More Medicaid dollars would flow to volunteers who drive nursing home residents to medical appointments under a bill recently reintroduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). Seniors living in rural parts of Minnesota currently are scrambling to find rides, due to a dispute between transportation companies and Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Currently, Medicaid only reimburses volunteer drivers for the time when a beneficiary is in the vehicle. The “Recruiting Individuals to Drive our Elders (RIDE) Act” would allow Medicaid to reimburse volunteers for the miles they drive to pick up a beneficiary, and the miles they drive to return home after dropping off the beneficiary.

The bill would apply to volunteers who drive nursing home residents to appointments, as long as the appointment is paid for by Medicaid, Franken’s office told McKnight’s.

If a volunteer is not available to drive a Medicaid beneficiary to a medical appointment, the program currently pays for alternative transportation, such as a taxi. This policy unnecessarily increases costs, according to Franken.

“By allowing volunteers to be reimbursed for their whole trip, we’re also making government spending more efficient,” he said when reintroducing the RIDE Act on Jan. 16. He first brought the bill forward in September 2012.

Volunteer drivers currently are in high demand in rural parts of Franken’s home state.

Major insurer Blue Cross/Blue Shield canceled its contracts with non-emergency transportation companies in rural Minnesota in late 2013, saying these companies would need to work with a broker, Medical Transportation Management, to continue doing business with Blue Cross as of Jan. 1.

The transportation companies refused to work with MTM, citing its history of antitrust actions and Medicaid fraud. MTM also is offering the transport companies payment rates 30% lower than previous levels, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Long-term care facilities have been scrambling to arrange rides for residents since the changes took effect at the start of the year, according to local reports.

The full text of the RIDE Act will be available here.