Tag: Medicare

CMS Lifts Moratorium Enrollment Non-Emergency Providers (TX)

In order to assist with the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey, CMS has announced that it has lifted the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017. The lifting of this moratorium applies to new enrollments in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). CMS indicated that it will publish a notice in the Federal Register to formally announce the lifting of the moratorium.

As a result, Part B ambulance suppliers that are not otherwise already enrolled as non-emergency ambulance provider in the State of Texas will be permitted to enroll in the Medicare Program. The lifting of the moratorium will also permit companies that are already enrolled as non-emergency ambulance suppliers to add additional practice locations throughout the state. CMS has indicated that both new enrollments and changes in enrollment to add additional practice locations will be subject to “high” screening under 42 C.F.R. §424.518(c)(3)(iii).

Summary of September 2017 Ambulance Open Door Forum

On September 14, 2017, CMS held its latest Open Door Forum. As usual, it started with a few announcements, as follows:

  1. “Locality” Rule – On 6/16/17 CMS issued Transmittal 236, to amend the Benefit Policy Manual, Chapter 10, section 10.3.5 to give Medicare Administrative Contractors discretion to determine the “locality”. This is for the issue of the nearest appropriate facility.

Transmittal 236

  1. ALS Assessment – The same Transmittal also amended section 30.1.1 to indicate that if an ALS assessment is performed, then the ALS emergency base rate shall be paid, even if there is no ALS intervention.
  2. Multiple Patient Transports – On 9/1/17, CMS issued Transmittal 3855 to restore to its Claims Processing Manual, Chapter 15, section 30.1.2 instructions for multiple patients transported in the same vehicle. This is not a change in policy. The section was inadvertently omitted from the Internet Only Manual.

Transmittal 3855

  1. Temporary Adjustments – The 2%, 3% and 22.6% temporary adjustments for ground ambulance transports originating in urban, rural and super-rural areas will expire 12/31/17, unless legislation is enacted. Later on the call, they indicated that they are aware of a legislative initiative in Congress that includes this issue (S.967, H.R. 3236).

Support Extending the Medicare Add-ons!

       Following these announcements, a Q & A period ensued. Most of the questions were not answered on the call, other than to advise the caller to submit their question via e-mail and CMS will respond to their concern via e-mail or to contact their Medicare Administrative Contractor.

Two items of note in the Q & A were as follows:

  • CMS has left it up to the MACs to define the “locality” for purposes of the nearest appropriate facility requirement. Therefore, providers and suppliers should ask their MAC for their definition.
  • CMS was asked whether the prior authorization program would continue nationwide, after this year. The representatives from CMS did not answer the question other than to advise the person who asked the question to submit it in writing to CMS.

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

2016 National and State-Specific Medicare Data

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the publication of its 2016 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 2016, 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 2015.

2016 National & State-Specific Medicare Data

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

 

Preliminary Estimate of 2018 Medicare Rates

A Preliminary Estimate of 2018 Medicare Rates

In this blog, I will provide a preliminary estimate of the Ambulance Inflation Factor (AIF) for calendar year 2018.  The AIF is main factor that determines the increase (or decrease) in Medicare’s payment for ambulance services.

Calculating the 2018 AIF

The AIF is calculated by measuring the increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) for the 12-month period ending with June of the previous year. For 2018, this means the 12-month period ending on June 30, 2017. Starting in calendar year 2011, the change in the CPI-U is reduced by a so-called “productivity adjustment”, which is equal to the 10-year moving average of changes in the economy-wide private nonfarm business multi-factor productivity index (MFP). The resulting AIF is then applied to the conversion factor used to calculate Medicare payments under the Ambulance Fee Schedule.

The formula used to calculate the change in the CPI-U is limited to positive increases. Therefore, even if the change in the CPI-U was negative over a 12-month period (a rarity in the post-war era), the change in the CPI-U cannot be negative. However, when the MFP reduction is applied, the statute does permit a negative AIF for any calendar year. That is precisely what occurred in 2016, where the change in the CPI-U was 0.1% and the MFP was 0.5%. As a result, the industry saw an overall reduction in its Medicare rates of 0.4%.

Based on current data, it is highly unlikely that the AIF will be negative in 2018. For the 12-month period ending in June 30, 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) currently calculates the change in the CPI-U to be approximately 1.6%.

CMS has yet to release its estimate for the MFP in calendar year 2018. However, assuming CMS’ projections for the MFP are similar to last year’s projections, the 2018 MFP is likely to be in the 0.3% to 0.5% range.

Therefore, at this time, my best guess is that the 2018 Ambulance Inflation Factor will be a positive 1.1% to 1.3%.

