New York City plays host to a Medicaid shuttle program for people with traumatic brain injuries to get around town for errands and short trips around the city. Recently, the program has been under fire after an unknown whistleblower revealed that some clients have been using the shuttle service to purchase cigarettes. Apparently, it wasn’t just a trip to the grocery store either. The person in question allegedly made 20 trips over 3 months to Seneca Nation Reservation to buy cheaper cigarettes, according to a Behavioral Health Central article.
Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert said, “It seems counter-intuitive to me to use Medicaid dollars to make unhealthy choices,” the article reported. She then made a formal letter to the New York State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines asking why clients were able to make cigarette runs using Medicaid dollars.
The shuttle services are available for traumatic brain injury victims who need nursing home care but who choose to live independently of a nursing home. The program – Medicaid Waiver for Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury – is run by the state of New York, but county employees keep track of the mileage and trip destinations.
Todd Vaarwerk of the Western New York Independent Living Project said that although buying cigarettes might be a bad choice, “the county doesn’t have the right to deny something that a person without a disability would otherwise be entitled to. That would be paternalism,” the article said. He advocated for the County to keep playing its part in the shuttle program instead of handing responsibility over to the state. “The county has a role in making sure the money is spent to meet the broader needs of the community,” he told The Buffalo News.
Since the Medicaid program was intended to assist brain injured clients live a more normal life, it makes sense that certain individuals’ normal lives include buying packs of cigarettes and going out to eat at their favorite restaurants. The shuttle program exists to assist them in living their lives, not to dictate how those lives are lived, some supporters of the shuttle have suggested.
Fairbanks, Phil. (April 6, 2010) “Comptroller claims his office found abuse.” Retrieved on April 6, 2010 from the Buffalo News Web site:http://www.buffalonews.com/2010/04/06/1010423/comptroller-claims-his-off…
Spina, Matthew. (April 5, 2010) “Medicaid shuttle program criticized: Funding of trips to buy cigarettes questioned.” Retrieved on April 6, 2010 from the Behavioral Health Central Web site: http://behavioralhealthcentral.com/index.php/20100405218668/Latest-News/…