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Ambulance bill introduced in Senate

WASHINGTON — In a bid to avoid funding cuts in 2010 for rural ambulance service in Mississippi, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has thrown his support behind legislation that would permanently increase Medicare reimbursement rates for ambulance providers.

Cochran is now co-sponsoring the Medicare Ambulance Access Preservation Act (S.1066), a bipartisan measure that would permanently increase Medicare reimbursement rates by 6 percent for ambulance transports originating in urban and rural areas, and by 17 percent for service in areas deemed “super rural.”

Under this legislation, Mississippi ambulance providers could receive an additional $48 million in Medicare reimbursements over the next 10 years. Existing stop-gap increases in Medicare reimbursement rates, which currently average 3 percent, expire Dec. 31.

S.1066 follows recommendations in a 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that showed rural ambulance providers are reimbursed an average 6 percent below actual transport costs in rural areas, and underpaid by 17 percent in super rural regions. In Mississippi, super rural areas comprise 10 percent of the state, rural 53 percent and urban 37 percent.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services uses a formula that gives greater importance to the number of trips made than distances traveled, which puts rural and super rural ambulance providers at a disadvantage.

The 2007 GAO report noted that “rural and super rural transports were longer than urban transports, on average, requiring more time and resources per transport. In 2004, urban Medicare transports averaged seven miles, while rural Medicare transports averaged 13 miles and medical transports from super rural areas averaged 20 miles.”

S.1066, which was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, was written to permanently correct this shortcoming starting Jan. 1, 2010. The bill has 19 Senate co-sponsors, and similar legislation (HR.2443) has been introduced in the House of Representatives.

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