Please note that this estimate assumes the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not subsequently revise its inflation estimates. Please note further that this projection is based on the MFP being similar to last year.  To the extent either of these numbers changes in the coming months (up or down), my estimate of the 2018 AIF would need to be adjusted accordingly. Ultimately, the 2018 AIF will be finalized by CMS by Transmittal, which typically occurs in the early part of the 4th quarter.

Impact on the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule

Assuming all other factors remained the same, calculating your 2018 Medicare rates would be a relatively simple exercise, i.e., you would simply add 1.1 to 1.3% to your 2017 rates. However, as part of its 2018 Physician Fee Schedule Proposed Rule (issued July 21, 2017), CMS proposed minor changes to the GPCIs. These changes can be viewed by going to the Physician Fee Schedule page on the CMS website, and clicking the link for the “CY 2018 PFS Proposed Rule Addenda” (located in the Downloads section). You would then need to open the file for “Addendum E_Geographic Practice Cost Indicies (GPCIs).”

If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to increase, you can expect your 2018 Medicare rates to increase by slightly more than 1.1 – 1.3%. If the PE GPCI in your area is proposed to decrease, you can expect your 2018 Medicare rates to increase by slightly less than 1.1 to 1.3%.

If you are looking for a more precise calculation of your rates, you will need to use the following formulas:

Ground Ambulance Services

Medicare Allowable = (UBR x .7 x GPCI) + (UBR x .3)

 Air Ambulance Services

Medicare Allowable = (UBR x .5 x GPCI) + (UBR x .5)

 In this formula, the “UBR” stands for the unadjusted base rate for each HCPCS code. These are calculated by multiplying the national conversation factor by the relative value unit assigned to each base rate. To save some time, estimates for the 2018 unadjusted base rates are reproduced below (using the low-end estimate for the AIF):

Base Rate (HCPCS Code) 2018 Unadjusted Base Rate
BLS non-Emergency (A0428) $224.74
BLS emergency (A0429) $359.58
ALS non-emergency (A0426) $269.68
ALS emergency (A0427) $427.00
ALS-2 (A0433) $618.02
Specialty Care Transport (A0434) $730.39
Paramedic Intercept (A0432) $393.29
Fixed Wing (A0430) $3,049.69
Rotary Wing (A0431) $3,545.72

Plugging these UBRs into the above formulas will result in adjusted base rates for each level of ground and air ambulance service. The final step is to apply whatever temporary adjustments are in effect under the Medicare Ambulance Fee Schedule. For example, in 2017, there were adjustments in place for urban (2%), rural (3%) and super-rural (22.6% over the corresponding rural rate) transports. Note: these temporary adjustments are currently set to expire on December 31, 2017. Therefore, absent further legislation, they should not be added to the adjusted base rates for 2018.

2018 Projected Rates for Mileage:

 At this time, I am estimating the following rates for Medicare mileage:

Base Rate (HCPCS Code) 2018 Unadjusted Base Rate
Ground Mileage – Urban $7.23
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 1 – 17 $10.84
Ground Mileage – Rural Miles 18+ $7.23
Fixed Wing Mileage – Urban $86.5
Fixed Wing Mileage – Rural $12.98
Rotary Wing Mileage – Urban $23.09
Rotary Wing Mileage – Rural $34.64

Please keep in mind that a number of assumptions went into these projections. The Bureau of Labor Statistics can revise its inflation figures in the coming months. CMS may announce an MFP projection that differs from what we expect. CMS may also announce that it is electing not to finalize its proposed changes to the GPCI (highly unlikely). If any of these assumptions was to change, these projections would need to be revised. Therefore, I would suggest that you view these as rough estimates at best.  The AAA will update members as more information becomes available in the coming months.

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

 

 

 

CMS Extends Moratorium on Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance

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

On July 28, 2017, 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, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The extended moratoria will run through January 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.

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 moratoria have been extended on these terms every six months thereafter.

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

Court Decision Overpayment Determination Statistical Sampling

Maxmed is a home health agency. In 2011, Medicare reviewed a sample of 40 claims involving 22 Medicare beneficiaries and determined that all but one were not medically necessary. The sample was extrapolated to their universe of claims, resulting in an overpayment of $773,967. The Administrative Law Judge invalidated the extrapolation methodology, but the Medicare Appeals Council reversed and Maxmed appealed to Federal District Court, where it lost. Maxmed then appealed claiming:
  • the extrapolation was invalid because the contractor failed to document the random numbers used in the sample and how they were selected.
  • a valid random sample must be for claims that are “defined correctly and independent” and here the same Medicare beneficiary had multiple claims in the sample.
On June 22, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, found the extrapolation and sampling methodology used was proper. The decision, Maxmed Healthcare Inc. v. Price, is just the latest in a recent line of decisions making it harder and harder to challenge statistical sampling and extrapolation of overpayments.

Talking Medicare: CMS Transmittal 236

On June 16, 2017, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released Transmittal 236. This Transmittal makes some minor changes to Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. Specifically, CMS is clarifying its definitions related to the “ALS assessment” and “locality.” The change to the locality definition has prompted some discussion within the industry as to the impact on Medicare’s reimbursement for mileage beyond the nearest appropriate facility. In this month’s blog, I will explain the recent change, and hopefully convince you that this isn’t something that should cause you undue concern.

Medicare’s Definition of “Locality”

The definition of “locality” appears in Section 10.3.5 of Chapter 10 of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual. That definition reads as follows:

The term “locality” with respect to ambulance service means the service area surrounding the institution to which individuals normally travel or are expected to travel to receive hospital or skilled nursing services.

CMS then includes the following example to explain how that definition should be applied to real world situations:

EXAMPLE: Mr. A becomes ill at home and requires ambulance service to the hospital. The small community in which he lives has a 35-bed hospital. Two large metropolitan hospitals are located some distance from Mr. A’s community and both regularly provide hospital services to the community’s residents. The community is within the “locality” of both metropolitan hospitals and direct ambulance service to either of these (as well as to the local community hospital) is covered.

Conceptually, the locality definition is intended to address situations where there are several local options that residents of a community could choose for the receipt of necessary medical care. CMS recognizes that a strict adherence to its general policy of only covering mileage to the nearest appropriate facility would undermine a patient’s right to choose from these various institutional health care providers. The locality definition ensures that, when the two or more facilities are reasonably close to one another, the patient can safely choose the further facility without fear that they may end up being responsible for some incremental portion of the mileage.

The Proposed Clarification

Effective September 18, 2017, Transmittal 236 adds the following sentence to the end of the current definition of locality:

The MACs have the discretion to define locality in their service areas.

Analysis of the Proposed Clarification

The first question that should be asked is whether this clarification is actually a change in CMS policy? I would argue that it not, as Medicare Administrative Contractors have always had the discretion to define what constitutes the “locality” for an ambulance transport. For that reason, I view the purpose of this Transmittal as simply clarifying “who” (i.e., CMS vs. the MACs) has the primary responsibility for making these determinations.

Nor do I believe that this clarification is being made in response to potential abuse of the locality issue, either by providers billing for excess mileage under an expansive reading of “locality” or by the MACs in processing claims. Rather, I think this clarification is being made in response to repeated questions from the provider community, both on Open Door Forums and at state association meetings with their MACs. In other words, I think CMS is simply making clear that concerns regarding locality should be raised with the MACs, rather than CMS itself.

The Transmittal does leave open the possibility that MACs could impose their own definitions of locality. However, as I noted above, they already have this authority. I am not aware of any MAC ever electing to define the issue. Typically, the MAC will simply restate the CMS Manual definition of locality in its LCD.

So why have MACs been reluctant, up to this point, to define localities? I think it has to do with the administrative burden that would be involved. First and foremost, the MAC would need to have a sense of the larger demographic trends that dictate patient referral patterns in any given area. While that information is available, in theory, it is not available in any way that is readily useable by the MAC. Moreover, as the test focuses on what is “normal” or “expected” for patients, this would be a moving target, as patient preferences change over time, new facilities open, other facilities close or change the services they offer, etc. Thus, to the extent a MAC defined a locality, it would be constantly forced to revisit that definition every so often.  Finally, the MAC would have to make allowances for transports that are outside the locality, but where the patient is seeking specialized care that may not be available within the locality.

In sum, defining the locality for even a single community would be a significant administrative burden on the MAC. When you consider that there are hundreds, if not thousands of distinct communities within each state, you can understand the MACs reluctance to offer specific guidance on this approach.

Instead, I believe that the MACs will continue to address the mileage issue in the same way they have done up to this point. Most MACs have imposed an upper limit on the mileage they will pay without question. This upper mileage limit may be for its entire MAC Jurisdiction, it could be statewide, or it could have two or more mileage limits for a particular state.  For example, some MACs use a smaller mileage edit for transports that originate in and around a major metropolitan center, and a larger mileage edit for transports in the more rural areas of a state.

This approach offers a number of administrative benefits to the MAC.  First, it limits the number of claims that run afoul of the edit, and therefore that potentially may need to be reviewed by the MAC on appeal.  It also offers clarity to the provider community.

So, if your MAC has previously indicated that it has a mileage edit, I think you can safely assume that this will continue to be the guiding principle used by the MAC after the effective date. If the MAC doesn’t have a published mileage edit, I don’t think that is likely to change come September.

