Tag: Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF)

CMS: COVID Testing and Screening Guidance for SNF and Long-Term Care Facilities

On August 25, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published an interim final rule with a comment period titled “Medicare and Medicaid Programs, Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA), and Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.”  The interim final rule sets forth a number of new requirements designed to limit the COVID-19 exposure and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within nursing homes.

Specifically, the interim final rule requires skilled nursing and other long-term care facilities to test residents and staff for COVID-19.  The frequency of such testing is based on the positivity rate in which the facility is located, and can require COVID-19 testing as frequently as twice per week.  Regardless of the frequency of required COVID-19 tests, facilities must also screen all staff, residents, and persons entering the facility for the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

These requirements extend to individuals that provide services to nursing homes under arrangements, including health care personnel rendering care to residents within the facility.  In subsequent guidance, CMS clarified that these testing and screening requirements apply to EMS personnel and other health care providers that render care to residents within the facility.  However, in that same guidance, CMS indicated that EMS personnel must be permitted to enter the facility provided that: (1) they are not subject to a work exclusion as a result of to an exposure to COVID-19 or (2) showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 after being screened.”  CMS further indicated that “EMS personnel do not need to be screened so they can attend to an emergency without delay.”

In plain terms, CMS has created an affirmative obligation on nursing homes to ensure that any individual that provides services under a contractual arrangement with the nursing home comply with these testing and screening requirements.  CMS has expressly waived the screening requirements for EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies at a nursing home.  However, CMS has not specifically addressed the testing and screening requirements applicable to EMS personnel responding to nursing homes in non-emergency situations. 

The A.A.A. is aware that a handful of State Health Agencies have issued their own guidance on this issue.  The A.A.A. is also aware that individual nursing homes have started to require proof that EMS personnel have been tested for COVID-19 prior to allowing these individuals to enter the nursing home in a non-emergency situation.

EMS agencies may already be subject to state and local testing mandates.  EMS agencies may also have their own internal policies that require employees to be periodically tested for COVID-19.  As a result, there exists the potential for conflict where these existing testing policies conflict with the testing requirements of your local nursing homes.

The A.A.A. has been engaged in an ongoing conversation with CMS on these issues since the issuance of the interim final rule in August.  As part of that conversation, the A.A.A. pushed for the exclusion of EMS personnel from the screening requirement when responding to medical emergencies, which was included in the recent CMS guidance document.  The A.A.A. also continues to push for additional funding for COVID-19 testing for EMS agencies.  CMS has recognized that the frequent testing of health care workers is essential to reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus.  CMS has allocated funding for these purposes to other industries, including hospitals and nursing homes.  As front-line health care workers, EMS agencies should have similar access to testing funds.  The A.A.A. will continue to push for funding equity for the EMS industry.

In the interim, we strongly encourage our members to work with their state associations and other stakeholders to advocate for reasonable rules related to testing on the state and local levels.  To the extent the applicable state or local agency has determined the appropriate frequency for the testing of EMS personnel responding to medical emergencies, those rules should also apply to EMS personnel responding to scheduled transports and other non-emergencies that start or end at a nursing home.  Requiring more frequent testing in these situations would impose an undue burden on EMS agencies that provide these services.  More frequent testing may also prove counterproductive, as it may discourage EMS agencies that cannot meet these higher requirements from responding in these situations.  We also encourage our members to continue to push for state and local funding for the testing of their employees.

 

Update – SNF COVID-19 Testing Does Not Apply to EMS

CMS Clarify in Guidance that EMS Personnel Are Not Required To Be Tested under Skilled Nursing Facility Testing Interim Final Rule

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have issued guidance clarifying the types of personnel who are subject to the testing requirements when entering a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) in the Interim Final Rule with Comment (IFC) on Additional Policy and Regulatory Revisions in Response to the COVID– 19 Public Health Emergency.  The new guidance memo states:

 

Entry of Health Care Workers and Other Providers of Services

Health care workers who are not employees of the facility but provide direct care to the facility’s residents, such as hospice workers, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel, dialysis technicians, laboratory technicians, radiology technicians, social workers, clergy etc., must be permitted to come into the facility as long as they are not subject to a work exclusion due to an exposure to COVID-19 or show signs or symptoms of COVID-19 after being screened. We note that EMS personnel do not need to be screened so they can attend to an emergency without delay. We remind facilities that all staff, including individuals providing services under arrangement as well as volunteers, should adhere to the core principles of COVID-19 infection prevention and must comply with COVID-19 testing requirements.

 

CMS issued this guidance at the request of the American Ambulance Association (AAA) to address concerns our members had raised about some SNFs misinterpreting the requirements.  The guidance is also consistent with AAA’s interpretation of the IFC.   As we indicated in an earlier Member Advisory, the IFC requires SNFs to test certain individuals for COVID-19 before they enter the facility.  Specifically, it applies to employees, consultants, and contractors of a skilled nursing facility (SNF).  It does not apply to vendors, suppliers, attending physicians, family, or visitors. Providers, such as medical directors and hospice, that are under a contract or consultants to a SNF are subject to the rule.  EMS personnel do not come within the scope of the IFC.

 

Even though the testing requirements of the IFC do not extend to ground ambulance services that do not have a contractual relationship with a SNF, the AAA supports the efforts of all of our members to follow the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines to have EMT and paramedics use full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when they are engaging with any patient, not only those in SNFs.  We also want to recognize the best practices of many members who have worked with SNFs to establish outdoor locations where the SNF personnel, when possible, can bring a patient out of the building to transfer the patient to the ambulance.  These and other examples of safe practices can help control the spread of COVID-19, which is the paramount concern.

CMS | Independent Nursing Home COVID-19 Commission Findings Validate Unprecedented Federal Response

From the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Today, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) received the final report from the independent Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes (Commission), which was facilitated by MITRE.  CMS also released an overview of the robust public health actions the agency has taken to date to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in nursing homes. The Commission’s findings align with the actions the Trump Administration and CMS have taken to contain the spread of the virus and to safeguard nursing home residents from the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s announcement delivers on the Administration’s commitments to keeping nursing home residents safe and to transparency for the American people in the face of this unprecedented pandemic.

The Trump Administration’s effort to protect the uniquely vulnerable residents of nursing homes from COVID-19 is nothing short of unprecedented,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “In tasking a contractor to convene this independent Commission comprised of a broad range of experts and stakeholders, President Trump sought to refine our approach still further as we continue to battle the virus in the months to come. Its findings represent both an invaluable action plan for the future and a resounding vindication of our overall approach to date. We are grateful for the Commission’s important contribution.”

As the capstone to the Commission’s extensive report, tomorrow, Administrator Verma will join Vice President Mike Pence and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield, some members of the Commission, and other public health and elder care experts at the White House. The Vice President, Dr. Redfield and Administrator Verma will lead the group in a discussion regarding the Commission’s findings and general issues facing the nation’s elder care system.

Nursing homes and other shared or congregate living facilities have been severely affected by COVID-19, as these facilities often house older individuals who suffer from multiple medical conditions, making them particularly susceptible to complications from the virus. To help CMS inform immediate and future actions as well as identify opportunities for improvement, the   Commission was created to conduct an independent review and comprehensive assessments of confronting COVID-19. The Commission’s report contains best practices that emphasize and reinforce CMS strategies and initiatives to ensure nursing home residents are protected from COVID-19.

