Tag: SIREN Act

Congress Passes SIREN Act

On December 12, 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill (S. 3042) by a 386-47 vote in the House and 87 – 13 vote in the Senate. Included in the final Bill was language similar to the SIREN Act (S. 2830, H.R. 5429) to reauthorize the Rural EMS Grant program.

In an effort to ensure the funding would go to the most needy, small, and rural EMS providers, the language of the amendment and SIREN Act would change the eligibility to just governmental and non-profit EMS agencies. Therefore, small rural for-profit ambulance service providers would no longer be eligible to apply for grants – which haven’t been funded for over a decade. These grants would now provide funds up to $200,000 for training, equipment, and personnel retention in rural areas. The grants also require a 10% contribution by the grant recipient.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will issue a guidance with the details on how these grants will be administered. Since the program has been unfunded for so long, it is unclear at this time, how it will be rolled out. HRSA will most likely follow past protocol providing details through guidance including how to submit and deadlines. The AAA will be sure to share additional details as soon as they become available.

While the AAA had advocated that language be revised to ensure small rural for-profit providers would still be able to apply for grants, we are happy to see this program reauthorized. The AAA was concerned not to push too hard for any changes because the House-passed version of the Farm Bill did not include the SIREN Act provision and didn’t want to give lawmakers any reason not to include the provision in the final Farm Bill.

Special thanks to the IAFC and NAEMT, and other partner organizations for all of their work in getting this legislation passed. The AAA would also like to thank members Congress who advocated for the passage of the SIREN Act including Senators Durbin, Roberts and Stabenow.

Update on Opioid Legislation & Rural EMS Grant Program

The AAA continues to push on policy issues important to our members we are happy to provide an update on two pieces of legislation that we have been actively monitoring. Congress is proceeding with consideration of several legislative vehicles as they address key topics prior to the November elections.

First Responder Opioid Grant Program

The AAA is pleased to report that language we supported on grant funding for opioid protection training for first responders has passed the Senate. Based on an analysis by counsel, we believe all ambulance service agencies would be eligible to apply for the grants.

In 2017, the Administration officially labeled the Opioid Crisis as a public health emergency, and in response Congress has finally taken action. On Monday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act with a bipartisan vote of 99-1. The impact of this legislation on the ambulance industry includes providing resources and training so that first responders and other key community sectors, including emergency medical services agencies, can appropriately protect themselves from exposure to drugs such as fentanyl, carfentanil and other dangerous licit and illicit drugs. $36,000,000 will be given annually for each fiscal year from 2019 through 2023. The bill also gives $10,000,000 in supplemental competitive grants to areas that have a record of high seizure of fentanyl to be used toward training of law enforcement and other first responders on how best to handle fentanyl as well as to purchase protective equipment, including overdose reversal drugs.

Lastly, the legislation allows the Department of Labor to award grants to states that have been heavily impacted by the opioid crisis in order to assist local workforce boards and local partnerships in closing the gaps in the workforce for mental health care and substance use disorder. Counsel has provided us with an analysis that all types of ambulance service organizations would be eligible for the described grants. While this legislation is not a solution to every aspect of the opioid crisis our country is currently experiencing, it is an important first step in providing resources to the ambulance industry and others to help combat this public health emergency.

Rural EMS Grant Program

The AAA is diligently working on amending the SIREN Act (S. 2830H.R. 5429) which would reauthorize the Rural EMS Grant program. In an effort to ensure the funding would go to the most needy, small, and rural EMS providers, the language of the SIREN Act would change the eligibility to just governmental and non-profit EMS agencies. Therefore, small rural for-profit ambulance service providers would no longer be eligible to apply for grants. The AAA will continue to work to ensure that all provider types will be able to apply for these grants.

Language similar to the SIREN Act has been included in the Farm Bill (S. 3042/ H.R. 2) that passed both the House and Senate. The Farm Bill is now in Conference Committee between the House and Senate to reconcile differences before final passage. Over the past weeks, the AAA has been pressing Senator Durbin as well as other co-sponsors and Farm Bill conferees to revise the language to ensure small rural for-profit providers would still be able to apply for grants. Our team has met with all co-sponsors of the House and Senate SIREN Act Bills as well as members of the Farm Bill Conference Committee to ensure that they are well informed of the impact this legislation will have on their local providers.

The AAA team has also been conducting targeted outreach to AAA members asking them to get involved by contacting their Members of Congress, especially those on the Conference Committee. It is important for Congress to hear that grants like this one, should be open to all provider types. We thank those members who have already sent letters to their representatives. With Congress trying to wrap up the Farm Bill by the end of September – although looking unlikley, the AAA is pushing hard to change the current language and make sure that all providers might have access to these grants once they are reauthorized.

The AAA will continue to keep you updated on any new developments.

Government Affairs Update

Government Affairs Update: What We’re Working On

The AAA continues to press policy initiatives with Congress and the Administration that are important to our members. While not as high-profile as our successful efforts earlier this year on the five-year extension of the Medicare ambulance add-ons, the AAA is working hard on ambulance legislation and regulations that impact the EMS industry and ambulance services across the country. Here is a snapshot of those current efforts. Over the next month, we will be providing weekly in-depth updates highlighting these issues.

