By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA — Overcoming the efforts of several public-sector unions, Florida plans to hire more private health vendors in its correctional instutitions.
“This step will allow us to provide the same services we currently have, which meet state and federal standards, while saving money for the taxpayers,” Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker said in a statement July 18.
The state spent $409 million on inmate health services in 2011, according to the budget summary, and hopes to save about $30 million by allowing private firms to provide health care in those facilities.
The measure will affect upwards of 2,800 state employees who will be re-interviewed for positions with the newly chosen firms.
Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon Inc. and Wexford Health Sources of Pittsburgh won the bids offered by the Department of Corrections.
Wexford will be introduced into southern Florida prisons, and Corizon will take over health services in the central and northern parts of the state, according to the DOC.
Tucker’s announcement comes despite a lawsuit by the Florida Nurses Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which hoped to stop the outsourcing on the grounds that it was inserted in the 2011 budget.
Tallahassee Circuit Court judge Kevin Carroll ruled July 3 that the lawsuit would not stand because the previous budget has expired.
“The battle is not over. The Governor continues his attempts to privatize as much of DOC as is legally possible, and we must be prepared to fight future attempts to do so,” wrote FNA state unit president Debbie Hogan in a statement on the group’s website.
“We don’t favor privatization in the slightest,” said Afifa Khaliq, spokeswoman for the Florida Public Services Union, which was not involved in the suit but opposes similar measures in health care across the board.
“This just represents rich corporations getting tax incentives and tax breaks that only benefit them and won’t do anything to improve quality service.”
Leonard Gilroy, director of government reform at the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit free-market think tank in Los Angeles, believes that strained budgets have begun to speed up the introduction of competetive contracts for health services in the state’s prisons.
“It’s consistent with the trend we’re seeing nationally, whether in Pennslvyania, Arizona or in Florida — states are looking to the private sector to combat the growing fiscal pressures,” Gilroy told Florida Watchdog.
“What we’re talking about is signing performance-based contracts between a vendor and the state. It’s all about tapping the private sector in order to drive down costs.”
The savings are even greater once larger outsourcing throughout the prisons is introduced, according to Gilroy.
In a January 2011 study released by the Reason Foundation and Florida Tax Watch, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog in Tallahassee, Gilroy and his co-author and colleauge, Adrian Moore, find that public-private partnerships in corrections can lead to potentionally hundreds of millions of dollars in savings as seen in Texas, Arizona and Louisiana.
The reports finds that introducing a contractual model between the state and private vendors in just half of Florida’s correctional facilities would save between $70 million and $100 million in one year and more than a $1 billion in the next decade.
“The state sets the standards, but the vendors are under contractual obligation to deliver,” said Gilroy.