The American Ambulance Association is proud to announce the winners of the 2023 AAA Legislative Awards. Each Member of Congress is being recognized for their strong advocacy for emergency medical services and their ongoing dedication to ambulance services across the United States.
2023 AAA Legislators of the Year
Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D (LA)
Senator Jon Tester (MT)
Earlier today, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) introduced the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2023. The legislation would extend the temporary Medicare ambulance add-on payments for an additional three years.
“We thank Senators Cortez Masto, Collins, Stabenow, and Cassidy for introducing the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act and for their strong support for ground ambulance services and the communities and patients we serve,” said AAA President Randy Strozyk. “The disparity between Medicare reimbursement and the costs of providing services has grown significantly through reductions in reimbursement and skyrocketing expenses for labor, ambulances, and equipment. This bill would help reduce that gap and maintain access to vital ground ambulance services for communities around the country.”
The Senate version of the bill would go even further by increasing the add-on payment levels for urban from 2% to 3.4% urban, for rural from 3% to 4.3% rural and for super rural from 22.6% 26.2%. The last extension of the add-on payments was scheduled to end on December 31, 2022, but our champions on Capitol Hill were able to secure a two-year extension through December 31, 2024. The additional three-year extension is critical to keep the add-on payments in place through ambulance data collection and provide time to Congress to then use the data to reform the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.
Representatives Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Buddy Carter (R-GA) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced the House version (H.R. 1666) of the bill on March 17. The House bill would be a three-year extension of the add-on payments at their present levels.
This progress is the result of tireless advocacy on the part of AAA volunteer leaders, staff, and consultants made possible by the sustained support of our members. It is critical that AAA members reach out to both their Senators and Representatives to cosponsor the respective versions of the Preserving Access to Ground Ambulance Services Act of 2023. It is vital that we generate a groundswell of support in the Congress for extending the add-on payments and will need that support to then also advocate for the higher add-on percentages when Congress negotiates on Medicare payment extensions.
Yesterday, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Protecting Access to Ground Ambulance Medical Services Act of 2021 (S. 2037). Senators Cortez Masto and Collins were joined by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) as primary cosponsors and leads on the legislation.
S. 2037 is identical to H.R. 2454 by Representatives Terri Sewell (D-AL), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) and would extend the temporary Medicare ground ambulance increases of 2% urban, 3% rural and the super rural bonus payment for five years. The increases are currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2022. The five-year extension would allow for the increases to remain in place during the two-year delay on ambulance data collection due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, an analysis of the data by MedPAC and subsequent action by the Congress to reform the Medicare ambulance fee schedule.
The legislation would also help ensure that rural zip codes in large urban counties remain rural following geographical changes under the fee schedule as a result of the 2020 census data. The current definition using rural urban commuting areas (RUCA) in Goldsmith Modification areas would be modified for zip codes with 1,000 people or less per square mile would also be rural. Ground ambulance service providers and suppliers could also petition the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make the argument that a specific zip code should be rural. It is vital that this provision be implemented before CMS makes changes from the 2020 census data which will likely occur in 2023.
The AAA has been leading the effort on the legislation with the support of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of EMTs, National Rural Health Association and the National Volunteer Fire Council.
The AAA will be launching a Call to Action shortly requesting AAA members to ask their Senators to cosponsor S. 2037, and reach out to their Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 2454 if they have not already done so.
We greatly appreciate the leadership of Senators Cortez Masto, Collins, Stabenow, Cassidy, Leahy, and Sanders on this vitally important legislation.
By Phil McCausland
During the height of the pandemic, a quiet financial crisis was brewing for ambulance companies.
As hospitals became overwhelmed and patients begged not to be taken to crowded emergency rooms for fear of potential infection, paramedics and emergency medical technicians began treating patients where they met them — outside homes, alongside roadways, in parking lots.
The trouble is that ambulance companies are only paid to transport people, not for treating them.
Now, an aid package in the American Rescue Plan and a new federal health care program could provide a financial lifeline for ambulance companies and herald a permanent shift in emergency medicine as a whole.
The attempt to reimburse ambulance companies began with a bill introduced by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., but the legislation was ultimately rolled into the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill. Cortez Masto voted for the plan, and Cassidy did not.
“Our first responders have gone above and beyond in caring for patients during the pandemic, and it’s just wrong that ambulance companies weren’t getting paid unless they took patients to the hospital,” Cortez Masto said.
On Saturday, the U.S. Senate passed language for Medicare coverage of emergency treatment in place of lower acuity patients by ground ambulance services providers and suppliers during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). The language is from S. 149 by Senators Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Cassidy (R-LA) and passed as part of the $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan (H.R. 1319). The House is scheduled to vote and expected to pass the package tomorrow.
