 million on dialysis transports in 2017, down from $488.9 million in 2016. This continues a downward trend that has seen total payments decline from a high of more than $750 million in 2013 (see accompanying chart to the right). Not coincidentally, it was in 2013 that our industry saw its first reduction in Medicare’s payments for dialysis transports.

The payment reduction is partially the result of the reduction in the amounts paid for dialysis services. However, it is also reflective of an overall decline in the number of approved dialysis transports. For this, we can look primarily to the impact of a four-year demonstration project that requires prior authorization of dialysis transports in 8 states and the District of Columbia.

As a reminder, the original prior authorization 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. The chart below shows total spending on dialysis in those states in the years immediately preceding the implementation of the prior authorization project up through 2017, the third year of the demonstration project. While the three states had very different trajectories prior to 2015, each showed a significant decrease in total payments for dialysis under the demonstration project.

However, it is the trajectory of these changes that I want to discuss in this month’s blog. In previous blogs, I discussed the impact of the particular Medicare Administrative Contractor on the outcomes under prior authorization. Specifically, I noted that, while dialysis payments dropped in each state, the decline was far more dramatic in the states administered by Novitas Solutions (NJ, PA) than in the South Carolina, which was administered by Palmetto GBA. This trend continued in the second year of the program, which saw prior authorization expanded into five additional states and the District of Columbia. Those states administered by Novitas (DE, MD) saw far greater declines than the states administered by Palmetto (NC, VA, WV).

Given these declines, the data from the third year is somewhat surprising. The states administered by Palmetto continued to see declines in total dialysis payments, with the only exception being West Virginia. However, in the states administered by Novitas, we saw total dialysis payments increase, particularly in New Jersey, which saw nearly a 33% increase in total dialysis payments.

Three years into the prior authorization program, it is starting to become clear that the two MACs have approached the problem of overutilization of dialysis transports using two different approaches. Palmetto appears to have adopted a slow-and-steady approach, with total payments declining in a consistent manner year after year. By contrast, Novitas adopted more of a “shock the system” approach, where it rejected nearly all dialysis transports in the first year, and has adopted a somewhat more lenient approach in subsequent years.

Key Takeaways

 Last year, I wrote that two years of data under the prior authorization program permitted two conclusions: (1) the implementation of a prior authorization process in a state will undoubtedly result in an overall decrease in the total payments for dialysis within that state and (2) the size of that reduction appears to be highly dependent on the Medicare contractor.

With an additional year of data, I think both conclusions remain valid, although I would revise the second to suggest that the initial reduction has more to do with the Medicare contractor. The evidence from the third year of the program suggests that the trends tend to equalize after the first few years. It is also possible that Novitas felt a more aggressive approach was needed in the first few years to address evidence of widespread dialysis overutilization in the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

This has potential implications beyond the demonstration project, as CMS looks towards a possible national expansion of the program. Among other issues, it suggests that the AAA must continue its efforts to work with CMS and its contractors on developing more uniform standards for coverage of this patient population.

What the AAA is Doing

The AAA continues to work on legislation that would restructure this cut to dialysis transport reimbursement. The AAA strongly supports the NEATSA Act (H.R.6269) introduced by Congressman LaHood (R-IL) and Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL) that would restructure the offset so that a majority of the additional reduction would be focused on those ambulance service agencies in which 50% or more of their volume are repetitive BLS nonemergency transports. AAA members and the AAA are working to get a Senate companion bill introduced shortly. The goal of this legislation would be to have the restructured offset go into effect as soon as possible. Thank you to the dozens of AAA members who have already contacted their members of Congress voicing their support for this critical legislation.


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

Talking Medicare: DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing

Talking Medicare: Recent DOJ Settlement Highlights Importance of Exclusion Testing

On July 17, 2018, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine issued a press release on a settlement that had been reached with an ambulance service in Maine. As a result of this settlement, the ambulance service agreed to pay $16,776.74 to resolve allegations that it had submitted false claims to the Medicare and Maine Medicare Programs.

While the Department of Justice’s press release referred to the matter as a civil health care fraud, that headline is somewhat misleading. The ambulance service was not alleged to “up-coded” its claims or to have billed for patients that did not require ambulance transportation. Rather, the ambulance service was accused of using monies paid to it by these federal health care programs to pay the salary and benefits of a woman hired to assist the company’s billing manager. The woman, who was not identified in news reports, had previously been excluded from participation in federal health care programs after surrendering her license as a pharmacy technician after being found to have inappropriately diverted certain controlled substances. The ambulance service apparently failed to conduct an exclusion test on this individual prior to placing her on its payroll. The ambulance service’s side of the story is discussed in greater detail in this article from the local newspaper.

