Medicaid could hire outside company to transport recipients

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Mississippi’s Medicaid program may begin using an out-of-state firm to arrange transportation for recipients who need rides to doctors visits.

Agency officials could not say how much the move would save the state, but promised that the 34,000 participants who sometimes need rides to dentists and hospitals will not be affected.

“We will be very closely monitoring to make sure people are getting the transportation they need,” Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said.

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Nunnelee and House Medicaid Committee Chairman Leonard Morris, D-Batesville, said Atlanta-based firm LogistiCare is negotiating a contract to oversee transportation for non-emergency visits.

Greenwood resident Betty Boyd, 68, does not want any changes to stop her trips with Medstat EMS to doctors. She and her brother, William Crowder, 56, have used the service more than 10 years.

“I’m used to Medstat, and they always get there on time,” she said. “We know the drivers, and they know us.”

Medicaid is required by the federal government to provide transportation for non-emergency medical needs, such as trips to doctors or dialysis centers. The program costs Medicaid more than $30 million annually.

The agency did not respond last week to requests for more information about contract talks.

Current companies that take Medicaid recipients to medical appointments say the new plan will affect rural patients access to health care and put the local firms out of business.

The Non-Emergency Transportation Association of Mississippi issued a statement opposing the changes. Its members will not publicly discuss the matter, fearing they could lose business.

Currently, residents call Medicaid offices to schedule appointments for rides. The agency calls a local bus system, one of 13 taxi or ambulance services, or volunteer drivers to pick up people.

LogistiCare would operate the call center and coordinate patients travel with local companies, company spokesman Ed Domansky said.

“We contract with local business,” Domansky said.

The whole purpose is to serve as a management company. The company operates similar transportation programs in 14 states, he said.

The company has experienced difficulties when taking over transportation services in other states, such as Missouri. Reports of missed appointments and late pickups appeared shortly after the firm began operating in the state.

Domansky said LogistiCare will work to ensure a smooth transition.

Any concerns from residents about losing access to doctors aren’t valid, said Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, a member of the Public Health Committee. These concerns are unwarranted, he said.