October 30, 2013

MaineCare officials offer more promises while ride complaints continue

Patient advocates dispute the accuracy of apparent declines in missed rides, saying the data omit patients who have simply given up

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — After a 2½-hour presentation of data and bureaucratic jargon Tuesday, Daniel Donovan gave lawmakers the statistic that he believes matters most about MaineCare’s new rides program.

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Stefanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare Services, said the ride service’s failure rate is still 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

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David White, president of Coordinated Transportation Solutions, says complaints to his company have declined from 3,662 in August to 824 so far in October.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Donovan, executive director of the Aroostook Regional Transportation System, said his organization provided 9,762 rides to low-income patients in September.

In September of last year, the number was 16,192.

Donovan asked where more than 6,400 rides went, and what happened to the people who needed them.

In the hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, state officials acknowledged for the first time that they are exploring contingency plans to use if they cancel contracts with the companies the state hired to run the program, which has left thousands of poor and disabled Mainers without rides to and from medical appointments.

Still, as the third month of the new system ends, many questions about the widespread, chronic problems have yet to be answered by lawmakers or the Department of Health and Human Services, which awarded contracts worth more than $40 million to three brokers that arrange rides statewide.

The contractors told the committee that there has been marked improvement since they started on Aug. 1. Stefanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare Services for the DHHS, acknowledged progress but said the agency is also looking into alternative plans.

“There are significant number of missed rides that continue to occur,” Nadeau told the committee, saying the failure rate is between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent.

Transportation providers and health care advocates said that rate doesn’t tell the complete story.

Donovan’s 6,400-ride drop-off in September wasn’t unique among his colleagues, several of whom testified Tuesday.

Rick McCarthy, a lobbyist representing the Maine Transportation Association, the trade group for ride providers, said there has been little improvement, and the state should move to cancel contracts.

That may happen if the three contractors – Atlanta-based LogistiCare, Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Services and the Maine nonprofit Penquis – don’t improve service by Dec. 1.

Some lawmakers are growing impatient.

Rep. Carol McElwee, R-Caribou, was visibly exasperated during the hearing. She told Nadeau that she’s still getting 10 to 15 calls about missed rides every week. “My constituents are giving up,” she said.

Donovan said he believes that his organization’s clients are frustrated and resigned. While the state is promising accountability and the brokers are promising improvement, he indicated that both are forgetting about the patients.

“I look at stuff a little different than most,” he said. “The department that devised the plan. You have the brokers that won the bids. It was a fair process. But this whole MaineCare piece is ... about the people we serve. When this whole process started, I told my staff, ‘It’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s about the people we serve.’ And that is still the case today.”

David White, president of Coordinated Transportation Services, provided lawmakers with charts and statistics showing declining rates of abandoned calls, decreased hold times and more rides. He said the company got 3,662 complaints in August, 1,299 in September and 824 so far in October.

“We think we have made more than significant progress since August,” White said.

An official from LogistiCare, which covers the York County region, said there were eight missed rides out of 6,000 trip requests last week.

Despite those assurances, committee members said they are concerned. Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, asked Nadeau what the department is willing to do to repair the system. Nadeau’s response didn’t satisfy Rep. Peter Stuckey, D-Portland.

“Can I get you to share my anxiety?” he asked Nadeau.

She replied, “Can I get you to share mine?”

(Continued on page 2)

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