November 30, 2013

State to soon decide fate of troubled MaineCare rides contractor

The contractor failed to take out a performance bond as required, and has frequently left ill Mainers stranded or caused them to miss health appointments.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Some legislators are pressing for the state to cancel its contract with one of the brokers for the MaineCare rides program, in advance of a key date for the future of the contract.

click image to enlarge

Winslow resident and MaineCare recipient Judith Mitchell, who has severe vision issues, tried for weeks to get transportation for an eye doctor appointment in Ellsworth.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

In this September 2011 file photo, Jeannette Bancroft, 74, of New Gloucester, left, listens as Lauren Hurley, of Creative Work Systems, testifies about the problems Bancroft, who uses a wheelchair, has had getting rides to the Morrison Center in Scarborough, during a meeting of the Maine Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions is on the equivalent of probation for poor performance arranging low-income residents’ rides to medical appointments. The company has a $28.3 million, one-year contract to arrange rides in most of the state, excluding the Bangor and York County regions

Since the contract started Aug. 1, the state has received thousands of complaints about missed or delayed rides to doctor’s appointments, dialysis and cancer treatments, mental health services, physical therapy and other appointments.

The $40 million program serves about 40,000 Mainers.

Two months into the contract, the Department of Health and Human Services told Coordinated Transportation Solutions that it had to improve its performance by Dec. 1 or it could lose its contract. It’s still unclear whether the DHHS will use Dec. 1 as its date to decide whether to continue the contract.

John Martins, spokesman for the DHHS, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

“The contract should be canceled,” said state Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville. “We’ve given them a lot of time and the problems still haven’t been solved.”

David White, president of Coordinated Transportation Solutions, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. He has said that his company has improved its performance since its troubled start-up in August.

The company failed to take out a performance bond as required in the contract. The bond would have helped to cover the state’s costs to move to a new contractor. It’s unclear how much the bond would have paid out because the state has not answered specific questions about it.

In October, MaineCare Services Director Stefanie Nadeau threatened to revoke the bond without realizing that it didn’t exist.

Gary Conway, an underwriter who worked for bonding companies and in related fields for 30 years in Ohio before retiring in Maine, said the failure to obtain a performance bond is a major issue, not just a paperwork problem.

“The importance of the performance bond is that the taxpayers would be protected if the contractor fails to live up to the contract,” Conway said. “How did the state enter into a contract without having all of the paperwork in place?”

Conway said the state should not have permitted the contract to be finalized without the performance bond.

He said that while he doesn’t know the circumstances behind Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ failure to purchase the bond, it could be a red flag that the contractor was unable to get one.

Conway said bonding companies have rigorous standards, and if a contractor had any issues that would make a bonding company believe it couldn’t fulfill a contract, the bonding company would be unwilling to issue a bond.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions had to lay off about half of its employees in 2012 after losing a contract with Connecticut. The Maine contract helped boost the company.

Even if the DHHS makes no decision on the contract next week, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will meet on Dec. 10 for an update on the MaineCare rides program.

The program replaced a largely trouble-free system in which local nonprofit agencies arranged and provided the rides. The new regional system employs brokers that field requests for rides and book them with transportation providers.

Maine adopted the system in response to the federal government’s push for more accountability and transparency in Medicaid programs, although the state could have kept the nonprofits in charge and still complied with federal rules.

Medicaid, called MaineCare in this state, is funded with a blend of federal and state money.

Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, House chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said the performance bond is “the last straw,” and if the DHHS doesn’t fix the problems, laws should be passed to solve them.

Lawmakers have introduced bills to terminate Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ contract, and to force the state to use a Vermont-style system with local nonprofits in charge. The next legislative session will begin in January.

The contractor’s credibility has also been called into question by discrepancies between the number of complaints it reported to the DHHS and the actual number it received.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions gave the department its logs from August showing 160 complaints about missed rides, while 3,662 calls came into the company’s “complaint line” during that period. White has said that the company was overwhelmed with logistical problems in August and could not properly track complaints.

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

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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