June 25th, 2015 10:25 am - updated: 10:25 am.

First Posted: 1/11/2013

An undetermined number of in-home caretakers in Pennsylvania paid through Medicaid waivers are waiting on late paychecks from a company contracted to handle caretaker payroll for the state Department of Public Welfare.

In November, Public Partnerships LLC of Boston won a state contract to handle payroll services for more than 20,000 recipients of Medicaid waivers for developmental disability and long-term living, starting Jan. 1.

Caregivers are paid twice a month in two groups of workers, according to a Public Partnerships spokeswoman. Paychecks for the week ending Dec. 22 were sent Jan. 4 while checks for the week ending Dec. 29 will be sent today.

The company replaced 37 payroll service providers spread around the state in a move to make the payment process more accountable and efficient, said welfare department spokeswoman Donna Morgan.

Public Partnerships spokeswoman Dina Wolfman Baker said the issue stems from incomplete or inaccurate information submitted by some companies that previously handled the services.

While Public Partnerships knows the identities of all of the Medicaid recipients it services, it would only know who the caregiver attached to the patient is if given that information by the former service company.

Data still missing

For that reason, Baker said it's impossible to tell how many caregivers have not been paid, though more than 10,000 have.

We don't know until the participant contacts us, she said. That's just a truly unfortunate outcome of the data not being as complete as it could have been.

The company needed to incorporate data from the 37 former fiscal/employer agencies into its payroll system, but said some submitted that data late, some did not have the capability to submit the data electronically and some flat-out refused to submit the data. Much of the data did not conform to PPL's specifications, the company added.

Baker said the company provides payroll services in 22 states and has managed transitions before, but the sheer number of companies involved in this transition adds difficulty to the situation.

Our primary goal right now is to make sure everyone gets paid right now, Baker said. Paying these people is what makes this program work, because they are needed to help these people.

Morgan said the late-payment issue might also stem from Medicaid recipients and caregivers not providing or not filling out timesheets and other paperwork correctly, though Thais Tupper, whose son receives Medicaid disability waivers, disputes that.

Tupper, who lives near Pittsburgh, contacted The Times Leader because a post office box where timesheets are to be mailed is in Wilkes-Barre. She said she mailed her caregiver's timesheet herself, but the caregiver was told by PPL that the company had not received it and was not paid.

Tupper said the caregiver was placed on hold during that phone call and hung up after 30 minutes. She said she and the caregiver have called back and left messages more than 20 times and sent emails to the company over the past week, but no one has responded.

She said she loaned the caregiver $200 and the caregiver is continuing to work for her son, but she worries that other caregivers will stop working, leaving homebound elderly and disabled persons to fend for themselves.

Morgan said PPL has received close to 90,000 phone calls since beginning work in the state, and is now returning calls for 64 hours a week, more than the 40 required in its contract. Despite those efforts, Tupper said it is taking more than 24 hours to get back to callers who leave messages.

Tupper said most of those calling have questions about the new company's procedures, not reports about missed paychecks.

Pashinski weighs in

State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said his office has received several complaints about missed paychecks from the company and is planning to meet next week with company officials, House Committee on Aging minority chairman Steve Samuelson and others about the issue.

He compared the incident to the Centax debacle, which has left Luzerne County municipalities waiting for more than a year for earned-income tax disbursements, and criticized Gov. Tom Corbett for wanting to privatize everything.

He thinks that's the best way to improve service, Pashinski said. Sometimes a private company may be able to do it better, but maybe not in this instance.