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Follow the Students, Find the Money


Student tracking systems make a byzantine (and underused) Medicaid reimbursement process much easier to navigate


Written By Kari Lydersen R


idership-tracking systems allow administrators and parents to know when and where students have ridden the bus. Such systems not only provide peace of mind, they can also help provide districts with significant revenue through Medicaid reimbursement for transporting students with special needs and individualized education programs (IEPs). The ridership-tracking systems generate needed documentation in an exponentially more effi-


cient way than manual record-keeping by drivers and administrators. The systems can save staff time and potentially make the complicated reimbursement process financially worth the effort. “It was a totally happy day,” recalled Theresa Anderson, of the day her former Colorado district


received such a system. She started her career as a bus driver 30 years ago, became transportation director of Jefferson County Schools and now owns a transportation consulting firm. Anderson estimated the technology cuts the time that is needed for seeking Medicaid reimburse-


ment from about 40 hours to just six hours. “You’re no longer going, ‘Okay, I have 57,000 pieces of paper. I have to round them up and I don’t really have proof.’” Anderson said many districts in Colorado collect between $50,000 and $400,000 a year for Med-


icaid-related reimbursement. The last time she checked with a third-party billing agency that helps with reimbursement, only about 10 percent of school districts were making the reimbursement claims they were eligible for. “It’s a huge missed opportunity,” commented Anderson. She figured that districts nationwide fail to claim millions of dollars in transportation-related Medic-


aid reimbursement. Each school year, districts could receive roughly $500 to $1,000 per student who is eligible for Medicaid under their IEP, based on their family’s economic status. For example, a district with two-thirds of its 469 special needs students being eligible for Medicaid might be reimbursed more than $500,000 for just one school year, Anderson observed. Zonar said its Z Pass system makes Medicaid reimbursement “as easy as 1-2-3,” since students scan an identification card that automatically logs the date, time and location for each bus entry or exit, which creates data that school administrators can tap to automatically generate reports. “Zonar works with most third-party service providers to automate the entire reimbursement pro-


cess, by managing data collection, reconciliation and filing on the district’s behalf,” noted H. Kevin Mest, the company’s senior vice president and general manager of passenger services. Freeport School District 145 in Illinois obtains between $15,000 and $40,000 a year in Medicaid


reimbursement, thanks to tracking and running records through Zonar Z Pass. The funding essentially pays for the Zonar system to be used for all riders, reported Dallas Pieper, director of transportation and enrollment. Prior to the Freeport district implementing the system in 2012, it used “pencil and paper” and


spreadsheets to compile ridership records for its 200 Medicaid-eligible students with IEPs. “It just makes it so much easier,” Pieper shared. “It’s pretty much a no-brainer.”


34 School Transportation News • MARCH 2020


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