Taxi cabs are taking drug-addicted patients to a Columbus methadone clinic and back every day -- at the expense of the taxpayer.
A 44-mile drive to Cardington in Morrow County and a 93-mile ride to Vinton County are just some of the distances these cabs cover.
The Vinton County ride cost $418.50 roundtrip.
Taxpayers pay for these trips, because all the patients are covered under Medicaid.
“Nobody’s saying, ‘Boy, you know, $400, way to go, we got a great deal,’” Joel Potts of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors Association said. “I think every county would tell you we’d much rather have the services available locally. We’d like to have it be a lot cheaper.”
There are only 12 methadone clinics in the state of Ohio, all in big cities.
Drug use in rural counties has exploded, such as prescription pills and heroin.
Methadone is the treatment of choice for these addicts.
“Excluding transportation, methadone is a fairly inexpensive form of treatment,” said Orman Hall of the Ohio Department of Drug and Alcohol Services.
Just this year, Morrow County spent $8,300 on 76 trips to Columbus for just one client.
“It is expensive, but in our county we have some unique needs,” Don Wake of the Morrow County Job and Family Services said. “Ninety percent of our population lives outside of towns or villages. So if you are going to go any place in Morrow County, you’ve got to have a car.”
Vinton County spent $125,000 to drive 26 patients to Columbus for methadone last year.
“We’re looking at ways to reduce those costs for expensive trips,” said Jody Walker of the South Central Ohio Job and Family Services.
One way they hope to reduce costs in southern Ohio is with a new methadone center in Jackson.
“Obviously, it’s a lot closer,” Walker said. “It’s 30 miles from Vinton County. It’s 30 miles from Chillicothe, so it could be a much, much more cost-effective option for Vinton and Ross patients to seek treatment there.”
This will be a pilot project for a regional center that could lead to other similar centers, but only if it saves money.
“If we’re serving 10 counties and we still only have six people who need methadone, it’s possible that it would be cheaper to put them in a taxi,” Executive Director of Health Recovery Services Joe Gay said. “Sad to say, but it might be.”
Fayette County spent $97,000 to take just four clients to Columbus for methadone last year, but that’s just the start of their transportation costs.
“We’re a small rural county,” said Faye Williamson of the Fayette County Job and Family Services. “We don’t have a birthing center; we’re not able to do chemo or radiation, so we have to transport those people as well.”
In all, the state and feds spent $53 million last year, driving Medicaid patients to medical appointments.
That number would skyrocket if Medicaid is expanded under President Barack Obama’s new healthcare plan to include hundreds of thousands of more low-income Ohioans.
The Southeast Ohio Addiction Treatment Center is in the admission and evaluation phase.
It is awaiting permits to begin dispensing methadone.
If the center is successful, it is possible to see similar centers opening in other rural areas in Ohio.
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