Our Views: State must demand better service in rides program that serves Rock County

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Something is glaringly wrong when a program funded by tax dollars generates many complaints. So it is with the state-contracted program offering free rides to medical appointments for Rock County residents on Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus.

Because of income or health limitations, these people cannot drive themselves. They depend on the rides and deserve better.

As Catherine W. Idzerda reported last week, clients have many complaints. These include drivers who arrive late, don’t show up or come with vehicles in questionable repair or ill-equipped to handle people using wheelchairs. One driver even asked for gas money before taking a patient to a Madison appointment.


Wisconsin abandoned locally run programs in 2011 in favor of a statewide program. That move was designed to draw more federal dollars and save the state money, as has happened in other states. Yet the switch has done local folks no favors. Poor oversight goes back to the state. Lawmakers are aware of the problems and should demand improvements.

The state contracted with LogistiCare, based in Georgia, but by mid-2013, complaints swamped the state Department of Health Services. LogistiCare claimed the problem stemmed from the state underestimating the number of rides. Late last year, MTM, based in Missouri, took over.

Idzerda learned LogistiCare seemed to serve Rock County rather well. The same can’t be said of MTM. It uses subcontractors to provide rides, and she heard many complaints about one Rock County subcontractor. Another subcontractor generates few complaints but says MTM is reducing reimbursement rates so much it might stop serving county residents.

If the program had enough drivers to serve Rock County under LogistiCare, it makes sense that MTM should have enough, as well. After all, MTM is reaping $4.5 million in taxpayer dollars each month for statewide service.

Another problem is a confusing complaint system. Idzerda learned that if a client complains to the dispatcher, that’s not a “formal” complaint, and it goes nowhere. Some clients told Idzerda they’ve stopped complaining because it does no good. Others weren’t aware they needed to call a quality-control hotline. In other words, rather than being user friendly, even the complaint system is designed for failure. So the service winds up with complaint statistics that look better than reality.

It doesn’t help that many clients struggle with physical or mental illnesses that make even filing a formal complaint a tall task. When customers worry whether their rides will show up on time, it does their health no good.

Some clients didn’t want their names published for fear their service would get even worse. Others were frustrated and even angry enough to speak on the record.

Justin Svingen, Rock County’s mobility manager, sympathizes. He’s urging all customers to call the state Legislative Audit Bureau’s fraud, waste and mismanagement hotline. The bureau, Svingen told The Gazette, is trying to gauge the program’s “on the ground” issues.

The issues appear clear and obvious enough. The stories Idzerda heard are unacceptable. These are people desperate for reliable rides provided by tax dollars. The audit bureau should move swiftly in its evaluation, and the state must shore up slipshod oversight and demand more for our money.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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