State seeks private bids

LANSING (AP) — The State of Michigan is seeking bids for a three-year deal to provide medical services to all its 43,000 inmates as part of a possible privatization effort that could replace the work of 1,300 state employees, officials said.

Proposals are due Aug. 29 to provide physical and mental services, including wound care, treatment of heart disease and diabetes, dental care, optometry and sex offender treatment, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Prison medical and mental health services cost the state $306 million in 2011.

Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said the state wants to use competitive bidding to determine how much or whether it can reduce its costs. Department medical care is already partly privatized, he said, with about 135 doctors and psychiatrists employed through contractors.

“We’ll have to wait and see what type of proposals we get from the private sector,” he said. “We are not going to contract out for a service if it doesn’t increase our efficiency and lower our true costs.” State Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections, said the state needs the bids to “understand and contain our costs” while maintaining public safety.

“I think it’s a good start — we’ve recommended privatizing the entire system,” said Michael LaFaive, a director at the Mackinac Center, a free-market think tank in Midland.

Critics of such a move, however, said there are no assurances that it will result in significant savings. Also, questions have been raised about who can do the jobs better.

Ray Holman, legislative liaison for UAW Local 6000, which represents most of the employees who would be affected, said the primary issue should be public safety.

“You’re talking about critical jobs, which we believe state employees are best equipped to handle,” Holman said.

The new deal could affect about 400 state nurses, 30 medical record examiners and 900 administrative support workers, according to information on a union fact sheet.

The department has paid about $377 million to a prisoner health care contractor since 2009, and nearly $28 million to a mental health contractor since 2010, Marlan said.

Those contracts expire this year and could be folded into the new contract, he said. Prison pharmaceuticals, also handled by a contractor, would remain separate.