Thursday, December 5, 2013
BY JOE LAWLOR
Portland Press Herald
The state of Maine has wide latitude to cancel contracts for the new ride brokers at the center of the MaineCare transportation debacle, but the state official in charge of the program said she's not ready to broach that topic yet.
"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."
However, Nadeau also said that the state "is committed to making this brokerage system succeed."
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the MaineCare program, reported that it has received more than 2,000 complaints since Aug. 1, when Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut and Atlanta-based LogistiCare took over coordinating rides for low-income Medicaid patients who need transportation to doctor's appointments, therapy and other medical services.
CTS is being paid $28 million for winning contracts to serve most of the state, while 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 said.
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.
Activists say that 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 that 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."
Officials with CTS couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday, while LogistiCare issued a written statement.
"We have increased our capacity since starting operations this month," LogistiCare spokesman Todd DeFeo wrote. "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."
Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, said after from conversations he's had with state officials, he believes the contractors will be given at least a month to resolve problems.
Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said state officials have been briefing the governor on the problems frequently.
"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, the contracts can be terminated "whenever for any reason" ending the agreements are "in the best interest of the Department."
One of the stumbling blocks in the new system has been volunteer drivers quitting in large numbers because of reimbursement problems, state officials have said.
Because of Medicaid reimbursement rules, drivers no longer can 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 wasn't 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.
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