Politics

December 4, 2013

State deciding fate of troubled MaineCare rides broker

As DHHS reviews data from the broker, a nonprofit group is set to deliver 400 petitions demanding fixes to the deficient system.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

State officials say they are still evaluating the performance of a Connecticut company that has mishandled medical transportation arrangements for thousands of MaineCare patients since it started working for the state four months ago.

Rebecca Lee gets a ride home last summer from the Goodwill Neurorehab Services in Portland, which happened to be working nearby that day, after her schedule MaineCare ride failed to show up. State officials say they are still evaluating the performance of a Connecticut company that has mishandled medical transportation arrangements for thousands of MaineCare patients since it started working for the state four months ago.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff File Photo

The Department of Health and Human Services gave Coordinated Transportation Solutions a Dec. 1 deadline to submit a corrective action plan and make significant improvements in its work arranging patients’ rides to appointments with doctors, therapists and other health care providers.

But DHHS spokesman John Martins said Tuesday that the department hasn’t decided yet whether it will continue or cancel its $28.3 million, one-year contract with the company.

“We are analyzing the most recent performance data and reviewing the steps that have been taken to resolve issues defined in the corrective action plan. We will take all of this information under careful consideration before making an informed decision,” Martins wrote in an email response to a question.

He did not indicate when the state will make the decision.

David White, president of Coordinated Transportation Solutions, has said the company’s performance has improved, especially in October and November, since its troubled start in August.

CTS has the contract to arrange rides in most of the state, excluding the Bangor and York County areas.

Thousands of MaineCare patients have missed their free rides to medical appointments since the new system began Aug. 1, replacing a system that generated few complaints among the 45,000 people who receive the rides. The non-emergency transportation system helps people who otherwise don’t have a way to get to their appointments.

On Wednesday, a nonprofit group will deliver more than 400 signed petitions to the DHHS to demand solutions to the system’s problems.

The Kennebec Valley Organization, an advocacy group that represents 11 churches and unions in the Augusta area, is scheduled to have a private meeting with Stefanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare services, while delivering the petitions.

Alex Wheelwright, lead organizer for the group, said it has heard about continuing problems with the rides program and wants to exert public pressure on the state to fix them.

“People don’t even bother calling for a ride anymore because they’ve been stranded so many times,” Wheelwright said.

Nancee Campbell of Augusta said she has missed numerous rides since August and she will be part of the group that meets with Nadeau.

“I am so disheartened that the department has created such a dysfunctional system, and most of the people who use the system don’t have the means to fight back,” Campbell said.

The petition calls for the state to cancel its contract with Coordinated Transportation Solutions if the company doesn’t substantially improve its performance.

“We’re not anti-CTS, we’re pro-improved access to transportation,” Wheelwright said.

On Aug. 1, the state replaced a system in which local nonprofits arranged and provided rides with a system in which regional brokers coordinate rides with the transportation providers. The system was designed to comply with new federal rules for transparency and accountability to reduce Medicaid fraud, but the state had wide latitude to devise a system that did not displace the local nonprofits. For example, Vermont kept its system of nonprofits and still complied with federal Medicaid laws.

The program, which costs about $40 million a year, is funded largely by the federal government.

The Legislature will consider a bill in the coming session that would force the state to replace the regional brokers with a Vermont-style system.

Campbell said she has experienced incremental improvements in her ride service since August but is still missing about 30 percent of her rides.

“The way it used to be is a far more efficient system,” she said.

Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said he’s not sure if the petitions will help, but the effort can’t hurt.

“The only way we are going to make any difference is to have public pressure on the state,” he said.

The committee has scheduled a meeting for Dec. 10 to discuss the MaineCare rides program.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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