Dozens of Maine Medicaid enrollees showed up at a “listening session” Monday night to weigh in a proposal to consolidate the services offered by the program’s transportation system, with many criticizing how it currently functions.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services hosted four of the sessions this month as it considers a possible overhaul the $83 million system. About 75 people attended Monday’s session – the last – at the DHHS offices in Portland. The agency promised there would be more public hearings in 2020 as plans to revamp the system emerge.

Glen Herbert of South Portland said something needs to be done, because the service is not reliable to bring him to doctor’s appointments. He recently suffered a heart attack, and has many medical appointments.

“There’s good days and bad days, but I never really know if I am going to get picked up,” Herbert said.

The agency is mulling whether to consolidate a number of transportation services under one umbrella. The state provides rides to medical appointments, for child welfare services and for those with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Maine DHHS plans to hire a consultant to make recommendations next year.

About 55,000 Mainers per year receive a total of about 2.5 million rides from Medicaid, according to state statistics. The program costs $83 million, with $30 million coming from state tax money and the remainder from federal tax dollars.

The system underwent a crisis in 2013, when thousands were left without rides after the state DHHS changed the way it provided transportation.

In 2013, the agency switched from a fee-for-service system run by nonprofits to a private brokerage system that was besieged with complaints, as thousands missed rides to medical appointments. By the following spring, Maine DHHS had improved the system and refused to renew a contract with one of the private brokers, Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions.

Margaret Cardoza of Portland said the system functioned well before 2013, while the brokerage system that replaced it, even now, is not very reliable.

“The broker system is broken,” said Cardoza, one of the roughly 10 people who criticized the system within the first 75 minutes of the session Monday night.

For southern Maine, non-emergency medical transportation is mostly provided by LogistiCare Solutions of Georgia, while northern regions and the Midcoast are covered by Penquis Community Action Agency and Waldo Community Action Partners.  For other services, such as child protective services or rides for mental health patients, a number of Maine nonprofits provide transportation.

David Lawrence of Portland said he has a disability and should qualify for occupational rides from LogistiCare, but they keep telling him to take the bus. He said he gets bullied on the bus, and doesn’t feel comfortable taking it.

Beth Hamm, deputy commissioner of Maine DHHS, said the agency is working on improving reliability and customer satisfaction, and to have standardized background checks for drivers. Hamm said the state also is looking at ways to improve how it measures the system’s performance.

The non-emergency medical transportation system is on time for 85 percent of all rides given, according to DHHS statistics, better than Connecticut’s 81 percent on-time performance. States operate different types of systems and have different ways of measuring performance, so national or comprehensive state-by-state comparisons are difficult.

“Mainly, we are here to listen to your feedback,” Hamm said.

 

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