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

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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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Related Documents

Read the LogistiCare contract
Read the Coordinated Transportation Solutions contract

"We acknowledge this is a problem, and we're doing what we can to fix it up," Bennett said.

According to the terms of the brokers' contracts, they can be terminated "whenever for any reason" that ending the agreements is "in the best interest of the department."

One of the stumbling blocks in the new system has been volunteer drivers quitting in large numbers over reimbursement issues, state officials have said.

Because of Medicaid reimbursement rules, drivers can no longer be reimbursed for miles driven when a patient is not in the vehicle. So even though the mileage rate increased from 41 cents per mile to 55 cents per mile, it hasn't been enough to make up for not being reimbursed for mileage to and from a patient's house, especially in more rural areas of the state.

Charlotte England of Oxford said she used to be a MaineCare volunteer driver, but she quit this summer when she heard about the pending reduction in reimbursement rates. She said she would have lost money to volunteer because she would often only be reimbursed for about 10 miles of a 40-mile trip.

"I don't mind volunteering, but if I have to pay to volunteer, that's another story," England said.

Nadeau noted that under the state contracts, the new ride brokers have the flexibility to increase the reimbursement rate for miles driven with the patient to higher than 55 cents, which would help maintain the volunteer driver force.

Farnsworth said he believes the contractors were surprised at how much Maine relied on volunteer drivers to provide the MaineCare service. Other states rely more on paid drivers.

Switching to a higher reimbursement rate appears to be already happening.

Jack DeBeradinis, executive director of Portland's Regional Transportation Program ride service, is still providing rides, although the ride coordination is now being handled by Coordinated Transportation Solutions.

He said he's been told by the company that the reimbursement rate is going to increase to 68 cents per mile to better retain the volunteer drivers, and he believes that will apply in all the regions the company covers.

George-Roux said she has heard that an improved reimbursement system will also kick in for volunteer drivers in York County, which is served by LogistiCare.

Dozens of calls and emails complaining of missed rides and other logistical snafus were received by the Press Herald on Wednesday.

Valerie Enos of Freeport said she's missed chiropractor appointments to treat fibromyalgia and other medical problems.

"I have a very delicate system," Enos said. "I have anxiety issues. I thought my anxiety was under control, but when something like this happens it comes back."

Adam Adams of Skowhegan, who suffers from a degenerative disc disease, said he's missed two appointments and he's been on hold for several hours trying to set up rides.

"The whole system is a joke," Adams said.

Nadeau said the state is temporarily helping the brokers by having state employees take overflow calls and email or fax appointments to the brokers.

But ultimately, Nadeau said, the brokers are responsible for making the contract work. 

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

Twitter: @joelawlorph


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