IOWA CITY – Transportation alternatives are being explored as a free service offered to patients throughout Iowa for 80 years is ending.
After Monday, Dec. 31, vans will no longer pick up IowaCare patients to travel to appointments at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
UI spokesman Tom Moore said the UIHC Patient Transportation Service never received funding from the state and was being discontinued to redirect those financial resources.
“It was nothing that was ever mandatory,” Moore said of the transportation service, which began in 1932. “We did it on a voluntary basis.”
About 68,000 Iowans are enrolled in IowaCare, the state's health care program for adults with limited income who are ineligible for Medicaid.
Moore said funds used for transportation – more than $1.1 million was spent last year – will be redirected to patient care, such as prescription medications that go unreimbursed.
Transportation costs for this year will be lower - about $600,000 - because IowaCare has changed to offering “medical homes” throughout the state, rather than directing patients to University Hospitals or to Broadlawns in Des Moines, for Polk County residents.
Last year, the transportation service made 1,940 trips, driving 615,921 miles with 10,146 patient transports.
Moore said many riders made multiple trips, so of 130,497 visits last year, only 7.8 percent involved the hospital-provided transportation.
While primary care is now provided at federally qualified health centers throughout the state, IowaCare patients still must go to University Hospitals to see specialists.
Patients in the Cedar Rapids area also must go to University Hospitals for their primary care, posing a problem for those who have no way to get to Iowa City.
A committee has been meeting to address that issue, said Terry Bergen, mobility manager for the Transportation Advisory Group, housed with the non-profit Neighborhood Transportation Service in Cedar Rapids.
Bergen said the group is applying for grants to provide a twice-weekly shuttle service for IowaCare patients to University Hospitals.
The service, using vans or buses from NTS or Linn County LIFTS, also could be used for military veterans who need wheelchair-accessible transportation to the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System, he said.
Patients would travel for free or be charged $1 or $2 for each trip, Bergen said, if the funding is granted.
“We don’t want transportation to be an impediment to getting treatment,” he said.