VA Officially Announces One Year Delay of Its Rule to Reduce Ambulance Payments

Some good news to start off the new year in the realm of ambulance reimbursement. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has published in today’s Federal Register (12/29/23) official notice that it will delay the effective date of the “Final Rule on Special Modes of Transportation” - which would reduce payments to non-VA contracted ambulance services - for one year until February 16, 2025. 
The VA, in its announcement, noted that there was “good cause” to issue this delay in the rule and forego the prior notice and opportunity for public comment that would ordinarily be required under the law for rule changes such as this. The VA stated, among other reasons, that such notice “would be contrary to the public interest because it could adversely impact veteran care or result in veterans being billed directly for services.”  
This is good news for ambulance services across the country as the payment reduction rule was set to go into effect in just a few short weeks - on February 16, 2024. This delay comes on the heels of federal litigation that was initiated by several ambulance companies, including MedStar Mobile Healthcare in Texas, and Quaker Valley Ambulance Authority, Valley Ambulance Authority, and AMED Ambulance Authority in Pennsylvania, which filed a motion on November 1, 2023, in federal appeals court to “stay” (delay) implementation of the rule. 
The Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania supported that effort with a “friend of the court” brief, filed by PWW attorneys, explaining the adverse impact that the rate reduction would have on ambulance services and veterans across Pennsylvania (where a very high number of military veterans reside) and the nation.
The new VA payment reduction rule, if implemented on February 16, 2024, would have cut ambulance reimbursement for services provided to veterans by non-contracted ambulance services from the actual charge for the service to the “lesser of” the actual charges or the Medicare Fee Schedule amount. This rule would have resulted in a drastic reduction in payments to ambulance services provided to our veterans.
There were many groups and forces that came together to bring about this positive result. The American Ambulance Association, as well as the AAP and other industry groups nationwide reached out to their federal legislators over the past year and told them that the VA’s drastic rate reduction could cripple ambulance services and reduce access to essential medical care for our veterans.
While this is excellent news to start off the new year, this delay is temporary and ambulance industry advocates need to continue to push for a long-term solution, such as passage of the VA Emergency Transport Access Act (H.R. 5530, S. 2757) that would implement a process for setting more fair and equitable rates for ground ambulance service providers for when contracting is not realistically feasible.
The full text of the VA notice can be found HERE.
From all of us at PWW, we wish everyone a safe and enjoyable remainder of the holiday season, and a big THANK YOU to all fire, police, EMS and public safety personnel who are working over the holidays so that others can safely enjoy time with family and friends.  We appreciate you all!