As outlined in the overview released today, the Trump Administration has already taken significant steps to implement many of the Commission’s findings. The Administration has worked to support nursing homes financially during this challenging time, distributing over $21 billion to America’s nursing homes – more than $1.5 million each on average. To ensure nursing homes had access to supplies, the Trump Administration shipped a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) to more than 15,000 nursing homes across the Nation in May.

The Administration has also required facilities to report data about COVID-19 cases, deaths, and supply levels, with 99.3 percent of facilities currently reporting. CMS took action to keep COVID-19 out of nursing homes by requiring them to test staff, a requirement that was paired with the Administration’s distribution of 13,850 point-of-care testing devices to America’s nursing homes. The Administration has also deployed federal Task Force Strike Teams in six waves, in 18 states so far, to 61 facilities particularly affected by COVID-19 to share best practices and gain a deeper understanding of how the virus spreads. CMS also required states to conduct focused infection control inspections at their nursing homes; between June and July, states completed these inspections at 99.8 percent of Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes.

Additionally, since March, CMS has conducted weekly calls with nursing homes, issued over 22 guidance documents and established a National Nursing Home COVID-19 Training program focused on infection control and best practices.  CMS is also using COVID-19 data to target support to the highest risk nursing homes. In May, CMS released a new toolkit developed to aid nursing homes, Governors, states, departments of health, and other agencies who provide oversight and assistance to nursing homes.  The toolkit is a catalogue of resources dedicated to addressing the specific challenges facing nursing homes as they combat COVID-19. CMS updates the toolkit on a biweekly basis.

To view the full independent Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes report, visit here:  cms.gov/files/document/covid-final-nh-commission-report.pdf

To view the Trump Administration Response to Commission findings, visit here: cms.gov/files/document/covid-independent-nursing-home-covid-19-federal-response.pdf

To view the COVID-19 Guidance and Updates for Nursing Homes during COVID-19, visit here: cms.gov/files/document/covid-guidance-and-updates-nursing-homes-during-covid-19.pdf

The full list of CMS Public Health Actions for Nursing Homes on COVID-19 to date is in the chart below.

CMS Public Health Action for Nursing Homes on COVID-19 as of September 16, 2020

February 6, 2020

CMS took action to prepare the nation’s healthcare facilities for the COVID-19 threat.

March 4, 2020

CMS issued new guidance related to the screening of entrants into nursing homes.

March 10, 2020

CMS issued guidance related to the use of PPE.

March 13, 2020

CMS issued guidance on the restriction of nonessential medical staff and all visitors except in certain limited situations.

March 23, 2020

CMS announced a suspension of routine inspections, and an exclusive focus on immediate jeopardy situations and infection control inspections.

March 30, 2020

CMS announced that hospitals, laboratories, and other entities can perform tests for COVID-19 on people at home and in other community-based settings outside of the hospital – including nursing homes.

April 2, 2020

CMS issued a call to action for nursing homes and state and local governments reinforcing infection control responsibilities and urging leaders to work closely with nursing homes on access to testing and PPE.

April 15, 2020

CMS announced the agency will nearly double payment for certain lab tests that use high-throughput technologies to rapidly diagnose large numbers of COVID-19 cases.

April 19, 2020

CMS announced it will require nursing homes to report cases of COVID-19 to all residents and their families, as well as directly to the CDC. On May 1, CMS published the proposed policy in an Interim Final Rule. The rule became effective on May 8.

April 30, 2020

CMS announced the formation of an independent commission by a contractor that will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the nursing home response to COVID-19.

May 6, 2020

CMS released a memorandum to State Survey Agency directors providing more details on the new reporting requirements of the May 8, 2020, Interim Final Rule.

May 13, 2020

CMS published a new informational toolkit comprising recommendations and best practices from a variety of front line health care providers, governors’ COVID-19 task forces, associations and other organizations and experts that is intended to serve as a catalogue of resources dedicated to addressing the specific challenges facing nursing homes as they combat COVID-19. Toolkit is found here: Toolkit

May 18, 2020

CMS issued guidance for state and local officials on the reopening of nursing homes.

June 1, 2020

CMS issued guidance to states on COVID-19 survey activities, CARES Act funding, enhanced enforcement for infection control deficiencies, and quality improvement activities in nursing homes. CMS also issued a letter to Governors.

June 4, 2020

CMS posted the first set of underlying COVID-19 nursing home data and results from targeted inspections conducted by the agency since March 4, 2020, linked on Nursing Home Compare.

June 19, 2020

CMS announced membership of Independent Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in nursing homes

June 23, 2020

CMS released FAQs on nursing home visitation.

June 25, 2020

CMS released a memo announcing the end of the emergency blanket waiver for the nursing home staffing data submission requirement.

July 10, 2020

CMS announced it will deploy Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) across the country to provide immediate assistance to nursing homes in hotspot areas.

July 14, 2020

HHS and CMS announced an initiative for rapid point-of-care diagnostic devices and tests in nursing homes.

July 22, 2020

CMS announced several new initiatives designed to protect nursing home residents from COVID-19, including new funding, enhanced testing and additional technical assistance and support.

August 7, 2020

HHS announced the distribution of $5 billion in Provider Relief Funds, consistent with the Administration’s announcement in late July, which will be used to protect residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities from the impact of COVID-19.

August 14, 2020

CMS released nursing home enforcement actions during pandemic.

August 24, 2020

CMS issues informational bulletin on Medicaid Reimbursement Strategies to Prevent Spread of COVID-19 in Nursing Facilities

August 25, 2020

CMS announced an unprecedented national nursing home training program for frontline nursing home staff and nursing home management.

August 25, 2020

CMS strengthens COVID-19 Surveillance with New Reporting and Testing Requirements for Nursing Homes, Other Providers. On Aug. 26, CMS posted guidance for the new requirements.

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Get CMS news at cms.gov/newsroom, sign up for CMS news via email and follow CMS on Twitter CMS Administrator @SeemaCMS and @CMSgov

Ambulance Crews and In-Home Care Providers Seek Collaboration

From Home Health Care News

Ambulance Crews and In-Home Care Providers Seek Collaboration—Not Competition

As hospitals continue to experience overcapacity challenges due to the COVID-19 emergency, 911 ambulance crews and community paramedics have found themselves treating more patients at home.

Historically, ambulance crews and community paramedics — both of which operate in the emergency medical services (EMS) space — have always provided some degree of care in the home setting. To do so, they’ve often worked alongside traditional home health and home care agencies, too.

“There’s been a certain amount of care [or treatment] in the home for many years,” Hanan Cohen, paramedic and director of corporate development at Empress EMS, told Home Health Care News. “On the 911 system, it’s not at all uncommon for an EMS crew to respond to a multitude of emergencies. After assessing and, sometimes, treating the person, … they may decide not to go to the hospital.”

