About 60 medical-transportation firms run by Somali-Americans have accused Blue Cross Blue Shield of playing “bait and switch” with them.
At a news conference Saturday in Minneapolis, they said the insurer recruited them to drive patients to the doctor and to persuade Medicaid members in their community to switch to Blue Cross, then fired them months later, once new-patient rosters were full.
The accusations have roiled Somalis across the Twin Cities.
The business owners said Blue Cross contracted with them in October, then dropped them in August, after they had persuaded friends and family members to jump from the state-terminated UCare Medicaid program to Blue Cross’s “Blue Plus” Medicaid program.
Blue Cross spokesman Jim McManus said the company had to let the drivers go because of “escalating costs of nonemergency medical transportation services” and a new business model that limits the transportation firms the insurer will use to take immigrant Medicaid patients to the doctor. In a statement, the company said, “Blue Plus is committed to addressing culturally specific needs in our business practices.”
Somali medical drivers said Saturday that Blue Cross executives came into the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood last year seeking minority and East African-immigrant contractors. They door-knocked, held meetings and ultimately signed up about 60 firms. But in August of this year, Blue Cross terminated about 58 firms, citing new criteria.
Affected firms complained to the state, hired an attorney and may take the matter to the Legislature.
“These Somali small-business owners trusted [Blue Cross], invested their entire savings, and took loans to start a new transportation company when Blue Cross Blue Shield awarded them a contract, and now they have lost everything,” said Ahmed A. Jama, chairman of the Somali (Transportation) Providers Association. “A year ago, they were begging our community to become members of Blue Cross. We helped them. But once they got all the members they needed, Blue Cross dumped the [transportation] providers who brought them all these new members. What they did is unfair, unethical and unprofessional.”
Drivers said they persuaded thousands of fellow Somalis to join Blue Plus, then spent a year taking them to dialysis, therapy, doctor, eye care and dentist appointments. On Saturday, those drivers vowed that no Somalis will stay with Blue Cross come October, when people can again choose their health provider.
“I am really angry and disappointed that Blue Cross played this scam on my community,” said Hodan Dualeh, a Cedar-Riverside resident. “I felt like they exploited those that were already marginalized.” Dualeh said she left a medical compliance job to start Best Care Transportation in Roseville in December because she liked Blue Cross executives’ outreach and sales pitch. She opened Best Care, hired 35 drivers and did well for months. But last month, she was forced to lay off 22 drivers, and she now depends on work from HealthPartners. It may not be enough to keep the doors open.
Keith Halleland, a health care attorney with offices in Minneapolis and Madison, Wis., who represents several of the transportation firms, said, “Blue Cross pulled the rug from under these drivers. It’s a big deal.” Halleland said he wonders if Blue Cross rolled out last year’s recruitment plan too quickly and was surprised by the program’s expense.
The company said its changes left no patients in the lurch, but several patients said Saturday that they have lost access to services they depend on.