September 13, 2013

Rides-for-poor companies get extra scrutiny in Maine

Legislators press for fixes, and DHHS officials question how a phone-in problem was handled.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

In this July 2013 file photo, Winslow resident and MaineCare recipient Judith Mitchell, who sees very little, feels for a glass of water in her kitchen on Tuesday. Mitchell said she had been trying for three weeks to get transportation for an eye doctor appointment in Ellsworth. Lawmakers said Thursday, Sept. 13, 2013 that they are keeping pressure on the companies that arrange rides for MaineCare recipients in an effort to improve the service

Photo by Jeff Pouland

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Martins, with the DHHS, said the phone number problem raises concerns, and that the state is asking the contractor many of the same questions as the Press Herald.

Meanwhile, White said hold times have been significantly improved, from a 23-minute average to less than two minutes in recent weeks.

Rep. Peter Stuckey, D-Portland, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, said the problem may lie more in the complicated system created by the state than with the contractors. "We've made this way too complicated," he said.

The new system separates the contractors that coordinate the rides from the agencies that actually provide them.

Martins said the state is confident that the system will work with the correct contractor.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions won its contracts by outbidding other companies in six of the eight regions of the state. Atlanta-based LogistiCare outbid others in the York County region, and Penquis, a local nonprofit, was the only local provider to win a contract, in the Bangor area.

Legislators said there have been far fewer complaints about Penquis, which arranged and provided rides before Aug. 1.

The state changed its MaineCare rides program from a decentralized, more informal program operated by a patchwork of local agencies to a more formal system. The change was spurred by federal rules for transparency and accountability, although states have flexibility to comply with those rules.

Rep. Carol McElwee, R-Caribou, another member of the Health and Human Services Committee, said the situation is a "mess" and she expects improvements by Coordinated Transportation Solutions when the committee meets again in late October.

"I think we should give them a little more time," McElwee said. "They know we are most concerned."

 

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

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph

 

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