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Medicare pilot to test paying for ambulances to non-ER sites

Medicare wants to change how it pays for emergency ambulance services to give seniors more options besides going to a hospital emergency department, officials said Thursday (Source: “Medicare ambulance rides may no longer end up at ER,” Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2019).

Other options could include going to an urgent care center, a doctor’s office, or even treatment at home under supervision of a doctor via telehealth links.

The pilot program, if adopted nationwide, could save Medicare more than $500 million a year and allow local fire departments and ambulance services to focus the time and energy of first responders on the most serious emergencies.

Later this year, Medicare will announce up to 40 grants available to local governments or agencies that operate 911 dispatch centers. The pilot program would start early next year and run for two years. If successful, it could be adopted nationwide. Medicare says it also wants to get state Medicaid programs and private insurance companies interested in the approach.

The idea came out of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, created under the Obama health care law to improve quality and reduce wasteful spending in the two giant health care programs.