Pittsfield woman not eligible for volunteer driver program because she has Medicaid

  • Cindy Brown, a retired property tax administrator for the state, drops off Pamela Disney for her doctor’s appointment at the Memorial Building on the Concord Hospital campus on Monday, September 12, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 9/27/2022 5:56:25 PM

Just last week Pamela Disney praised the Community Action Program’s volunteer driver services. They provided efficient and reliable transportation for Disney, who doesn’t have a car, to attend her frequent medical appointments. 

Her alternatives – a bus ride or taxi service from Pittsfield – take hours longer and are difficult to set up, especially for someone who doesn’t have a computer. Disney suffers from severe sciatica, making it quite painful to be out of the house for so long. 

During one appointment in Bedford, Disney found herself stranded for three hours waiting for a taxi pick up to bring her home. 

After she was featured in the Monitor, Disney now has no choice but to schedule taxi rides to get to her appointments. After learning that she qualifies for Medicaid coverage, she was disqualified from the volunteer driver program. 

“Unfortunately, as much as we'd like to help, our hands are tied. As long as they have Medicaid, we cannot accept them,” said Rosa Burtt, the volunteer driver program coordinator for the Community Action Program of Belknap and Merrimack counties. “Our funding is limited, and we can only assist those who do not have another source of transportation.”

Although transportation provided through Medicaid is free, it’s not simple. It includes pages of applications that must be approved and learning to navigate multi-step phone menus with dead-end numbers and full mailboxes.

Medicaid pays for non-emergency transportation services as part of the coverage from four providers that have contracts with the Department of Health and Human Services – NH DHHS Fee for Service, NH Healthy Families, WellSense Health Plan and AmeriHealth Caritas New Hampshire.

Providers then have full control over coverage, schedules, payment and transportation type.

Transportation to appointments could come in the form of private rides from family and friends with mileage reimbursed, taxi fares, buses, wheelchair vans or non-emergency ambulance rides.

To schedule a ride, users call these services directly. Some brokers require 48 hours notice, others need at least three days to confirm transportation.

Disney, who is covered through WellSense, calls their transportation number to schedule her rides. WellSense utilizes a few different taxi services to fulfill requests. She’s had good luck with one provider, but the timing of rides and availability of drivers can be hit or miss.

These services are available to the 225,000 people in New Hampshire who have Medicaid coverage, according to state data. The federal insurance program provides health care coverage to eligible low-income and disabled individuals.

To apply for assistance, people who are eligible are able to go online to fill out applications through the nheasy.nh.gov website, or visit a district administrative office.

The application for assistance is a 12-page booklet with questions about income, assets, expenses and personal background. Through this application, people can apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, child care, nursing facility, medical assistance, Medicaid and other programs all at once.

When Disney first enrolled in the volunteer driver program through her local welfare office, she did not have Medicaid coverage.

After she was approved for the insurance policy, she didn’t update the driver program that she had new coverage. She said the service was superior and she made close friendships with the volunteers.

Despite using the services for 15 years, she is no longer eligible.

For Disney, scheduling taxi rides is a tedious and tiring process. It can take two hours to confirm transportation. She has less flexibility if she needs to reschedule and uncertainty with pick-ups from appointments.

She doesn’t have an extra $50 in her budget to pay for a taxi herself if the ride falls through as her income is below the poverty line. She lives alone in Pittsfield without access to technology.

After riding with the volunteer program for so many years, Disney had the phone numbers of drivers who would frequently pick her up, and could contact them directly.

Disney isn’t alone in her hesitations with the service. Often, Burtt’s office receives calls from potential riders who have struggled to use the Medicaid-provided services, she said.

The only solution she can offer is to file a complaint through Medicaid.

However, to file a complaint, riders must contact the broker directly through the same maze of phone numbers they navigate to book rides.

The Monitor was not able to obtain the number of complaints filed due to a lack of response from providers.

Disney’s dental coverage is not covered through Medicaid. She hopes a result of this, she can still get free rides through the volunteer program for dentist appointments.

Otherwise, she’s not sure what she will do.

“It is difficult for somebody in my position,” she said.

How to help

To drive for the Community Action Program’s volunteer program in Belknap and Merrimack County, call 603 224-8043 or email vdpcoordinator@bm-cap.org

To schedule a Medicaid ride call the following numbers based on your coverage plan:

NH DHHS Fee For Service: 844-259-4780 (48-hour notice required)

NH Healthy Families: 888-597-1192 (three day notice required)

WellSense Health Plan: 844-909-7433 (48-hour notice required)

AmeriHealth Caritas New Hampshire: 833-301-2264 (48-hour notice required)


Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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