This settlement provides a reminder of the potential liabilities associated with the employment excluded individuals. As the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) noted in its May 2013 Special Advisory Bulletin, the effect of exclusion goes beyond direct patient care. The OIG noted that excluded individuals are prohibited from providing transportation services paid by a federal health care program, using the example of ambulance drivers and ambulance dispatchers. The OIG further indicated that excluded individuals cannot provide administrative and/or management services that are payable by federal health care programs, even if these administrative or management services are not separately billable. In the above-referenced case, the prohibition was applied to the wages and benefits payable to the excluded employee.

Do we need to conduct exclusion testing, and, if so, how frequently?

The OIG recommends that all health care providers conduct exclusion testing prior to an individual’s employment, and then periodically thereafter. However, the OIG takes no formal position on how frequently these periodic exclusion checks should be conducted. The OIG does note, however, that it updates its List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) on a monthly basis.

Given the potential risks involved, I think monthly testing of all employees should definitely be considered a best practice. The hope is that this case serves as a cautionary tale for other ambulance providers.

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

OIG Report on Overpayments For Non-Emergency Transports

OIG Report – Overpayments For Non-Emergency Ambulance Transports To Non-Covered Destinations

The Office of the Inspector General released its report Medicare Improperly Paid Providers for Non Emergency Ambulance Transports to Destinations Not Covered by Medicare“.

In sum, the OIG reviewed claims that Medicare paid for 2014 – 2016 non-emergency ambulance transports. The review focused on transports to non-covered destinations. OIG found that $8,633,940 was paid by Medicare for non-emergency ambulance transports under codes A0425 (ground mileage), A0426 (ALS non-emergency) and A0428 (BLS non-emergency) during this period of time.

The review was based solely on the claims and not based on a medical review or interviews of providers.

The claims that should not have been paid were to the following destinations:

  • 59% – to diagnostic or therapeutic sites other than a hospital or physician’s office, that did not originate at a SNF.
  • 31% – to a residence or assisted living facility (and not meeting the origin/destination requirement).
  •  6% – to the scene of an acute event.
  •  4% – to a destination code not used for ambulance claims or where no destination modifier was used.
  • <1% – to a physician’s office.

OIG recommended (and CMS agreed) that CMS:

  1. Notify the Medicare Administrative Contractors to recover that portion of the overpayment that is within the 4-year period in which claims can be re-opened.
  2. For the balance of the overpayment that is outside the 4-year period, CMS should provide the information needed for the MACs to notify the providers of the overpayments and have the providers exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and refund improper payments.
  3. Direct the MACs to review the origin/destination requirements for any overpayments following the audit period.
  4. Require the MACs implement edits to ensure they only pay for non-emergency transports that meet the Medicare requirements.

There is a chart in the report that indicates the improper payments for each jurisdiction. It is interesting to note that the overpayments range from a low of $515 (First Coast) to a high of $5,006,696 (Cahaba).

The report can be obtained at: https://go.usa.gov/xU5vf

NEW! AAA PreCon Workshop on Mandatory Cost Data Collection

AAA is excited to announce that this year we will be holding a full day pre-conference workshop at the AAA Annual Conference & Trade Show! Join industry experts Rebecca Williamson, Angie McLain, Asbel Montes, Kathy Lester, Scott Moore, and Brian Werfel to learn what the new cost data collection mandates will require and how you and your service can get ahead of the game and prepare for these changes.

Mandatory Cost Data Collection: When Is It Happening & How to Prepare

September 5, 2018 | 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM | MGM Grand, Las Vegas
$75 for Annual Conference attendees | $250 workshop-only

2018 federal legislation expanded Medicare cost reporting to ambulance services, although with some important differences from other Medicare reporters. Failure to meet these new reporting requirements could lead to significant sanctions including loss of Medicare revenue. In this session, we will review how we got to where we are, what the new mandates will require based on current regulations, and how best to prepare yourself and your service for the phase-in.

