Thirty-one Buffalo cab companies that were giving Medicaid patients group rides to their medical appointments were ordered to cease and desist Friday by Attorney General Letitia James.
The state Health Department issued guidance on March 21 prohibiting putting multiple people into medical transportation vehicles to prevent possible transmission of Covid-19.
The AG's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit found dozens of cab companies statewide have failed to comply with the new guidelines.
"For these companies to continue to conduct group medical transport rides in the face of an explicit prohibition during the unprecedented outbreak of a highly contagious disease, is simply and completely unacceptable," James said in a statement. "We take these violations very seriously, and my office will deploy any legal means necessary to stop providers from endangering their patients and the general public."
Taxi services and other transportation companies that provide Medicaid patients with rides are reimbursed by Medicaid – and it's a lucrative business.
Medicaid was billed nearly $480 million for transportation services statewide in 2019, according to the AG's office.
Taxi drivers can make hundreds of dollars a day per patient who live far from the medical facility they need to reach. Among the most frequent users of Medicaid-funded cabs are people who are in methadone treatment programs. Under normal circumstances, methadone patients must go to their clinic every day to get their dose. Methadone is tightly regulated by the federal government and can be distributed only at clinics authorized by state health authorities.
The Medicaid-reimbursed taxi business has been fraught with fraud. In February, the AG's office announced that five people connected with Wego, a Niagara Falls taxi company, had schemed to defraud Medicaid of more than $1.2 million. The state says drivers for Wego were taking people to and from appointments to methadone clinics in Buffalo and Niagara Falls but that the patients didn't live at those addresses and they were never picked up and dropped off at those locations.
The state Office of Addiction Services and Supports has told methadone clinics to allow patients to receive take-home doses "whenever deemed clinically appropriate" so that they don’t have to go to a clinic every day, a statement from the agency said.
Regarding the cab rides, the agency said that it's "supportive of the ongoing efforts to increas social distancing."