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CDC | Testing Guidelines for Nursing Homes

On June 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance for COVID-19 testing in nursing homes. Thank you to the many  member organizations  providing this vitally important care to our nation’s vulnerable populations. Changes are summarized below:

  • Reorganized recommendations to address:
    • Viral testing of healthcare personnel (HCP)
    • Viral testing of residents
    • Viral testing in response to an outbreak
  • Changed “baseline” testing to “initial” testing, although these terms are interchangeable
  • Added the following recommendations:
    • Testing the same individual more than once in a 24-hour period is not recommended.
    • Clinicians are encouraged to consider testing symptomatic residents for other causes of respiratory illness, for example influenza, in addition to testing for SARS-CoV-2.

CDC Nursing Home Testing

Politico | Nursing Homes Go Unchecked As Fatalities Mount

From Politico on June 15, 2020 by Rachel Roubein and Maggie Severns

Thousands of nursing homes across the country have not been checked to see if staff are following proper procedures to prevent coronavirus transmission, a form of community spread that is responsible for more than a quarter of the nation’s Covid-19 fatalities.

Only a little more than half of the nation’s nursing homes had received inspections, according to data released earlier this month, which prompted a fresh mandate from Medicare and Medicaid chief Seema Verma that states complete the checks by July 31 or risk losing federal recovery funds.

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CMS | Nursing Home COVID-19 Transparency Effort

From the CMS.gov Newsroom

Trump Administration Announces New Nursing Homes COVID-19 Transparency Effort

 

     Agencies partner with nursing homes to keep nursing home residents safe

Today, under the leadership of President Trump, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced new regulatory requirements that will require nursing homes to inform residents, their families and representatives of COVID-19 cases in their facilities. In addition, as part of President Trump’s Opening Up America, CMS will now require nursing homes to report cases of COVID-19 directly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  This information must be reported in accordance with existing privacy regulations and statute. This measure augments longstanding requirements for reporting infectious disease to State and local health departments. Finally, CMS will also require nursing homes to fully cooperate with CDC surveillance efforts around COVID-19 spread.

CDC will be providing a reporting tool to nursing homes that will support Federal efforts to collect nationwide data to assist in COVID-19 surveillance and response. This joint effort is a result of the CMS-CDC Work Group on Nursing Home Safety. CMS plans to make the data publicly available.  This effort builds on recent recommendations from the American Health Care Association and Leading Age, two large nursing home industry associations, that nursing homes quickly report COVID-19 cases.

“Nursing homes have been ground zero for COVID-19. Today’s action supports CMS’ longstanding commitment to providing transparent and timely information to residents and their families,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “Nursing home reporting to the CDC is a critical component of the go-forward national COVID-19 surveillance system and to efforts to reopen America.”

“Scientific data derived from solid surveillance is a key element of recommendations to protect Americans, particularly our most vulnerable, from the devastating impact of COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield. “This coordinated effort with CMS will allow CDC to provide even more detailed information to state and local health departments about how COVID-19 is affecting nursing home residents in order to develop additional recommendations to keep them safe.”

This data sharing project is only the most recent in the Trump Administration’s rapid and aggressive response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On February 6, CMS took action to prepare the nation’s healthcare facilities for the COVID-19 threat. On March 4, CMS issued new guidance related to the screening of entrants into nursing homes, informed by CDC recommendations. On March 10, CMS issued guidance related to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) usage and optimization. On March 13, CMS issued guidance for a nationwide restriction on nonessential medical staff and all visitors, except in compassionate care situations. Shortly after that announcement, President Trump declared a national emergency, enabling the agency to take even stronger action. CMS then announced a suspension of routine inspections, and an exclusive focus on situations in which residents are in immediate jeopardy for serious injury or death, and implemented a new inspection tool based on the latest guidance from CDC. Additionally, on April 2, CMS issued a call to action for nursing homes and state and local governments. It included guidance that reinforced infection control responsibilities and urged leaders to work closely with nursing homes in their communities to determine needs for COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment. The recommendations also urged state and local officials to work with nursing homes to designate certain sites for COVID-19-positive or COVID-19-negative patients to avoid further transmissions. On April 15, CMS announced the agency will nearly double payment for certain lab tests that use high-throughput technologies to rapidly diagnose large numbers of COVID-19 cases. This announcement built upon a March 30 announcement that hospitals, laboratories, and other entities can perform tests for COVID-19 on people at home and in other community-based settings outside of the hospital – including nursing homes.

CDC continues to work closely with CMS, state and local health departments, and nursing homes to inform national infection prevention and control policies and strategies to further support nursing homes, residents and families of residents.  CDC built a long-term care toolkit to be distributed to all 50 states to help increase infection prevention and control preparedness in nursing homes and provide remote tools to further assist these important healthcare providers.

In addition, CDC rapidly sent teams of infection control experts to support state and local health departments during the first COVID-19 outbreak in a nursing home in the U.S. Teams were on the ground within 36 hours of the notification to assist with the implementation of measures to detect and contain additional infections in the community.  CDC continues to work closely with state and local health departments to assist long-term care facilities with COVID-19, with on the ground support provided to more than 30 jurisdictions and remote technical assistance from infection control experts across the U.S. with plans to provide additional support underway.

Today’s guidance is available here: https://www.cms.gov/medicareprovider-enrollment-and-certificationsurveycertificationgeninfopolicy-and-memos-states-and/upcoming-requirements-notification-confirmed-covid-19-or-covid-19-persons-under-investigation-among

This action, and earlier CMS and CDC actions in response to the COVID-19 disease, are part of the ongoing White House Task Force efforts. To keep up with the important work the Task Force is doing in response to COVID-19, visit www.coronavirus.gov. For information specific to CMS, please visit the Current Emergencies Website.

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Get CMS news at cms.gov/newsroom, sign up for CMS news via email and follow CMS on Twitter CMS Administrator @SeemaCMS@CMSgov, and @CMSgovPress

New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits: FAQs

On April 1, 2019, CMS implemented a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits that it stated would better identify ground ambulance transports that were furnished in connection with an outpatient hospital service that would be bundled to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime.

Unfortunately, the implementation of these new edits has been anything but seamless. Over the past few weeks, I have received numerous phone calls, texts, and emails from AAA members reporting an increase in the number of Medicare claims being denied for SNF Consolidated Billing.

This FAQ will try to explain why you may be seeing these denials.  I will also try to provide some practical solutions that can: (1) reduce the number of claims denied by the edits and (2) help you collect from the SNFs, when necessary.

Please note that, at the present time, there is no perfect solution to this issue, i.e., there is nothing that you can do to completely eliminate these claim denials.  The solutions discussed herein are intended only to minimize the disruption to your operations caused by these denials.  

I am new to Medicare ambulance billing. Can you explain what the SNF Consolidated Billing regime is, and how it operates?

Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that the SNF’s per diem payment generally the cost of all health care provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay, whether provided by the SNF directly, or by a third-party.  This also includes the majority of medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during that period.  For these purposes, the “Part A Period” refers to the first 100 days of a qualified SNF stay.