Update on Medicare Reimbursement Issues

The AAA would like to take this opportunity to update members on a number of issues related to Medicare reimbursement:

  1. CMS and its contractors have begun adjusting claims for ground ambulance services to reflect the restoration of the temporary add-ons. Section 50203(a) of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 retroactively reinstated the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services. These add-ons increase the applicable Medicare allowables by 2% in urban areas, 3% in rural areas, and 22.6% in “super rural” areas (over and above the corresponding rural rate), retroactive to January 1, 2018. On a March 7, 2018 Open Door Forum, CMS indicated that it had updated the Medicare Ambulance fee schedule to reflect these higher rates, and that it has provided a Change Request to each of its Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs). The AAA has confirmed that all MACs have successfully implemented the new rates, and that all are paying current claims at the correct rate. The AAA has further confirmed that MACs have started to adjust 2018 claims paid at the original (lower) rates. Unfortunately, neither CMS nor its MACs have committed to a firm timetable for the completion of all required adjustments; however, a number of MACs have indicated that they anticipate completing all required adjustments by the end of the second quarter of 2018.
  1. Further reduction in Medicare’s payment for non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 further required CMS to implement an additional 13% reduction in Medicare’s payment for scheduled, non-emergency BLS transports to and from dialysis. This reduction is on top of the existing 10% payment reduction. Collectively, this means that dialysis transports will be reimbursed at a rate that is 23% less than the rate that would otherwise be applicable to BLS non-emergency transports in your area. The AAA. is reminding members that this additional reduction in payments will go into effect for transports on or after October 1, 2018.
  1. CMS has updated its SNF Consolidated Billing file to resolve the error that resulted in certain ambulance claims being incorrectly denied as being the responsibility of the SNF. Each year, CMS updates the SNF Consolidated Billing file provided to MACs. This file contains several lists of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) codes, and provides instructions to the MACs on whether these codes: (i) should be accepted for separate payment under Medicare Part B or (ii) should always be denied for inclusion in the SNF Consolidated Billing system. Ambulance HCPCS codes (A0425, A0426, A0427, etc.) have always been included in the first list, as the issue of whether an ambulance transportation is bundled to the SNF is conditioned on the nature of the services that the patient will receive at the destination. To the extent the service the patient will receive at the destination is bundled, the ambulance services to and from that service will also be bundled, and vice versa. Note: there are two exceptions to this general rule. The first is that ambulance transportation to and from dialysis is specifically exempted from the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, and therefore will always be separately billable to Medicare Part B. The second exception relates to the provision of chemotherapy services furnished on an outpatient basis in a hospital. Chemotherapy services are generally bundled to the SNF; however, several years ago, Congress elected to exempt a number of particularly expensive forms of chemotherapy from the SNF bundle. In these instances, while the SNF is not responsible for the payment of the expensive chemotherapy, the SNF remains responsible for payment of the ambulance transportation to and from the hospital. Because ambulance codes may or may not be bundled to the SNF based on the nature of the transport, they are not automatically denied. Instead, the MACs are supposed to use further edits to identify those situations in which the ambulance transport would be bundled vs. separately payable. Unfortunately, in its 2018 update, CMS inadvertently left the ambulance HCPCS codes off the list of codes that are not automatically denied as being bundled to the SNF.  As a result, ambulance providers have indicated that claims were being denied using remark code “OA109.”  In some cases, claims for dates of service in 2016 or 2017 that were previously paid were being recouped. CMS recognized its error fairly quickly, and updated the SNF Consolidated Billing file in mid-February. All MACs were provided with updated instructions by February 27, 2018. Therefore, the issue has been resolved for current claims. What remains to be resolved is how CMS and its MACs will adjust or reprocess claims that were incorrectly denied. Several MACs have notified providers of the issue, and asked that they refrain from appealing the claims. These MACs are indicating that they will automatically adjust/reprocess affected claims. In other instances, the MACs have asked the providers to make a refund of affected claims that were previously paid, promising to then reprocess the entire claim. The AAA is advising members to carefully track the claims that were affected by this mistake, and to follow the instructions issued by their MAC for ensuring their reprocessing.
  1. CMS has delayed the mailing new ID cards to all Medicare beneficiaries. As part of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, Congress mandated that CMS remove a beneficiary’s social security number (SSN) from their Medicare ID card by April 2019. As part of this initiative, CMS will be replacing the SSN-based Health Insurance Claim Number (HICN) with the new Medicare Beneficiary Identifier (MBI). CMS has already started mailing cards with the MBI to newly enrolling Medicare beneficiaries. CMS originally announced that it would be mailing new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries starting in April 2018, but recently indicated that it would delay the mailing of new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries until May 2018. From May to June, CMS will mail new cards to existing Medicare beneficiaries residing in Alaska, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The mailing program will then be extended to additional states in 5 “waves” over the coming year. To the extent you provide services in the above-mentioned states, you may want to educate crewmembers and other employees on the differences between the HICN and the MBI. You may want to also consider updating your existing patient databases to include the new identifier. As a reminder, CMS will permit claims to be submitted with either the HICN or the MBI during a transition period running through December 31, 2019.  Effective January 1, 2020, claims must be submitted with a patient’s MBI. This requirement applies regardless of whether the date of service occurred prior to the expiration of the transition period.
  1. Extension of prior authorization project for scheduled, repetitive transports. In December 2017, CMS indicated that it would be extending the prior authorization program for an additional year. This program is currently in place for the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The extension of the program is limited to those states. CMS has further indicated that it will be making a determination on possible national expansion at some point in the near future. CMS recently released its first interim report on the prior authorization program. As expected, that report indicated that prior authorization has been successful in reducing Medicare expenditures on scheduled, repetitive transports, without any material impact on beneficiary access to and quality of care.

