December 9, 2013

Taxis taking more calls for troubled MaineCare rides broker

Details emerge about the plan to improve service, but questions remain and a state evaluation is ongoing.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The MaineCare rides contractor under fire for subpar performance is hiring more taxi companies to deliver rides to low-income patients, and may require its network of transportation providers to shoulder more of the workload, according to documents released by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

click image to enlarge

Mark Goggins stands next to his KVCAP bus in Waterville in September. KVCAP used to provide between 900 and 1,000 rides a day to MaineCare patients.

Morning Sentinel file photo/Michael G. Seamans

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While the documents do not reveal how many more rides are being given by taxis, 16 taxi companies with 68 vehicles were added to the list of potential or approved transportation providers for Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions, according to the records.

The state on Aug. 1 switched to a regional broker system for arranging nonemergency MaineCare rides for about 45,000 patients, but the program has since been beset with logistical problems. Thousands of patients have missed rides to doctor’s offices, cancer therapy and dialysis treatments, and other medical appointments.

The potential reliance on taxis is not going to work for the long term, said Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, House chairman of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“How are they going to keep from going broke?” said Farnsworth, referring to CTS. “If they have to use taxis, I don’t think they are going to have the financial means to keep going.”

CTS, which is on the equivalent of state probation for mishandling thousands of rides for patients to medical appointments, submitted a corrective action plan in October as a requirement to maintain its $28.3 million state contract. CTS – which serves most of Maine, excluding the York County and Bangor regions – is being evaluated by Maine DHHS officials to see whether enough progress was made by Dec. 1. If not, the state could cancel the CTS contract. State officials have not indicated when a decision will be made.

John Martins, the DHHS spokesman, wrote in an email response to questions that CTS is still being evaluated, but that the action plan is an important benchmark.

“We worked with CTS from the point of its initial submission to improve the corrective action plan to ensure that it addressed, in detail, a wide array of concerns. We have accepted the plan and are evaluating the broker’s performance according to its many elements,” Martins wrote.

Previously, before the disastrous rollout of the new MaineCare rides program on Aug. 1, the $40 million system relied on mostly volunteers working with nonprofit transportation companies to drive patients to medical appointments.

Changes in the way drivers were reimbursed under the new system caused many volunteers to quit because they were making less money. But even after reimbursement rates were subsequently increased, officials at the transportation companies said it’s been difficult to rebuild the network of volunteer drivers.

Legislators asked for a copy of CTS’ corrective action plan for weeks, but they said they were ignored until the Press Herald asked for a copy last week. The state released the documents to the newspaper and legislators on Thursday.

Brian Dodge, president of Windham Taxi, which has been driving patients for CTS for more than two months, said CTS pays the taxi company a $2 flat fee for each ride plus $2 per mile.

The amount that volunteer drivers with nonprofit ride providers are reimbursed varies. In Portland, drivers with the nonprofit Regional Transportation Program receive 45 cents per mile, and CTS also pays the program a $3.75 administrative fee for each trip.

CTS President David White, who couldn’t be reached for comment on Friday, has said the company is improving its performance.

Jack DeBerardinis, president of RTP, the Portland transportation provider, indicated that things are slightly better now but are still far from perfect.

“I’m starting to see some signs of improvement. Are folks still missing rides and have late rides? Yes, that’s still happening,” he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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