However, medically necessary ambulance transportation is exempted from SNF Consolidated Billing (referred to hereafter as “SNF PPS”) in certain situations.  This includes medically necessary ambulance transportation to and from a Medicare-enrolled dialysis provider (whether free-standing or hospital-based).  Also excluded are ambulance transportations:

  • To an SNF for an initial admission;
  • From the SNF to the patient’s residence for a final discharge (assuming the patient does not return to that SNF on the same day);
  • To and from a hospital for an inpatient admission;
  • To and from a hospital for certain outpatient procedures, including, without limitation, emergency room visits, cardiac catheterizations, CT scans, MRIs, certain types of ambulatory surgery, angiographies (including PEG tube procedures), lymphatic and venous procedures, and radiation therapy.

For a fuller description of the SNF Consolidated Billing Regime, including a discussion of when ambulance services may be separately payable by Medicare Part B, I encourage members to consult the AAA Medicare Reference Manual.

Purchase the 2019 Medicare Reference Manual

Can you explain what prompted CMS to implement these new edits? 

In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. The OIG’s investigation consisted of a review of all SNF beneficiary days from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016 to determine whether the beneficiary day contained a ground ambulance claim line. The OIG excluded beneficiary days where the only ambulance claim line related to: (1) certain emergency or intensive outpatient hospital services or (2) dialysis services, as such ambulance transportation would be excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.

The OIG determined that there were 58,006 qualifying beneficiary days during this period, corresponding to $25.3 million in Medicare payments to ambulance suppliers. The OIG then selected a random sample of 100 beneficiary days for review.  The OIG determined that 78 of these 100 beneficiary days contained an overpayment for the associated ambulance claims, as the services the beneficiary received did not suspend or end their SNF resident status, nor was the transport for dialysis. The OIG determined that ambulance providers were overpaid a total of $41,456 for these ambulance transports.  The OIG further determined that beneficiaries (or their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $10,723 in incorrect coinsurance and deductibles. Based on the results of its review, the OIG estimates that Medicare made a total of $19.9 million in Part B overpayments to ambulance suppliers for transports that should have been bundled to the SNFs under SNF Consolidated Billing regime.  The OIG estimated that beneficiaries (and their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $5.2 million in coinsurance and deductibles related to these incorrect payments.

The OIG concluded that the existing edits were inadequate to identify ambulance claims for services associated with hospital outpatient services that did not suspend or end the beneficiary’s SNF resident status, and which were not related to dialysis. The OIG recommended that CMS implement additional edits to identify such ambulance claims.

The OIG’s report prompted CMS to issue Transmittal 2176 in November 2018.  This transmittal instructed the CWF Maintainer and the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) to implement a new series of edits, effective April 1, 2019.

Can you provide a simple overview of how these new CWF edits operate?

Before we turn to the new edits, I think it is important to understand that CMS has had long-standing edits to identify outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF under SNF PPS.  These edits work by comparing the Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes on the outpatient hospital claim to applicable lists of excluded codes.  To the extent the HCPCS or CPT code appears on the applicable list of excluded codes, the outpatient hospital claim will bypass the edit for SNF PPS, and be separately payable by the MAC.  To the extent the HCPCS or CPT code on the outpatient hospital claim does not appear on the applicable list of excluded codes, the claim will be denied as the responsibility of the SNF.  The new CWF edits for ambulance claims simply extend the existing process one step further, i.e., they compare the ambulance claim to the associated hospital claim.

Conceptually, the new edits “staple” the ambulance claim to the outpatient hospital claim, with our coverage piggybacked on whether the outpatient hospital claim is determined to be bundled or unbundled.

How would I identify a claim that is denied for SNF Consolidated Billing?

Typically, the denial will be evidenced by a Claim Adjustment Reason Code on the Medicare Remittance Advice.  The denial will typically appear as an “OA-190” code, with the following additional explanation: “Payment is included in the allowance for a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) qualified stay.  The “OA” stands for “Other Adjustment,” and is intended to notify you that the SNF is the correct payer.  Note: in some instances, the denial may appear as “CO-190” on the remittance advice.  However, the effect of the denial is the same, i.e., they are indicating that the SNF is financially responsible for payment.

Frequently, the denial will be accompanied by Remittance Advice Remark Code “N106,” which indicates “Payment for services furnished to Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) inpatients (except for excluded services) can only be made to the SNF.  You must request payment from the SNF rather than the patient for this service.”

I have heard you refer to the new CWF edits as over-inclusive.  What do you mean by that?

When CMS elects to implement a new edit to the CWF, it has to make some decisions on how to structure the edit.  Two typical decisions that must be made are:

  1. Will the edit be conditional based on the submission of other Medicare claims? And
  2. Is the edit designed to be under- or over-inclusive?

For these purposes, a conditional edit is one where the coverage or lack of coverage depends, in part, on the claims submitted by other health care providers that furnished services to the same beneficiary (typically on the same date).  As you are probably aware, the Medicare rules for all Part B payments prohibit payment whenever the service has been paid for, directly or indirectly, under Medicare Part A.  Thus, all edits for hospital and SNF bundling are conditioned, in part, on the patient’s Part A inpatient status at the time of transport.

By contrast, an unconditional edit is one that operates the same regardless of other types of claims for the same patient.  For example, with respect to ambulance claims, the MACs medical necessity edits are unconditional, i.e., they apply to all ambulance claims, regardless of the patient’s inpatient status at a Part A facility.  The edits for origin/destination modifiers are another example of an edit that is typically unconditional.

In addition, CMS has to decide whether to make an edit under- or over-inclusive.  This is because no edit can be perfectly tailored to be applied to all qualifying claims, but no non-qualifying claims.  An “underinclusive” edit is one that is designed to identify the majority – – but not all – – of the claims that should be denied based on the edit criteria.  By contrast, an “overinclusive” edit is one that would deny not only all of the qualifying claims, but also some non-qualifying claims.

In many instances related to EMS coverage, the underlying facts and circumstances of the transport are ultimately what determines the coverage.  It is frequently difficult – – if not impossible – – to fully describe these circumstances with enough specificity on the electronic claim for CMS to perfectly apply its edits.  For that reason, CMS has historically elected to design its ambulance edits to be underinclusive.

Unfortunately, the new SNF edits are both conditional AND overinclusive.  To further complicate matters, they are not only conditioned on the claim of a single Part A provider, but two separate Part A providers, i.e., in order for the new edits to work properly, CMS is reliant upon information from both the SNF and the hospital to properly apply its new edits.

I recently received a denial for an emergency transport from an SNF to the hospital for an emergency room visit.  I thought emergency ambulance transports were excluded from SNF PPS?

They are. The denial was likely the result of your claim being submitted prior to Medicare’s receipt of the associated outpatient hospital claim.

As noted above, the new edits are both conditional and overinclusive.  In this context, they are designed to deny the ambulance claim UNLESS there is a hospital outpatient claim for that same patient with the same date of service.  If there is no hospital outpatient claim on file when your ambulance claim hits the system, the edit indicates that the MAC should deny your claim for SNF PPS.

OK, that makes some sense.  Does that mean I have to appeal the denial?

In theory, no.  The instructions in Transmittal 2176 make clear that the CWF should “adjust” the ambulance claim upon receipt of the associated hospital claim.  For these purposes, that adjustment should take the form of re-processing the ambulance claim through the edits to compare it to the associated hospital claim, and to bypass the new CWF edits if the hospital claim contains an excluded code.