Ambulance Cost Data Collection System

The AAA was successful in getting our preferred language of an ambulance cost data collection system using a survey and random sample methodology included with the extension of the add-ons in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. However, that was just the first key step in the process. We now need to ensure that CMS gets the details right as the agency develops the structural specifics and data elements for the system. It is critical that the system is designed in a way that ambulance service suppliers and providers will submit the most accurate data possible.

The data will ultimately provide the information necessary for Congress, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) as well as the AAA and other stakeholders to reform the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. Reform will include potential reimbursement for services such as community paramedicine, treat and refer, and other items that don’t involve transporting the patient.  However, in order to determine the reimbursement levels, we first need the data on what it could cost for these additional services. The AAA therefore has been working closely with officials at CMS on the development of the data collection system.

Medicare Community Bill

The five-year extension of the add-ons and authorization of data cost collection system were the first steps needed in the long-term goal of reforming the Medicare ambulance fee schedule. The AAA is now developing the next piece of legislation as step two of the process. The “Community Bill” would make the Medicare ambulance add-ons permanent, treat ambulance service suppliers like providers in three specific instances, direct the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMI) to do additional pilot programs on innovative services being done by ambulance agencies, reduce regulatory burdens, and implement a more accurate definition of what Goldsmith Modification zip codes should remain as rural. The AAA is currently developing the draft bill and reaching out to congressional offices regarding the introduction of the bill which will likely occur early next Congress.

Restructuring of Dialysis Offset

The AAA is supporting the efforts of our members who would be significantly adversely affected by the upcoming reduction in dialysis transport reimbursement to restructure the cut. Congress included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 an offset to go along with the extension of the add-ons that will cut reimbursement for BLS nonemergency transports to and from dialysis centers by an additional 13%. This will be on top of the existing 10% reduction.  The NEATSA Act (H.R.6269) by Congressman LaHood (R-IL) and Congresswoman Sewell (D-AL) would restructure the offset so that a majority of the additional reduction would be focused on those ambulance service agencies in which 50% or more of their volume are repetitive BLS nonemergency transports. The cut is currently scheduled to be implemented on October 1 and impacted AAA members and the AAA are working to get a Senate companion bill introduced shortly.

Rural EMS Grant Program

As an amendment to the Farm Bill (S. 3042) that passed the Senate, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) included language similar to the SIREN Act (S. 2830, H.R. 5429) to reauthorize the Rural EMS Grant program. However, in an effort to ensure the funding would go to the most needy, small, and rural EMS providers, the language of the amendment and SIREN Act would change the eligibility to just governmental and non-profit EMS agencies. Therefore, small rural for-profit ambulance service providers would no longer be eligible to apply for grants.

The AAA is pressing Senator Durbin as well as other members supportive of the reauthorization to revise the language to ensure small rural for-profit providers would still be able to apply for grants. In the next few weeks, the AAA will be asking AAA members to reach out to their members of Congress in support of the final Farm Bill including the reauthorization language and that it continues to also apply to for-profit providers as well.

Easing Regulatory Burdens

Over the last year, the AAA has responded to several requests for information from CMS as well as Congress on how to ease regulatory burdens for Medicare providers and suppliers. In addition to these broader opportunities, representatives of the AAA and our members have been meeting with CMS officials to reduce burdens for our industry. As a specific example, we are pushing for the elimination of the PCS for interfacility transports and to expand the categories of facility personnel eligible to sign the form.

Protecting Non-Emergency Ambulance Services

The AAA continues to educate members of Congress and congressional staff about the importance of non-emergency ambulance services. We are providing congressional offices with a clearer picture as to the vital role of these transports as part of the overall health care system. We are also looking to ensure that changes in federal payor policies strengthen the role and distinction of non-emergency ambulance transports from non-medical transportation services to health care facilities.

Zip Code Changes

The current use of Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCA) as the basis of the Goldsmith Modification for determining rural areas in larger urban counties needs to be reformed. There are numerous examples of zip codes that are designated as urban under the Medicare ambulance fee schedule that are clearly rural. The AAA Rural Task Force is leading the way on both short-term and long-term efforts to more accurately capture rural zip codes in large urban counties. The AAA will include the ultimate reform provision crafted by the Task Force within the Community Bill as well as look at other legislative opportunities to make the changes.

Questions?: Contact Us

If you have questions about the legislation or regulatory initiatives being undertaken by the AAA, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the AAA Government Affairs Team.

Tristan North – Senior Vice President of Government Affairs
tnorth@ambulance.org | (703) 610-0216

Ruth Hazdovac – AAA Senior Manager of Federal Government Affairs
rhazdovac@ambulance.org | (703) 610-5821

Aidan Camas – Manager of State & Federal Government Affairs
acamas@ambulance.org | (703) 610-9039

Thank you for your continued membership and support.