The Maine Senate voted mostly along party lines Monday to make changes to the troubled MaineCare rides system.
The bill, approved 21-14, would cancel the six regional contracts that Coordinated Transportation Solutions holds to arrange rides. It also would give local transportation providers a better chance to win contracts to arrange and provide rides.
Republican Sen. Ronald Collins of Wells joined all of the Senate’s Democrats and its one independent in voting in favor of the bill, with the rest of the Republicans opposed. Republicans have said the bill amounts to micro-managing the Department of Health and Human Services.
The bill now goes to the House for a vote.
The Legislature has been seeking solutions to problems in the program that have left thousands of low-income Mainers without rides to medical appointments and other services since contractors began arranging the rides Aug. 1.
Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions won contracts worth $28.3 million to arrange rides in most of the state. Atlanta-based LogistiCare has the contract for the York County region and the nonprofit Penquis has the contract for the Bangor region. The new system replaced a system in which local nonprofits arranged and provided rides.
Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, the bill’s co-sponsor, said she was disappointed that there wasn’t bipartisan support Monday for a bill that would make a bad system better.
“I don’t see it as a partisan issue. We want the system to work effectively,” Lachowicz said. “It’s our taxpayer money paying for it, after all.”
DHHS officials oppose the bill.
“We are far down the road with the (bidding) process (for the next year) and support the existing brokers (Penquis and LogistiCare) who are meeting the metrics of the established contracts,” wrote DHHS spokesman John Martins, in response to a question from the Portland Press Herald.
The department has said that Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ contracts will not be renewed when they expire June 30, because of the company’s subpar performance. The DHHS is accepting bids through Friday for the six regions now covered by the contractor. Local transportation agencies are trying to win the contracts in some of those regions. Contract decisions for 2014-15 are expected by mid-April.
Coordinated Transportation Solutions is not barred from bidding on the contracts, although it’s unclear if it intends to do so. The state gave the contractor an extra $1.2 million in February, after the company complained that its payment formula, based on the number of MaineCare patients, underestimated the workload.
The bill approved in the Senate on Monday would mandate that new bid proposals “reconnect with existing regional transportation resources and infrastructure” and penalize companies that have a “record of poor performance.”
The goal of the bill is to give Maine companies an advantage in bidding against national companies with more financial resources, lawmakers have said.
Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, a member of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said the DHHS has not done enough to fix the system, so the Legislature must step in.
“The department is thumbing its nose at sensible solutions,” he said.
The DHHS has renewed LogistiCare’s contract for the York County region, but the bill would open the region to bidders.
Connie Garber, transportation director for York County Community Action, said the agency would like a chance to bid on the MaineCare rides contract. The nonprofit lost business and had to lay off 23 employees because of the new MaineCare rides system, officials have said.
“We just want a fighting chance to win a contract,” Garber said.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: