AUGUSTA – Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Thursday that progress is being made on MaineCare’s new transportation system but much more must be done to improve service for low-income residents who need rides to doctor’s appointments, therapy and other medical services.

“We need to see substantial progress,” said Mayhew in brief remarks before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “We need to see, in a matter of weeks, a significant turnaround.”

Two out-of-state contractors took over the job of arranging rides for MaineCare recipients on Aug. 1, and since then the state has been flooded with complaints about missed rides to appointments.

Previously, local nonprofits coordinated and provided rides with few problems, numerous MaineCare patients have told the Portland Press Herald.

The state has reported more than 2,000 complaints, but hasn’t yet released official numbers with a breakdown by region.

The Legislature has little role in the Department of Health and Human Services’ initiative to hire contractors to comply with federal Medicaid requirements.

But lawmakers have been getting an earful from constituents, and the Appropriations Committee, with oversight of state finances, has been monitoring the issue.

Mayhew said call wait times have been decreasing for Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut, the new ride broker for most of the state.

The York County area is being served by Atlanta-based LogistiCare. The Bangor region is the only part of the state that maintained a local nonprofit, Penquis, to arrange rides.

Complaints have centered around Coordinated Transportation Solutions and LogistiCare.

This week, LogistiCare officials cited improvements including increased staffing and vehicles to help meet the demand for rides.

LogistiCare officials said patients have not had long waits to talk to employees to arrange rides.

Officials from the two contractors did not appear to be at Thursday’s committee meeting.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions has a $28.3 million contract, while LogistiCare’s contract is for $5.1 million. Both are on one-year contracts, which the state has wide latitude to cancel at any time.

Mayhew said the company officials know that if performance doesn’t improve, they’re in danger of having to pack up and leave.

“The threat of losing the contract is pretty significant,” said Mayhew, adding that the state is working daily with the companies to improved service.

Dawn Hill, D-York, the committee’s Senate chair, said it would have been a good idea to build financial punishments into the contract for not meeting performance standards.

She said, “If they know that somehow they’re going to suffer a loss, just like the people who haven’t been getting their rides,” the contractors would have extra motivation to provide competent service.

The companies must meet a number of performance standards in the contract, including holding complaints to 1 percent or less of all calls.

Mayhew said she doesn’t know when the complaint numbers, which were requested by the Press Herald, would be released to the public.

The contractors were required to file official complaint numbers with the state on Aug. 15. State officials are working with them to address discrepancies between the numbers that were submitted and the state’s records of complaints, Mayhew has said.

Legislators complimented Mayhew for attending the meeting. Hill criticized Gov. Paul LePage for DHHS officials’ absence from a committee meeting earlier this month. Mayhew said she and her staff had a conflict and couldn’t attend the meeting in mid-August.

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the committee’s House chair, said she realizes that the DHHS has been working hard to solve the ride problems.

“It’s really been awful for the consumers,” she said. 

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

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph