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Taxis For Medicaid Patients?

Updated: Thursday, January 24 2013, 08:48 PM EST

Scheduled to arrive at 10, the boxy white Rutherford County shuttle rolls in promptly at 10:01.

It's driver Gail Crawford is dropping Medicaid patient Mary Splawn off at the Rutherford Wound Center for her weekly doctor's appointment.

The two know each other and hug when Gail wheels Mary's inside and they say goodbye;  it's a dependable pattern that may not last much longer.

There is a proposal in the North Carolina legislature to adopt a broker system, where businesses bid to transport Medicaid patients to their appointments.

"This might be okay in the metro areas, where there are a lot of providers, but in the rural areas," said Kerry Giles, the director of Rutherford Transit Authority, "people simply won't get to their doctor's appointments."

Medicaid patient transportation right now is generally handled by counties. The requests for service come into the county office, and then sometimes - if all drivers are booked - will send the business to local cab companies. In Rutherford County, there are three cab companies that split about half of the business, while the coutny takes the other half, Giles says.

This proposal would open the business to the lowest bidders, which in many cases would likely be cab companies.

"If I'm bidding on a job with a 15 passenger van that gets 10 miles to the gallon, I'm not going to be the low cost provider," Giles says. "I won't be awarded the trip - they'll give it to a cab that might be out of Charlotte."

Legislators say it will save money by opening the Medicaid transportation business to competition - but Giles says it would hurt the county.

"If my Medicaid gets cut, that will in turn result in other services being cut," said Giles, who said that could potentially mean layoffs. One local cab company also relies on business from Medicaid patients, and with competition from cab companies in nearby cities, the owner says his business likely wouldn't survive.

Giles says her main concern is the quality of care for the 1500 local patients using Medicaid transit.

"We're dependable, we're safe, we're reliable, we'll get you where you need to go," she said. "I can't say that, from a broker system as to who they utilize to provide the trips."

Follow Ashlea Surles on Twitter @AshleaSurles

Taxis For Medicaid Patients?

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