Transportation Disadvantaged Populations:
Nonemergency Medical Transportation Not Well Coordinated, and Additional Federal Leadership Needed
GAO-15-110: Published: Dec 10, 2014. Publicly Released: Jan 9, 2015.
What GAO Found
Forty-two programs across six federal departments—Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services (HHS), Housing and Urban Development, Transportation (DOT), and Veterans Affairs (VA)—can provide funding for nonemergency medical transportation (NEMT) service, although NEMT is not their primary mission. Twenty-one of these programs, including Medicaid, are administered or overseen by HHS. The type of funding provided by these programs varies, but includes capital investments (such as bus purchases) and reimbursements of transportation costs (e.g., bus passes). Total federal spending on NEMT is unknown because federal departments do not separately track spending for these services. In some cases data were not available or NEMT was incidental to a program's mission. However, one of the six departments (HHS) was able to provide estimates indicating that its spending totaled at least $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2012—most of this attributable to Medicaid.
Coordination of NEMT programs at the federal level is limited, and there is fragmentation, overlap, and potential for duplication across NEMT programs. The federal Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (Coordinating Council)—chaired by the Secretary of DOT and tasked with promoting interagency cooperation and establishing mechanisms to minimize duplication and overlap of programs for the transportation disadvantaged—has taken some actions to improve coordination, such as developing a strategic plan. The strategic plan identified the council's goal, priorities, and objectives for 2011 to 2013. However, the council has provided limited leadership and has not issued key guidance documents that could promote coordination. For example, the council has not met since 2008 and has not finalized a cost-sharing policy that would allow agencies to identify and allocate costs among programs. GAO has previously found that agencies providing similar transportation services to similar client groups may lead to duplication and overlap when coordination does not occur. This review found instances of fragmentation, overlap, and the potential for duplication, although the extent could not be quantified.
State and local officials in the selected states GAO visited identified a variety of ways they facilitate coordination of NEMT. These include state coordinating bodies (two states GAO visited), regional coordinating bodies (two states GAO visited), local metropolitan planning organizations, and local transit agencies. Cost and ride sharing and one-call/one-click information centers were also used to coordinate NEMT services. However, GAO found two programs—Medicaid and VA NEMT programs—largely do not participate in coordination activities. Requirements to serve only eligible individuals and ensuring proper controls are in place to prevent improper payments and fraud are among the challenges to coordination for these programs. These important NEMT programs provide services to potentially over 90 million individuals and coordination without the Medicaid and VA programs increases the risk for potential overlap and duplication of services.
Why GAO Did This Study
Access to transportation services is essential for millions of Americans to fully participate in society and access human services, including medical care. NEMT is nonemergency, nonmilitary, surface transportation service of any kind provided to beneficiaries or clients for the purpose of receiving medical care. GAO was asked to review the coordination of NEMT services. This report addresses (1) the federal programs that provide funding for NEMT services, (2) how federal agencies are coordinating NEMT services, and (3) how NEMT services are coordinated at the state and local levels and the challenges to coordination.
GAO analyzed a compendium of federal programs that provide assistance to the public; reviewed program information from the six departments that fund NEMT; interviewed officials of DOT, HHS, and VA; and interviewed state and local officials in five states, chosen based on a variety of considerations, including geographic diversity and existence of a coordinating body.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that the Secretary of Transportation, as chair of the Coordinating Council, should publish a new strategic plan, issue a cost-sharing policy, and address the challenges associated with coordinating Medicaid and VA NEMT programs with other federal NEMT programs. DOT concurred in part with developing a new strategic plan and issuing a cost-sharing policy, and it concurred with identifying challenges of coordinating NEMT, particularly with HHS agencies.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) concurred with this recommendation. As of November 2016, FTA stated that Administrator-level members of the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM) met in July 2016 to begin the process of developing a strategic plan. A follow-up meeting of the same group is planned for December 2016. According to FTA, it is anticipated this meeting will result in agreement on a strategic plan framework and that interagency working groups will begin implementation of the framework in early 2017. Based on the minutes of the July 2016 CCAM meeting, emerging themes identified for the strategic plan included improved access to medical care and to better coordinate transportation planning, particularly integrating transportation planning into healthcare planning. This recommendation will be kept open pending finalization of the strategic plan framework and how it relates to NEMT.
Recommendation: To promote and enhance federal, state, and local NEMT coordination activities, the Secretary of Transportation, as the chair of the Coordinating Council, should convene a meeting of the member agencies of the Coordinating Council and complete and publish a new or updated strategic plan that, among other things, clearly outlines a strategy for addressing NEMT and how it can be coordinated across federal agencies that fund NEMT service.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation
Comments: FTA concurred with this recommendation. As of November 2016, FTA stated that Administrator-level members of the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility met in July 2016 to begin the process of developing a strategic plan. A follow-up meeting of the same group is planned for December 2016. According to FTA, it is anticipated the December meeting will result in agreement on a strategic plan framework and that interagency working groups will begin implementing the plan in early 2017. FTA expects development of a cost-sharing policy and proposed model will be an objective in the strategic plan. We plan to keep this recommendation open pending completion of the strategic plan framework and further information related to implementing this recommendation.
Recommendation: To promote and enhance federal, state, and local NEMT coordination activities, the Secretary of Transportation, as the chair of the Coordinating Council, should convene a meeting of the member agencies of the Coordinating Council and finalize and issue a cost-sharing policy and clearly identify how it can be applied to programs under the purview of member agencies of the Coordinating Council that provide funding for NEMT.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation
Comments: FTA said they concurred in part with this recommendation. FTA announced the selection of 19 Rides to Wellness Demonstration and Innovative Coordinated Access and Mobility pilot projects, totally about $7.3 million, in September 2016. According to FTA, seven of the 19 projects have a NEMT focus. In addition, during 2016 FTA conducted outreach sessions in various cities throughout the United States to discuss partnership opportunities between the health and transportation industries. FTA stated that a new series of NEMT-specific listening sessions is now underway and additional sessions are planned for 2017. The purpose of these sessions is to identify challenges related to NEMT coordination that will be addressed by Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (CCAM) working groups in the future. CCAM is also in the process of developing a strategic plan framework. FTA anticipates agreement on this framework in December 2016. The Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act requires CCAM to develop and publish a strategic plan. FTA anticipates issues related to this recommendation will be developed through 2020. We plan to keep this recommendation open to further monitor CCAM and FTA progress and the extent challenges are identified and addressed related to better coordinating Medicaid and VA NEMT with other NEMT programs in the federal government, through the strategic plan framework or other actions resulting from the listening sessions.
Recommendation: To promote and enhance federal, state, and local NEMT coordination activities, the Secretary of Transportation, as the chair of the Coordinating Council, should convene a meeting of the member agencies of the Coordinating Council and using the on-going work of the Health, Wellness, and Transportation working group and other appropriate resources, (1) identify the challenges associated with coordinating Medicaid and VA NEMT programs with other federal programs that fund NEMT, (2) develop recommendations for how these challenges can be addressed while still maintaining program integrity and fraud prevention, and (3) report these recommendations to appropriate committees of Congress. To the extent feasible, the Coordinating Council should implement those recommendations that are within its legal authority.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation