Medicaid transport company boasts of improvements, is met with continued criticism

Hartford — It's been nearly two months since the state contractor charged with organizing rides to doctor appointments for Medicaid members — a federally-mandated benefit — came before the legislative subcommittee charged with overseeing its progress since a disastrous first few months earlier this year.

In those months, the manager of Veyo's Connecticut operations said Wednesday, the company has made strides. It has retrained the workers at its Connecticut call center, which processes more than 100,000 calls per month, David Coppock told state legislators and members of a working group of the Medical Assistance Program Oversight Council. It has emphasized the requirements that Veyo comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by, Coppock said, encouraging the call center employees to be "sensitive" to those with disabilities and make sure they can "hear their smiles" over the phone.

It has designated one person a night to take after-hours calls from Connecticut in its Arizona call center, an attempt to reduce hold times and confusion caused when people were directed to the agency's Arizona location to try to schedule rides. And Coppock said he has been meeting with groups like the Connecticut Hospital Association, dialysis centers and nursing homes to try to understand the nuances of Connecticut, where Veyo has been serving Medicaid members since January.

"This last month ... gave us a lot of time to really make some improvements," Coppock said.

Veyo's three-year contract with the Department of Social Services gives Veyo about $7 million a year in 2018, 2019 and 2020, in addition to an estimated $140 million over the three years to cover transportation costs at a rate of $4.81 per Medicaid member per month.

At the last meeting of the council's working group, seven months into the contract, state officials, medical providers and patients said the company's insistence that it was improving didn't match up with the stream of stories of dialysis patients left stranded at clinics, sick children missing doctor appointments and people who use wheelchairs have been told none of the transportation companies that have contracts with the firm have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

The state Department of Social Services has fined Veyo $13,500 from Feb. 1 to Sept. 7, the Connecticut Mirror reports, for times when patients were left waiting too long for pickups, when their rides never showed up and when providers violated medical orders against giving rides to multiple people at once. 

Some, including Connecticut Hospital Association Vice President Karen Buckley, commended Veyo on Wednesday for the changes the agency has made since July, including the after-hours arrangement with its Arizona facility.

Coppock said Veyo is adding new contracts to the list of transportation providers it subcontracts with to take people in wheelchair vans, ambulances and cars. It also is conducting a review of the more than 70 transportation providers — including cab companies, out-of-state livery firms, ambulance companies and its own roster of Uber-style independent drivers — and plans to sanction or end its contract with any not performing well. 

In New London County, according to numbers it presented Thursday, those providers make 615 trips per day.

But Coppock didn't leave Thursday's meeting without hearing more criticism from some members of the working group and patient advocates. He drew a rebuke from the group's chair, state Rep. Kathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, for making an analogy comparing patients' request for wheelchair-accessible vehicles to a request for a hot-air balloon.

And Bonnie Roswig, an attorney for the Center for Children's Advocacy who has been a vocal critic of both Veyo and its predecessor, Logisticare, said Thursday that despite Veyo's rosy outlook, problems for the state's most vulnerable Medicaid members have continued.

"I am more concerned than ever," she said, before detailing calls from clients who have received conflicting information from Veyo call center employees this month. "We are not seeing the improvement."

m.shanahan@theday.com 

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