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Transit authority reduces medical assistance rides

Rich Cholodofsky
| Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 2:41 p.m.

The Westmoreland County Transit Authority on Thursday instituted a series of service reductions to its Medical Assistance Transportation Program in a move designed to allow the financially struggling service to continue operating through June.

The program, funded through state grants, is mandated by the state's Department of Public Welfare to provide free rides for medical treatment to low-income residents.

The program transports patients to doctors' offices, for other medical appointments and even for methadone treatments for heroin addicts.

The authority hired local taxi companies to provide most of the medical assistance trips. Some clients receive mileage reimbursements for driving themselves to the medical appointments.

Financial problems facing the program surfaced late last year when state allocations were cut by 19 percent, leaving the authority with a more than $750,000 funding gap. That cut necessitated the cost savings plan set to begin on April 1, said Meghan Yuhouse, director of the authority's medical assistance program.

"With these changes we will be able to make it through the end of this fiscal year," Yuhouse said.

Officials announced yesterday that next month the program will no longer transport clients to treatment facilities in Butler, Greene and Lawrence counties. Transportation will still be offered to locations in Allegheny, Fayette, Armstrong, Indiana and Washington counties.

The authority will limit client's travel to no more than 25 per miles each way to medical appointments, meaning that some trips within Westmoreland County could also be eliminated. Officials said that mileage cap could be reduced if anticipated savings are not realized.

Free rides will be eliminated on the weekends. Medical Assistance transportation services in the county will now operate Monday through Friday.

In January, the authority announced it would only make trips to Pittsburgh on Mondays and Fridays. Other Allegheny County trips, as well as transports to Fayette and Washington counties, are limited to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Trips to Indiana and Armstrong counties will be held to Tuesday and Thursday.

"We'll try to use these new changes to manage the costs better," said authority Executive Director Larry Morris.

Last year, Westmoreland County received $4.7 million from the state to operate the Medical Assistance Transportation Program, which on average provides more than 21,000 free rides a month. In February, the program had 17,400 riders, a 16 percent reduction from a year ago.

For this fiscal year, the state allocated $4 million for Westmoreland's program, leaving a shortfall for the authority to operate the program.

Morris said the authority anticipates it will receive more state money from the state next year.

"That's a good thing," Morris said.

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