My sister taught me how to ride a bike. She waited patiently as I found my sense of balance and learned the correct hand signals. As soon as I figured it all out, I was off! I had never felt more independent. In many ways, transportation is synonymous with freedom, and it’s something those of us with access to it often take for granted. Coloradans depend on a variety of modes of transportation to work, play, and oftentimes, be healthy—but it’s not equally available to all.
Many Coloradans, especially those enrolled in Medicaid, struggle to get themselves to and from health care visits. While lack of access to non-emergent medical transportation (NEMT) stems from a number of factors, there is one in particular that was addressed for Medicaid patients in House Bill 1097 (PDF)—a CCMU priority bill—this legislative session. Currently, there are only about 90 NEMT providers available to transport Medicaid patients needing health services and supports in Colorado. This workforce shortage makes it such that while vehicles are available, the drivers are often not, and patients don’t end up getting where they need to go. Providers contracted with Medicaid are regulated very strictly, which opens up opportunities for new, potential providers’ applications to get blocked by other transportation companies during the application process. This results in fewer transportation providers than we need, due to the burdensome process.
HB 1097, which just passed the legislature with bipartisan support and has been signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper, will change the way Medicaid transportation providers are regulated. This change will not only open up entry to the market—preventing larger transportation networks from easily blocking applications—but it will also maintain existing safety and accessibility requirements that ensure quality drivers. It will, theoretically, generate more access to transportation for Medicaid patients needing timely health care services. It also has the potential to reduce health care costs, since patients with reliable transportation to preventive, primary care services can avoid delaying care, which can result in costly trips to the emergency room.
Thinking back on the times I would ride my bike from my house to the library in the span of minutes, or how much I now rely on my car to take me to work, social gatherings, health care appointments, and so much more, reminds me how important transportation access is. It would be crippling to constantly worry about how to get anywhere, much less a necessary health care appointment. It’s also frustrating to know that our state’s health care transportation infrastructure has been making things harder on patients. That’s why it’s important that we continue to seek solutions, such as HB 1097, to address some of the transportation issues that exist for our most underserved Coloradans. Great health care is only great if you can get to it!