(C) 2013 Luke T. Bush
PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY - 10/22/13
It's not often I see a New York State official responding to criticism of a private company working with the state.
In a recent public email an advocate for the disabled raised some issues regarding a change in the transportation services for Clinton County Medicaid clients. A private company, Medical Answering Services, LLC (MAS), is now scheduling transportation rides through its telephone contact office.
In her initial email advocate Debra Buell listed the problems she and others have encountered with MAS. She said that some wheelchair users were facing discrimination under certain circumstances when they had to use a taxi and were told to leave their manual wheelchairs behind, the type of chair that can be folded up for transport.
Among the contacts on Debra's public email list was Greg Allen, Director of the Division of Program Development & Management, Office of Health Insurance Programs, New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), who responded to her email. Debra had a counter-response and a copy of the exhange, "NYSDOH Defends Corporate Partner MAS, Rejects Clinton County," is posted at this link.
In his email response Greg discussed Debra's criticisms, including the situation with a client being required not to travel with a wheelchair.
He responded: "In the past the transportation benefit lacked the centralized management capacity the MAS contract now affords. Under the requirements of our contract which mirror State regulation, MAS is working cooperatively with those wheelchair users who typically travel in a sedan vehicle (taxi or friend) and have more mobility independence than others who require the higher mode of ambulette transport."
Debra countered: "This is another lovely thought that may be true for some persons in wheelchairs, but certainly not for the ones who are experiencing great distress at being asked to put themselves and their safety at risk by leaving their chairs."
She said that in some cases wheelchairs users were facing discrimination when NYSDOH didn't treat clients equally, a violation of federal law – Title VI.
She cited Title 34, Section 104.52 Health, welfare, and other social services, (a) General: In providing health, welfare, or other social services or benefits, a recipient may not, on the basis of handicap... Part (4): Provide benefits or services in a manner that limits or has the effect of limiting the participation of qualified handicapped persons...
With that citation in mind Debra stated: "[W]e find that asking persons who use wheelchairs for mobility to leave their chairs has the effect of limiting the participation of the client in an equitable manner. No one would 'hobble' an able bodied person to 'make it cheaper' to transport them."
Debra also challenged the idea that privatization of scheduling Medicaid rides would save money for taxpayers.
Responding to Greg Allen she wrote (with her own emphasis on key words): "I do not think any 'reasonable person', mathematician, accountant or auditor would EVER find it prudent or CHEAPER for a vendor from 90 minutes away to travel that distance to provide a one mile ride. In addition, this shows what GREAT LENGTHS this state and MAS will go to in transporting able bodied clients while simultaneously asking persons in wheelchairs to do exceptional and extraordinary things to ACCOMMODATE YOU (NYSDOH AND MAS)."
I emailed Greg to ask him a few questions pertaining to the issues Debra raised. So far no response but I understand how busy he must be.
At this time I'm not aware of any direct response from MAS representatives about Debra Buell's criticisms. Maybe Greg Allen said what they wanted to say.
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