INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As vulnerable people across the state of Indiana wait for rides to the doctor that sometimes don't show up, leaders say they are working feverishly to fix a new system.
The Family and Social Services Administration, FSSA, hired Southeastrans, a Georgia company, to begin a new centralized method for non-emergency Medicaid transportation in June. The company signed a four-year contract worth up to $128 million that required it to credential Transportation Providers and schedule rides to medical appointments and pharmacies for people on traditional Medicaid plans, of which there are 250,000 across the state.
Almost immediately, FOX59 began hearing from Hoosiers who said they were struggling to get service. Some described times they would wait for a ride that never arrived, or would get a call with less than 24 hours’ notice that their ride had been cancelled.
Seven months later, reasons for the delays have become clearer.
"I think it was just such a big shift in the way that we do business and provide services that we could’ve done even more," FSSA Secretary Dr. Jennifer Walthall said.
FOX59 sat down with Walthall to talk about what's being done to fix the issues and make sure people are getting the help they need. According to FSSA records, demand spiked dramatically after the state sent letters to all Medicaid recipients alerting them about the service.
Before Southeastrans took over, about 3,000 members used non-emergency transportation services, which were previously provided directly through different agencies, instead of one centralized system. By November, 14,000 members had been asking for rides, a 350 percent spike in demand.
"That quick of a jump was not exactly what we expected," Walthall said.
Several patients told FOX59 that they either still have issues with the service, or stopped using it altogether after they kept cancelling appointments.
Patricia Hayse, who lives in Camby, said she used all 350 of the monthly minutes on her phone last month calling Southeastrans and sitting on hold while they tried to schedule her appointments.
"They left me hanging. They didn’t even call and tell me that the ride wasn’t going to come (and) that’s happened three or four times," Hayse said.
Another patient, James Cowles, said that his service has changed for the better, though. Cowles told FOX59 that after he complained to the Governor's Office and heard from a Southeastrans supervisor, his rides started arriving on time.
"I (haven't) missed a doctor's appointment since," Cowles said.
In a letter to legislators in mid-November, Walthall said progress with the new Southeastrans system has been "encouraging." She noted that the state has been able to get a better idea of who is transporting patients, in order to cut down on Medicaid fraud and waste.
FSSA has removed 100 unsafe vehicles from service, begun requiring drivers to take the most direct route to appointments, and has 1,200 vehicles on the road with more providers signing up every week.
"We know where the network is working and has plenty of resources and we know where that’s not the case, in a much better way than we ever have had before," Walthall said.
Southeastrans has also added 28 Quick Response vans to supplement needs.
The $128 million contract is paid for with 65 percent federal money and 35 percent state taxpayer money. There are provisions in the contract that would allow FSSA to withhold payments to Southeastrans for poor performance, but Walthall told FOX59 that the state has not withheld any payments. Since June, the company has been paid more than $14 million.
Walthall encouraged patients to contact Southeastrans or FSSA with any complaints. Some people may be able to get on a "high risk" list that bumps them up, similar to what happened to Cowles.
"If members are still not having their needs met, don’t give up. We are here for you," Walthall said.
Anyone having problems with Southeastrans can call their complaint line at 317-613-0825. You can also fill out a complaint online at the link here, or call FSSA directly at 1-800-457-8283.