Unions sue over plan to privatize prison health care system

The lawsuit takes issue with a mandate passed in 2011 requiring competitive bidding on health care contracts for Florida's 100,000 inmates.

Published February 15 2012
Updated February 16 2012

TALLAHASSEE — Two labor unions have filed suit against the state Department of Corrections in an effort to prevent privatizing health care for all 100,000 inmates in the Florida prison system.

It's the latest controversy in the outsourcing of inmate health that began as a campaign pledge by Gov. Rick Scott. Protests by health vendors objecting to the original bid specifications have delayed the plan by months and contributed to ousting Scott's former prison chief.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Federation of Physicians and Dentists/Alliance of Healthcare and Professional Employees.

It was filed Tuesday, the same day the state Senate voted 21-19 to reject privatization of more than two dozen prisons and work camps in South Florida.

"The move to the privatize prison health services was done through illegal channels and will not stand in a court of law," said Jeanette Wynn, president of AFSCME Council 79. "This callous political overreach was rejected by Leon County courts last year and will surely be struck down a second time."

The Department of Corrections had no comment on the lawsuit, which was filed in Circuit Court in Tallahassee.

The privatization of all inmate physician and mental health care, dental care and dispensation of prescription drugs was mandated by the Legislature in the 2011 budget in language known as proviso — not as a stand-alone bill.

In their lawsuit, the unions use many of the same legal arguments another labor group used successfully last summer to thwart privatizing South Florida prisons.

The suit alleges that any prison privatization must be accompanied by a specific legislative appropriation; that the issue must be limited in law to a single subject; and that before a contract can be issued, the prison system must complete a business plan showing cost savings.

As a candidate for governor in 2010, Scott promised to save taxpayers money by requiring competitive bids on health care contracts.

But Scott's choice to run Florida prisons, Ed Buss, was ousted last summer in part because the governor's office disapproved of his office's handling of the health care bid proposal.

Bids on the health care contract were due Feb. 6, and the prison system hopes to have contracts in place by April 1.