Have any questions about these updates? Contact Brian Werfel at bwerfel@aol.com

Summary of March 2018 Ambulance Open Door Forum

CMS held its latest Open Door Forum on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. As with past Open Door Forums, CMS started the call with the following series of announcements:

Medicare Fee Schedule – CMS indicated that the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, enacted on February 9, 2018, contained several provisions that impacted the payment of ambulance claims under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule:

  • Temporary Add-Ons for Ground Ambulance – CMS indicated that Section 50203(a) of the bill extended the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services for an additional five years, retroactive back to January 1, 2018.  As extended, these add-ons will expire on December 31, 2022.  These add-ons increase Medicare’s allowable for ground ambulance base rates and mileage by 2% in urban areas, 3% in rural areas, and by 22.6% (over the applicable rural rate) for services provided in so-called “super rural” areas.
  • Cost Reporting – CMS indicated that Section 50203(b) of the bill would require ground ambulance providers and suppliers to submit cost data to CMS. CMS noted that the new law requires CMS to develop, no later than December 31, 2019, a data collection system to collect cost, revenue, utilization, and certain other information related to ground ambulance services. The law provides that cost data will be collected using a survey methodology, with a representative sample of ambulance providers and suppliers being asked to submit cost data in any given year.  Finally, CMS noted that, starting on January 1, 2022, providers or suppliers that fail to submit the requested cost data would be subject to a 10% reduction in their Medicare payments, unless otherwise exempted on the basis of significant hardship.
  • Additional Reduction in Medicare Payment for Dialysis Transports – Section 53108 of the bill provides that the Medicare allowable for non-emergency, basic life support transports to and from dialysis will be subject to a further 13% reduction.  This reduction would go into effect for dialysis transports with dates of service on or after October 1, 2018. This would be on top of the existing 10% reduction in Medicare’s payment for dialysis transports, for a total reduction of 23%.

Temporary Enrollment Moratorium – CMS indicated that the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new ground non-emergency ambulance providers in Texas was lifted on September 1, 2017. CMS further indicated that the enrollment moratorium was extended for the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania for an additional six months on January 29, 2018. CMS will need to make a determination on or before July 29, 2018 on whether to lift the moratorium or extent it for an additional six months in that state.

Following the announcements, CMS moved into a brief Question & Answer period.  Most of the questions were not answered on the call; instead, CMS took the contact information of the person asking the question, and indicated that they would respond directly to them at a later date.  However, the following questions were answered:

  1. CMS indicated that a Change Request had been sent to all Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) informing them of the new, adjusted fee schedule amounts. CMS further indicated that this Change Request, which it indicated was confidential, provided further instructions to the MACs on when and how to adjust claims initially paid at the original 2018 rates.
  1. CMS confirmed that the adjusted rates are retroactive to January 1, 2018. Accordingly, CMS indicated that claims paid at the original 2018 rates will be adjusted by the MACs at some future date.
  1. CMS indicated that it recently released its First Interim Evaluation Report on the Medicare Prior Authorization Model for repetitive, non-emergency ground ambulance transports. CMS further indicated that it was still reviewing this report, and that no decision has yet been made on the extension of this model within the existing 9 states and the District of Columbia and/or the expansion of the model to additional states.

Have questions? Please write to the Werfels at bwerfel@aol.com.

