Tag: Surprise Coverage

FAIR Health | Ground Ambulance Services in the United States

From FAIR Health in February 2022

“Currently, no federal law protects consumers against “surprise” bills from out-of-network ground ambulance providers. Some state and local governments regulate ground ambulance surprise billing practices; however, such laws may not apply to all health plans or ambulance providers in an area. Because of the substantial policy interest in ground ambulance services, FAIR Health drew on its vast database of private healthcare claims to illuminate multiple aspects of such services across the nation, including utilization, costs, age, gender, diagnoses and differences across states.”

Download PDF Report

EMS Provider Comments Needed on the “Surprise Billing” Interim Final Rule

The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and the U.S. Treasury Department (Departments) have issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) on “surprise billing” that will take effect September 13, 2021.  However, the Departments are taking comments on the IFR.  While the Congress expressly excluded ground ambulance organizations from the statute that the IFR seeks to implement, the Departments have included a prohibition on balance billing for nonemergency ground ambulance transports that occur after a patient has been stabilized in a facility.

The Congress established an Advisory Committee to consider the best way to address balance billing in the context of ground ambulance services, and the Departments should wait to be advised by that group before subjecting nonemergency ground ambulance transports to the broader balancing billing prohibition.

It is important that the Departments hear from as many stakeholders as possible opposing this expansion of the law.  To help you develop a comment letter, we provided the following template that we ask you to tailor to your experience and organization.  Tailored letters will be of greater value to the Department as they consider the rules.  At a minimum, please customize the templated language to insert information about who you are and where you operate.

The must be submitted by September 7, 2021.

Submit Comments Quickly and Easily

EMS Balance Billing Quick Take—July 7, 2021

Webinar July 7, 2021 | 13:00–13:30 ET | Free to AAA Members
Speakers: Kathy Lester, Esq. & Asbel Montes

On July 1, CMS issued a proposed rule on Surprise Billing which applies to those providers and physicians identified in the No Surprises Act. This statute subjected ground ambulance suppliers to an HHS Advisory Committee process prior to any rulemaking addressing these services.

The consultants and staff of the American Ambulance Association are doing a deep dive into the 400+ page rule and evaluating its nuances. We continue to understand from our conversations that ground ambulances are not included and instead are subjected to the Advisory Committee.

The American Ambulance Association will soon provide a summary to members, and will address any confusion with the Administration. Join AAA for a quick take live webinar on July 7 at 13:00 ET to learn more!

Register Now

 

America First Healthcare Executive Order on Surprise Coverage

President Trump’s “An America-First Healthcare Plan” Executive Order on Surprise Billing Policy

by Kathy Lester, J.D., M.P.H.

As the American Ambulance Association (AAA) reported yesterday, President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) “An America-First Healthcare Plan.”  The EO includes several provisions, including related to drug importation generally and for insulin specifically.  It also includes statements that indicate if the Congress does not act before the end of the year, the President will have the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “take administrative action to prevent a patient from receiving a bill for out-of-pocket expenses that the patient could not have reasonably foreseen.”  It does not mention ground ambulances.

In addition to suggesting action if the Congress does not pass legislation, the EO also states that within 180 days, the Secretary will update the Medicare.gov Hospital Compare website to inform beneficiaries of hospital billing quality, including:

  • Whether the hospital is in compliance with the Hospital Price Transparency Final Rule;
  • Whether, upon discharge, the hospital provides patients with a receipt that includes a list of itemized services received during a hospital stay; and
  • How often the hospital pursues legal action against patients, including to garnish wages, to place a lien on a patient’s home, or to withdraw money from a patient’s income tax refund.

The narrative related to balance billing (surprise coverage) reads as follows:

My Administration is transforming the black-box hospital and insurance pricing systems to be transparent about price and quality.  Regardless of health-insurance coverage, two‑thirds of adults in America still worry about the threat of unexpected medical bills.  This fear is the result of a system under which individuals and employers are unable to see how insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, insurance brokers, and providers are or will be paid.  One major culprit is the practice of “surprise billing,” in which a patient receives unexpected bills at highly inflated prices from providers who are not part of the patient’s insurance network, even if the patient was treated at a hospital that was part of the patient’s network.  Patients can receive these bills despite having no opportunity to select around an out-of-network provider in advance.

On May 9, 2019, I announced four principles to guide congressional efforts to prohibit exorbitant bills resulting from patients’ accidentally or unknowingly receiving services from out-of-network physicians.  Unfortunately, the Congress has failed to act, and patients remain vulnerable to surprise billing.

In the absence of congressional action, my Administration has already taken strong and decisive action to make healthcare prices more transparent.  On June 24, 2019, I signed Executive Order 13877 (Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First), directing certain agencies — for the first time ever — to make sure patients have access to meaningful price and quality information prior to the delivery of care.  Beginning January 1, 2021, hospitals will be required to publish their real price for every service, and publicly display in a consumer-friendly, easy-to-understand format the prices of at least 300 different common services that are able to be shopped for in advance.

We have also taken some concrete steps to eliminate surprise out‑of-network bills.  For example, on April 10, 2020, my Administration required providers to certify, as a condition of receiving supplemental COVID-19 funding, that they would not seek to collect out-of-pocket expenses from a patient for treatment related to COVID-19 in an amount greater than what the patient would have otherwise been required to pay for care by an in-network provider.  These initiatives have made important progress, although additional efforts are necessary.

