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UIHC to discontinue Patient Transportation Service

BY KRISTEN EAST | DECEMBER 14, 2012 6:30 AM

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University of Iowa hospital administrators will disband a service providing free transportation to thousands of IowaCare patients from around the state. UI Hospitals and Clinics officials say the cost of the program has grown to become prohibitive, and patients have other options available to them.

However, not all are happy with the decision.

The UIHC Patient Transportation Service currently provides free transportation to and from its Iowa City location from anywhere in the state for confirmed IowaCare patients or patients with pre-existing chronic conditions who have made appointments. That service will come to an end on Dec. 31.

Officials estimate the closure will save the UIHC roughly $600,000 per year.

Most people who use the service are IowaCare beneficiaries.  IowaCare is a health-care program that serves adults between 19 and 64 years of age who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level and who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. The program began on July 1, 2005.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said UI Health Care leaders discussed the growing number of Iowans on IowaCare and the expenditures facing them before ultimately choosing to discontinue the voluntary service earlier this year.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said the Iowa Legislature was only informed of the UIHC’s decision about two weeks ago.

“The hospital administration has been great to work with, but … I do think it’s part of the mission of the hospital to make sure that critical-care patients can get there,” he said. “There are going to be people who are hurt by the fact that they won’t have transportation to the hospital.”

According to a letter obtained by The Daily Iowan written by UIHC Director of Patient Financial Services Philip Roudabush, UI officials are encouraging patients to find other means of traveling to and from the UIHC for appointments.

“Other transportation options you may choose to explore include: personal or family vehicle, friends, community resources, community volunteers, public transit services, or commercial options such as a taxi or shuttle service,” the letter read.

Roudabush deferred all comments to Moore.

The UIHC has offered transportation for patients to and from Iowa City since 1915, when the Legislature first appropriated public funds for such services, Moore said.

IowaCare beneficiaries are all assigned to one of eight designated health-care centers throughout the state to allow for access to health care closest to home. All IowaCare patients, however, reserve the option of receiving care at the UIHC.

Moore cited the geographically dispersed provider network as one reason for UI officials to discontinue the Patient Transportation Service.

“… As IowaCare grew, the percentage of enrollees whose transportation needs could be met from the existing UIHC transport resources dropped proportionately,” Moore said.

"In fiscal 2012, 23,860 IowaCare beneficiares made 130,497 visits to the UIHC. Of those visits, roughly 7.8 percent involved UIHC-provided transportation, according to information provided by Moore. UI officials recorded 1,940 trips, 10,146 patient transports, and 615,921 traveled miles in that same time period."

The UIHC is not reimbursed for these transports, which in fiscal 2012 cost approximately $1.14 million.

While the Legislature has no say in the operation of the service, Jacoby believes it may have been salvaged had UI officials asked them for help.

“It is [the hospital’s] call,” he said. “… They could’ve come to us months ago so we could work on alternatives. It’s not that we’re mad at them — we want to work with them to see if we can find a way to fund transportation for critical care patients.”

Moving forward, Jacoby said the Legislature will likely look into reforming the health-care program.

“[We should] look at the inadequate funding for IowaCare itself, but I do think we will need to revisit the transportation challenges for all of Iowa,” he said.

However, Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, doubts the Legislature would want to discuss transportation options.

“Our track record hasn’t been very good in the past,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that [the patients] won’t have transportation, but it’s one of those situations where [UI officials are] letting everyone know who was going to be affected by it and what their resources are. It’s unfortunate, but they did the best job they could.”


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