Tag: New Jersey

Status of the American Health Care Act

Today, citing “growing pains” of his Republican majority, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), in consultation with President Donald Trump, determined not to proceed with a planned vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which repealed and replaced important elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The Speaker indicated that the House Republican Caucus “came up short” in the number of votes needed for the bill.  House Republican Leadership had been moving AHCA through the Chamber at a rapid pace.  The bill was officially released on March 6, and had been changed several times to try to appease various conservative and moderate voting blocs within the Republican Caucus.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) originally estimated the bill would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion, and subsequently downgraded the deficit reduction to $150 billion based on additional substantive policy changes to the bill.  The CBO estimates the bill would have increased the country’s number of uninsured by about 24 million people.

In negotiating the provisions of AHCA, the House Republican Leadership had faced a constant seesaw, as efforts to appease one ideological bloc upset the other.  Ultimately, throughout the day in advance of the scheduled vote, an increasing number of moderate Republicans, including Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), announced they would vote against the bill.  As the moderates disappeared, not enough members of the conservative Freedom Caucus decided to support the bill.

As disarray in the House Republican Caucus occurred, there appeared to be a similar lack of consensus amongst their Republican colleagues on the Senate side.  While Senate Leadership had planned to move the bill directly to the Senate floor as fast as within a week of receipt from the House, there were a number of Senators from a range of political perspectives with serious concerns about the bill.  On one side of the Republican spectrum, Senators Rand Paul (KY), Mike Lee (UT) and Ted Cruz (TX) had planned to push the limits of what can be included in a reconciliation bill to make it more conservative. Senator Paul had advocated for repealing the ACA in full and dealing with the replacement later on. On the other side, more moderate or “purple state” Members like Senators Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rob Portman (OH), Cory Gardner (CO) and Dean Heller (NV) raised concerns about insurance affordability and the expedited rollback of Medicaid expansion in the House version of the bill. Other Senators who will likely play a prominent role in any further health reform developments include physician Senator Bill Cassidy (LA), and Senator Tom Cotton (AR), who advocated all along to slow the process down. Republicans can only lose two Senators and still pass any health reform bill, with the vote of Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie.

As a next step, House and Senate Republican Leadership plan to take more time to develop consensus in any future approach to health reform.  How much time is unclear – but it seems unlikely the bill will be the legislative focus in the short term.  Instead, there will likely be a cooling-off period on health reform legislative activity, since the fundamental disagreements within the caucus are not easily fixed.  There will continue to be significant messaging against ACA from conservatives, and there is the potential that the idea of “repeal and delay” may gain more traction.  Nonetheless, in the short term, the Speaker indicated he would move on to other items on his conference’s agenda – including tax reform.  Keep in mind, however, that since health-related tax provisions are a major component of the tax code, it would not be surprising to see some health issues resurface in tax reform.

The Speaker indicated that he expects the ACA marketplace to get worse – specifically citing rising premium costs.  In his own remarks on the failure to pass AHCA, the President suggested the Democrats will own any rising premiums, and provided a rare moment of optimism for the day when he indicated that a bipartisan health care reform bill may be achievable in the future when that happens.   As the Legislative Branch takes time to develop consensus, more focus will be placed on the Executive Branch.

We expect HHS Secretary Tom Price and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to take an increasingly important role in driving the health agenda.  It is unclear at this point whether the Trump Administration will let ACA drift in the wind, take administrative actions to try to improve the marketplace, or even actively work to derail it further.  A likely bellwether as to the Administration’s intent is how it approaches the pending litigation over cost-sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies.  The House had sued the Obama Administration over the program, which funnels federal dollars to insurers to help keep out-of-pocket costs manageable for lower-income individuals, saying the funding had to be appropriated.  But after the inauguration, the House and Trump Administration sought a stay of the case until May 22 to allow time to resolve the issue.  If the Administration agrees to fold, the subsidies would be cut off, leading to further market instability.  If the House folds, the CSR payments would continue into the indefinite future.

From a health care legislative perspective, 2017 will still be far from a quiet year.  The President has proposed significant changes in the funding levels of important discretionary health programs.  Those budget battles will now move more front and center on the legislative agenda.  Furthermore, there continue to be “must pass” pieces of health care legislation, including CHIP reauthorization, FDA User Fee legislation, and certain Medicare extenders legislation.

