Year-end Legislation Includes Measures to Benefit Volunteer EMS and Rescue Providers

Despite the highly-publicized partisan wrangling that consumed Washington over the holidays, Congress and the President were able to come together to pass two major pieces of legislation that included provisions benefiting volunteer EMS and rescue providers. The American Taxpayer Relief Act (H.R. 8) averted the “fiscal cliff” by extending numerous provisions in existing law, including “add-on” payments for ambulance transport services, while the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310) included language making volunteer emergency responders that belong to private, nonprofit EMS agencies eligible to receive the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit (PSOB).

H.R. 8 extends add-on reimbursement payments through Medicare for ground ambulance transport through January 1, 2014, including bonus payments for transports originating in super-rural areas where the cost of providing service is highest. Add-on payments for air ambulance transports were also extended through June 30, 2013. All of the add-on payments, which are intended to cover the difference between the cost of providing service and the reimbursement that providers receive through Medicare, had been scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.

H.R. 8 also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to undertake two studies, one to analyze data on existing cost reports for ambulance services and another examining the feasibility of obtaining cost data periodically from all ambulance providers for potential use in “…examining the appropriateness of the Medicare add-on payments for ground ambulance services… …and in preparing for future reform of such payment system.” The bill also includes language reducing by ten percent the fee schedule for non-emergency ambulance transport of patients with end-stage renal disease for renal dialysis services starting October 1, 2013.

The language in H.R. 4310 which makes emergency responders in private, nonprofit EMS agencies eligible for PSOB gives those organizations parity with nonprofit fire departments, whose members have been recognized as eligible for years. In addition to fixing this inequity, H.R. 4310 makes several other changes to how PSOB is administered, including by clarifying that public safety officers who suffer a fatal vascular rupture injury in the line of duty are eligible for PSOB. PSOB is a federal program administered by the Department of Justice that provides death and education benefits to survivors of fallen public safety officers and disability benefits to officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) joined with other national fire and emergency services organizations last month to publicly support an amendment offered by Senator Leahy (D-VT) to add the PSOB language to defense authorization legislation. Extending the add-on payments and making volunteer members of private, nonprofit EMS agencies eligible for PSOB were top legislative priorities for the NVFC in the 112th Congress.