November 22, 2013

Our View: State’s failure makes MaineCare rides a fiasco

Taxpayers are left paying more for bad service because of weak oversight by the DHHS.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions, the Connecticut-based company contracted to provide transportation to MaineCare patients in much of the state, received $5.3 million combined for its work in August, September and October.

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Joe St. Pierre, 33, of Pittston says he missed medical appointments because of a poor job by Coordinated Transportation Solutions in arranging rides.

2013 Press Herald file/John Ewing

For that price, CTS delivered a service rife with missed appointments and poor communication, leaving the system’s mostly poor and disabled clientele anxious about how they will get to doctor appointments and therapy sessions, and destroying confidence in a system that under previous providers operated with few complaints.

If there is any justice, Maine taxpayers will get a rebate for services rendered poorly, to say the least. But that may not happen, as the Department of Health and Human Services, in an apparent oversight, failed to make sure that the company obtained a performance bond as required in the contract.

This flagrantly poor management casts further doubt on the state’s ability to correct the problems in the new system.

It also means that when the state finally does the right thing and returns to the prior way of coordinating transportation, it is likely that taxpayers will pay a significant price for the state’s blunder.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions and two other contractors took over the coordination of the rides beginning Aug. 1. Immediately, there were problems. The CTS complaint line received 3,662 calls on the rides system in August, though the company told the state at the time that there were only 162 complaints. Statewide, the contractors reported 7,700 missed trips through Oct. 5.

The number of MaineCare recipients that went unserved is likely much higher. Neither the call nor trip reports take into account the many recipients who simply gave up on the system after scheduled trips were missed or phone calls to the contractors went unanswered.

Unbelievably, Mainers paid a higher price for this poor service. The MaineCare ride program cost $400,000 more for the first four months of this fiscal year than it did for the same period a year ago, though it is unclear why.

The responsibility for all of this – the missed trips, the faulty answering service, the indifferent response – lies with the state.

The previous system could have been kept intact, with only a few alterations to meet federal guidelines. Once the decision was made to change course, the state should have made sure the contractors could handle the switchover without major disruption.

And once the disruptions occurred, the state should have been in the position to hold the contractors financially accountable.

Instead, a prime component of the contract was overlooked, and the string of mistakes continues.

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