The Future of Prior Authorization

In May 2014, CMS announced the creation of a three-year demonstration project that calls for the prior authorization of repetitive scheduled non-emergency ambulance transports. The demonstration project was first implemented in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. These states were selected based on their higher-than-average utilization rates for repetitive ground ambulance transportation. For example, in a June 2013 report to Congress, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) cited these states as having particular high utilization rates for dialysis transports. Prior authorization went live in these states on December 15, 2014.

Congress Acts to Expand the Prior Authorization Regime

On April 16, 2015, President Barack Obama signed into law the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015. Section 515 of that law required CMS to expand the demonstration program into five additional states (Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia on or before January 1, 2016. The law further instructed CMS to expand the prior authorization regime to the rest of the country beginning no earlier than January 1, 2017. However, the national expansion was conditioned on CMS determining that the demonstration project has been effective in reducing Medicare expenditures without jeopardizing patient’s access to necessary medical care.

Short Term Prospects for Expansion

As of the end of January 2017, CMS has yet to issue its report on the effectiveness of the prior authorization program in the original 8 states and the District of Columbia. Therefore, there it is highly unlikely that CMS will be expanding the program nationally in the foreseeable future. However, CMS has not officially ruled out the possibility of expanding the program at some point during 2017.

While CMS has not officially ruled out a national expansion in 2017, I rate the prospect as unlikely. I base this statement simply on the calendar. Even if CMS were to issue the required certifications tomorrow, it would still need to give its contractors instructions on how to implement the program. It would also need to give some advance notice to the provider community. If you assume it would want to give everyone involved at least a month to prepare, it would be April at the earliest before it could expand the program. Personally, I have a hard time believing that CMS would go through all that trouble—not to mention allocating the necessary funding—for 8 months.

Long Term Prospects for Prior Authorization

While I rate the short term prospects for prior authorization to be unlikely, I think that our industry should expect prior authorization for repetitive patients to be part of our long term future.

The data thus far suggests that prior authorization is highly effective at reducing Medicare expenditures. In 2014, the last year before prior authorization went into effect, Medicare paid more than $106 million for dialysis transports in New Jersey alone. In 2015, total spending on dialysis decreased to slightly more than $15 million, a decrease of more than 85%. While there has been anecdotal reports of patients in the state being unable to obtain transportation to their dialysis appointments, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that these are anything other than isolated occurrences, or that prior authorization is contributing to a systematic lack of access. The data from Pennsylvania and South Carolina shows similar dramatic decreases in spending on dialysis.

Collectively, total spending on dialysis in these three states was approximately $140 million less in 2015 than 2014. This corresponds to nearly 20% of total dialysis spending in 2014. To put these reductions in their proper perspective, it may be helpful to remember that the Congressional Budget Office scores the cost of our existing temporary adjustments (i.e., the 2% urban, 3% rural and super rural adjustments) at approximately $100 million a year.

Some will argue that the 2015 reductions in these states were magnified by what can be charitably described as “friction” in the implementation of the program. (We recognize that affected providers in these states are likely to use far less charitable descriptions.) These people would argue that the reductions in subsequent years is likely to be less dramatic. CMS will be releasing 2016 payment data in a few months; at which point we will know whether this prediction proves true. Regardless of whether the data shows an uptick in payments in these states, that same data is almost guaranteed to show a dramatic decrease in total spending on dialysis in these states over the 2014 base year.

In sum, the data makes clear that prior authorization offers substantial cost savings to the federal government. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of these cost savings come from dialysis transports, an area that CMS has long-identified with fraud, abuse, and overutilization. This represents a tempting target for both CMS and Congress when looking for future cost-savings.


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 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!

CMS Moratoria Update

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Lifts Moratoria on Enrollment of Part B Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers in All Geographic Locations; Moratoria for Part B Non-Emergency Ground Ambulance Suppliers Extended

Effective July 29, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has lifted the temporary moratoria in all geographic locations for Part B emergency ground ambulance suppliers.  Beginning in 2013, CMS placed moratoria on Medicare Part B ground ambulance suppliers in Harris County, Texas, and surrounding counties (Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller).  In February 2014, CMS announced it would add six more months to these moratoria and add Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and surrounding counties (Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery), as well as the New Jersey counties of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester.  Since that date, CMS extended the moratoria four additional times, most recently in February of this year.