AAA Releases Updated 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator

CMS Posts Updated 2018 Public Use File; OIG Guidance on Waiver of Small Cost-Sharing Balances Updated AAA 2018 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has posted an updated version of the 2018 Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule Public Use Files (PUF). These files contain the Medicare allowed base rate reimbursement amounts for the various levels of ambulance service and mileage rates. These files reflect the restoration, retroactive to January 1, 2018, of the temporary add-ons for ground ambulance services (2% for urban transports, 3% for rural transports, and the “super-rural” bonus) pursuant to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which was enacted on February 9, 2018.

2018 Fee Schedule

Accuracy of Rates and AAA Fee Calculator

The American Ambulance Association has reviewed the rates in this file and confirmed that the rates are accurate. The AAA has also revised its Medicare Ambulance Rate Calculator to reflect the five-year extension of the ambulance add-ons as well as other policy changes including the two-year extension (2026 and 2027) of the 2% Medicare provider cut under sequestration and the additional 13% (23% total) cut to BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers. The additional dialysis transport cut takes effect on October 1, and as a modifier, is not included in the Public Use File.

Download the 2018 Rate Calculator

Reformatted Version of PUF

Unfortunately, CMS has elected in recent years to release its Public Use Files without state and payment locality headings. As a result, in order to look up the rates in your service area, you would need to know the CMS contract number assigned to your state. This is not something ambulance services would necessarily know off-hand. For this reason, the AAA has created a reformatted version of the CMS Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule, which includes the state and payment locality headings. Members can access this reformatted fee schedule on the AAA website.

CMS has yet to announce a timetable for adjusting claims that were paid at the original fee schedule amounts. It is anticipated that CMS will make an announcement on this timetable in the next few weeks.

Coinsurance

One issue that frequently arises in these situations is how ambulance providers and suppliers should treat the additional coinsurance amounts that are generated when CMS and its contractors adjust claims from the original allowed amounts to the now higher allowed amounts. These additional coinsurance amounts are typically quite small. Ambulance providers and suppliers may determine that the costs associated with trying to collect these small amounts would likely exceed the amounts they could reasonably hope to collect. The question is whether writing off these small balances could be construed as a routine waiver of cost-sharing amounts, a practice prohibited under Medicare’s rules.

In 2010, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued guidance on this issue. Specifically, the OIG indicated that it would not seek to impose administrative sanctions on Medicare providers and suppliers that waive these amounts provided the following conditions are met:

• The waiver is limited to the increased cost-sharing amounts generated upon adjustment of claims previously paid at the lower allowable, i.e., it does not apply to cost-sharing amounts associated with claims paid at the increased allowables;
• The waiver is limited to the small balances created by the adjustment of claims, i.e., it does not apply to the cost-sharing amounts originally imposed on the beneficiary when the claim was paid at the lower amounts;
• The waiver must be offered uniformly to all affected beneficiaries;
• The waiver must not be advertised; and
• The waiver must not be conditioned on the beneficiary’s receipt of any items, suppliers, or services.

Assuming the above-referenced conditions are met, ambulance providers and supplier can safely write-off these small balances. Please note that the OIG is not indicating that ambulance providers and suppliers must write-off these amounts. Rather, the OIG is simply indicating that this is an option available to health care providers and suppliers impacted by retroactive adjustment of claims.

Download the 2018 Rate Calculator

2018 Fee Schedule

New Medicare Card Project CMS ODF Follow Up

CMS’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) held its special Open Door Forum on the New Medicare Card Project on Tuesday, February 6 at 2:00 PM Eastern.

Following the CMS call, AAA AAA Medicare Consultant, Brian Werfel, Esq.; and AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair, Rebecca Williamson hosted a debrief and Q & A.

Slides from today’s presentation are now available: View the Slides

VA Issues Rule Expanding Coverage of Ambulance Services

Veterans Administration Issues Interim Final Rule Expanding
Coverage of Ambulance Services under Millennium Bill

On January 9, 2018, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued an interim final rule that would amend its policy for payment of Millennium Bill claims. The Millennium Bill authorizes the Veterans Administration (VA) to pay for emergency care provided to veterans in non-VA facilities — including emergency ambulance transportation — provided the veteran has no other health insurance that would cover the costs of such emergency care. These changes were necessitated, in part, by a recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Appeals (Staab v. McDonald, 28 Vet. App. 50, 2016).

