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NM DOC changes medical provider; PLN public records suit cited

Santa Fe New Mexican, May 24, 2016. http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_new...

Centurion wins 1-year inmate care contracts worth $52M

Posted: Monday, May 23, 2016 11:15 pm | Updated: 12:51 pm, Tue May 24, 2016.

The New Mexico Department of Corrections announced late Monday that it has awarded both the medical services and pharmaceutical contracts to Centurion LLC, to provide care for some 7,200 state prison inmates. The state will pay Centurion $41 million in one year to provide medical services to state prison inmates and up to another $11 million in a separate pharmaceutical agreement.

The department chose Centurion over the current health care provider, Corizon Correctional Healthcare, and Wexford Health Sources, which the state fired in 2007 over concerns about the quality of its medical care.

Gregg Marcantel, Corrections Department Cabinet secretary, said in a news release the agency carefully crafted the contracts to “ensure a good partnership and a good deal for taxpayers.”

“Our population has complex medical issues like Hepatitis C, cancer, and diabetes,” he added. “It’s important that we ensure their medical needs are met and that we have a partner who understands the complexity of our system, which we believe strongly Centurion does.”

The contracts are one-year agreements with the option of one-year renewals over the following three years. Corizon’s contract, which was renewed in 2012, was for four years and was worth $156 million.

The Centurion award represents a repudiation of Corizon, which according to the company offered a lower bid and earned a higher technical score. But an investigation by The New Mexican published last month painted a troubling picture of inmate care provided by Corizon and of the state’s oversight of the company. Since the company took over medical services for the state’s prison system in 2007, Corizon has faced more than 150 lawsuits by some 200 inmates, a sharp increase in the rate of inmate filings over the previous provider, Wexford.

The state has refused to turn over settlement agreements made in those lawsuits, saying the contract with Corizon gives it the right to control litigation and keep settlements secret. The refusal has drawn criticism from civil rights lawyers and open government advocates who say the settlements should be subject to the state’s public records law.

The state’s new inmate care contract with Centurion also does not appear to have any provisions requiring such settlements to be publicly disclosed. Although the contract has yet to be publicly released, The New Mexican, which reported last week that Centurion had won the medical services contract, viewed major passages of an unsigned version of the agreement.

The state’s contract with Corizon, which expires May 31, includes a sentence that says Corizon “shall have the right to control the defense and/or settlement of the claim,” under the contract’s indemnification clause. The new contract also requires the provider to indemnify the state for any damages resulting from medical care but does not include the passage giving the company the right to “control the defense.”

Even so, Alex Tomlin, deputy secretary for the department, said the Corrections Department’s legal team believes it cannot regulate a private company’s legal right to enter into undisclosed settlements.

She said the state will save money if the contractor is required to defend itself.

“When a judgment was entered against Corizon, or a settlement is agreed upon with Corizon, that is Corizon’s money they’re sending back out,” Tomlin said. “We’re not spending above and beyond the contract amount. So that’s why it’s not the same thing. When they sue Corizon, it’s Corizon’s money. It’s not Corizon and [the Corrections Department’s] on top of the contract amount. So it’s not putting taxpayers on the hook for something like that.”

But both the New Mexico Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court have held that private contractors performing a core governmental function and wholly funded by the state must abide by the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

Prison Legal News, a Florida-based nonprofit monthly magazine that reports on criminal justice issues and prison-related civil litigation, filed a lawsuit in March against Corizon and the state of New Mexico demanding a list of settlements.

“Corizon Health cannot obscure its operations and refuse the press access to public records when it solely exists to serve a core government function,” the suit, which in ongoing, says. “Otherwise, New Mexicans would not be able to determine whether their tax dollars have been spent wisely.”

The department said the transition of medical and pharmaceutical services from Corizon to Centurion has begun and will be fully implemented June 1.