However, there is no timeframe for how quickly these adjustments should take place.  Most ambulance providers are reporting that they are seeing few, if any claims, being reprocessed.

I submitted several claims without knowing the patient was in the Part A Period of an SNF stay.  These claims were initially paid, but a few days later, I received a recoupment request from the MAC indicating that the claim was the responsibility of the SNF under SNF PPS. 

As noted above, the edits were designed to deny claims to the extent CMS was unable to determine whether they should be bundled to the SNF, i.e., to deny if the associated hospital claim was not already in the system.  Therefore, in theory, it should be impossible for the ambulance provider to receive a payment and then a recoupment for SNF PPS.

I suspect the situation described above is one where the ambulance claim is submitted prior to CMS’ receipt of the associated SNF claim for the patient.  As noted above, in order for the edits to work properly, both the associated hospital and SNF claims must be in the system.  While CMS clearly contemplated the possibility that the ambulance claim might be submitted prior to the associated hospital claim, they do not appear to have considered the possibility that the ambulance claim might beat the associated SNF claim into the system.

When that happens, there is nothing in the CWF to indicate that the patient was in a Part A SNF Stay.  As a result, the claim bypasses these new edits entirely, and frequently ends up being paid by the MAC.  I suspect what happens next is that the SNF claim hits the system, and triggers CMS to automatically recoup the payment for the ambulance claim.

What should happen at that point is the ambulance claim should then be run through the new edits.  If the hospital claim is already in the system, the ambulance claim gets “stapled” to that claim, and then either passes the edit or gets denied based on the information on the hospital claim.  If the hospital claim is not in the system, the ambulance provider gets the “interim” denial discussed above, and the claim should be further adjusted if and when the hospital claim is submitted.

However, at this point, it is entirely possible that these claims are not being put through the edit.  The AAA has asked CMS to look into whether the new edits are working as intended in these situations.

This sounds like a complete mess:  

Not really a question, but you are not wrong.

This sounds extremely complicated.  Is there anything I can do to reduce the possibility that my claims get denied?

I think it is important to distinguish between: (1) denials that are correct based on the HCPCS or CPT codes on the associated hospital claim and (2) denials that are based solely on the timing of your claim, i.e., denials based on your claim being submitted prior to the submission of the associated hospital claim.  For these purposes, I will refer to the latter category as “interim denials.”

At the onset, I think all members should recognize that there is nothing you can do to eliminate denials for claims that are properly bundled to the SNF based on the HCPCS or CPT codes on the associated hospital claim.

For numerous reasons, I think the proper focus should be on reducing the interim denials.  First and foremost, the difficulty with an interim denial is that you don’t know whether that denial will ultimately prove to be correct, or whether the claim will ultimately be reprocessed and paid by the MAC.  Second, even if the claim will be reprocessed, there currently appears to be a significant delay in “when” that reprocessing takes place.  Finally, without knowing whether the claim will be reprocessed (and whether that reprocessing will result in a payment), you can’t know whether you should be billing the SNF.

What information would be helpful in reducing these interim denials?

You would need to know the following data points prior to the submission of your claim:

  1. Whether the patient was in a Part A SNF Stay on the date of transport?
  2. What was the specific procedure/service the patient received at the hospital?

If you knew with certainty that the patient was not in the Part A Period of their SNF stay, you would know that the new edits would be inapplicable to your claim, and you could submit it to Medicare as part of your normal billing workflow.

If you also knew the specific procedure/service the patient received at the hospital, you would also be in a position to know whether the service was the financial responsibility of the SNF, assuming the patient was in the Part A Period.  When you know the claim is the financial responsibility of the SNF, you could then immediately invoice the claim to the SNF.  If your arrangement with the SNF requires you to first obtain a Medicare denial, you would also have the option of submitting the claim and getting the proper OA-190 denial, and then invoicing the SNF. Note: in these situations, you would receive the oA-190 denial regardless of whether your claim was submitted prior to the hospital claim.

By contrast, when you know the patient is in the Part A Period AND the procedure/service is one that would be excluded from SNF PPS, you can avoid the interim denial by ensuring that your claim is not submitted until after the associated hospital claim. In other words, this is a situation where holding your claim for a reasonable period of time might be beneficial.

We currently ask the SNF to provide information on the patient’s Part A status.  However, they frequently tell us that they don’t know, or that we are not entitled to this information.  What can we do?

First, they are absolutely permitted to share this information with you.  Both you and the SNF are “covered entities” under the HIPAA Privacy Rule.  In this instance, information on the patient’s Part A status would be helpful to you in managing your payment practices.  The regulations at 45 C.F.R. 164.506(c)(3) permit one covered entity to share protected health information with another covered entity for the payment activities of that entity.

However, it is important to note that, while the SNF may share that information with you, the Privacy Rule does not require them to provide you with this information absent a written authorization from the patient.

This information is critical to navigating the new edits.  If you haven’t been asking for it up until this point, I would strongly encourage you to consider having a discussion with the local SNFs to explain why you will be asking for this information in the future.  You may also want to consider developing a specific form that they must complete (similar to the PCS form) that would provide this information.

We have asked for this information in the past, and are typically told that if we continue to ask, the SNF will consider using our competitor, who doesn’t ask too many questions. 

I understand.  I would try to explain to the SNF that the reason you are asking for this information is to be able to make an intelligent determination on whether the transport is likely to the be financial responsibility of the SNF.  This information allows you to avoid denials in certain instances where they would otherwise not be responsible.  If they don’t provide you with this information, the foreseeable consequence is that you will end up getting interim denials from Medicare, which may leave you no choice but to bill the SNF for the transport.

I feel bad for the person that asked the previous question.  Fortunately for me, we are the only ambulance provider in the area, so the threat of going to a competitor rings a bit hollow.  Do I have any additional options to get this information?

You do.  I would try to insert language into your agreements with the SNFs that obligate them to provide you with this information.  You could also try to insert language that makes them financially responsible whenever they fail to provide this information.

We don’t have agreements with the local SNFs.  Do we need an agreement?

One of the foreseeable consequences of this new edit is that it will increase the frequency with which you bill the SNFs.  One of the most common complaints I hear is that SNFs refuse to pay their bills.  In most instances, the problem is that the ambulance service lacks a written agreement with the SNF, and, as a result, they frequently end up in disputes about when the SNF is responsible.  A written agreement that clearly spells out when the SNF is responsible can not only minimize the potential for misunderstandings, but also afford you greater remedies when the SNF refuses to pay.

With respect to the new edits, what should that agreement say?

You should consult with your local attorney regarding the applicable language.  However, conceptually, you want to include language that indicates that a Medicare denial is conclusive evidence that the SNF is financially responsible.  This provision could then go on to provide that, in the event Medicare should reprocess and pay a particular claim, then you would refund the SNF’s payment.

What can I do to help the AAA in minimizing the administrative burden associated with these new edits?

The AAA is currently conducting a survey of members to help get a sense of the magnitude of the issues created by these new edits. If you would like to participate in the survey, you can click here.

Take the Survey

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog?  Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

New SNF PPS Edits Highlight the Importance of Facility Agreements

On April 1, 2019, CMS implemented a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits that are intended to better identify ground ambulance transports that are furnished in connection with an outpatient hospital service that is properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility (SNF) under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime.

