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IowaCare users lose free rides to treatment

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For the past 80 years, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics have provided free rides to appointments for IowaCare users. That service ended on January 1, 2013, leaving many patients across Iowa unsure of where to turn.

IowaCare is a program that provides limited services for people who are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid. Its patients include Summer Divers, who lives in rural Maquoketa, Iowa, without many options for medical care.

"If I can't get to the doctor for him to do check-ups and routine maintenance, then how am I going to get the prescriptions to get my refills anyway? It's kind of like, 'Oh, my God, am I going to run out of insulin, and then be ill and having to make trips to the emergency room?'" said Divers.

Several times a month, Divers makes the two-hour trip to Iowa City, where she receives treatment for diabetes, hypertension and Graves disease. Those trips -- and the free rides-- are a lifeline.

"I"m already losing my eyesight, I don't want it to be my hands, feet, a heart problem," Divers said.

She's supposed to be in Iowa City again next Friday, but how she'll get there is another issue.

"Other people have jobs, they have families, they have stuff they need to be doing. They can't just drop everything," Divers added.

Tom Moore, a spokesman for the University Hospitals, said the cut's due to declining interest in the service, thanks to big changes since 1932.

"There's been a declining need to provide transportation service, because patients now can receive care in what's called their 'medical home,' which is usually much closer to where they live," said Moore.

Cutting the service, which University Hospitals provided voluntarily, will also save the hospital system $600,000 a year. That money will now go directly to providing patient care. It's little comfort, though, for 10,000 Iowans like Divers, who are left wondering how they'll make it to their next appointment.

"Oh, my God, am I going to die because I can't get to Iowa City? I mean, some people don't have family or friends," said Divers of fellow patients mindsets.

Some patients are also upset over how they found out about the end of the service. In Divers' case, it was short notice -- she heard about the cut from other riders just weeks ago. Moore said patients were notified as they signed up for appointments after the first of the year.

Moore said patients needing further assistance can consult their medical home. He said under the IowaCare program, the medical home is responsible for assisting patients with their transportation needs.

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