The two major changes being made by the interim final rule are: (1) the expansion of payment eligibility to include veterans who received partial payment or reimbursement from a health plan for their non-VA emergency care and (2) the expansion of payment eligibility for emergency transportation associated with a veteran’s receipt of emergency treatment in a non-VA facility.

These changes went into effect on January 9, 2018.

Relevant Background

38 U.S.C. §1725 authorizes the VA to reimburse veterans for the costs of emergency treatment for non-service connected conditions furnished in a non-VA facility, provided certain criteria were met. One requirement was that the veteran be personally liable for the costs of that emergency treatment. As originally enacted in 1999, the statute indicated that the veteran would be personally liable if the veteran: (1) has no entitlement to care or services under a health-plan contract and/or (2) the veteran had no contractual or legal recourse against a third party that would, in part or in whole, extinguish such liability. The VA historically interpreted its payment obligations under the Millennium Bill to be limited to situations where the veteran had no entitlement to coverage under their health insurance or any other contractual or legal recourse against a third party.

The Expansion of Veteran Eligibility for Reimbursement Act of 2010 amended the requirements related to non-health insurance payments to remove the phrase “in part”. As a result, the VA revised its regulations to permit it to make a payment under the Millennium Bill in situations where automobile or other forms of non-health insurance made a partial payment, and where the veteran remained liable for the balance of the health care provider’s bill. However, there was no corresponding change made to the provisions related to health insurance contracts. As a result, the VA continued to view partial payment by a health plan as a bar to payment by the VA.

In Staab, the Court of Appeals adopted a more lenient interpretation of the statute, i.e., a more restrictive view of the VA’s statutory bar on reimbursement. Specifically, the Court held that the reimbursement bar would only apply when the payment from the health plan fully extinguished the veteran’s liability. The practical effect was to place health insurance plans on equal footing with other forms of insurance. The Court remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

The VA subsequently appealed the Court of Appeals decision. However, on June 14, 2017, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin announced that the Department would drop its appeal.  Reversing course, Secretary Shulkin indicated that the VA had drafted regulations to implement the expanded Millennium Bill coverage. Those regulations form the basis of this interim final rule.

Provisions of Interim Final Rule

Partial Payment from Health Insurance Plan

The VA revised its regulations at 38 C.F.R. §17.1002(f) to indicate that the VA will make payment under the Millennium Bill to the extent the veteran otherwise qualifies for coverage to the extent that the veteran “does not have coverage under a health-plan contract that would fully extinguish the medical liability for the emergency treatment.” The VA retained the reimbursement bar for situations where the veteran would have been covered under a health plan had the veteran or the provider failed to comply with the requirements of that health plan, e.g., by failing to submit a timely claim. This change will apply to: (1) all claims pending with the VA as of April 8, 2016 or (2) submitted after that date.

Expansion of Payment Authority for Emergency Transportation

The VA historically viewed emergency ambulance transportation to the non-VA facility as part of the overall emergency treatment of the veteran. As a result, the VA believed that a health plan’s payment for the hospital care, in whole or in part, triggered its reimbursement bar. One common situation that impacts ambulance suppliers involves veterans that have Medicare Part A benefits (which cover the costs of their hospital care), but where the veteran has elected to forego paying for Medicare Part B.  In these situations, Medicare would pay for the hospital care. The VA took the position that this triggered the reimbursement bar, and therefore prevented it from making payment for the emergency ambulance transportation.

Because the interim final rule expands Millennium Bill coverage to include situations where a health plan makes a partial payment, the VA found it necessary to amend its regulations governing the payment of ambulance claims. Specifically, the VA amended its regulations at 38 C.F.R. 17.1003 to provide that ambulance providers will now be eligible for payment provided the following conditions are met:

  1. Payment for emergency care provided at the non-VA facility is authorized or would have been authorized had:
  2. The veteran’s personal liability for the emergency treatment was not fully extinguished by payment by the health plan or other third-party; or
  3. Death not occurred before emergency treatment (at the hospital) could be provided);
  4. The veteran is financially liable to the ambulance provider;
  5. The veteran does not have coverage under a health insurance plan that would fully extinguish the medical liability for the emergency transport (and further provided that the veteran or the provider has timely filed a claim with the health plan);
  6. If the emergency transportation is the result of an accident or work-related injury, the veteran must have reasonably exhausted his remedies against a third-party payor (e.g., auto insurance policy or workers’ compensation policy); and
  7. The veteran remains liable for all copayments and deductibles.
Effect of Coinsurance and Deductibles

The A.A.A. has confirmed that the VA does not consider the coinsurance or deductible obligations imposed by a veteran’s health plan for the purposes of determining whether the veteran’s liability has been fully extinguished by the health plan’s payment.

