Maine pays embattled rides broker an extra $1.4 million without explanation
State records show that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services paid an extra $2.6 million in taxpayer money in February and April to an outgoing MaineCare rides contractor with a record of leaving low-income and disabled patients waiting for transportation.
Critics on Wednesday decried the additional money given to Connecticut-based Coordinated Transportation Solutions, which has six contracts, worth a total of $28.3 million, to arrange rides for MaineCare recipients in most of the state.
“This is ridiculous,” said Cindy Dow of Augusta, who has missed medical appointments because of the contractor. “Why is the state paying them more money when they’re incompetent?”
The company lost its bid to renew its contracts for six of the state’s eight regions, in part because of its past performance, according to state records. It will not provide service for Maine after June 30.
The $40 million statewide rides program serves 45,000 low-income Mainers. Thousands of them have missed rides to medical appointments since Aug. 1, when the state switched from a patchwork system of local transportation providers to the regional broker system. The Connecticut company racked up thousands of complaints and was rated the worst of the three contractors serving the state in 2013-14, according to state evaluations.
On top of monthly payments of about $2.1 million, Coordinated Transportation Solutions received $1.2 million in February and $1.4 million in April, according to a state document that shows monthly payments to the ride brokers. The payment in March was close to the standard monthly amount of $2.1 million.
State officials have not answered repeated questions about the extra payments.
Company President David White did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
It’s uncertain whether the company will receive extra payments in the final two months of its contracts.
Late last year, Coordinated Transportation Solutions asked the state for more money, in part because the state’s initial estimates of how many rides had to be arranged were incorrect.
The state’s other two ride brokers, Atlanta-based LogistiCare in York County and Bangor-based Penquis in the Bangor region, have not asked for more money.
When asked in March about the extra payment to CTS in February, DHHS spokesman John Martins told the Portland Press Herald in a short email that it was related to a higher-than-expected cost of the company’s driver network. He did not indicate whether the inflated payments would continue, or answer other questions.
He wrote, “Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ payments were adjusted to support and sustain the volunteer network over the six regions they serve in order to ensure the delivery of the maximum number of rides to MaineCare clients.”
Critics said they are angry that the company is receiving the windfall despite doing a bad job.
Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, a co-chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said DHHS officials promised that the regional broker system would be financially stable and the state would not be hit with unexpected costs. He said the contractor should have assumed any extra costs, not the state.
“It’s not the state’s job to bail them out, but here we are bailing them out,” Farnsworth said.
The state adopted the new system to comply with federal guidelines for accountability and transparency, intended to avoid potential fraud such as MaineCare patients being driven to grocery stores or the beach instead of doctors’ offices.
Farnsworth said he believes CTS relied more on taxis than on volunteer drivers, and that drove up its costs. Volunteers are paid only for mileage, while taxi drivers are also paid stipends.
Jim Wood, transportation director for the Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, said another factor may have been that the state underestimated the number of wheelchair rides, which are more expensive because they often require vans with lifts.
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