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State Brings On New Prison Health Provider

Prison corridor with inmates in distance
Associated Press
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

State corrections officials have hired Centurion of Florida LLC to take over prison health services for more than three-fourths of Florida's 100,000 inmates after Corizon Health walked away from a five-year, $1.2 billion contract three years early.

Centurion, a joint venture between Centene Corp. and MHM Services, will be paid a maximum of nearly $268 million to fill in for Corizon, which exercised a 180-day cancellation provision in its contract with the state.

In December, Corizon told Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones that it intended to pull out of the state by the end of May, two years after the start of the country's largest prison health-care contract. At the time, Jones said Corizon executives told her they were losing money --- up to $1 million a month --- on the deal.

Jones also said Corizon executives blamed the company's exit on whether its payments should be adjusted annually according to changes in the Consumer Price Index. While its contract made allowances for such hikes, any increases would have to be approved by the Legislature, which has been inconsistent in authorizing partial increases for Corizon and never approved a full Consumer Price Index hike --- as much as 4 percent --- since the contract went into effect.

On Dec. 18, Jones used a type of procurement process called an "invitation to negotiate" to seek vendors to provide mental health services, dental care and health care for the state's inmates. The new contracts are expected to start in 2018.

Centurion, which provides health care for prisoners in five other states, will start operations in Florida this spring, in a contract that lasts until January 2018, when the new vendors are expected to take over, according to a press release issued by Centene.

Centurion is "pleased to be able to work with the department to improve the quality of services and care levels provided to this population," Centurion CEO Steven Wheeler said in the release. "We also recognize the importance of maintaining sound financial discipline on behalf of the state and its residents."

Corrections officials look forward to working with Corizon and Centurion to "ensure a seamless transition of health care services," Jones said in a statement Monday. "We continue in our commitment to (providing) quality health care to those in our custody and improving health outcomes for Florida's inmates."

Tennessee-based Corizon had been under fire from lawmakers and attorneys representing inmates who accused the company of routinely providing inadequate care since taking over services in most of the prisons in the central and northern portions of the state. Lawyers for Florida inmates in September filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and Corizon, alleging that the state agency and the company were denying hernia operations to save money.

A month after taking over the helm of the Department of Corrections in January 2014, Jones put the health care contractors on notice that she intended to rebid health care contracts with Corizon and Wexford Health Sources, which has a $267 million contract to handle inmates in the southern portion of the state.