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Program could be boost for seniors in Panhandle

November 06, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A pilot program to be launched in the coming months by the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority could help save money spent on the state's increasingly strapped Medicaid program and still make it easier for low-income residents to see their doctor or get a prescription filled.

Jump-started by a $64,970 United We Ride federal grant administered by the West Virginia Transportation Coordinating Council, Authority director Lynn Walker said the one-of-a-kind initiative entails working with area senior centers and other entities to devise a money-saving plan that also improves Medicaid-sponsored services, such as "non-emergency" transportation.

United We Ride supports states and localities in development of transportation programs that avoid duplication of services provided by more than one entity.

"We don't provide non-emergency medical transportation right now," said Walker, who was notified of the grant Oct. 16. She gave Berkeley County commissioners a brief overview of the initiative for the Eastern Panhandle on Thursday.

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The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources manages the state's Medicaid program and oversees reimbursements to private and public sector entities that provide transportation to residents who have little means to get to a doctor appointment.

West Virginia Public Transit Association President David Bruffy said the DHHR's current transportation programs are sometimes abused by individuals who have been reimbursed two or three times for one trip. And if a provider, such as an ambulance company, must comply with West Virginia Public Service Commission transportation regulations, DHHR officials are required to reimburse them for transport services at a higher rate.

"Bottom line - it's an expense the state can't afford," Bruffy said.

The state can't afford it, because federal earmarks for Medicaid have been cut and West Virginia's program has had a $70 million deficit, Bruffy said.

Of the $17 million the DHHR spent for Medicaid transportation services, about $10 million was reimbursed to the private sector, Bruffy said.

"Their hands are kind of tied," he added.

Both he and Walker said Friday they have been working with state Sen. John Unger, the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman and vice-chair of the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, to change the way the state operates.

Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said Friday that he didn't necessarily believe legislation would be needed to reconcile the reimbursement inequity, a circumstance he learned about within the last couple of months.

"Everybody has kind of done their own thing" in the past, said Unger, noting that inflating gas prices helped spur moves to consolidate services to save money.

Unger believes better coordination among agencies that provide such services will help prevent people in need from falling through the cracks. Though he doesn't necessarily think the strategy devised by PanTran leaders in the coming months will be a "one size fits all" solution for the rest of the state, Unger said he hopes it will help improve Medicaid transportation services statewide.

"If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always got," Unger said.

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