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DHHS Ride Share Probed By Legislature

Later this summer, the state will terminate its contract with an embattled Connecticut-based transportation vendor that frequently failed to get MaineCare clients to their medical appointments. But this week lawmakers learned that despite the company's poor performance, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has paid millions more for service. Now the Legislature's Appropriations Committee has scheduled a meeting next month to probe the issue with the LePage administration.

Records from the State Budget Office show that an additional $1.2 million dollars was paid to Coordinated Transportation Solutions in February and an additional $1.4 million dollars was paid out in April. The payments were made even as Health and Human Services managers were warning lawmakers that their department was on the verge of running out of cash. Richard Farnsworth is a Democrat from Portland.

"We're beginning to ask the question: where's this additional money coming from," said Rep. Richard Farnsworth."

Farnsworth, who co-chairs the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, said the latest disbursement does little to boost confidence of Democrats in the agency. State DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew signed off on six CTS contracts valued at $28 million dollars. But she never required that the company provide a performance bond in the event that it failed to meet its contractual obligations. For the past year, MaineCare clients who depended on the company to arrange transportation services for their medical appointments deluged DHHS with complaints about their rides showing up late or, in many cases, not showing up at all. The state has subsequently chosen to end its contract with CTS at the close of the budget cycle on June 30th. So far, DHHS has yet to offer an explanation for the additional payments. And Farnsworth said the lack of dialogue undermines trust in the administration.

"We really feel like there are so many issues from the department's point of view that are not being addressed honestly and with transparency and this being one of them: the whole transportation thing," Farnsworth said.

"This is just another example of the administration's mismanagement of these programs and of these funds," said Rep. Peggy Rotundo. "It's also another example of their not being forthcoming."

Appropriations Committee co-chair Peggy Rotundo has consistently maintained that her panel did not receive all of the financial information from DHHS that it needed during the budget process. Now the Lewiston Democrat said the committee has called for a meeting with DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew to explain the CTS expenditures.

"It's important to have this on our agenda," Rotundo said."It's important for us to talk to the commissioner and try and get a handle on what's been going on."

Mayhew said the state is moving forward with plans to sever its contracts with CTS, paying the bills as they come in.

"There have been challenges with this particular vendor, it's why we've made a decision to end that contract and to restructure with new vendors," Mayhew said.

Financial directors at DHHS said the additional $2.6 million dollars paid to CTS represents both the state and federal share of the medical assistance program account and that they did not expect those payments to result in the state exceeding contractual value of its agreement with the vendor. Mayhew said the state is obligated to help MaineCare clients reach their appointments and cover those costs. Sen. Jim Hamper, an Oxford Republican, agrees saying it's pretty obvious what Mayhew has to do when she's presented with a bill for those services.

"Then I guess we should pay it," Hamper said.

Republican Rep. Deb Sanderson of Chelsea also sits on the Health and Human Services Committee. She said she's confident that Commissioner Mayhew will provide a comprehensive report to lawmakers that will explain the changes in payments under the contract.