Is CMS Ending the Temporary Moratorium on Enrollment of New Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Providers in Texas?
On September 2, 2017, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) posted a notice on its website that it was lifting the temporary moratorium on the enrollment of new Part B non-emergency ambulance suppliers in Texas, effective September 1, 2017. CMS indicated that the lifting of this temporary moratorium was intended to aid in the disaster response to Hurricane Harvey.
For reasons I will discuss in greater detail below, this explanation has struck a number of commentators as curious. These commentators have speculated that this may notice may foretell a permanent elimination of the enrollment moratorium for non-emergency ground ambulance providers in Texas.
Background on Temporary Moratorium on New Enrollments in Texas
The Affordable Care Act granted CMS several new tools to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in the Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Programs. This included Section 6401(a), which granted the CMS Secretary the authority to impose temporary moratoria on the enrollment of new Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP providers to the extent the Secretary determined that doing was necessary to prevent fraud and abuse.
The implementation of the first enrollment moratorium under this new authority was made on July 30, 2013, when CMS announced enrollment moratoria on new home health agencies in Chicago, Illinois, and Miami, Florida, as well as on new ground ambulance suppliers in the Houston, Texas metropolitan area. On January 30, 2014, CMS expanded the enrollment moratorium on new ground ambulance suppliers to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania metropolitan area. CMS subsequently extended these enrollment moratoria every 6 months thereafter, up to July 29, 2016. On that date, CMS announced that it was making several significant changes to the enrollment moratoria:
- It was lifting the moratoria on the enrollment of new emergency ground ambulance suppliers in both areas;
- At the same time, it was expanding the moratorium on the enrollment of new non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers to the entire states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
CMS further announced the creation of an “Enrollment Moratoria Access Waiver Demonstration” program that would permit non-emergency ambulance providers in those states to apply for a waiver (i.e., to permit them to enroll in the Medicare, Medicaid, or CHIP Programs) to the extent they could demonstrate an access to care issue.
Temporary Lifting or Permanent Elimination?
The Medicare enrollment process is a lengthy one. Following the submission of an enrollment form (CMS-855b), it typically takes the Medicare contractor up to 60 days to review the form and approve it. Moreover, the Medicare contractor will frequently request additional information, which can add up to several months to the process. Once approved by the Medicare contractor, the application is passed along to the Site Review Contractor for a visit to the enrollee’s physical practice locations. All told, it is not unusual for the process to take 4-6 months from start to finish. The time limits for enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP are similar.
It seems unlikely that a ground ambulance supplier that temporarily responded to the areas affected by Hurricane Harvey would go through the enrollment process, especially considering they would likely be seeking reimbursement for their efforts either directly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its contractor, or through the existing 1135a waiver program. For this reason, it seems logical to assume that an ambulance supplier would only go through the enrollment process only if it intends to permanently establish operations in the affected area.
Editor’s Note: it is possible that CMS intended to address storm damage to an enrolled provider’s existing practice locations, i.e., the lifting of the moratorium would make it easier for these providers to add additional practice locations while they repaired their existing facilities. However, there is nothing in CMS’ website notice that suggests that this was intended to be limited to existing enrolled providers. This is simply speculation on my part.
CMS indicated that it would be publishing a notice in the Federal Register formally announcing the lifting of the enrollment moratorium. A month ago, it was assumed by most commentators (myself included) that the notice would make clear that the lifting of the moratorium was temporary, and that it would set a date for its re-establishment. However, it has now been more than a month since CMS announced the lifting of the moratorium, and that notice has yet to appear in the Federal Register. The longer we go without an announcement from CMS, the more this starts to look like a permanent lifting of the moratorium.
What This Means Today to Non-Emergency Ambulance Suppliers in Texas
The lifting of this moratorium applies to new enrollments in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Therefore, as of today, and pending a subsequent re-establishment of the enrollment moratorium by CMS, Part B ground ambulance suppliers in Texas that are not otherwise enrolled as non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers will now be permitted to enroll in the Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP Programs. 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).
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