While a much-criticized contractor for MaineCare’s rides program received an extra $1.2 million from the state last month, service providers whose clients use the program say that missed and late rides have caused them financial hardships.

Thousands of MaineCare recipients have missed rides to appointments since contractors including Coordinated Transportation Solutions started arranging the rides last summer. When clients can’t get to their appointments, doctors, physical therapists, mental health counselors, nonprofit groups and others lose money.

“When they don’t show up, we can’t bill for them,” said Michael Faust, an executive with the STRIVE program, a South Portland-based day camp and after-school program for developmentally disabled students.

STRIVE has to schedule staffing based on the number of people it expects to show up. When students don’t arrive as scheduled, MaineCare doesn’t reimburse the agency for them, Faust said. Meanwhile, STRIVE ends up overstaffed, and those workers have to be paid.

Faust said employees also spend many hours working out issues with the contractor, time that could be spent on programming.

The state announced earlier this year that Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ six regional contracts will not be renewed when they expire June 30 because of the company’s subpar performance. Nevertheless, the Department of Health and Human Services paid the company an extra $1.2 million in February – $3.3 million total for the month, compared with $2.1 million in each of the previous months of the contract.

On Thursday, DHHS officials still had not given a detailed explanation for the payment. A spokesman wrote that it was related to the volunteer driver network.

Company President David White has referred all questions about payments to the DHHS. Documents released last year indicated that the company, whose state contracts are worth $28.3 million, was seeking more money.

“It’s frustrating that it works that way,” said Faust. “They are getting rewarded for bad performance” while the STRIVE program loses money when rides are missed.

Faust said the agency is still determining how much money it has lost because of the MaineCare rides program, but it’s significant. Most of the students use the program, he said.

“It’s been an awful eight months” since the contractor began arranging rides Aug. 1, Faust said. He said the service problems aren’t as severe as they were last fall, but still are at an unacceptable level.

“This is just absolutely horrid,” said Maureen Wood of Gorham, who uses the program and has missed numerous therapy sessions since Coordinated Transportation Solutions started arranging rides.

Nonprofit transportation groups that arranged the rides before Aug. 1 say they, too, are losing money.

Jack DeBerardinis, executive director of the Portland-based Regional Transportation Program, said his organization’s annual budget has plummeted from $6 million to $3.7 million since Coordinated Transportation Solutions took over the MaineCare rides program in the Portland region, and has had to lay off several employees.

Dan Donovan, director of Aroostook Regional Transportation, said the system is causing his group financial hardship. The nonprofit, which has a $1.5 million annual budget, is now operating with a $300,000 deficit because it is providing fewer rides.

PAYMENT STILL UNEXPLAINED

DHHS officials still haven’t fully explained the state’s extra payment to Coordinated Transportation Solutions in February. Spokesman John Martins wrote in an email response to questions that it was related to the volunteer driver network.

He wrote, “Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ payments were adjusted to support and sustain the volunteer network over the six regions they serve in order to ensure the delivery of the maximum number of rides to MaineCare clients.”

Email and phone messages to Martins asking for elaboration went unanswered Thursday.

But in a letter to WGME-TV, he indicated on Wednesday that the contractor’s “per member, per month” payment was increased.

According to state and nonprofit officials who are familiar with the MaineCare rides contracts, the “per member, per month” rate is used to pay contractors based on the number of MaineCare “members,” those enrolled in MaineCare, in each region.

An increase in the “per member, per month” rate represents a substantial change in the contracts, and likely a permanent one, said state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, a member of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

The DHHS divided the state into eight regions for the system that began last year. Coordinated Transportation Solutions covers six regions while Bangor-based Penquis covers that area and Georgia-based LogistiCare covers the York County region.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions won contracts totaling $28.3 million, but that number was always an estimate based on predicted MaineCare enrollments. The contractors get paid based on how many people are enrolled in MaineCare in each region.

Charlie Newton, executive director of Penquis, said that agency is working within the terms of the original contract and has not asked the state for more money.

“That was part of the deal, that we would have to roll with the fluctuations,” Newton said. “We’re doing OK.”

Newton said that, as a local transportation provider, Penquis may have had a more accurate handle on the scope of the work than Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions did.

“We based our bid on our internal numbers, not the state’s,” Newton said.

SAVINGS HAVEN’T MATERIALIZED

Donovan, with Aroostook Regional Transportation, said he believes the state gave Coordinated Transportation Solutions more money because officials are afraid it will leave Maine before its contract is completed.

“This is a big mess and DHHS doesn’t know how to get out of it,” he said.

The company failed to take out a performance bond as required in the contract, so if it were to leave, the state would be out additional money. A performance bond would have given the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to help cover costs during a transition.

Nancee Campbell of Augusta, who uses the rides program, said she often has to call a taxi when her ride from Coordinated Transportation Solutions doesn’t show up. Then she bills the company for the cost of the taxi, which is far more expensive than a volunteer driver.

“This is an unfair system,” Campbell said. “They signed a contract for a certain amount of money, and they should be held to that.”

When the state switched from a system of local transportation companies arranging and providing rides to the regional broker system, officials said it would save money because the risk of cost overruns would be borne by the contractors, not the state.

Rep. Gattine said he is going to keep pressing for more information.

“We’re not going to let this die. It’s too important,” he said.

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

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph