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Missed Rides for MaineCare Patients Draws Legislative Scrutiny
09/11/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

During the first week of August, thousands of low-income, elderly and disabled Mainers missed rides for medical appointments because of problems in the state's MaineCare transportation system. The contractors recently hired to provide those non-emergency rides to medical appointments attribute the problems to an ongoing "educational process," and insist that they have dramatically improved service since taking over. Lawmakers on a legislative policy committee say it's time for the brokers to deliver on their promises. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Last month was nearly catastrophic for Dave White, whose company, Coordinated Transportation Solutions of Connecticut, oversees arranging rides for MaineCare clients in six Maine counties.

White says when his firm took over the contract on Aug. 1st, hundreds of Mainers trying to arrange rides to medical appointments were sometimes placed on hold for more than an hour. Other clients were picked up by drivers, but dropped at the wrong place. Others weren't picked up at all.

But White told members of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee that things have improved dramatically since then.

"If someone called the call center yesterday, they would have gotten through in less than two minutes," he said. "So we feel like we have made huge strides in the call center, and in the ability of people to get through."

But one lawmaker challenged White on the spot. Rep. Matthew Peterson, a Rumford Democrat, held a cell phone up to the microphone on his desk as he dialed the number of the CTS ride program in Aroostook County.

"I'd just like to tell you what I've been hearing when I call the number, and I'd just be curious," Peterson said.

"I'm sorry for any inconvenience...goodbye," said the automated voice on the line.

Peterson says that's not what the state signed up for in its one-year contract with CTS for just over $28 million to provide transportation services. Hundreds of MaineCare clients have been so frustrated by their inability to connect with a human being that they frequently give up.

The local agencies that provide the rides are also frustrated. Jim Wood is transportation director for KVCAP, and a member of the Maine Transit Association that receives the ride requests from the brokers. He cites a problem with the computerized booking systems used by the brokers, which he says have caused confusion.

"We were getting data download files that were making absolutely no sense to us - I mean, literally with hundreds of cancellations for the next day, hundreds of new trips for the next day," Wood said, "and we were trying to make some sort of sense out of what had happened."

The state has a number of options available as it attempts to work problems out with the brokers - including the termination of the state's contracts. State Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew told lawmakers she would continue to press the brokers for full compliance with the terms of their contracts.

"I am very sensitive to the concerns that you've raised about the impact and consequences that have occurred in the short time of implementation," Mayhew said. 'We will continue to assess what options we may have available to address those situations."

Meanwhile, lawmakers such as Sen. Margaret Craven of Lewiston, say they'll be happy if MaineCare clients can simply get someone to answer the phone when they call for a ride.



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