August 21, 2013

MaineCare ride system favors certain patients

Because drivers can earn mileage for several at once, methadone patients almost always get rides.

By Joe Lawlor
Staff Writer

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Greg Curry, a volunteer driver, said he doesn’t want to be put into the position of turning down rides for MaineCare patients just because he’d lose money providing them.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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"We were going to lose all of our drivers if we didn't do something," Wood said.

He said one way to offset their costs was to pay drivers for each patient in the vehicle. So a driver hauling four patients at 55 cents per mile in Augusta would receive $2.20 per mile when all four were in the car.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions and the state signed off on the plan, Wood said. State officials couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday despite repeated attempts.

Wood said the new reimbursement system made routes such as those for methadone patients lucrative for the volunteers, while rural routes became money-losers.

Wood said drivers were mostly losing money to volunteer, and they were quitting despite the bonus for carrying multiple patients.

Wood said his agency went back to its old system of reimbursing drivers last week. Now, drivers in the Augusta area are paid as they were before Aug. 1 -- 41 cents per mile for all miles driven.

Because of the Medicaid regulations, Wood said, his agency is being reimbursed by Coordinated Transportation Solutions under the new system, even while paying drivers under the old system.

"We're doing this blind," Wood said. "We have no idea how it's going to work out."

Wood said the paperwork is twice as time-consuming because of the workaround, and if the agency loses too much money, it won't be able to maintain the more generous reimbursement rate.

Greg Curry, a volunteer driver for the Regional Transportation Program, said he and other drivers are being put in the uncomfortable position of evaluating a patient's need when deciding whether to accept a route. He said volunteers can decline any route.

"I don't want to have to say no to a patient," Curry said. "But now, you have a reason to say, 'No, I'm not doing that.' It's not fair to the people."

Curry said he doesn't want to turn down a route, then later hear about a patient dying because there was no ride available.

"Your incentive is to give many people one ride in your car instead of carrying one person," Curry said. "But that one person, if they need dialysis, they could die if they don't get a ride."

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

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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