I would suggest that ambulance providers continue to monitor their remittances. If you are seeing mileage over a certain amount consistently denied by the MAC, that is their mileage edit. Please note that the MAC is not indicating this mileage is never covered, just that it has determined that it will not necessarily pay this higher number of miles without seeing the underlying documentation. In other words, the MAC is putting the burden on you to prove that the entire mileage was covered. If you are not seeing mileage being denied, I wouldn’t expect that to change either. I hope this helps to put everyone’s mind at ease.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July.

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

CBO Estimates Senate Bill Would Leave 22M More Uninsured

From Akin Gump:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this afternoon released its cost estimate of the Senate’s health care bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), projecting that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law. This is slightly fewer than the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA). CBO also estimates that the BCRA would reduce federal deficits by $321 billion over 10 years, $202 billion more than estimated net savings for the House bill.

According to the Senate Budget Committee, below is a brief summary of the changes that were made to the previous draft:

  • Conforming amendments to Sec. 106 – Changes made to better align the purposes of stability funding to the underlying CHIP statute.
  • Adds a new Sec. 206 – Starting in 2019, individuals who had a break in continuous insurance coverage for 63 days or more in the prior year will be subject to a six month waiting period before coverage begins.  Consumers will not have to pay premiums during the six month period.
  • Redesignates Secs. 206-208 to Secs. 207-209, to accommodate for the new Sec. 206 on continuous coverage.

Read the CBO report.

 

Stars of Life Recognized for Their Service

EMS professionals from all walks of life descended on the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., this past week to be honored as the 2017 Stars of Life. The Stars were recognized by the American Ambulance Association (AAA) for their exceptional duty, service, and bravery while serving their communities as EMTs, paramedics, and as other ambulance services members. 107 Stars celebrated this distinction with their friends, family, and peers during the event, held June 12-14, which also shined a light on the importance of the services EMS professionals provide.

The Stars, hailing from across the country, plus Trinidad and Tobago, began their celebration with a luncheon, where their achievements were commemorated with a medal and a pin for their exceptional service. During the luncheon, keynote speaker Zubin Damania, MD, aka ZDoggMD, used humor and songs to address the future of health care and to congratulate the Stars on their award (along with garnering a few laughs) before AAA President Mark Postma presented the Stars with their medals and pins of recognition.

While Damania provided some humor and the Stars spent some time taking in the sights around the nation’s capitol, the following day provided the honorees an opportunity to head down to Capitol Hill to do some more serious work. The Stars met with members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to discuss the importance of EMS-related legislation, such as Medicare ambulance relief and add-on payments. The Stars hoped to convince Congress to support future measures that would provide critical resources and help improve EMS services. In addition to discussing important EMS policies, the Stars were honored by their representatives for their work in their community. Over 100 meetings took place between Stars, the representatives, and their aides.

The final night of the event brought all the Stars together, along with family and friends, during an awards banquet and dinner. During the event, the Stars were presented with plaques and commended for their exemplary work and for being an inspiration to all those working in the EMS field.

Learn more about the 2017 Stars of Life.

 

OIG Looking into SNF Consolidated Billing Claims

Over the past few weeks, we have been contacted by a number of ambulance suppliers that have received letters from the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). These letters indicate that the OIG is conducting a national review of ambulance services that are subject to the consolidated billing provisions of the skilled nursing facility (SNF) prospective payment system. The review covers claims for ambulance services with dates of service from July 2014 through June 2016.

In each case, the ambulance supplier is being asked to provide documentation on a handful of round trip transports of an SNF patient. The letter indicates that these services were furnished to a Medicare beneficiary during the beneficiary’s Part A SNF stay, and therefore “may be subject to consolidated billing.” The letter asks the ambulance supplier to complete a short (3-page) questionnaire related to the identified transports, and to return the completed questionnaire to the OIG within seven business days.

The questionnaire asks some fairly basic questions related to the identified transports, including whether the ambulance supplier actually furnished the identified transports, whether it was paid by Medicare, the point of pickup and destination, and information on who called to request the transport. The questionnaire also asks for information on how the ambulance supplier determined whether the patient was in the Part A period, and what information the ambulance supplier obtained in order to make its determination that the claims were separately payable by Medicare Part B.

The OIG has conducted similar reviews in the past. For example, in August 2009, the OIG issued a report on payments for ambulance transportation provided to SNF beneficiaries during calendar year 2006. That report concluded that 61 of the 114 claims it reviewed (53%) were incorrectly billed to Medicare Part B, as opposed to the SNF. Based on its sample, the OIG estimated that Medicare made $12.7 million in incorrect payments to ambulance suppliers during calendar year 2006.

It is possible that the OIG is simply updating its previous report on SNF Consolidated Billing and ambulance transports. However, there is another possible explanation for the OIG’s renewed interest in these types of transports. Many of the claims the OIG has requested information on relate to transports to what appears to be a physician clinic located on a hospital’s campus. If correct, the SNF would have been responsible for payment for the physician’s services (in addition to the ambulance claims). If so, it is possible that the OIG’s interest was triggered by the lack of a corresponding hospital claim being submitted to Medicare on that date.

