IowaCare patients receive new transportation


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After University of Iowa Health Care disbanded a free transportation service for IowaCare patients last year, officials in Linn County took the matter into their own hands.

UI Health Care officials ended the transportation service on Dec. 31, 2012, because of increasing costs that could no longer be subsidized by the hospitals. On Jan. 29, Linn County officials launched their own service in place of the now defunct system.

The new program will run between the VA clinic in Linn County and the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Linn County Lifts and the Neighborhood Transportation Services partnered to provide the new service, which received funding from a $25,000 grant given by the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Special Transit Assistance Program.

Officials believe the new transportation will prevent more long-term costs later for IowaCare patients.

“When you’re in the IowaCare system you may not be able to afford a car or even be employed,” said Terry Bergen, mobility manager for the Transportation Advisory Group. “Our perception was if we could keep getting people regular visits, then there would be fewer trips to the emergency room, which would be much more expensive.”

IowaCare is a program that is available to people not eligible for Medicaid, because they earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The program began on July 1, 2005, and is set to expire this summer. 

Tom Hardecopf, the director of Linn County Lifts, wanted to help the community once the UIHC ended its program, with 4,000 people using IowaCare in Linn County alone.

“As a provider of public transportation for the community, I felt the need to help them,” he said. “Our highest hope with the program is that it is a benefit to citizens of the community in such a way that we can get some permanent basis.”

The new system will have a pickup station in downtown Cedar Rapids — which is also a stop for all city buses — giving IowaCare patients a chance to get transported to the shuttle. There will be a bus dropping off patients at the VA hospital and also to UIHC.

One of the unique aspects about the new shuttle is that it not only provides a service for people in need, but also veterans with disabilities who need to be transported to the VA hospital. Non-veterans or IowaCare members can also use the shuttle in case they receive a procedure that would leave them unable to drive themselves.

The program is set to run for 18 months as a trial run, and then the officials will look at various aspects to determine whether to continue the program.

The UIHC-provided program was a voluntary service that began in 1932; UI spokesman Tom Moore said the needs of patients have changed over time.

“Only 8 percent of IowaCare patients used the transportation service,” Moore said. “Clearly, they have other options for transportation. Medical homes arrange transportation.”

Moore said the UIHC will redirect its funds for other needs, such as medication. The hospital will save roughly $600,000 annually, Moore said.

Moore also said that the UIHC has not received much negative backlash with the cutting of the program, and does not see why people would be upset.

“We do everything we can to meet their health-care needs,” he said.

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