November 15, 2013

Our View: MaineCare ride service failures outlast patience

The new system doesn’t work, and it costs too much. The next step should be obvious.

The incompetent rollout of the Affordable Care Act website continues to grab headlines, but the incompetent rollout of a revamped Medicaid ride service in Maine should not escape our attention.

click image to enlarge

Cynthia Dow is lifted into a bus at her Augusta home Oct. 15 for a ride to an appointment through a MaineCare-sponsored ride service. The revamped transportation system has prompted a flood of complaints about late and missed rides.

2013 Kennebec Journal File Photo/Andy Molloy

Like the Obamacare website fiasco, the ride service failures raise serious doubts about the compassion and foresight behind government policies that are supposed to help people.

But the big difference between the two casualties is that the ACA involves botched sign-ups for insurance plans that are not supposed to go into effect for several months, while the ride service is failing now, leaving poor and disabled Mainers literally out in the cold.

More than three months after the state contracted with two private companies and a Maine nonprofit to serve as brokers for the rides, there are still complaints about late and missed rides, jeopardizing patients’ health and creating scheduling havoc in medical offices.

The switch was supposed to bring Maine into compliance with federal Medicaid rules, but it’s become clear that the state could have kept its old system with only minor administrative changes.

It appears that the state outsourced a service that was working, and believed vendors that promised more than they could deliver.

And for the ultimate insult, the new system costs Maine taxpayers more than the one it replaced, in which local social service agencies arranged coordinated rides with volunteer drivers and with which most people were happy.

The contracts have cost the state $13 million for the first four months of the fiscal year, which is $400,000 more than was spent over the same period a year earlier. Some of that went to pay transportation providers that ran rides in July, but most of it has gone to the three contractors that took over Aug. 1. Collectively, they have self-reported 7,700 missed trips between the day they started until Oct. 5.

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee held a hearing this week to demand answers from the Department of Health and Human Services about the ride program. They didn’t receive much information that should ease concerns about the program.

The department reports that the volume of complaints has declined, but that may be because people have so little confidence in the program that they have stopped calling for rides.

This may make the numbers look like they are moving in the right direction, but having people abandon the program is really just another level of failure.

The time for patience should have expired by now. Unless these contractors can make a miraculous turnaround, Maine should go back to the ride system that worked.

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