Medicaid fix would stop prison hospital privatization

A bill to make up for gaps in the state Medicaid program now contains a provision that would keep the state prison system from contracting for prison health care.

Posted Updated

Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — The House Appropriations Committee passed a new version of the "Medicaid fix" bill, S 797, this morning. In addition to adjusting some technical language on the Medicaid portion, House members added this language: 

"During the 2011-2013 fiscal biennium, the State of North Carolina shall not issue any request for proposals for, or enter into any new contract for, the operational oversight or management of health care services for inmates in the State prison system without the prior approval of the General Assembly through a legislative act."

Some back story: the Division of Adult Corrections has issued an RFP trying to find a company that would oversee health care for prisoners. The prison system spends about $244 million a year on health care for prisoners. There are roughly 2,000 prison medical employees. 

Administration officials hope that privatizing the health service would save money that could go toward other priorities. 

Needless to say, the idea of privatizing this function has rankled SEANC, the state employees union. SEANC officials have been lobbying against the move since before the legislature came back to town. They say the only way a private company could save money would be to cut the quality of care provided to prisoners. (It's worth noting that audits have found problems with the performance of some public employees in this area just a few months ago.

Lawmakers had been considering putting prison health care language in the budget bill. But with the issuance of the RFP, they've chosen a faster legislative vehicle: the Medicaid fix bill. 

That bill could be heard on the House floor as early as this afternoon and would then have to return to the Senate for concurrence. 

Update: The House has approved the Medicaid fix bill and it is headed back to the Senate for concurrence. 

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