Pasco County is dropping out of a state program that provides $826,000 a year to ferry low-income residents to medical appointments.
That doesn't spell an end to the paratransit program for the elderly and disabled, much of which is financed with other sources of federal and state money. In fact, officials say that dropping this particular money-draining service could help reduce the scheduling delays that have hit the entire program.
But it also puts certain riders — namely younger Medicaid clients — in limbo until the state finds someone else to provide those rides.
The problem, say Pasco officials, is that the state's Medicaid Non-Emergency Transportation has become a financial drain on the rest of the county's transit program.
The state provides Pasco enough money each month to finance 1,700 trips by the paratransit vehicles, which pick up clients at their homes, as well as 267 bus passes.
Officials say the demand for the services outstrips the funding. Transit manager Mike Carroll estimated that the county is handling about 1,800 trips a month for the Medicaid clients.
The county says the service is on track to rack up a $180,000 deficit this year.
Because the service is an entitlement program, the county can't turn away clients who meet certain requirements, including that they have no other means of transportation and that they are going to medical appointments that Medicaid is helping pay for.
So Pasco officials have been drawing on other pots of money to make up the difference. In the end, that means less money to cover rides for all of the paratransit riders.
The effect has been longer wait times for everybody else, including elderly citizens who aren't on Medicaid. As the Times reported last month, many of those elderly and disabled clients are having to put their names on waiting lists that are at least two weeks out.
Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson said many of the clients who use the Medicaid program are senior citizens. That means they are likely covered by federal funding sources.
He said that if the state is unable to find another contractor, it would be the younger Medicaid clients who might be left out.
Commissioners agreed last week to give a 90-day notice to the Florida Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged, housed in the Florida Department of Transportation, that Pasco would be dropping out. Other counties, including Hillsborough, have taken that step in recent years.
So what should Pasco's paratransit riders do? Nothing, Carroll said.
Service will remain the same for everybody for the next 90 days, and for most clients well beyond that, he said.
Once the state decides who will provide rides for the Medicaid clients, Carroll said, those clients will be notified about the new provider. The notification may come via mail, and Carroll said his office also would provide the information Medicaid riders need.
Pasco has acted as contractor for the program since 1999.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Pasco County is dropping a portion of its paratransit program that serves Medicaid clients, but is keeping the rest of the program that provides rides to elderly and disabled residents. A headline on the original version of this story incorrectly described the changes to the program.