Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Bipartisan bill aims to help struggling rural ambulances services by extending Medicare reimbursement boost

A bipartisan bill aims to help ground ambulance services, especially in rural areas, by making sure they get more generous Medicare reimbursements. Many rural ambulance services are in danger of closing, partly because they serve a disproportionate share of Medicare patients, and Medicare reimbursement rates are often lower than the cost of providing the service. 

Congress authorized add-on payments through 2022, and plans to review Medicare cost data to decide whether the payments should be made permanent. But the coronavirus pandemic has kept the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from doing the first two rounds of data collection. 

The bill would extend those rates for five years. It would also protect ambulances from reimbursement changes tied to census data that, the bill's sponsors say, may not accurately show rural need for emergency services. Each ZIP code's rurality is reassessed after every decennial census; the bill would ensure that rural ZIP codes continue to be classified as such so ambulances can keep getting add-on payments. 

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-Nev.), Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Its House counterpart was introduced in early May by Reps. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Terri Sewell, (D-Ala.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

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