December 20, 2013

LePage: We might keep troubled MaineCare rides contractor

Democrats say the governor’s response to inadequate service doesn’t go far enough.

From staff and news services

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul Le- Page said Thursday that it’s likely that not all of the contracts for the MaineCare rides coordinator that covers most of Maine will be renewed next year.

The state’s six contracts with Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions run through Aug. 1, 2014. LePage said he doesn’t think the state will renew all six, but he left open the possibility that some might be renewed.

The governor did not elaborate on his statement, and his spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, did not return calls Thursday night.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions has been widely criticized because thousands of MaineCare patients have complained of missed or delayed rides. It has been on the equivalent of state probation since October, but until LePage made his comments to a group of reporters in his office Thursday, there was no indication what the state might do with the contracts.

The state has the authority to cancel the contracts at any time for any reason, according to contract language.

The Republican governor said he’s concerned about Coordinated Transportation Solutions, particularly the fact that the company didn’t obtain a performance bond, as required by its contract.

He said his administration is working with the company to continue to address the problems and is pleased with the progress that has been made since August, when the program started.

His comments were criticized by Democratic legislators as an inadequate response to persistent problems that have caused thousands of people to miss essential medical appointments.

They said the contractor is being given too much time to operate the program, considering all of the problems since the transportation service started in August of this year.

“We have to be more responsive than what I’ve seen,” said Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville. “People have missed crucial medical appointments, and that’s not OK.”

Before Maine started the system run by regional ride brokers, it operated the transportation program with a patchwork of local nonprofits arranging and providing service.

Lachowicz is sponsoring a bill that would force the state to switch to a Vermont-style system, similar to what Maine had before the contractors started in August. She said the bill, to be debated in January, is needed even if the administration cancels some of the contracts.

Lachowicz said Maine’s nonprofit transportation providers did a great job before Coordinated Transportation Solutions took over coverage of all of the state except the Bangor area and the York County region. She said the state should come up with a system that keeps them.

“It makes more sense to contract with our local providers in-state,” Lachowicz said. “We get to keep our tax dollars in state.”

Maine switched to the new system in response to federal guidelines that required the state to be more transparent in how it accounted for the rides. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is requiring more checks and balances in systems to prevent potential fraud and abuse.

Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, House chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said he’s even more convinced that the Legislature must force changes to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, primarily through Lachowicz’s bill.

Farnsworth said he cannot understand why the administration would continue working with Coordinated Transportation Solutions, considering the contractor’s shaky performance.

Even if some of the contracts are terminated, it gives the company far too much time to keep operating while people continue to miss rides to their appointments, Farnsworth said.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions has six separate one-year contracts, worth a total of $28.3 million, to serve six of eight regions in the state. Those regions do not include Bangor or York County.

David White, president of Coordinated Transportation Solutions, also could not be reached Thursday night. A recording on his office voicemail said White will be out of the office and unavailable through Monday.

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