BlueCross and BlueShield of Montana Medical Policy/Codes
Ambulance and Medical Transport Services
Chapter: Administrative
Current Effective Date: December 27, 2013
Original Effective Date: February 01, 1995
Publish Date: December 27, 2013
Revised Dates: September 10, 2003; July 2, 2008; March 1, 2010; October 12, 2011; August 7, 2012; December 27, 2013
Description

Ambulance services involve the use of a specially designed and equipped vehicle, licensed by the state, and regulated by local, state and federal laws, to transport the ill or injured.  Ambulances can be classified as either basic life support or advanced life support depending upon how the vehicle is equipped.  This in turn regulates the level of care that can be provided in the actual transport.

Basic Life Support (BLS) vehicles must be staffed by at least two people, one of whom must be certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT) by the State or local authority where the services are being furnished.  The EMT must be legally authorized to operate all lifesaving and life sustaining equipment on the vehicle.

Advanced Life Support (ALS) vehicles must be staffed by two people with one of the two staff members certified as a paramedic or an EMT who is trained and certified (by the State or local authority where the services are being furnished) to perform one or more ALS service.

Policy

Each benefit plan or contract defines which services are covered, which are excluded, and which are subject to dollar caps or other limits.  Members and their providers have the responsibility for consulting the member's benefit plan or contract to determine if there are any exclusions or other benefit limitations applicable to this service or supply.  If there is a discrepancy between a Medical Policy and a member's benefit plan or contract, the benefit plan or contract will govern.

Coverage

Ground ambulance transport services may be considered medically necessary as outlined below:

  • the medical transport services must comply with all local, state, and federal laws, and must have all the appropriate valid licenses; AND
  • the ambulance or other medical transport services must have the necessary patient care equipment and supplies; AND
  • the patient's condition must be such that any other form of transportation would be medically contraindicated;  AND
  • the patient is transported to the nearest site with the appropriate facilities for the treatment of the injury or illness involved or in the case of organ transplantation, to the approved transplant facility; AND
  • coverage will be extended to the next nearest facility generally equipped to provide the needed care, IF
    1. no medically appropriate bed is available at the nearest facility, OR
    2. a specialist or surgeon is not on call or is not available at the nearest facility.

Air or sea ambulance transport services may be considered medically necessary as outlined below:

  • the time needed to transport a patient by either basic or advanced life support land ambulance poses a threat to survival; AND/OR
  • the point of pick-up is inaccessible by land vehicle; AND/OR
  • great distances, limited time frames, or other obstacles are involved in getting the patient to the nearest hospital with appropriate facilities for treatment (e.g., transport of a critically ill patient to an approved transplant facility with a waiting organ).
  • the patient is transported to the nearest site with the appropriate facilities for the treatment of the injury or illness involved or in the case of organ transplantation, to the approved transplant facility; AND
  • coverage will be extended to the next nearest facility generally equipped to provide the needed care, IF
    1. no medically appropriate bed is available at the nearest facility, OR
    2. a specialist or surgeon is not on call or is not available at the nearest facility.

Ambulance services without transportation may be considered medically necessary when the patient requires basic life support or advanced life support services.

The following services are considered NOT medically necessary:

  • ambulance services when the patient has been legally pronounced dead prior to the ambulance being summoned;
  • services provided by an ambulance crew who do not transport a patient but only render basic first aid.  Some examples are:
    1. ambulance dispatched and patient refuses care; or
    2. ambulance dispatched and only basic first aid is rendered.      

Non-emergency transports are defined as ambulance transports for a patient who has a medical problem requiring treatment in another location and is so disabled that the use of an ambulance is the only appropriate means of transfer.  Disabled means the patient's physical condition limits his/her mobility, and the patient is unable to stand and sit unassisted or requires continuous life support systems.

Examples of situations where non-emergency transportation may be considered medically necessary for the patient described above include (but are not limited to) the following services:

  • Transfer from a hospital to a renal dialysis facility that furnishes services to the patients of a hospital on an outpatient basis, OR
  • Round trip transportation from a skilled nursing facility to freestanding facilities (such as renal dialysis facility or radiation therapy center), OR
  • Hospice patient transferred from hospital to home or from home to hospital.

Transfers by medical vans or commercial transportation (such as physician owned limousines, public transportation, cabs, etc.) are NOT medical transport and are considered not medically necessary.

Policy Guidelines

Refer to State specific Guidelines in effect for payment information.

Rationale

Coverage for ambulance service is a contract issue as well as a medical necessity issue.  Ambulances are sometimes misused for non-emergency situations.

This policy describes situations where it would be medically necessary and appropriate to use ALS, BLS, or non-emergency levels of ambulance services.

Coding

Disclaimer for coding information on Medical Policies

Procedure and diagnosis codes on Medical Policy documents are included only as a general reference tool for each policy. They may not be all-inclusive.

The presence or absence of procedure, service, supply, device or diagnosis codes in a Medical Policy document has no relevance for determination of benefit coverage for members or reimbursement for providers. Only the written coverage position in a medical policy should be used for such determinations.

Benefit coverage determinations based on written Medical Policy coverage positions must include review of the member’s benefit contract or Summary Plan Description (SPD) for defined coverage vs. non-coverage, benefit exclusions, and benefit limitations such as dollar or duration caps.

Procedural Codes: A0021, A0080, A0090, A0100, A0110, A0120, A0130, A0140, A0160, A0170, A0180, A0190, A0200, A0210, A0215, A0225, A0382, A0384, A0392, A0394, A0396, A0398, A0420, A0422, A0424, A0425, A0426, A0427, A0428, A0429, A0430, A0431, A0432, A0433, A0434, A0435, A0436, A0888, A0998, A0999, S0207, S0208, S0209, S0215
References
  1. 1997 Medicare Part B Specialty Workshops, Ambulance.
  2. Ambulance and Medical Transport Services.  Chicago, Illinois: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Medical Policy Manual.  (1997 May 30l)  Administrative 10.01.05.
  3. National Institutes of Health, NIH News Release, Education Study Increases Ambulance Use But Yields No Extra Improvement in Heart Attack Patient Delay Time (2000 July 4).
  4. Ambulance and Medical Transport Services.  Chicago, Illinois: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Medical Policy Manual.  (2003 April)  Administrative 10.01.05.
History
March 2010  Clarified medically necessary: "being treated in the emergency room" and "the return trip is also considered medically necessary." 
October 2011 Updated policy: Not Medically Necessary statement remains in place; Items were re-grouped into non-covered/inclusive to basic transport fee.
July 2012 Updated references, policy statements expanding on non-emergency transports, policy guidelines, covered, and non-covered services.
December 2013 Policy formatting and language revised.  Added additional non-emergent medically necessary ambulance transport indications.
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Ambulance and Medical Transport Services