HARTFORD, CT — Some patients are still not receiving the rides they need and livery and taxi companies are laying off employees because they are no longer receiving calls from the contractor in charge of transporting Connecticut’s 800,000 Medicaid recipients.
At least three livery companies testified last week to a newly created task force about the reduction in calls from the state’s new non-emergency medical transportation provider, Veyo.
They say they haven’t been terminated by Veyo, but they are no longer receiving calls for service as they had during the first three months of the year.
Mubarik Mir of Hartford Livery and My Taxi said he’s laid off eight employees because of the loss of business. He said that Veyo hasn’t terminated his contract and has not responded to requests for information about what happened. He said he stopped receiving calls from the company on April 12.
“They just shut us down,” Mir said.
He said he was told by Mike Buonaiuto of Veyo that the company, which has a three-year, $160 million contract with the Department of Social Services to provide federally mandated transportation services to Connecticut’s Medicaid population, is “cost cutting.”
However, Mir said they never had an opportunity to negotiate the rate of pay they would receive. He said they were told by Veyo what the company was going to pay and that was that.
“We’re keeping your contract, but no jobs,” Mir said.
He said they were being paid less than they were with Logisticare, the previous contractor, but they were happy for the business when they were getting it.
Mir said keeping the Veyo portal on is costing him money. He said he wishes they would terminate the contract because it would save him money on insurance premiums.
Sheldon Toubman, an attorney for New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said the reason is under the contract Veyo would need to go through a process to terminate a transportation provider.
“By nominally keeping these companies contracted with they don’t have to go through this process and they can pay the much cheaper independent drivers,” Toubman said.
Josh Komenda, CEO of Veyo, said they have very specific performance indicators for transportation providers that are communicated on a regular basis with those providers.
He said the system is set up to send the jobs to the highest performing transportation companies.
Veyo has registered with the Department of Transportation as a Transportation Network Company, like Uber and Lyft. The registration means they have an umbrella insurance policy of $1 million for the independent drivers they hire to give these rides.
David Coppock of Veyo said they only use independent drivers for 1 percent of the 14,000 trips per day that they do.
“I continue to hear over and over how we continue to recruit and take trips away from cab companies,” Coppock said. “It’s just not true.”
The livery and taxi cab companies, who have spoken up, don’t believe the statistics. They believe Veyo’s business model seeks to replace them with independent drivers.
The Department of Social Services says there are only 120 independent drivers working for Veyo and they are providing less than 1 percent of the rides.
Komenda said Veyo doesn’t have any information about how any transportation company it uses classifies its drivers. There are over 70 transportation companies that contract with Veyo. He said they contract with those companies and track whether those companies are on time and whether there are any complaints.
He said they send regular reports to the transportation companies about their performance and how they compare to their peers.
However, representatives of the livery and taxi companies who testified at the hearing last week said that Veyo is not sending reports. They say they aren’t getting that type of data or communication, and they admit they don’t know exactly who is providing the rides that they are no longer providing. All they know is they aren’t getting the business.
Meanwhile, patients like John Bodnar — who has had to twice reschedule a surgery because drivers failed to pick him up and take him three blocks from his nursing home to the doctor’s office — don’t know why they aren’t getting transported.
“It’s immoral,” said Bodnar, who has multiple sclerosis. “I’m going to get them [the nurses at his nursing home] to use a Hoyer lift and put me in my motorized wheelchair on May 30 so I don’t miss my appointment.”
Bodnar said they will fight him on his decision to try to get himself to his appointment without a ride, but he’s determined to get to the doctor on his own.
“It sounds like we’re not providing the transportation providers what they need to be paid to actually provide the transportation,” Karen Buckley, vice president of advocacy for the Connecticut Hospital Association, said last week.
She said she still has hospitals with clients who are sitting there waiting five and six hours for a ride.
“We shouldn’t have hospitals calling back five times to get someone home after the patient has waited five hours,” Buckley said.
She said we recently had a patient waiting for five hours to be transported to a nursing home, and the ride came at 2:30 a.m.
“That’s not in the best interest of the patient,” Buckley said.
She said the transportation provider is supposed to be there within an hour. But if they’re not, what’s the next step?
She said patients in wheelchairs are at times being told there aren’t any wheelchair vehicles available to transport them.
Buckley said until this is figured out, the patient is essentially stuck.
There’s a dispute about whether Veyo’s transportation providers should provide wheelchairs. Veyo says it’s not part of the contract.
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, D-Meriden, who was chairing the task force meeting last week, said Veyo has a contract.
“We have to make sure we look at what it says in the contract,” Abercrombie said.
She said she tried to introduce legislation that would have prohibited Veyo from using independent drivers to transport children under the age of 16 with an intellectual disability. She said the Office of Fiscal Analysis said that type of change would open up the contract and “put a huge fiscal note on it.”
“We’re here today because people wanted the contract opened. We opened the contract and this is what we got,” Abercrombie said.
She said she’s concerned because two ambulance companies recently laid off 30 employees and are selling their wheelchair vans.
“From a personal point of view I’m scared to death with what’s going to happen with our non-emergency transportation because of the contract,” Abercrombie said.
She said that has nothing to do with Veyo per se. She said they are adhering to the contract they signed.
“It was up to DSS to give a contract that was fair to the people that we represent,” Abercrombie said. “And I don’t believe this contract is really looking at the needs of the people we represent in this state.”
Veyo operates in Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, and Texas.
It’s relationship with the state of Idaho ended last year when the state asked them to provide services that were not covered by the contract. Komenda said it made the business model unsustainable.