August 8, 2013

Rides go wrong for Maine's poor

Complaints about no-shows and confusion pour in from parents and patients after federal changes disrupt the MaineCare-funded transportation system.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

For two tense hours, Jennifer Ruel of Old Orchard Beach didn't know what had happened to her 3-year-old son.

click image to enlarge

Rebecca Lee gets a ride home from her father from the Goodwill Neurorehab Services at Bayside after her regular MaineCare-funded ride failed to show because of a "medical emergency" on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Rebecca Lee gets a ride home from her father from the Goodwill Neurorehab Services at Bayside after her regular MaineCare-funded ride failed to show because of a "medical emergency" on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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PDF: LogistiCare's Official Statement

She said her son, who gets MaineCare-funded rides to and from a preschool for developmentally challenged children in Scarborough, had been driven to the wrong house after school Monday.

When he wasn't home as expected in the early afternoon, she started making frantic phone calls. "Nobody could tell me where my son was," said Ruel. "I was freaking out."

The driver eventually figured out how to get to Ruel's house, and her son, who had fallen asleep, was delivered safely. But the experience has made Ruel leery of using the rides paid for by MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program.

Since Aug. 1, complaints like Ruel's have been rolling in to the state from MaineCare recipients who need rides to doctor's appointments and therapy, and other non-emergency transportation.

The problems stem from new federal rules and new contractors that have been coordinating the rides since joining the transportation program on Aug. 1, state officials said.

"We are fielding a significant number of calls," said Stefanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare services in the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Nadeau said hundreds of calls have been received, although not all have been complaints. She said the state and the contractors are working to solve the logistical problems.

"We are making progress," she said.

An official with one of the two new contractors, Atlanta-based LogistiCare, said in a written statement that there have been no major problems with LogistiCare, which serves the York County area.

"In our first week, we handled more than 99.7 percent of scheduled trips without complaint," Albert Cortina, chief administrative officer of LogistiCare, said in the statement.

But Pam Lee of Kennebunkport, whose 27-year-old daughter, Rebecca, has missed a few rides to and from neurological appointments in Portland, said she has heard from many parents and patients who have had problems in York County.

"It's been horrendous for people," said Lee, who wants residents to contact her if they've had problems with their rides. She has been passing the complaints along to her U.S. representative, Chellie Pingree.

"I've had more than 25 people call me," Lee said.

An official with Pingree's office said it is looking into the complaints.

The problems stem from new rules set by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, state officials said. The tasks of brokering the rides and providing the rides had to be separated to comply with the regulations.

Previously, local agencies would sign up to provide the service, and would arrange for and provide the rides. But the federal government saw conflict of interest in such systems and required that the tasks be separated, said John Martins, spokesman for the DHHS.

"There was a concern that a provider who also served as a broker could be benefiting by sending the majority of requests for transportation to their own agency," Martins wrote in an email response to a question.

Nadeau acknowledged that the switch to the new contractors, LogistiCare and Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut, is running into glitches.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions now arranges rides for most of the state under six separate one-year contracts totaling $28.3 million. LogistiCare brokers rides in the York County area with a $5.1 million contract.

A local contractor won the contract for the Bangor area, where there have not been as many problems, state officials said.

(Continued on page 2)

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