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Politics

Unions Ready to Sue as Florida Budget Commission Considers Prison Health Privatization

September 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

As Floridas Joint Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) prepares to meet Wednesday to consider a proposal to privatize prison health services, an attorney representing public-sector unions vows the state should be prepared for another lawsuit if approval of the proposal is forthcoming.

Well be moving promptly, said attorney Tom Brooks, one of the lawyers representing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), at a press conference Tuesday morning. The [Department of Corrections] actions will be challenged.

The LBC will meet Wednesday to decide several matters, among them whether to approve the proposal by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) to privatize health services at some three-fourths of the Sunshine States prisons. Speakers at the press conference argued that the Commission is exceeding its jurisdiction.

"My understanding from being on the LBC is that the LBC has a certain goal: one of making limited adjustments to the budget, not creating policy change, said state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston. Its goal is to move money between appropriations, not trying to create an appropriation that was not approved by the Legislature.

Earlier this year the legislature did make provision for the privatization of some state health services, but that provision expired on June 30, before the DOC had time to finalize its contracts with for-profit corporations Wexford Health Services and Corizon Correctional Healthcare. The DOC claims it has independent authority, under other state statutes, to privatize all of the systems health services.

"Its clear in the budget that the $41 million was provided to privatize health services in the South Florida region only, said Rich. The Legislature did not privatize all the regions, which would have cost significant amounts of more dollars.

I also go back to the fact that there was clearly legislation expressly privatizing [more] prisons, and it was defeated [in the last session], Rich continued. So my feeling is that we need to not do this now, but bring this back to the full Legislature in the next session, where these issues can be fully vetted and not done in a way that makes policy the way the LBC is doing.

Doug Martin, legislative director of AFSCME Florida, claimed the move to privatize would not save any money, and cited the states own reported projections.

In the [LBC] staff analysis of [this proposal], they note that the current health services budget is $347.5 million and the total contracted for is $353.8 million, he said. So the contracts' cost is more than $6 million greater than the current health budget. This is not something that is going to save money; it will cost more money.

Martin also said privatization of prison health services has been a disaster every time its been tried, particularly in Florida. He cited a verdict two days ago by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, upholding a $1.2 million verdict against Corizon, one of the companies the DOC is looking to contract with.An inmate in Lee County successfully sued after suffering partial permanent paralysis due to inadequate care received from health care providers provided by the for-profit corporation.

"Corizon cant even run a county jail without permanently injuring people, yet the state wants to give them three-quarters of the state to do that, Martin said.

Rich cited what she said was an apparent contradiction in the LBCs analysis of the DOCs proposal.

"The analysis says statewide savings will stay the same, but that the savings per contract cannot be validated at this time, she said. How can they know that statewide savings remain the same when they cannot even validate the savings per contract? That, to me, is a contradiction right there.

Martin also pointed out that the 7 percent the DOC claims will be saved by privatizing services is based on budgetary figures from two years ago. Under current budgetary allowances, the state is projected to spend less on services than they otherwise would if they go forward and contract with Wexford and Corizon.

The state is relying on 2010/2011 numbers because they could not save 7 percent over current costs and build in the profit margins these companies will no doubt enjoy, Martin charged.

The expression smoke and mirrors comes to mind, said Brooks.

The unions legal team has previously insisted that the DOC itself has no authority to propose privatization of health services under current law, both because existing Florida statutes implicitly prevent the Department from contracting with for-profit corporations and because Wexford and Corizon are not licensed health care providers.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com.

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