These edits work by comparing the ambulance claim to the associated outpatient hospital claim.  Hospital claims were already subject to CWF edits designed to identify outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF.  These hospital edits operate by referencing a list of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that correspond to outpatient hospital services that are expressly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.  Hospital claims for outpatient services that are submitted with one of these excluded codes bypass the existing CWF edits, and are then sent to the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor for further editing and payment.  Hospital claims submitted without one of these codes are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing.

The new ambulance edits will extend these process one step further.  The ambulance claim will be associated with the outpatient hospital claim on the same date.  To the extent that hospital claim is bundled under SNF Consolidated Billing, the associated ambulance claim will also be bundled.  To the extent the hospital claim is unbundled, the associated ambulance claim will be unbundled.

In order for these new edits to work properly, there must be an outpatient hospital in Medicare’s claim history. If the ambulance claim beats the hospital claim into the system, the ambulance claim will be rejected. If and when an outpatient hospital claim with the same date of service enters Medicare’s system, the initial rejection of the ambulance claim will be overturned, and the ambulance claim will be reprocessed using the same edits.

It is important to note that the new edits were designed to reject the ambulance claim as a bundled service unless the hospital claim indicates that it should not be bundled.  In other words, these edits are designed to be “over inclusive.”  This over-inclusiveness creates the potential for ambulance denials in situations that, on their face, would not appear to be bundled.

A few examples will help illustrate this point. Imagine a situation where the patient elects, for whatever reason, to pay out-of-pocket for their hospital care (in a situation where that care would not be bundled to the SNF), and, as a result, the hospital does not submit a bill to Medicare for its services.  Based on how the new edits are designed, your ambulance claim for the transport to that excluded service will be rejected based on the lack of a hospital claim. Or maybe the patient has both Medicare and the V.A., and has elected to have the V.A. be the primary payer for their required hospital care.  Again, there would likely be no outpatient hospital claim submitted to Medicare on that date of service, resulting in the rejection of your ambulance claim.

I can see your point, but those examples are pretty far-fetched.  How big an issue is this really?

I agree those examples are pretty far-fetched.  However, there are other situations that create the same problem.  For example, what about an emergent response to transport an SNF patient to the hospital for necessary emergency services?  Imagine if you are called to respond late at night (e.g., 11:30 p.m.) tonight.  Now imagine that, by the time you get to the patient, load them into the vehicle, and transport them to the ED, it has crossed over midnight into the next day.

What date of service is going to be on the hospital’s claim?  Almost certainly, the hospital will use tomorrow’s date.  As a result, when your claim hits Medicare’s system, there will not be an associated hospital claim, which will result in your claim being rejected as the responsibility of the SNF.  In this situation, Medicare’s edit has worked as intended, but the result is the denial of a claim that should be separately payable by Medicare Part B.

Okay, I can see how this might be annoying,
but I can appeal the claim and likely win on appeal, right? 

Yes and no.  The problem is that you are not likely to win on either of the first two levels of appeal, as they are likely going to rely upon the information in the CWF.  I can see you possibly winning your appeal at the ALJ level…5 to 7 years from now.

In other words, the appeals process is unlikely to provide an acceptable resolution.  Instead, I think the majority of ambulance providers are going to look to the SNFs to make good in these situations.  Of course, the SNFs are likely going to disclaim liability, arguing (correctly) that ambulance transportation to an ED is an excluded service.

This is where the agreement with the SNF comes into play.  One key purpose of contracts is to allocate known risks between the parties.  In this instance, the “risk” that needs to be addressed is the possibility that Medicare might incorrectly reject your claim thinking it is bundled to the SNF.  I would argue that this risk should be absorbed by the SNF.  The transport to the ED should have suspended the patient’s SNF stay, which would have allowed you to receive a separate payment from Medicare.  However, the fact that your claim was rejected is proof positive that the CWF does not reflect the suspension of the patient’s SNF stay.  Indirectly, it also serves as proof that the SNF received a per diem payment for the patient on that date.  To me, the fact that they accepted the per diem payment means they accepted the risk of a bundled ambulance service on that date.  I would also argue that it was their failure to properly suspend the patient’s SNF stay that set in motion your denial.  Either way, I would be looking to the SNF for payment.

Based on my experience, the typical agreement with an SNF does not address this situation.  Frequently, these agreements do not even address the specifics of SNF Consolidated Billing.  Instead, I tend to see general language indicating that the ambulance provider will bill the SNF when payment responsibility lies with the SNF under an applicable federal or state health care program.  I doubt that language is going to convince an SNF to take financial responsibility for the situation discussed above.

The good news is that your existing agreements can easily be revised to address this situation.  The language I would recommend is something along the lines of:

“The parties acknowledge and agree that a denial from Medicare for SNF consolidated billing shall constitute conclusive evidence that a transportation service is the financial responsibility of the facility.” 

In sum, the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits are going to increase the frequency with which we are forced to look to the SNFs for payment.  In most instances, it will be a situation where the SNF is legally responsible under SNF Consolidated Billing.  However, there will also be situations where the over-inclusive nature of the edits results in the claim being incorrectly denied as the SNF’s responsibility.  The question becomes how you want to handle these incorrect denials.  Do you want to appeal and hope CMS reverses its decision?  Or do you want to hold the SNF responsible?  If you want to hold the SNF responsible, you will likely need to revise your agreements with the SNFs.

Have an issue you would like to see discussed in a future Talking Medicare blog?
Please write to me at bwerfel@aol.com.

Update on New SNF Edits

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing.

In a Member Advisory issued last week, the AAA provided an update on a series of new Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

In our discussion of the implementation specifics, we attempted to answer the question of what would happen when an ambulance claim is submitted prior to the receipt of the associated hospital outpatient claim, and where the associated hospital claim eventually hit Medicare’s system. Specifically, we indicated as follows:

“The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code.  Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim.  At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment.  The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.”

On March 15, 2019, CMS responded to our request for clarification. Specifically, CMS indicated that it has instructed the SSM and/or its Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) to automatically reprocess claims that were rejected for lack of an associated hospital outpatient claim.

Upon reprocessing, the claims will pass the edits to the extent the associated hospital claim contains a HCPCS or CPT code that indicates that the hospital outpatient service was excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Such claims would then be forwarded to the MAC for further editing, and either paid or denied. By contrast, when the associated hospital outpatient claim contains HCPCS or CPT codes that suggest the hospital services should be bundled to the SNF, the claim will be reprocessed and denied by the MAC with a remittance advice code indicating that the SNF is financially responsible.

AAA Webinar on New SNF Consolidated Billing Edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

CMS SNF Edits Go Into Effect – April 1, 2019

CMS Set to Implement New Common Working File Edits to Identify Ambulance Services Provided in Connection with Outpatient Hospital Services that should be bundled to the SNF under Consolidated Billing

On November 2, 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued Transmittal 2176 (Change Request 10955), which would establish a new series of Common Working File (CWF) edits intended to identify ambulance transports furnished in connection with outpatient hospital services that are properly bundled to the skilled nursing facility under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime. These new edits are set to go into effect on April 1, 2019. 

Why these edits are necessary?

