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Patients, others call van pact a big mistake

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Medicaid patients and those who used to provide them with nonemergency transportation services say their worst fears have been realized. But it wasn't unexpected, they say.

"What we're here today for is basically to say 'I told you so,' " said Lee Anne Walker of Handi Van Inc. Tuesday afternoon at the State Capitol.

Walker and representatives of other companies who used to transport Medicaid patients say the state made a mistake awarding a sole-source transportation contract to PickMeUp, an Orem-based van delivery service.

The companies' representatives and some of the Medicaid patients who used to utilize their services have been gathering at the Capitol to express their concerns since the contract was officially awarded to PickMeUp in early June. The broker company began its service Monday.

On Tuesday, individuals who use transportation services related stories of PickMeUp's first day on the job, and none were happy with its Monday performance.

Connie Dantz said she missed her appointment because her ride came in a car and not a van.

"We have told them time and time again that we are in wheelchairs, but they still come in the car to transport us," she said.

Nola Price said her ride never showed up, so she called a Yellow Cab to take her to a dialysis appointment. The dialysis center pitched in for the ride.

But PickMeUp's president and CEO Jon Ward says the companies and individuals haven't yet given his service a chance.

"We're less than 48 hours into this," he said. "When someone starts a job the first day, they've got to train."

Ward said PickMeUp's job is made especially difficult because every transportation provider in the state is against the company. And most of the Medicaid patients who have ridden with other providers aren't willing to even try PickMeUp.

"I'm their dart board," he said. "So's Medicaid."

People like Walker think Medicaid made a mistake in deciding to go to a sole-source provider.

She said small providers know the customers locally and can adjust for their needs.

But Medicaid had its reasons to switch to a broker — a decision made about two years ago.

"We had a fragmented provider system in the state," said Don Hawley, state health department coordinator for Medicaid.

Hawley said Medicaid also had safety concerns about some of the vans' compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act in terms of their ramps and restraints.

"We don't have the staff to police (all the providers in the state)," Hawley said.

For that reason, going to one source to provide transportation for Medicaid patients was a logical thing to do. But the biggest issue, Hawley said, was providing services to those in rural Utah.

"A lot of companies wouldn't take rides or pick up (in rural Utah)," Hawley said. "A lot of people who never had access (to these services) have it now."

Hawley said there were a number of abuses of Medicaid among the population eligible for the benefits. People were using the transportation providers for rides to places other than medical appointments, he said.

"With a single source, they can get familiar and can control where they're going," Hawley said.

It wasn't just the riders abusing the system, he said. Some providers would bill for rides that didn't get taken.

"With a sole source, we can mandate coverage and safety," he said. "We're able to manage the whole system much, much better."

Ward said he plans to keep the service as personable as possible by assigning the same drivers to the same patients.

"I'm hoping for a not very large turnover rate," he said. "(The drivers) can get to know them."

Between St. George and Ogden, Ward's company has 32 vans. Fourteen of those serve the Salt Lake area.

Because PickMeUp is a broker, subcontractors will be carrying some of the workload in transportation services. Ward said he has nine so far and plans to add as many as 13 more. He said he has no plans to eliminate other van services and that it would be foolish to do so.

"We'll do it however we can to get (Medicaid patients) there in the quickest possible time," he said.

Also of concern to Walker and other PickMeUp opposition is pending litigation regarding the contract PickMeUp was awarded. An Indiana-based company, MedComply, was the other finalist for the contract and has filed a lawsuit against Medicaid in 2nd District Court on the grounds that PickMeUp was not best suited for the contract.

According to Hawley, the contract with PickMeUp was signed prior to the filing on the issue and is therefore not a violation of any law. If the filing had taken place before the contract was signed, there would have been a stay on signing the contract until the issue was resolved.

"It is Medicaid's feeling that we will proceed with the contract," Hawley said. "We will act accordingly after the courts have ruled."

E-MAIL: lculler@desnews.com