CMS considers qualitative and quantitative factors when determining if there is a high risk of fraud, waste, and abuse in a particular area and whether or not it should establish a moratorium.  If CMS identifies an area as posing an increased risk to the Medicaid program, the State Medicaid agency must impose a similar temporary moratorium as well.  CMS also consults with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) when identifying potential areas and providers/suppliers that should be subject to a temporary moratorium.  Finally, CMS also considers whether imposing a moratorium would have a negative impact on beneficiary access to care.  In areas where there is a temporary moratorium, the policy does not apply to changes in practice location, changes to provider/supplier information (e.g., phone number, address), or change in ownership.  Temporary moratoria remain in place for six months, unless CMS extends the policy through notice in the Federal Register.

CMS may lift a moratorium at any time if the President declares an area a disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, if circumstances warranting the imposition of a moratorium have abated, if the Secretary of HHS has declared a public health emergency, or if, in the judgment of the Secretary of HHS, the moratorium is no longer needed.  After a moratorium is lifted, providers/suppliers previously subject to it will be designated to CMS’s “high screening level” for six months from the date on which the moratorium was lifted.

CMS has announced it will lift the moratoria on new Part B emergency ambulance suppliers in all geographic locations because the Agency’s evaluation has shown the primary risk of fraud, waste, and abuse comes from the non-emergency ambulance supplier category and that there are potential access to care issues for emergency ambulance services in the areas with moratoria.  New emergency ambulance suppliers seeking to enroll as Medicare suppliers will be subject to “high risk” screening.  If enrolled, these suppliers will be permitted to bill only for emergency transportation services.  They will not be permitted to bill for non-emergency services.

The moratoria remain in place for Medicare Part B non-emergency ground ambulance suppliers for all counties in which moratoria already are in place in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

 

MAC Novitas March 2016 Updates to Ambulance Services

On March 4, Novitas Solutions, Medicare Administrative Contract managers for several jurisdictions, asked AAA to share the following information with ambulance services.

March 4, 2016 – Letter to Ambulance Providers | March 4, 2016 – Letter to Beneficiaries

Jurisdictions Covered By Novitas

  • The Medicare Administrative Contract (MAC) Jurisdiction L (JL), which spans Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Washington D.C.;
  • The Medicare Administrative Contract (MAC) Jurisdiction H (JH), which spans Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Indian Health Service (IHS) and Veterans Affairs (VA); and
  • The payment processing for the Federal Reimbursement of Emergency Health Services Furnished to Undocumented Aliens contract, as authorized under Section 1011 of the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act.

Medicaid Waivers to End Coverage of Non-Emergency Transportation

By David M. Werfel, Esq | AAA Medicare Consultant
Updated February 16, 2016

Federal law requires that state Medicaid programs cover necessary transportation to and from health care providers in order to ensure access to care. However, as a result of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and cost increases, recently, a few states have asked CMS to waive the requirement for non-emergency transportation so they can end coverage of non-emergency transportation.

CMS granted waivers to Iowa and Indiana. Pennsylvania received permission, but the subsequent change in the governor’s office altered the state’s expansion plans and state officials ultimately chose not to use it. Arizona has a pending request to provide prior authorization.

When Iowa was granted the waiver, a beneficiary survey was conducted to determine the impact on access to care. The survey found some beneficiaries with incomes under the poverty level did not have transportation to or from a healthcare visit. Other beneficiaries said a lack of transportation could prevent them from getting a physical exam in the coming year. However, CMS stated the cases of negative impact were not statistically significant enough to discontinue the waiver.

As a result of the complaints, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Frank Pallone, (D-NJ) asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the impact of these waivers. The report is not expected in the near future. However, when issued, it could embolden other states to seek a waiver.

Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ) Receives AAA Legislative Award

Congressman Frank Pallone visited MONOC Mobile Health Services corporate headquarters in Wall Township, New Jersey on August 13 to receive the 2015 American Ambulance Association (AAA) Legislative Recognition Award from MONOC’s President and CEO, Vince Robbins.

The AAA chose Congressman Pallone for this award for his co-sponsorship and support getting HR 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, signed into law. Section 203 extends through 2017 the temporary increases in payment for ground ambulance services throughout the country.

In attendance were Vince Robbins, President of MONOC, John Gribbin, Chairman of MONOC and President of CentraState Healthcare System, Rob Davis, President of the Medical Transportation Association of New Jersey and President of Alert Ambulance, and Jacob Halpern, President of GEM Ambulance service, also a member of AAA.

As a proud member of the AAA, Vince Robbins presented the award to Congressman Pallone, whose district MONOC provides Emergency Medical Services for. Vince Robbins said, “It was both a pleasure and an honor to recognize Congressman Pallone for his outstanding leadership in supporting the vital service ambulance and EMS agencies perform every day. The Congressman has fought tirelessly to promote the proper reimbursement of such services from Medicare. Although much more needs to be done, we know Congressman Pallone is a strong advocate and ally in this effort”.


A special thanks to MONOC for sharing this recap with AAA members.

Wall Street Journal: Paramedics Aren’t Just for Emergencies

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured several promising community paramedicine programs, as well as some great quantitative results.

“Paramedics are a readily deployable, nimble, clinically trained resource who can help close a gap in American health care,” Dr. Schoenwetter says…

From March 2014 to June 2015, the Geisinger mobile health team prevented 42 hospitalizations, 33 emergency department visits and 168 inpatient days among 704 patients who had a home visit from a paramedic, Geisinger calculates. In the case of heart-failure patients, hospital admissions and emergency-room visits were reduced by 50%, and the rate of hospital readmissions within 30 days fell by 15%. Patient satisfaction scores for the program were 100%.”

Read the full article on wsj.com. (Hat tip to Matt Zavadsky.)

CMS Extends Ambulance Enrollment Moratoria

On July 25, 2015, CMS issued a notice extending the temporary moratorium for enrollment of new ambulance suppliers in the Texas counties of Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller, as well as in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties of Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery (Pennsylvania), Burlington, Camden and Gloucester (New Jersey). This notice will appear in the Federal Register on July 28, 2015.

House Votes in Favor of Permanent Doc Fix, Bill Moves to the Senate

Earlier today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of H.R. 2, doing away with Medicare’s sustainable growth-rate formula and passing a permanent doc fix. The 392-37 vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan. As we reported on March 24, thanks to our champions on Capitol Hill, a 33-month extension of the temporary Medicare ambulance increases was included in the bill. If enacted, the bill would extend the deadline for expiration of Medicare ambulance relief from March 31 until December 31, 2017.

The Senate still needs to pass the bill and is working on a short time-line before they adjourn for recess. Senate Republicans and Democrats have expressed concerns about different aspects of the bill so it is unclear whether the chamber will consider H.R. 2 before it recesses. It is also uncertain if Congress would pass a short-term extension to give the Senate more time or if CMS would be required to formalize its 14-day claim hold policy should H.R. 2 not be enacted before March 31.

In addition to Medicare ambulance relief, the package also includes language from the Protecting Integrity of Medicare Act (H.R. 1021) expanding the current prior authorization pilot programs on repetitive BLS non-emergency ambulance transports in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Starting in January 2016, the bill would expand the programs to Delaware, DC, Maryland, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia. The program would then expand nationwide starting in January 2017.

The AAA will continue to push for the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (S. 377, H.R. 745). S. 377 and H.R. 745 would make the current temporary ambulance increases permanent and place our industry in a strong position moving forward for data-driven reforms to the ambulance fee schedule. S. 377 and H.R. 745 would also address fraud and abuse with repetitive BLS non-emergency dialysis transports. While a similar program to the current pilot programs. The prior authorization within S. 377 and H.R. 745 would apply only to dialysis transports and would institute additional safeguards to ensure timely prior authorization for medically necessary transports.

I want to thank all AAA members, staff and consultants who continue to work tirelessly on extending essential Medicare ambulance relief. We will keep you posted of new developments.

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