If this sounds familiar to you, it should.

In September 2015, the OIG issued a report in which it highlighted seven so-called “questionable billing practices” by ambulance suppliers. One of these billing practices was the existence of an ambulance claim for a particular date of service, but where there was no corresponding hospital claim (or any other claim from a Part A institution) for the beneficiary on that same date. The OIG identified $30.2 million in payments during the first half of 2012 that tested positive for this measure.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the Supplemental Medical Review Contractor (SMRC), StrategicHealthSolutions, LLC. The SMRC is tasked with lowering the improper payment rate and increasing efficiencies of the medical review functions of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The SMRC has recently started auditing ambulance suppliers, and it appears to be focusing, in large part, on claims where patients were evaluated at a physician’s clinic located on a hospital’s campus. It is possible that the OIG is conducting its own inquiry of this same issue.

This leaves us with a basic question: Is the OIG simply updating an earlier report, or is this sort of audit going to be become the new “normal” for ambulance suppliers? Ultimately, time will tell.

However, regardless of the OIG’s motives, this recent string of audits serves as a valuable reminder to the industry that many hospitals do sublease space to physician practices, and that these independent practices are licensed separately from the hospital. A transport to these independent physician practices would be bundled to the SNF under SNF Consolidated Billing. As an industry, we need to identify these transports when they occur, and be sure to bill the SNF, whenever appropriate. Otherwise, the OIG is likely to continue these sorts of audits.

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

CMS – MLN Ambulance Transports Booklet

CMS has issued an MLN Ambulance Transports Booklet. The booklet (36 pages) can be downloaded here.

Download MLN Ambulance Transports Booklet

One section of the Booklet that you might want to keep handy involves Free-Standing Emergency Departments. Specifically, on page 15, CMS states the following:

Freestanding Emergency Department (ED)
If a freestanding ED is provider based (a department of the hospital), the ambulance transport from the freestanding ED to the hospital is not a separately payable service under Part B if the beneficiary is admitted as an inpatient prior to ambulance transport. For more information about criteria for coverage of ambulance transports separately payable under Part B or as a packaged hospital inpatient service under Part A, refer to Chapter 10, Section 10.3.3, of the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual.

This may be useful, along with the Manual section cited, when you have a free-standing ED that is part of a hospital and they call for transports to the main building for the patient to be admitted, but the hospital lists the time of admission as being prior to the time of your transport. When the hospital admits the patient prior to your transport, the hospital becomes responsible for the ambulance charges. It may be useful to show the hospital and ED the booklet and Manual section to prove to them that the hospital is responsible if the patient is admitted to the hospital prior to your transport.

UnitedHealthCare Denials for ALS-2 Claims

Talking Medicare

with Brian S. Werfel, AAA Medicare Consultant

Over the past few weeks, we have received emails from ambulance providers across the country reporting that UnitedHealthCare (UHC) has started to deny claims for the ALS-2 base rate. Affected claims include both commercial and Medicare Advantage claims. These providers are reporting that UHC is requiring the use of Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) Codes to support the ALS-2 level of service.

When these providers call UHC to question the denials, the customer service representative refers them to UHC’s online policies and procedures manual. The section of that manual devoted to the ALS-2 base rate largely mirrors Medicare’s definition. For example, it indicates that ALS-2 can be billed based on three separate administrations of one or more medications by IV push/bolus or continuous infusion, or upon provision of one or more of the designated ALS-2 procedures (e.g., an endotracheal intubation).

However, the manual section then goes on to indicate that “Ambulance Providers or Suppliers are required to report CPT or HCPCS codes… when reporting A0433Ambulance transport services that do not include the services described in criteria 1 or 2 above should be reported with a more appropriate ambulance transport code.

The manual section concludes with links to two lists of CPT codes. The first list, designated as “ALS2 Criteria 1 Codes” relate to the intravenous administration of various medications. These codes fall within the range of: 96365 – 96376. The second list, designated as “ALS2 Criteria 2 Codes” correspond to the various ALS interventions:

CPT Code:                            Description:
31500                                    Endotracheal Intubation, Emergency
31603                                    Under Incision Procedures on Trachea and Bronchi
31605                                    Under Incision Procedures on Trachea and Bronchi
36000                                    Under Intravenous Vascular Introduction & Injection Procedure
36555                                    Central Venous Catheter Placement, Patient Under Five Years
36556                                    Central Venous Catheter Placement, Patient Over Five Years
36568                                    Insertion of Central Venous Access Device
36569                                    PICC Line Insertion
36680                                    Intraosseous Line Infusions
92950                                    Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
92953                                    Other Therapeutic Cardiovascular Services
92960                                    External Electrical Cardioversion, Non-Emergency
92961                                    External Electrical Cardioversion, Emergency

The ambulance providers have indicated that they have questioned UHC on the necessity of including CPT codes on these claims. These providers argue, correctly, that CMS does not require the use of CPT codes on Medicare claims. Instead, Medicare requires the ambulance provider to document in the billing narrative the justification for billing ALS-2. For example, a provider might list multiple administrations of epinephrine, the use of an intraosseous line, etc.