Not all hospitals allow for surprise bills.  But many do.  Unfortunately, surprise billing has become sufficiently pervasive that the fear of receiving a surprise bill may dissuade patients from seeking appropriate care.  And research suggests a correlation between hospitals that frequently allow surprise billing and increases in hospital admissions and imaging procedures, putting patients at risk of receiving unnecessary services, which can lead to physical harm and threatens the long-term financial sustainability of Medicare.

Efforts to limit surprise billing and increase the number of providers participating in the same insurance network as the hospital in which they work would correspondingly streamline the ability of patients to receive care and reduce time spent on billing disputes.

The AAA will continue to advocate for the resources necessary to sustain life-saving mobile healthcare.

KHN | With No Legal Guardrails for Patients, Ambulances Drive Surprise Medical Billing

This week’s Kaiser Health News piece on surprise coverage includes less than a paragraph of the information provided by AAA Executive Director Maria Bianchi and Communications Chair Rob Lawrence. AAA is deeply disappointed by the lack of balance and inadequate representation of the EMS perspective in this coverage.

Read the article

HHS Report Calls for Congressional Action to Combat Surprise Billing

From HHS.gov on July 29, 2020

HHS Secretary’s Report Calls for Congressional Action to Combat Surprise Billing and Promote Price Transparency

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the HHS Secretary’s Report on Addressing Surprise Billing. The report, called for in Section 7 of President Trump’s Executive Order 13877, Improving Price and Quality Transparency in American Healthcare to Put Patients First, outlines critical steps, including Congressional action, to implement the Administration’s principles on surprise billing. Sound surprise billing legislation will not only protect patients but will encourage a fairer, more transparent, patient-centered healthcare system that benefits all Americans.

“Americans have the right to know what a healthcare service is going to cost before they receive it,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “President Trump and his administration have done their part to deliver historic transparency around the prices of many procedures. Now it’s time for Congress to do what we all agree is necessary: combat surprise billing with an approach that puts patients in control and benefits all Americans.”

Surprise medical billing is a widespread and costly problem in the United States, and the need to address it has been highlighted during the Public Health Emergency (PHE) presented by COVID-19. Research shows that 41 percent of insured adults nationwide were surprised by a medical bill in the past two years alone, and that two thirds of adults worry about their ability to afford an unexpected medical bill.  At a time when Americans are increasingly seeking medical care, practices such as surprise billing leave many patients vulnerable to the financial burdens presented by a nationwide pandemic.

HHS has taken regulatory and administrative action to increase price transparency permanently. On June 24, 2019, President Trump signed Executive Order 13877. Following direction from this Executive Order, HHS published two rules supporting the Administration’s mission to improve accessibility of healthcare price information to help patients make informed decisions about their use of healthcare services. The first, poised to go into effect January 1, 2021, requires hospitals operating in the United States to establish, update, and make public, at least annually, a list of their standard charges for the items and services that they provide. The second companion proposed rule would demand similar transparency from most group health plans and issuers of health insurance coverage within both the individual and group markets.

To supplement this progress, Congress must take additional action to build on the achievements of the Administration to eliminate the threat of surprise billing once and for all. This should be accomplished with the following principles in mind, as laid out by the Trump Administration on May 9th, 2019:

  • Patients receiving emergency care should not be forced to shoulder extra costs billed by a care provider but not covered by their insurer;
  • Patients receiving scheduled care should have information about whether providers are in or out of their network and what costs they may face;
  • Patients should not receive surprise bills from out-of-network providers they did not choose; and
  • Federal healthcare expenditures should not increase.

If done swiftly, a remarkable burden will be lifted from the shoulders of millions of Americans. By building on the foundation placed by Executive Order 13877, there is an opportunity to fill the remaining gaps and solve comprehensively a longstanding flaw, equivalent to price-gouging, within our healthcare industry.

HealthAffairs | Ambulance Balance Billing

HealthAffairs is a  subscription-based publication, so a paid subscription is required to view the full article. The abstract is reproduced below.

Most Patients Undergoing Ground And Air Ambulance Transportation Receive Sizable Out-Of-Network Bills

Karan R. Chhabra, Keegan McGuire, Kyle H. Sheetz, John W. Scott, Ushapoorna Nuliyalu, and Andrew M. Ryan

ABSTRACT

“Surprise” out-of-network bills have come under close scrutiny, and while ambulance transportation is known to be a large component of the problem, its impact is poorly understood. We measured the prevalence and financial impact of out-of-network billing in ground and air ambulance transportation. For members of a large national insurance plan in 2013–17, 71 percent of all ambulance rides involved potential surprise bills. For both ground and air ambulances, out-of-network charges were substantially greater than in-network prices, resulting in median potential surprise bills of $450 for ground transportation and $21,698 for air transportation. Though out-of-network air ambulance bills were larger, out-of-network ground ambulance bills were more common, with an aggregate impact of $129 million per year. Out-of-network air ambulance bills averaged $91 million per year, rising from $41 million in 2013 to $143 million in 2017. Federal proposals to limit surprise out-of-network billing should incorporate protections for patients undergoing ground or air ambulance transportation.