By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — It was an I-Team story that outraged many viewers: Taxpayers picking up a hefty tab to give drug addicts chauffeured rides to methadone clinics.

But the story doesn’t end there as the I-Team has discovered many of these addicts could be getting to the clinics for a whole lot less money.

It’s a door-to-door, chauffer-driven car service shuttling recovering drug addicts who are MassHealth patients to methadone clinics across the state.

“The word has got out now that MassHealth is pretty much a free taxi service,” one former livery driver told the I-Team.

The I-Team first exposed this program costing taxpayers millions, and then we hit the road and discovered even more problems. We followed these livery cars and found — in case after case — the people getting the free rides actually live very close to public transportation.

Our first trip started in Boston at a clinic accessible by the MBTA. The driver headed across the city to drop off a patient at his house, which was right around the corner from a bus stop.

WBZ-TV’s Kathy Curran reports.

The next trip took us from a methadone clinic in Boston to Braintree. Again, there was a bus stop right across the street from the apartment complex where the MassHealth patient lived.

A third trip brought us to Chelsea. The livery driver pulled up and dropped off the patient at an apartment building, her front door just about 20 steps from an MBTA bus stop.

We asked state Medicaid director Terry Dougherty, why these people, if they are able, can’t take the T.

“Although we encourage people to use public transportation, transportation is in fact a federally mandated benefit through the Medicaid program,” Dougherty said.

Second question: Are MassHealth members taking advantage of these free rides?

“I think people use the system as it exists,” Dougherty said. “Folks know that transportation is something they’re entitled to under federal law and therefore they’re going to use it. As long as someone produces the signature of a physician telling us to provide transportation, I’m federally obligated to provide the transportation to the patient.”

The I-Team reported that in the last year, in just four regions, the state has spent an estimated $1.4 million just on rides to and from methadone clinics.

That spending helps drive up the cost of the single largest account in the state budget — MassHealth.

Our investigation also found that most of the time the livery vehicles carry only one passenger at a time. Dougherty confirmed that, revealing the state only asks that 15 percent of the livery rides statewide carry more than one person.

Asked about this seemingly modest goal, Dougherty said, “It is one of the issues we’re currently looking at to figure both where individuals are residing and where they need to go.”

Since our investigation first aired, the state has begun an in-depth review of its own to see how it can make the MassHealth transportation program more efficient.

Officials said any significant changes — and cost savings — are still months away.

The I-Team found that overall, the state spends $100 million every year transporting MassHealth members to and from medical appointments of all kinds.

Comments (9)
  1. Jack says:

    Terry Dougherty, head of Mass health, is clearly grossly overweight and a potential burden to our preventive health care paradigm shift.

    He should be required to get into a weight loss program or be FIRED.


    I used to be a livery driver for these drug addicts going to the clinic in goverment center and worked for a currupt agency called Bellmore Transportation in Derry, NH, who would bill for a car load of people charging a seperate cost for each and if any cancelled, he would still bill Mass Health as if he took the whole car load. Mass Health saves no money by doubling or tripling of addicts in the cars. Each gets a full price and Bellmore transportation just saves gas, thats the reality ! They are not even licensed to do any taxi service in Mass at all but they find loopholes and ways around it. This is one of the most corrupt companies I have ever worked for so I moved on to a real company in fear of illegally driving as a taxi service in Mass !

  3. KAH says:

    this is amazing to me as my sister is severely disabled and we don’t get this type of service. we had to pay a small fortune for a wheelchair van. we get no help getting to appointments when it would be a real hardship for us to take a bus. if people are recovered, why can’t they get out and take the bus like the rest of us? it’s a shame Mass. has no choice but to provide this.

  4. sumu52 says:

    This is the type of cutting of the budget taxpayers want to see. One bus going to pick them all up would be cheaper than private taxi’s. the elderly and youth programs should not be cut.
    Why cant these bloated, overburdened budgets be trimmed and different options sought? isnt this why we have the government ? this is what drives average taxpayers crazy…that NO ONE SEES IT and does anything about it.

  5. Cynic says:

    This is the nature of Government…There is nothing you can do about it.

  6. emom says:

    THIS IS BULL,, HOW FAIR IS THIS TO THOSE IN TRUE NEED OF ASSISTANCE FROM THE GOVERNMENT… OH THIS IS RICH,., My mother is dissabled and has to get to doctors by means of her family,.,… we have to take tiime from work, loose money still pay taxes for THESE PEICE OF HYNIENA DUNG… REALLY,… THEY ARE NOT WORTH HELPING…. they will only be back on the streets using and abusing their bodies, to get a fix please ,,, doing all sorts of stuff to gain that fix,, junkies are worthless especially those that go back on the drugs REPEATEDLY, never trying to give it up…… yeah and I have to pay for these low lifes just as the rest of us poor working stiffs,,,, HE MASSACHUSTES HOW DOES IT FEEL TO GET SCQUEEZED EVERY DAY BY YOU KNOW WHO TO FUN THIS …….. YOU VOTED FOR THAT TRASH ARE YOU HAPPY NOW…. HHHMMMM ARE YOU ../…

    1. Kerry Fields Wolf says:

      Why focus the article ONLY on methadone patients? These rides are available to every participant in the medicaid program, not just them. If they should be required to take public transportation–and I am not saying they shouldn’t–why not everyone else? SHould car service not be reserved for those who are truly physically unable to endure public transportation?

      These “junkies” as you call them are not going to “get their fix”. Methadone does not cause any kind of high in stable patients who are tolerant to the medication–it simply replaces the natural opiates no longer being manufactured in the addict’s brain. This is caused by years of opioid use and is often permanent, requiring long term medication to remain stable. This means that some of these patients may be elderly, or have other physical illnesses that would prevent them from accessing public transportation. But most probably could use it.

  7. true says:

    i think MBTA is paying “endorsing” I-team to put a bad name on the medical transportation companies to get more business since they are deep in debt and want to get rid of competition from medical transportation companies. they will never suceed because they are much more expansive. I-team is clearly falling for it saying that there are bus stops in places near where people live true but Masshealth Medical transportation has been around for more than 15 years in mass and it did not hurt anybody. its actually helping disabled people get around. as long as you get a note from your doctor that you need transportation you are gonna get transportation. Its federal law. I see some lawsuits against
    i-team for exploiting and putting bad name on these medical transportation companies. they were following the vehicles and recording on camra without previous agreement from legit mass medical transport business owners like myself. my lawyer has been notified.

  8. Mellow Johnny says:

    So ITeam didn’t happen to peep out a disabled child with CP getting this transportation to Children’s? How about elder services taking your grandmother to their dr’s appointments? How about to the dialysis clinic? Pull your heads out of your ass, ITeam. Isolating on methadone population sparks anger and rage, and gets the results. How many of Jack’s “Wednesday’s Child” get MH transportation? Hipocracy.

    I seriously hope iteam considers that i-spying on people without proper consent is a breach of privacy guidelines.

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