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Eye on Boise: Idaho’s Medicaid transport contractor draws complaints from around state; Idaho House speaker tells Rep. Heather Scott they should talk honestly

FILE – Idaho State Representative for Distric 1 Heather Scott on May 4, 2016. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – Idaho State Representative for Distric 1 Heather Scott on May 4, 2016. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

When the Idaho House and Senate Health and Welfare committees held an open public hearing on health and welfare issues on Friday, people flocked from all parts of the state to complain about the Idaho Medicaid program’s new non-emergency medical transportation provider, Veyo.

The firm, based in San Diego, started brokering all such rides for Medicaid on July 1. Local medical transportation companies, care providers and clients all showed up at the hearing, saying rides are late or no-shows, vulnerable patients are being left sometimes in the wrong place or alone for hours, and providers aren’t getting the business they need to get by, in part because Veyo sends independent drivers to take some of the patients, following an Uber-type model.

“It makes me mad when I drive through town and I see these Veyo drivers, yet I send two of my single moms home because I don’t have enough work to give them any more,” said Kleeta Newby, owner of KDN Transport in Boise.

Jenna Dewitz, a social work intern with a Boise agency, told the lawmakers, “We have clients who are picked up and taken to the wrong place. We have refugee clients who can’t speak English and they are basically lost for hours. … We have had clients including children walk 2 to 5 miles home because they didn’t want to wait for Veyo any longer. … We recently had a refugee client from Afghanistan who had a 1:30 appointment and who wasn’t picked up until 7 p.m. and her family thought that she had been kidnapped.”

Darren Talley of White Tail Transportation in Priest River said his state reimbursements have fallen sharply since 2009.

“Most businesses in Idaho cannot withstand a 31 percent cut in funding,” Talley said. “Just give us back the funding we had in 2009 before the brokerage system went into place.”

Josh Komenda, president of Veyo, also spoke at the hearing.

“We know there’s much improvement to be made. We’re making great strides in that direction,” he said. “Every single issue is investigated.”

At one point, Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, asked how many of the crowd at the hearing were there about Veyo; at least 20 people raised their hands.

Veyo has a $70.4 million, three-year contract, with a renewal option for five more years, with Idaho’s Medicaid system to provide the rides to take Medicaid clients to doctor appointments, therapy sessions and the like. It won the contract over several other bidders, including the previous provider, AMR. AMR didn’t use independent drivers.

Matt Wimmer, Idaho Medicaid administrator, said the state is working with Veyo to address training issues.

“We did hear the concerns about independent drivers transporting people with special health needs,” he said. “We asked Veyo to address it,” and the company said it would stop assigning independent drivers to those patients. He said his office was paying close attention to the concerns raised at the hearing. “We don’t want to see any kind of safety issue popping up, so it’s a very high priority for us,” he said.

Heider and House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said both their committees will hold hearings to look into the issue.

Though people spoke on an array of health care issues, the only other one that drew as many comments as the Veyo problems was support for closing the gap in Idaho’s Medicaid coverage, in which 78,000 Idahoans make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized health insurance through the state insurance exchange. Wood told the crowd, “We heard you loud and clear” on both issues.

Fees, costs awarded

The Idaho Senate, by a unanimous vote, not only has rejected the contest of the election results in District 29 from the unsuccessful GOP challenger of Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, they’ve approved awarding nearly $20,000 in attorney fees and costs to Nye, at the challenger’s expense.

“Good senators, we have to serve justice here, we really do,” said Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton. “We have a frivolous suit on every count. And we need to make the incumbent whole again.”

Advanced programs for high schoolers paying off

So many students have been taking advantage of advanced opportunity programs in Idaho high schools that state Schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra says she’s projecting a 71 percent increase in student participation in 2017.

“In just one semester, we have already exceeded what was paid out in 2016,” she said. So she’s proposing a $1 million increase in funding in the school budget for advanced opportunities, which would bring it to a total of $7 million a year in state general funds.

“In 2016, there were 17,659 students who took advantage of the advanced opportunities, including all dual credit participation, and those students gained 95,337 credits, ultimately saving families across the state a tuition cost savings of over $7.1 million,” Ybarra told lawmakers. She estimated that every $1 of taxpayer funds spent on dual-credit tuition through the advanced opportunities program results in a savings to Idaho families of $3.36.

Bedke to Rep. Scott: ‘We should talk’

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, rose on the floor of the House Friday and requested a personal privilege.

“The lady has the floor,” House Speaker Scott Bedke said. Scott said, “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I respectfully request that I be returned to my committees, so that I can properly perform my duly elected position and the voice of the citizens in District 1 in North Idaho will no longer be silenced.”

There was a pause, in which Bedke said, “The House is at the 11th order. Uh, we’ll go to announcements then,” before turning to Scott. “Your request and your privilege is duly noted, and we should talk, you and I. Honestly and sincerely, OK?”

Then, he went on with the business of the House.

Scott was stripped of all her committee assignments the first week of this year’s legislative session for disparaging remarks about her fellow female representatives who she said only advance into leadership if they “spread their legs.” She apologized the next week, but then was sharply critical of Bedke for not immediately restoring her committee assignments. Five other House members, four of them freshmen, requested to give up their assignments, too, in solidarity with Scott, but Bedke declined and the five have continued to attend and participate in committees.

Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog. She can be reached by email at and by phone at (208) 336-2854.