AUGUSTA — Maine will not renew its contracts with the company it hired to arrange rides for MaineCare recipients in most of the state, but the company will still get a chance to continue working for the program.

Although Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ contracts will not be renewed when they expire June 30 because of the company’s poor performance, the company “would not be precluded” from bidding on new contracts, Stefanie Nadeau, director of MaineCare Services, said after she testified Thursday before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

She said the company’s performance would be considered in the state’s selection of contractors for the next fiscal year.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions indicated in a news release that it is not sure whether it would bid on the contracts.

Rep. Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland, the committee’s House chair, said he hopes the company will not be seriously considered, because of the many problems it has had arranging rides.

Since the program started Aug. 1, the Portland Press Herald has detailed a range of compliance issues and been contacted by dozens of MaineCare clients who said they have missed rides.

Coordinated Transportation Solutions has six separate contracts, worth a total of $28.3 million, to serve six of eight regions in the state, excluding the Bangor and York County regions.

In October, the state put the company on the equivalent of probation for poor performance, as thousands of Mainers who need transportation to doctors’ offices, physical therapy appointments, dialysis and other treatments missed their rides or got them late.

CTS also had failed to secure a performance bond, as required in the contract. The bond, if revoked by DHHS, would have given the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to help cover the cost of finding a new contractor.

When asked by the Press Herald whether the absence of a performance bond played a role in the state’s decision to let the company complete its current contracts, Nadeau said it was one of many factors.

Nadeau said another reason is that it could take as long as six months to get another broker for the rides. “We were coming up to that time frame anyway,” she said.

Company officials have said they have improved their performance, but Nadeau said that, overall, the rollout of the system did not go well.

“The implementation was extremely unsuccessful,” she said. “We agree that changes need to occur.”

PLEDGE TO KEEP PRESSURE ON CTS

The state’s decision to not renew the contracts follows five months of steady complaints by patients, health care providers and local transportation agencies that have provided the rides.

Legislators expressed concern Thursday that, as a potential lame duck, CTS would not have an incentive to do a good job. “Are they going to backslide in terms of service?” Farnsworth asked.

Nadeau said the company will be held to the performance standards spelled out in the contract. “There will be no backing off of CTS,” she said.

A parade of transportation providers, patients and others told the committee that numerous problems persist.

David White, president of CTS, said in a prepared statement that the company supports the state’s decision to reinstate the bid process. He said his company will continue to develop a compliant transportation model for the rides system.

White said the shift from Maine’s 25-year-old system “has imposed many complications on the lives of MaineCare members, having been met with substantial resistance and unanticipated hurdles.”

He said the company’s experience would produce more realistic contract terms for the broker when the state begins accepting bids. He indicated that last year’s bid did not accurately define the cost and scope of the work.

“We are committed to carrying out our contract to the end of the contract year,” White said. “However, we are currently undecided as to whether or not we will bid on the revised (request for proposals).”

Late last fall, CTS asked for amendments to the contract, providing documents to the state strongly indicating that it was asking for additional funding. State officials have not discussed the proposed amendments, and Nadeau refused to answer legislators’ questions on the topic Thursday.

BILL TO REVAMP SYSTEM DEBATED

In a news release Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services said it will gather information about a potential replacement broker. It said it will monitor Coordinated Transportation Solutions’ performance through the expiration of its contracts.

Also Thursday, the Health and Human Services Committee reviewed a bill calling for a MaineCare rides system similar to the previous one, and like one used by Vermont.

Until Aug. 1, Maine’s program operated with a patchwork of local nonprofits arranging and providing the rides. Vermont’s system keeps the local nonprofits in charge.

Nadeau testified against the proposal by Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, but did not sharply criticize the bill.

“We remain committed to the brokerage model and look forward to a successful transition to best serve MaineCare members,” Nadeau said.

The broker system was established to comply with federal rules for accountability and transparency, to prevent people from misusing the system by getting free rides to non-medical appointments, such as the grocery store or the beach. But the federal government gives states wide latitude in devising their programs.

Several local transportation nonprofits testified in favor of Lachowicz’s bill, and said that if the broker system continues much longer, it could permanently damage the state’s network of volunteer drivers and financially weaken the nonprofits.

“That statewide (transportation) system is now in the process of disintegrating,” said Connie Garber, transportation director for the York County Community Action Corp.

But Charlie Newton, executive director of Penquis, the only local broker that won a contract in 2013, said the system is not the problem.

“Quality services can be provided under this model,” Newton said. “It’s not a bad model.”

Legislators will discuss Lachowicz’s bill in more detail at a hearing next week.

“I’m hoping we can come up with a good system and find our way through this,” she said.

Sarah Trites of Sabbatus, who uses the MaineCare rides system, said she has had problems with the new system.

“People need transportation that is on time,” she said.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @joelawlorph

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @stevemistler