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State pays up to $500 cab fare to take methadone patients from Duluth to Brainerd

A Channel 9 investigation found that the state pays millions in cab fare for methadone patients to get their prescriptions, even when they go from Duluth to a Brainerd clinic.

Methadone patients around the state often take state-paid cab rides to pick up their medication, even traveling one-at-a-time from Duluth to Brainerd, says a report on Fox 9 News.

Says the story:

For four months, the FOX 9 Investigators watched and noticed cab after cab kept coming from the Duluth area roughly 115 miles way despite the fact that Duluth has its own methadone clinic.

One methadone patient described the process as “outrageous,” and said the state pays as much as $500 a day for those fares.

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State officials apparently aren’t even sure how much cab rides cost state taxpayers, the story said:

…the companies administering Medicaid for the state don’t keep track of what kind of appointments patients travel to by cab, be it an eye clinic or one providing methadone.

The FOX 9 Investigators suggested the state could tally taxi fares for patients at methadone clinics and narrowed the request to Pinnacle Recovery Services in Brainerd. Between February 2012 and March 2013, the state spent $2,554,000 on transporting patients to that clinic alone.

“That is incredible,” [State Sen. Julie] Rosen said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The state now plans to investigate some of those charges to see whether they are accurate, legitimate and what can be done to cut the costs.

Patients ride from Duluth to Brainerd, some daily, in cabs by themselves, because the Duluth methadone clinic can’t take any new patients.

Yet, if there are many patients traveling from one area, couldn’t they ride together?

Drivers explained that the answer is no, due to patient confidentiality; however, time and time again, the FOX 9 Investigators saw patients mingling and interacting with one another while they waited for their cabs to arrive.

The state told FOX 9 it would work with patients and providers on carpooling, and patients who are doing well can work their way up to taking out medications in a locked box instead of making daily trips.

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This happens in the metro area, too:

In fact, all over the state, patients receiving medical assistance from the government take taxis or medical transportation to get to methadone treatment — often driving past clinics that are closer to their homes. Even drivers who profit from the system say they are disgusted.

Stacy Arego takes a cab from Oak Park Heights to Valhalla Place in Woodbury, which is the closest clinic to her home and she said she sees about 100 cabs or more coming and going each day.

And some patients said there’s potential for abuse:

One patient confirmed being approached in the parking lot by people who want to buy her medicine. She never sells, but a different patient who makes three trips a week for prescription pickups in a state-paid cab admitted to selling the medicine for $40 a dose.