In 2017, the HHS Office of the Inspector General conducted an investigation of ground ambulance claims that were furnished to Medicare beneficiaries during the first 100 days of a skilled nursing home (SNF) stay. Under the SNF Consolidated Billing regime, SNFs are paid a per diem, case-mix-adjusted amount that is intended to cover all costs incurred on behalf of their residents.  Federal regulations further provide that, with limited exceptions, the SNF’s per diem payment includes medically necessary ambulance transportation provided during the beneficiary’s Part A stay. The OIG’s report was issued in February 2019.

The OIG conducted a review of all SNF beneficiary days from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2016 to determine whether the beneficiary day contained a ground ambulance claim line. The OIG excluded beneficiary days where the only ambulance claim line related to: (1) certain emergency or intensive outpatient hospital services or (2) dialysis services, as such ambulance transportation would be excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. The OIG determined that there were 58,006 qualifying beneficiary days during this period, corresponding to $25.3 million in Medicare payments to ambulance suppliers.

The OIG then selected a random sample of 100 beneficiary days for review. The OIG determined that 78 of these 100 beneficiary days contained an overpayment for the associated ambulance claims, as the services the beneficiary received did not suspend or end their SNF resident status, nor was the transport for dialysis. The OIG determined that ambulance providers were overpaid a total of $41,456 for these ambulance transports. The OIG further determined that beneficiaries (or their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $10,723 in incorrect coinsurance and deductibles.

Based on the results of its review, the OIG estimates that Medicare made a total of $19.9 million in Part B overpayments to ambulance suppliers for transports that should have been bundled to the SNFs under SNF Consolidated Billing regime. The OIG estimated that beneficiaries (and their secondary insurances) incurred an additional $5.2 million in coinsurance and deductibles related to these incorrect payments.

The OIG concluded that the existing edits were inadequate to identify ambulance claims for services associated with hospital outpatient services that did not suspend or end the beneficiary’s SNF resident status, and which were not related to dialysis. The OIG recommended that CMS implement additional edits to identify such ambulance claims.

Overview of new claims processing edits

In response to the OIG’s report, CMS issued Transmittal 2176, which implements a new series of claims processing edits to identify ambulance claims associated with outpatient hospital services that should be bundled to the SNF. As noted above, these edits will go into effect on April 1, 2019.

These new claims processing edits are somewhat complicated. In order to properly understand how these claims edits will work, it is helpful to understand that CMS already has claims processing edits in place to identify hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF. These CWF edits operate by referencing a list of Healthcare Common Procedure Coding System (HCPCS) or Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes that correspond to outpatient hospital services that are expressly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing. Hospital claims for outpatient services that are submitted with one of these excluded codes bypass the existing CWF edits, and are then sent to the appropriate Medicare Administrative Contractor for further editing and payment. Hospital claims submitted without one of these codes are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. For convenience, the list of HCPCS and CPT codes excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing is hereinafter referred to as the “Exempted Codes.”

The new edits for ambulance claims will compare Part B ambulance claims to the associated outpatient hospital claim to see whether or not that hospital claim is excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing.

Specifics related to new claims processing edits

Under these new edits, the CWF will reject an incoming ambulance claim whenever the beneficiary is determined to be in an SNF Part A stay if either:

  1. There is no associated outpatient hospital claims for the same date of service on file; or
  2. There is an associated outpatient hospital claim for the same date of service on file (paid or denied), but where that outpatient hospital claim does not contain at least one Exempted Code.

When an incoming ambulance claim is rejected by the CWF, it will be sent to the applicable Medicare Administrative Contractor and rejected (Part A Ambulance Providers) or denied (Part B Ambulance Suppliers) using the applicable Claim Adjustment Reason Code/Remittance Advice Remark Code for SNF Consolidated Billing.  In other words, the ambulance claim will be denied with an indication that youshould bill the SNF.

The Transmittal contains further instructions that the CWF be updated to identify previously rejected ambulance claims upon receipt of an associated hospital claim for the same date of service that contains an Exempted Code. Once identified, the Shared System Maintainer (SSM) is supposed to adjust the previously rejected or denied ambulance claim. At this point, the nature of that “adjustment” is unclear, i.e., it is unknown whether the SSM will automatically reprocess the ambulance claim for payment. The AAA is seeking additional clarification from CMS on this important point.

Potential concerns for ambulance providers and suppliers

Based on the current experience of hospital providers, the AAA is cautiously optimistic that the new edits can be implemented in a way that proper identifies ambulance transports associated with hospital outpatient claims that should be bundled to the SNF vs. those that correctly remain separately payable by Medicare Part B.

However, the AAA has some concerns with the manner in which CMS intends to apply these edits.  Ambulance providers and suppliers are typically in a position to submit their claims earlier than the corresponding hospital, many of which submit claims on a biweekly or monthly cycle.  This creates a potential timing issue. This timing issue arises because the edits will reject any ambulance claim that is submitted without an associated hospital claim on file.  In other words, even if the hospital outpatient service is properly excluded from SNF Consolidated Billing, the ambulance claim will still be rejected if it beats the hospital claim into the system. The hope is that CMS will subsequently reprocess the ambulance claim once the hospital claim hits the system. However, at this point in time, it is unclear whether these claims will be automatically reprocessed, or whether ambulance providers and suppliers will be forced to appeal these claims for payment.

One option available to ambulance providers and suppliers would be to hold these claims for a period of time, in order to allow the hospitals to submit their claims. By waiting for the hospital to submit its claim, you can ensure that your claims will not be denied solely due to the timing issue. This should eliminate the disruption associated with separately payable claims being rejected and then subsequently reprocessed and/or appealed. It would also give you a degree of certainty when billing the SNF for claims that are denied for SNF Consolidated Billing. However, holding claims carries an obvious downside, i.e., it will disrupt your normal cash flow.

To summarize, the implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on whether to hold claims to minimize the potential for problems, or to continue their existing submission practices and deal with any issues as they arise.

AAA webinar on new SNF Consolidated Billing edits

March 27, 2019 | 2:00 PM Eastern
Speakers: Brian Werfel, Esq.
$99 for Members | $198 for Non-Members

Join AAA Medicare Consultant Brian Werfel, Esq., to go over the new SNF Consolidated Billing edits that go into effect April 1, 2019. These edits are being implemented by CMS in response to 2017 investigation by the HHS Office of the Inspector General that determined that CMS lacked the appropriate claims processing edits to properly identify ambulance transports provided in connection with hospital outpatient services that are not expressly excluded from SNF PPS. The implementation of these new edits will force ambulance providers and suppliers to rethink their current claims submission processes for SNF residents. Ambulance providers and suppliers will need to make a decision on what to do with these claims moving forward. Sign up today to make sure your service is ready!

Register for the Webinar

Update on HHS OIG Reports on Ambulance Services

Update on HHS Office of the Inspector General Reports on Ambulance Services

The HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an update to the Work Plan as the year comes to a close.  There are no new projects specific to ambulance services, but the update does provide a summary of three projects that have been completed or are in progress.

