The Medicare program ambulance fee schedule (FS) is effective for ambulance items and services urnished on or after April 1, 2002. Under the FS, payment for ambulance services covered under the program is based on the lower of the actual billed amount or the ambulance fee schedule amount.
The fee schedule was phased in over a 5-year period. The fee schedule replaced the retrospective reasonable cost reimbursement system for providers and the reasonable charge system for ambulance suppliers. During the transition period, payment was based on a blend of the FS amount and the amount under its current billing methodology.
The fee schedule applies to all ambulance services, including volunteer, municipal, private, independent, and institutional providers, i.e., hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies covered under Medicare Part B, except for services furnished by certain critical access hospitals (CAH). Payment for ambulance items and services furnished by a CAH, or by an entity that is owned and operated by a CAH, is based on reasonable cost if the CAH or entity is the only provider or supplier of ambulance services that is located within a 35-mile drive of such CAH. The provision is effective for ambulance services furnished on or after December 21, 2000.
Definition of Ambulance Services
There are several categories of ground ambulance services and two categories of air ambulance services under the fee schedule. (Note that “ground” refers to both land and water transportation.)
Ground Ambulance Services
Basic Life Support (BLS)
Definition: Basic life support (BLS) is transportation by ground ambulance vehicle and the provision of medically necessary supplies and services, including BLS ambulance services as defined by the State. The ambulance must be staffed by an individual who is qualified in accordance with State and local laws as an emergency medical technician basic (EMT-Basic). These laws may vary from State to State or within a State. For example, only in some jurisdictions is an EMT-Basic permitted to operate limited equipment onboard the vehicle, assist more qualified personnel in performing assessments and interventions, and establish a peripheral intravenous (IV) line.
Basic Life Support (BLS) - Emergency
Definition: When medically necessary, the provision of BLS services, as specified above, in the context of an emergency response. An emergency response is one that, at the time the ambulance provider or supplier is called, it responds immediately. An immediate response is one in which the ambulance provider/supplier begins as quickly as possible to take the steps necessary to respond to the call.
Application: The determination to respond emergently with a BLS ambulance must be in accord with the local 911 or equivalent service dispatch protocol. If the call came in directly to the ambulance rovider/supplier, then the provider’s/supplier’s dispatch protocol must meet, at a minimum, the standards of the dispatch protocol of the local 911 or equivalent service. In areas that do not have a local 911 or equivalent service, then the protocol must meet, at a minimum, the standards of a dispatch protocol in another similar jurisdiction within the State or, if there is no similar jurisdiction within the State, then the standards of any other dispatch protocol within the State. Where the dispatch was inconsistent with this standard of protocol, including where no protocol was used, the beneficiary’s condition (for example, symptoms) at the scene determines the appropriate level of payment.