County looks for Rx for medical transit
Written by ALEX ASPACHER Sentinel Staff Writer
Friday, 17 January 2014 11:29
Health insurance is becoming more accessible, but coverage doesn't mean much if a patient can't get to their doctor's office.
That's the puzzle officials are trying to solve by putting together a plan that would fill some of the gaps in public transportation.
Wood County is buzzing with health care changes. The Affordable Care Act has expanded eligibility for Medicaid, and the county health district has received what's expected to be ongoing funding to expand services at its clinic.
To help people reach those services, Wood County Job and Family Services representatives are working on a multi-agency program that would further expand public transit offerings to medical appointments.
"I think it's a good time to bring this into the mix. Those services are going to be wonderful, but if people can't get there, you lose some value," JFS Director Dave Wigent said while outlining the plan to county commissioners Thursday.
"This is a sneaky project where we're cobbling together existing things so we don't have to start from scratch."
Past obstacles to county transportation efforts included the cost of owning vehicles and purchasing fuel, as well as conflicts with insurance. This plan would ease some of those concerns, as transportation would be provided by a contract company or agency, such as Black & White Transportation or the Children's Resource Center, which owns vans, Wigent said.
An 800-number would be available to call in advance to arrange a ride through a transportation coordinator.
Some of the structure is already in place, like Non-Emergency Transportation, a Medicaid benefit that is under-used by people in Wood County and paid for with federal funding. The overall transportation program would hinge on getting more people involved with NET, also a contract service.
"We do not pay a penny here in Wood County for someone receiving that service," Wigent said "The feds pay it all."
NET is available to all Medicaid clients at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, and some up to 200 percent. The plan being formed would likely use other sources to cover anyone with household income up to 300 percent of the poverty level - about $70,000 for a family of four. People with income above that threshold typically rely on their own vehicles rather than public transportation, Wigent said.
This program is separate from other transportation efforts underway in the county. WSOS Community Action is currently conducting a series of meetings to take inventory of what is available in Wood County and survey the need for additional transportation options. A meeting Jan. 29 will weigh which practices statewide are best and should be used as a model for the WSOS plan. "That is not this," Wigent said, distinguishing between the projects. "This would be strictly to get people to those appointments, primarily within Wood County, that they need to get to in order to maintain physical and mental health and get drug addiction-treatment services.
"Our idea is very narrowly-focused."
Wigent estimated that as much as 80 percent of the transportation program could be paid for by leveraging state and federal funding sources available to JFS. The rest would be filled in by asking for contributions from agencies that would benefit, such as Wood County Hospital, the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, and the health district.
"They're all extremely positive about the idea," Wigent said.
If all goes well, the program could be put together over the next three or four months, he said.