August 15, 2013

Maine won't drop broken rides system for state's poor

Despite thousands of complaints, a top official says it's too early to cancel company contracts, and that MaineCare is pressing for fixes.

By Joe Lawlor
Staff Writer

Maine has wide latitude to cancel the contracts with the companies at the center of the MaineCare transportation controversy, but the state official in charge of the program said she's not ready to broach that topic yet.

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Rebecca Lee, 27, of Kennebunkport, missed a few appointments for her neuroligcal therapy in Portland because of logistical problems with MaineCare rides.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photorapher

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Hazel Clarke, of Westbrook, said she's been unable to schedule rides because she's been put on hold for hours at a time when she calls MaineCare.

John Ewing / Staff Photographer

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"We're 14 days in. It's too early to talk about how long we'll give them," Stefanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare Services, told the Press Herald on Wednesday, when asked whether the state was considering canceling the companies' contracts. "We expect progress to be made."

But Nadeau also said the state "is committed to making this brokerage system succeed."

The MaineCare ride program is responsible for providing transportation for thousands of low-income Medicaid patients, some seriously ill, to appointments with doctors and for treatments such as dialysis and chemotherapy.

The state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the MaineCare ride program, has reported that it received more than 2,000 complaints in the past couple of weeks from patients whose rides have not showed up, or who had trouble contacting the contractors in charge of the service. Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut and Atlanta-based LogistiCare took over coordinating the rides on Aug. 1.

The Connecticut firm is being paid $28 million for contracts to serve most of the state, and LogistiCare landed a $5.1 million contract for the York County region.

Previously, the rides were organized by local nonprofit agencies with few problems, numerous patients have told the Press Herald.

The transportation program costs about $40 million a year and serves about 45,000 patients. The federal government reimburses the state for the majority of the costs.

Nadeau said the state is "holding the brokers accountable" to provide much-improved service. She said DHHS has had discussions with company officials to express their concerns.

"Any missed ride is unacceptable," Nadeau said.

But activists say the state should cancel contracts and go back to a system that worked.

"The state should put things back the way that they were and give people some peace," said Rita George-Roux, a volunteer driver in York County. "Let us do what we were doing, and doing very well."

Pam Lee, of Kennebunkport, an advocate who has been fielding calls from those who have missed rides, said the state should admit it was wrong and undo the new system.

"It's been a nightmare, and it's not getting better," Lee said. "The state is taking the easy way out."

The state was told in 2010 that its existing MaineCare transportation system did not comply with Medicaid rules, according to DHHS. One problem was that the nonprofit agencies were operating the ride service without a formal contract with the state.

The state was given options to bring the program into compliance and chose to have regional contractors coordinate the rides. But the state could also have designed a localized system that would have been similar to the one that had been in place, a national Medicaid expert has said.

Officials with Coordinated Transportation Solutions couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday. LogistiCare issued a written statement.

"We have increased our capacity since starting operations this month," wrote LogistiCare spokesman Todd DeFeo. "As a result, the complaint rate has dropped dramatically, even as the number of scheduled trips has increased. We expect the rate will continue to decrease moving forward."

State Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services committee, said that from conversations he's had with state officials, he believes the contractors will be given at least a month to resolve the problems.

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said state officials are frequently briefing the governor on the problems.

(Continued on page 2)

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