  • Medicare Part B Payments for Ambulance Services Subject to Part A Skilled Nursing Facility Consolidated Billing Requirements (expected release 2019). In this work, the OIG  seeking to determine whether ambulance services paid by Medicare Part B were subject to Part A SNF consolidated billing requirements. The OIG will also assess the effectiveness of edits in CMS’s Common Working File to prevent and detect Part B overpayments for ambulance transportation subject to consolidated billing. Prior OIG reports have identified high error rates and significant overpayments for services subject to SNF consolidated billing.
  • Ambulance Services – Supplier Compliance with Payment Requirements (partially completed; remainder expected release 2019). Prior OIG work has found that Medicare made inappropriate payments for advanced life support emergency transports. The OIG seeks to determine whether Medicare payments for ambulance services were made in accordance with Medicare requirements. 

The first report of this project found that Medicare made improper payments of $8.7 million to providers for nonemergency ambulance transports to destinations not covered by Medicare, including the identified ground mileage associated with the transports.  The report identified that the majority of the improperly billed claim lines (59 percent) were for transports to diagnostic or therapeutic sites, other than a physician’s office or a hospital, that did not originate from SNFs.

In this report, the OIG recommended that the CMS: (1) direct the Medicare contractors to recover the portion of the $8.7 million in improper payments made to providers for claim lines that are within the claim-reopening period; (2) for the remaining portion of the $8.7 million, which is outside of the Medicare reopening and recovery periods, instruct the Medicare contractors to notify providers of potential improper payments so that those providers can exercise reasonable diligence to investigate and return any identified similar improper payments, and identify and track any returned improper payments; (3) direct the Medicare contractors to review claim lines for nonemergency ambulance transports to destinations not covered by Medicare after the audit period and recover any improper payments identified; and (4) require the Medicare contractors to implement nation-wide prepayment edits to ensure that payments to providers for nonemergency ambulance transports comply with Federal requirements.

  • The third report is linked to a case study of the closure of the Rosebud Hospital Emergency Department. Rosebud is an Indian Health Service (IHS) hospital that discontinued emergency services. The closure of the Rosebud emergency department (ED) followed a notice of intent by the CMS to terminate Rosebud Hospital from the Medicare program. Representatives of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe raised concerns to OIG about the Rosebud ED closure and linked that closure to several patient deaths that occurred during ambulance transports to other facilities when emergency care was unavailable locally. In response to these concerns, the OIG seeks to examine factors considered and procedures involved in IHS’s decisions to close and later reopen the Rosebud ED. The OIG will also assess IHS’s management, coordination, and communication related to the closure and will identify lessons learned that IHS could apply to similar situations in the future.  The report was expected to be published in 2018, but has not as of this date. 

The AAA continues to monitor the OIG work plan and engage as appropriate with key officials.  Our goal is to provide educational background to address any misunderstandings or incorrect assumptions that may exist. 

Talking Medicare: A Good Thing Poorly Explained

On April 13, 2018, CMS released two Transmittals, Transmittal 243 and Transmittal 4021, and a related MedLearns Matter Article (MM10550). Collectively, these documents clarify Medicare’s coverage of ambulance transportation of SNF residents in a stay not covered by Part B, but who have Part B benefits, to the nearest supplier of medically necessary services that are not available at the SNF. This clarification relates to both the ambulance transport to the site of medical care, and the return trip.

In order to properly understand the clarification, it is helpful to review Medicare’s coverage of ambulance transportation provided to SNF residents. At the onset, it is important to note that Medicare draws a distinction between the first 100 days of a beneficiary’s SNF stay, and any subsequent days of the same stay. The first 100 days are commonly referred to as the “Part A Period.” Under current Medicare rules, all ambulance transportation provided during the Part A Period is the financial responsibility of the SNF, unless a specific exemption applies. Outside the Part A Period, Medicare’s coverage rules generally mirror the rules applicable to ambulance transports that originate at the patient’s residence. However, there is an exception that relates to transportation to and from therapeutic or diagnostic sites (i.e., those facilities identified with the “D” modifier). This clarification relates to transportation to and from diagnostic sites.

Medicare rules are clear that transportation of an SNF resident outside the Part A Period for the purpose of receiving medically necessary care that could not be provided at the SNF will be covered to the extent the ambulance transportation was both medically reasonable and necessary. This is true regardless of the type of facility to which the patient is transported. In this context, the term “reasonable” refers to the costs of transporting the patient to the site of medical care. Where it is cheaper to bring the patient to the service (e.g., an MRI or CT scan), Medicare will cover the service. Where it is cheaper to bring the service to the patient (e.g., certain minor procedures), Medicare rules indicate that the transportation would not be covered.

In other words, once an SNF resident is outside the Part A Period, Medicare will cover a medically necessary ambulance transport to a diagnostic site provided that it is cheaper to transport the patient to that site than to transport the equipment needed to provide care to the SNF.

As you can imagine, determinations as to the reasonableness of a particular service can be quite subjective. Moreover, these determinations can typically only be made on a case-by-case basis, i.e., it is extremely difficult for Medicare Administrative Contractors to make such decisions without seeing the ambulance trip report and other supporting documentation. As a result, CMS has historically given its MACs broad discretion to make these determinations.

The MACs have elected to utilize this discretion in various ways. Some MACs have essentially elected to rely upon the ambulance provider to make such determinations prior to submitting the claims. These MACs have therefore elected not to implement front-end edits for such claims.

Other MACs have elected to issue an initial denial, and handle reasonableness determinations through the appeals process. These MACs do so by implementing edits into their claims processing system that automatically deny claims submitted with the “ND” modifiers. However, because Medicare coverage rules indicate that transportation from anywhere to an SNF may be covered, these MACs do not have a corresponding edit to deny claims submitted with the “DN” modifiers.

The result is various inconsistencies in the ways claims for these situations are handled. Depending on the MAC jurisdiction in which you operate, a claim for an ambulance transport from an SNF to a diagnostic site (“ND”) for a beneficiary outside the Part A Period may be paid or denied. For those of you that operate in jurisdictions where the MAC denies this claim, you may also see the return trip either paid or denied. Note: if the transportation to the diagnostic site is denied as not being “reasonable,” the return trip should be denied as well.

It is these inconsistencies that CMS is addressing. Essentially, CMS is instructing those MACs that use claims processing edits to deny the “ND” transport to remove those edits. The practical effect is to force the MACs to use some other criteria to determine whether the roundtrip is reasonable (and, therefore, covered by Medicare Part B).

Please note that the coverage rules and clarification summarized above applies only to therapeutic and diagnostic facilities. It does not apply to ambulance transportation to and from a physician’s office. With the narrow exception of emergency ambulance transportation to a physician’s office as an interim stop on the way to a hospital, such transportation has always been and remains a non-covered service.

While I believe the change is, on net, a positive one for the industry, I would caution against reading too much into this clarification. CMS is not indicating that these transports will be covered in all instances. CMS is simply saying that, with respect to the initial processing of claims, it is willing to sacrifice some potential accuracy for the sake of greater national consistency. CMS in not restricting its MACs from using other means to make reasonableness determinations, e.g., the use of development requests, prepayment review, etc. While it is reasonable to assume that most MACs will elect not to utilize these tools, only time will tell if that is indeed what comes to pass. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy one of those rare instances where CMS used common sense, and removed an additional burden on our industry.

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