The American Ambulance Association along with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters, National Association of EMTs and National Volunteer Fire Council pushed for passage of the bill language.
S. 149 would authorize the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to waive the transport requirement under Medicare for treatment in place for 9-1-1 or equivalent ambulance responses in which community EMS protocols dictate that the patient not be transported to a facility. The waiver would apply during the public health emergency.
Similar to other waivers provided by Congress for Medicare coverage during the pandemic, CMS would not be required to implement the policy. However, CMS has done so in all other situations and has also made the coverage retroactive to the beginning of the PHE. Upon passage of the language, the AAA will strongly advocate for CMS to implement the waiver and make it retroactive.
The AAA will be offering educational services to our members on the requirements of the proposed new policy and how to bill for covered services.
Ambulance Treatment in Place Bill Included in Senate Draft Budget Reconciliation Package
The draft bill by Senate Democrats on a Budget Reconciliation package includes the language of S. 149 which would waive the transport requirement under Medicare for certain 9-1-1 ground ambulance services during the public health emergency. The Senate is expected to consider the package as soon as tomorrow.
Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) introduced S. 149 on February 3 which is supported by the AAA, International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Firefighters, National Volunteer Fire Council and National Association of EMTs.
Under S. 149, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would have the authority to waive the requirement that a patient must be transported to a medical facility in order for a ground ambulance service organization responding to a 9-1-1 emergency call to be reimbursed by Medicare when there is a community-wide EMS protocol restricting the transport of the patient. Ground ambulance service organizations whose paramedics and EMTs are on the frontlines of this pandemic are struggling financially due to the reduction in ambulance transports and higher costs such associated with responding to medical emergencies that cannot be reimbursed because of the transportation requirement. S. 149would greatly help address part of that problem and recognizes the critical role that ground ambulance service organizations are playing in controlling hospital surges and reducing the spread of COVID-19 .”
The House has already passed their version of Budget Reconciliation and would still need to pass a Senate version before sending to the President. S. 149 would provide CMS with the authority and, if passed, the AAA would advocate for the agency to exercise that authority and follow through with the waiver starting at the beginning of the public health emergency.
WYDEN, CORTEZ MASTO, SENATORS PROPOSE FUNDING TO IMPROVE PUBLIC SAFETY WITH MOBILE CRISIS RESPONSE TEAMS
After Down Payment on the Policy Included in Reconciliation Relief Legislation, CAHOOTS Act Builds on Proven Models to Help Americans with Mental Illness and Enhances Medicaid Funding to States
Washington, D.C. – Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and six senators today proposed a bill to help states adopt mobile crisis response teams that can be dispatched when a person is experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder (SUD) crisis instead of immediately involving law enforcement. The funding is provided through an enhanced federal match rate for state Medicaid programs.
“I’m proud there is a down payment on CAHOOTS in the emergency relief package moving through Congress now,” Wyden said. “Every day there are stories across the country of Americans in mental distress getting killed or mistreated because they did not receive the emergency mental health services they needed. White Bird Clinic in Eugene, Oregon has been a pioneer for years in this area, and it’s high time the CAHOOTS model is made available to states and local governments across the country. I am eager to get the down payment signed into law and continue working to get further investments in mobile crisis services made under the bill across the finish line.”
“Individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis deserve to be treated with compassion and care by health care and social workers,” Cortez Masto said. “These professionals are extensively trained in deescalating situations and addressing mental health crises, and this legislation would help more states across the country fund mobile crisis teams. I’m hopeful that these investments in community-based crisis intervention services will be included in the final version of the current coronavirus relief package, and I’ll continue to advocate for effective, trauma-informed care for those in need.”
Earlier this month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee included provision in its budget reconciliation language for COVID-19 relief that makes an investment in these services by funding state Medicaid programs at an enhanced 85 percent federal match if they choose to provide qualifying community-based crisis intervention services and funding state planning grants to apply for the option. The pandemic has taken a serious toll on the mental health and wellbeing of Americans with studies showing a four-fold increase in the rates of anxiety and depressive disorders since the beginning of the pandemic.
The bill, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) Act, grants states further enhanced federal Medicaid funding for three years to provide community-based mobile crisis services to individuals experiencing a mental health or SUD crisis. It also provides $25 million for planning grants to states and evaluations to help establish or build out mobile crisis programs and evaluate them.
Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., are co-sponsors of the CAHOOTS Act.
A one page summary of the bill can be found here. Legislative text can be found here.