As president of your association, keeping you informed of our advocacy efforts is one of my top priorities. In keeping with this approach, I would like to share with you an update on the American Ambulance Association’s latest efforts on Capitol Hill. The temporary Medicare ambulance increases are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2017. And once again, Congress is waiting until the last minute to extend them. Thankfully, a long-term solution is on the horizon.
The House and Senate are in the process of negotiating the details of a Medicare provider extender package including our ambulance provisions. The House and Senate positions both include a five-year extension of the 2% urban, 3% rural, and super rural increases. Where their positions differ reflects the respective preferences of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees on how best to collect cost data from ambulance services suppliers and providers.
The Senate position is based on a Senate Finance Committee Discussion Draft from October 26 which includes the five-year extension of the increases as well as a data collection system based on the one from the Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention and Reform Act (S. 967). The provision would direct CMS to collect data from a statistically significant number of ambulance service suppliers and providers. This would occur each year for the first three years, then a minimum of every three years thereafter. The penalty for not reporting data if selected would be a 10% cut in Medicare reimbursement for the following year. The language gives CMS flexibility in designing the system, and would place minimal burden on small ambulance service suppliers. The outcome would be usable data to further substantiate the need for rate increases and reform of the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.
The House position is based on H.R. 3729, which also includes the five-year extension of the increases. However, it adds mandatory annual cost reporting for ambulance service suppliers and providers as well. The AAA worked with the bill sponsors and Committee staff to modify the cost reporting language to reflect the unique nature of our industry. However, since ambulance service suppliers and providers aren’t paid based on cost reports, and cost reporting requirements are very stringent, there are several compatibility issues when attempting to apply this model to our industry. The primary problem is the penalty for not reporting timely data, as well as a new standard requiring the data to be accurate and complete. As a result, after the first two years of reporting, the penalty of an overpayment for not reporting timely, accurate, and complete data could be an entire year of Medicare payments. The AAA therefore prefers the Senate language due to its flexibility for our industry as well as its less severe penalty.
The good news is that the House and Senate are in agreement on a five-year extension of the increases. As part of the increase package, our industry will also have a data collection system to demonstrate that we are reimbursed below cost, and to make data-driven decisions on reforming the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. However, it is critical that we get the data collection provision right so that it provides useful information and is not overly burdensome for our members.
Thanks to our champions on Capitol Hill, member advocates, and our lobbying team, the super rural bonus payment has been in effect since 2003, and the urban and rural increases since 2008. Subsequently, we have successfully advocated for Congress to extend the increases eight times, including the current 33-month extension. However, with Congress pressed to address a number of priorities by the end of this year, a Medicare extenders package may not occur until early January.
Securing a five-year extension will require the action of our entire membership. I urge you to please write your members of Congress today in support of the Medicare ambulance increases!