For the 45,000 low-income Mainers who depend on the MaineCare rides system to get to the doctor, physical therapy, cancer treatment and other medical appointments, last week offered both good news and not-so-good news.
The good news: The state dropped Coordinated Transportation Solutions, a Connecticut company whose subpar performance arranging rides spurred a flood of complaints from the thousands of poor and disabled people who were left at the curb.
The not-so-good news: Georgia-based LogistiCare has been awarded several of the Department of Health and Human Services contracts that CTS lost. Now a company that’s had trouble setting up transportation in just one corner of Maine — York County — will be expanding its reach, getting $23.6 million to serve clients all over the state.
The Mainers who depend on these rides shouldn’t have to wait while another contractor fumbles this essential service. DHHS officials should watch LogistiCare closely and hold it accountable the minute it slips.
Until last August, MaineCare recipients relied on a locally controlled system for transportation to non-emergency appointments. Then the state, citing a federal mandate, scrapped the arrangement in favor of having regional brokers connect patients with the local providers.
Problems surfaced immediately. Thousands of people reported no-show rides, late rides and long hold times for setting up rides. CTS, serving all but York County and the Bangor area, has been the focus of most of the criticism. LogistiCare, though, has also had problems, and complaints increased after it stopped working with a nonprofit transportation provider earlier this year, according to the DHHS. But the agency offered no specific figures, saying only that the broker has made major improvements since last summer and is meeting performance standards in York County.
The state should offer statistics to back up this vote of confidence, which is especially significant given the pending expansion of LogistiCare’s Maine operations. Starting July 1, it will be serving not only York County, but also Aroostook County and the Portland, Lewiston and Down East regions. If the company falls short, many more MaineCare patients will be in the lurch, including residents of relatively sparsely settled areas, with fewer transportation options.
So DHHS officials should be ready to hold LogistiCare to its contractual obligations — though it’s far from clear whether the agency is capable of such follow-through. After all, the state gave CTS an extra $1.2 million in February, after the company complained that its payment formula underestimated its workload. This, despite CTS’ poor record and the fact that the new system was touted as a money-saver, since contractors — not the state — are expected to pick up the tab for any cost overruns.
Poor and disabled Mainers have endured a great deal of stress because of the MaineCare rides system. Now that state regulators say that the program’s problems have been addressed, the officials should make sure that this scenario plays out as promised. Nobody wants Maine’s most vulnerable residents to be stranded again.