The fact that UHC is asking for the CPT codes suggests that it does not currently review the billing narratives. Instead, UHC appears to be using the CPT codes to ensure that the ALS-2 criteria are met.

Is UHC correct to insist upon the use of CPT codes? Probably not, at least for its Medicare Advantage claims. However, I think the more appropriate question to ask ourselves is whether it is worth fighting UHC on this issue? If using CPT codes ensure that UHC correctly processes and pays these claims with minimal delay, my opinion is that it is probably easier just to comply with their policy.

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

Government Affairs Update: Protecting the Ambulance Add-ons

Medicare Ambulance Relief and Reform

The top legislative priority this year for the American Ambulance Association is to extend, or hopefully make permanent, the temporary Medicare ambulance add-on payments. The temporary increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus expire at the end of this year. The 2% urban and 3% rural increases have been in place since 2008 and the super rural bonus payment since 2004. While the AAA and our members have been successful in getting the payments extended numerous times, 2017 is not a typical year and we need everyone to be prepared to help push to make the increases permanent or extended for the longest possible duration.

The other top priorities for the AAA are for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to recognize ambulance services more like providers of medical services instead of merely suppliers of transportation. In addition, it is critical that Congress direct CMS to collect cost data from ambulance service providers using a method, which will result in usable and meaningful data from everyone, but also not be overly burdensome on extremely low volume providers. Finally, Congress needs to target fraud and abuse with the transport of dialysis patients through a prior authorization program instead an arbitrary payment cut that impacts all providers.

The AAA is pushing its agenda again through a version of the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act which we hope to have introduced in the next few weeks. We are working with our champions on Capitol Hill on a different approach to being treated more like providers to mitigate issues raised about the provision last Congress. Instead of being listed in the Social Security Act as having provider status, we are looking to a hybrid model similar to dialysis facilities. This will clarify that we are not seeking to be treated like providers to achieve Medicare coverage because we are already reimbursed under the Medicare program. It will however still set the foundation for future legislative and regulatory changes to the Medicare fee schedule such as reimbursement for transporting to an alternate destination or treat and referral.

We are also making potential modifications to the House bill on our proposed data collection system. These changes would help with possible Committee consideration of the provision but still hopefully achieve or goal of obtaining useable data that is not overly burdensome to 73% of our industry which is composed of providers that do less than 1,000 Medicare transports a year of less. It is vital that we have meaningful data to make data-driven decisions as to changes to the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.

Ambulance Advocacy Webinar

We will let you know as soon as the revised legislation is introduced for the new Congress. In the meantime, we encourage you to register for the upcoming AAA webinar on the Ambulance Advocacy Action Plan with AAA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Tristan North and AAA Government Affairs Coordinator Aidan Camas. Tristan and Aidan will provide you the latest information on our advocacy efforts and let you know how you can help. To register for the webinar which is free to AAA members, please go to: https://ambulance.org/product/ambulance-advocacy-action-plan/.

Also read Tristan and Kathy Lester’s recent Member Advisory on ACA Repeal & Reform:

ACA Repeal & Reform – What It Means for Ambulance Services (Pt. 1)
ACA Repeal & Reform – What It Means for Ambulance Services (Pt. 2)

Senate Confirms Seema Verma as CMS Administrator

On Monday, the Senate voted 55-43 to confirm the nomination of Seema Verma to be the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Ms. Verma was involved in designing Indiana’s Medicaid expansion.

Ms. Verma will be working alongside HHS Secretary Price to help implement President Trump’s healthcare agenda.

Rep. Coffman Reintroduces VA Emergency Ambulance Service Bill

On March 9, 2017, Rep. Mike Coffman [R-CO-6] reintroduced the Veterans Reimbursement for Emergency Ambulance Services Act (H.R. 1445).

The VREASA (Veterans Reimbursement for Emergency Ambulance Services Act) 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.

Currently, prior to reimbursement, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) requires 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 denied. The veteran is stuck with the bill.

Medicare, Medicaid, and other major payers adhere to the “prudent layperson” standard for the reimbursement of emergency ambulance services. The VA is the only major payer to not follow this standard. It is time we ensure our veterans are not stuck with the bill for their emergency ambulance service.

AAA Member, American Medical Response and their ‎VP Federal Reimbursement & Regulatory Affairs, Deb Gault, have been working with Rep. Coffman’s office to get this bill reintroduced.

Administration’s Proposed Rule on Marketplace Stabilization

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released the “Marketplace Stabilization Proposed Rule” (Proposed Rule). Overall, the rule proposes a series of modifications to the Marketplaces that align with requests made by issuers in an attempt to keep them in the Marketplaces. The background section of the Proposed Rule emphasizes the concerns of issuers and the Agency’s interest in making sure that consumers have more plan options for 2018. Comments are due March 7.

While ambulance services are not directly mentioned, the Proposed Rule could affect the ability of individuals in the marketplace to enroll and remain enrolled in plans. Another provision that could impact the ambulance industry is the proposal to rely more upon the States to enforce the network adequacy requirements of the ACA.  

Changes to Open Enrollment/Special Enrollment Periods

CMS proposes to tighten the enrollment rules in several ways. First, the Proposed Rule would change the open enrollment period to November 1 – December 15 to “increase the incentives for individuals to maintain enrollment in health coverage and decrease the incentives for individuals to enroll only after they discover they require services.”[1]  Individuals may still be eligible for a special enrollment period that would allow them to enroll outside of these dates.

CMS would increase the States’ pre-enrollment verification from 50 percent to 100 percent beginning June 1, 2017, and require consumers’ enrollment requests to be “pended” until verification is complete. CMS encourages State-based Exchanges to adopt a similar policy. The Proposed Rule would also limit the ability of existing Exchange enrollees to change plan metal levels during the coverage year.  It would allow Exchanges to require enrollees that qualify for a special enrollment period because of a dependent to be add only to the current Qualified Health Plan (QHP) or allow the enrollee and the new dependent to enroll in another QHP within the same level of coverage.[2]

The Proposed Rule would also require that if an enrollee or the dependent is not enrolled in a silver level QHP and becomes newly eligible for cost-sharing reductions and qualifies for the special enrollment periods, the Exchange may allow the enrollee and dependent to enroll in only a QHP at the silver level.[3] CMS also proposes a new restriction that would allow the Exchange only to allow an enrollee and dependents who qualify for remaining special enrollment periods to make changes to their enrollment in the same QHP or to change to another QHP within the same level of coverage, if other QHPs at that metal level are available.[4]

CMS would allow consumers to start their coverage one month later than their effective date would ordinarily have been, if the special enrollment period verification process results in a delay in their enrollment such that they would be required to pay two or more months of retroactive premium to effectuate coverage or avoid termination for non- payment. [5]

Additionally, CMS would permit the issuer to reject an enrollment for which the issuer has a record of termination due to non-payment of premiums unless the individual fulfills obligations for premiums due for previous coverage.

The Proposed Rule also expresses concern that some consumers not seeking coverage until they are married. CMS proposes that if consumers are newly enrolling in QHP coverage through the Exchange through the special enrollment period for marriage, at least one spouse must demonstrate having had minimum essential coverage for 1 or more days during the 60 days preceding the date of marriage. There is a special rule for individuals who may not have been living in the United States prior to their marriage.[6]

The Proposed Rule would also significantly limit the use of the exceptional circumstances special enrollment period. In previous years, this special enrollment period has been used to address eligibility or enrollment issues that affect large cohorts of individuals where they had made reasonable efforts to enroll, but were hindered by outside events. If the proposal were adopted, CMS would apply a more rigorous test for future uses of the exceptional circumstances special enrollment period, including requiring supporting documentation where practicable. It would grant this special enrollment period only if provided with sufficient evidence to conclude that the consumer’s situation was truly exceptional and in instances where it is verifiable that consumers were directly impacted by the circumstance, as practicable.[7]

CMS is also exploring ways to incentivize consumers to maintain continuous coverage.

These proposed special enrollment changes would not apply to special enrollment periods under the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).[8]

Network Adequacy

CMS proposes changes to the oversight of network adequacy requirements to “affirm the traditional role of States in overseeing their health insurance markets while reducing the regulatory burden of participating in Exchanges for issuers.”[9]

CMS proposes to rely on State reviews for network adequacy in States in which an FFE is operating, provided the State has a sufficient network adequacy review process, rather than performing a time and distance evaluation. Beginning in plan year 2018, it would defer to the States’ reviews in States with the authority that is at least equal to the “reasonable access standard” and means to assess issuer network adequacy, regardless of whether the Exchange is a State-based Exchange or federally facilitated, and regardless of whether the State performs plan management functions.

In States without the authority or means to conduct sufficient network adequacy reviews, CMS would rely on an issuer’s accreditation (commercial or Medicaid) from an HHS-recognized accrediting entity. HHS has previously recognized 3 accrediting entities for the accreditation of QHPs: the National Committee for Quality Assurance, URAC, and Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. An unaccredited issuer would have to submit an access plan.

Interpretation of the Guaranteed Availability Requirement

CMS proposes revising the interpretation of the guaranteed availability requirement to allow issuers to apply a premium payment to an individual’s past debt owed for coverage from the same issuer enrolled in within the prior 12 month. CMS argues this change is necessary to “remov[e] economic incentives individuals may have had to pay premiums only when they were in need of health care services and to encourag[e] individuals to maintain continuous coverage throughout the year and prevent gaming.”[10]

De Minimis Variation in the Actuarial Values

CMS proposes increasing the de minimis variation in the actuarial values (AVs) used to determine metal levels of coverage for the 2018 plan year to “allow issuers greater flexibility in designing new plans and to provide additional options for issuers to keep cost sharing the same from year to year.”[11]

Essential Community Providers

CMS proposes allowing issuers to use a write-in process to identify essential community providers (ECPs) who are not on the HHS list of available ECPs for the 2018 plan year; and lower the ECP standard to 20 percent (rather than 30 percent).[12] 

[1] CMS Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Market Stabilization Proposed Rule.

[2]Id.

[3]Id.

[4]Id.

[5]Id.

[6]Id.

[7]Id.

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10]Id.

[11]Id.

[12]Id.

CMS Extends Temporary Moratorium (NJ, PA, TX)

On January 9, 2017, 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, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The extended moratoria will run through July 29, 2017.

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 moratoria have been extended every six months thereafter.

However, on August 3, 2016, CMS announced changes to its existing moratoria on the enrollment of new ground ambulance suppliers. Specifically, CMS announced that the moratoria would be lifted for the enrollment of new emergency ambulance providers and supplier, but that it would expand the enrollment moratorium on non-emergency ambulance services 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.

On or before July 29, 2017, CMS will need to make a determination on whether to extend or lift the enrollment moratorium.

Have a Medicare question? AAA members, send your inquiry to Brian Werfel, Esq. using our simple form!

AAA Releases 2017 Medicare Rate Calculator

AAA 2017 Medicare Rate Calculator Now Available!

The American Ambulance Association is pleased to announce the release of its 2017 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 2017 Ambulance Inflation Factor (0.7%) and continuation of the current temporary add-ons.

To access the Rate Calculator, please CLICK HERE.

To access the Fee Schedule, please CLICK HERE.

CMS has not yet published the Public Use File for 2017.  Once the file is released, the AAA will verify that the rates are correct and notify you of any discrepancies.

Download the 2017 Rate Calculator

2017 Fee Schedule

Rep. Tom Price Selected as HHS Secretary, Verma for CMS Admin

Rep. Tom Price, M.D., Named HHS Secretary

tom-price

President-Elect Trump has nominated Dr. Tom Price for the position of Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Rep. Tom Price has served as the Congressman for the Sixth District of Georgia since 2005. He is currently the Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Chairman Price received his B.A. and M.D. from the University of Michigan. He was first elected to Congress in 2004 and has served as on the Ways & Means committee and as Budget Committee chairman. Chairman Price opposes expanding the Affordable Care Act, voted for MACRA, supports expanded use of Health Savings Accounts, and providing age-adjusted tax credits.

Akin Gump has put together a detailed summary of legislation introduced by Rep. Price’s to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (H.R. 2300, the Empowering Patients First Act).

5 Things To Know About Rep. Tom Price’s Health Care Ideas

Seema Verma, Named CMS Administrator

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The President-Elect has also nominated Seema Verma for the position of CMS Administrator. Currently, she is the founder and CEO of a health policy consulting firm in Indiana. She is a close advisor to Vice President-Elect Pence and worked as a policy advisor for Governor Pence, focusing on Medicaid and public health.

Prior to consulting, Ms. Verma served as Vice President of Planning for the Health & Hospital Corporation of Marion County and as a Director with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) in Washington D.C. She received her Master’s degree in Public Health with concentration in health policy and management from Johns Hopkins University and her Bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences from the University of Maryland.

Trump Picks Seema Verma To Run Medicare And Medicaid

The AAA will keep you posted as we learn more about the plans and potential policies of Chairman Price and Ms. Verma.

CMS Announces 2017 Inflation Factor

The Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 3625 officially announcing that the inflation factor for payments under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule for 2017 will be 0.7%.

The calculation for determining the Medicare ambulance inflation factor is as follows: Consumer Price Index – Urban (which is the change in the CPI-U from June to June) minus the non-farm business multi-factor productivity adjustment (MFP) as projected by the Secretary of HHS (10-year average). The CPI-Urban for 2017 is 1.0% with a MFP of 0.3% which equals the 0.7% inflation factor. As part of the Affordable Care Act, a productivity adjustment is subtracted from the CPI-Urban for the final inflation update.