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I-Team: Could Drug Addicts Get Cheaper Rides To Treatment?

By Kathy Curran, WBZ-TV
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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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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.

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