December 11, 2013

Troubled MaineCare rides broker may want more funds

A document signaling that a request is in the works angers legislators already out of patience over the contractor’s service problems.

By Joe Lawlor
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Lawmakers were outraged Tuesday that a contractor under fire for providing substandard service for MaineCare’s non-emergency transportation system may be seeking more funding, even while being blamed for thousands of patients missing rides to medical appointments.

Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions may be asking the state for more money to supplement its $28.3 million, one-year contract, Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, said during a meeting of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Gattine read from documents, filed in October and released by the state Department of Health and Human Services last week, that indicated CTS was having financial issues. There was no mention of how much more funding the company may be requesting or how much was needed.

“An amendment to our contract to address the financial implications of increased volume and demand is in process,” says the Corrective Action Plan that CTS filed at the state’s request.

DHHS released the plan after the Portland Press Herald requested it. Gattine and other legislators had asked for the plan previously but their requests were ignored, said Gattine and others.

Gattine, an attorney, said he believes the sentence in the action plan is a strong indicator that the contractor believes it needs more money, and that it is negotiating with the state regarding funding.

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, said she’s “shocked” that the company would ask for more money. “They haven’t done anything to earn the money they’ve already made,” she said.

CTS arranges rides in a regional system that has been beset with problems since it started Aug. 1. In the previous system, local nonprofit groups arranged and provided rides.

CTS is on the equivalent of probation for providing substandard service. The DHHS is considering whether to cancel the contract.

John Martins, DHHS spokesman, said he couldn’t find out late Tuesday afternoon whether the state is considering providing more money to CTS. Commissioner Mary Mayhew could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Company officials were not at Tuesday’s committee meeting and did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

MaineCare clients also were outraged when they heard that the contractor may be asking for more money.

“Are you kidding me?” said Renee Berry-Huffman of South Portland, who is confined to a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis and has missed so many rides to medical appointments that her doctor will no longer see her. State officials “are out of their mind if they want to give them more money,” she said. “We’re all stressed out because we don’t know if we’re going to make it to our appointments or not.”

In its Corrective Action Plan, the contractor said the state vastly underestimated the number of riders who use wheelchairs. Before Aug. 1, the state gave the company estimates for how many rides it would have to arrange in various categories.

Martins has told the Press Herald that there was no accounting of such statistics in the previous system, so there was no way to predict the ride numbers accurately.

The contract pays CTS a flat fee regardless of how many rides are provided. The company covers most of the state, excluding the Bangor and York County regions.

Its Corrective Action Plan also indicates that CTS is relying more on taxi service than on volunteer drivers. While the documents do not reveal how many more rides are being given by taxi, 16 taxi companies with 68 vehicles were added to the list of potential or approved transportation providers for CTS since October, according to the records.

Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, has said that he believes the contractor’s financial problems could be rooted in its reliance on more-expensive taxis. Before Aug. 1, the system relied mostly on volunteers to deliver rides to about 45,000 patients statewide.

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