Therefore, in situations where the veteran has health care coverage, payment by the VA is likely to be limited to situations where the ambulance provider is permitted under state and local laws to bill patients for the difference between their billed charges and the amounts allowed by the health insurer, i.e., those areas that currently permit balance billing. This would also mean that the VA would be unlikely to have any payment responsibility in situations where Medicare has made payment on the ambulance claim (although it leaves open the possibility that the VA may be responsible for non-covered Medicare services such as excess mileage).

Amount of Payment

 When the VA pays under this expanded Millennium Bill authority, its payment will be based on the following methodology:

  1. When the veteran has no coverage under a health plan or other third-party payor, the VA will pay the lesser of: (a) the amount for which the veteran is personally liable or (b) 70% of the applicable Medicare allowable;
  2. When partial payment is made by a health plan or other third party payer, the VA will pay the difference between: (a) the amount the VA would have paid under the preceding bullet point (typically 70% of the Medicare allowable) or (b) the amount paid (or payable) by the health plan or other third-party payor; provided that amount is greater than zero;
  3. If the calculation in the preceding bullet point would not result in the VA making a payment (i.e., because the resulting amount would be less than zero), the VA will pay the lesser of: (a) the veteran’s personal liability after the third-party payment (excluding deductibles and copayments) and (b) 70% of the applicable Medicare allowable;
  4. In the absence of a corresponding allowable, the VA will be the lesser of: (a) the amount for which the veteran is personally liable or (b) the amount calculated by the VA Fee Schedule in 38 C.F.R. 17.56(a)(2)(i)(B).

Payment from the VA is generally considered to be payment-in-full, and extinguishes the veteran’s remaining liability to the provider for unpaid amounts. Note: the veteran would remain liable for unpaid co-payments and deductibles. If the provider does not wish to accept the VA’s payment, it has 30 days from its receipt of such payment to reject and refund the payment.


Have any Medicare questions? Contact Brian at bwerfel@aol.com

CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Services

CMS Extends Temporary Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground
Ambulance Services in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

On January 30, 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a notice in the Federal Register extending the temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance providers and suppliers in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The extended moratoria will run through July 29, 2018.

Section 6401(a) of the Affordable Care Act granted CMS the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare providers and suppliers to the extent doing so was necessary to combat fraud or abuse. On July 31, 2013, CMS used this new authority to impose a moratorium on the enrollment of new ambulance providers in Houston, Texas and the surrounding counties. On February 4, 2014, CMS imposed a second moratorium on newly enrolling ambulance providers in the Philadelphia metropolitan areas. These moratoriums were subsequently extended on August 1, 2014, February 2, 2015, July 28, 2015, and February 2, 2016.

On August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to the moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers. Specifically, CMS announced that: (1) the enrollment moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier and (2) the enrollment moratoria on non-emergency ambulance services would be expanded to cover the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. At the same time, CMS announced the creation of a new “waiver” program that would permit the enrollment of new non-emergency ambulance providers in these states under certain circumstances. The revised moratorium on newly enrolling non-emergency ground ambulance providers was subsequently extended on January 9, 2017 and July 28, 2017.

On September 1, 2017, CMS issued a notice on its website indicating that it had elected to lift the moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017. CMS indicated that this decision was made to assist in the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey.  CMS published formal notice of the lifting of this moratorium on November 3, 2017.

On or before July 29, 2018, CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium.


Have any Medicare questions? Contact Brian at bwerfel@aol.com

CMS ODF and Follow Up Call Cancelled

UPDATE: The CMS Open Door Forum and Follow Up Q&A Call have been postponed until further notice.

CMS’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) will hold a special Open Door Forum on the New Medicare Card Project on Tuesday, January 23 at 2:00 PM Eastern. If you plan to attend, please dial in at least 15 minutes before the call.

Following the CMS call, AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Tristan North, will moderate a Q&A call for members. To answer your questions, AAA Medicare Consultant, Brian Werfel, Esq.; AAA Medicare Regulatory Committee Chair, Rebecca Williamson; and AAA Medicare Regulatory Vice-Chair, Angie (Lehman) McLain will be on the line.

 

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.