Prison health care bids back on track

Jan 18, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on January 18, 2012:

Prison health care bids back on track

By Travis Pillow

The outsourcing of health care in Florida’s prisons is back on track after the Department of Corrections issued revised bid proposals on Wednesday.

The process, which lawmakers ordered in budget language passed last session, has faced repeated delays, and was most recently stalled by an unprecedented flood of questions from potential vendors and a trio of bid protests filed in early December.

The department had been negotiating with the companies to resolve the dispute. Revised bids are now due Jan. 30, and will ultimately have to be approved by the Legislative Budget Commission.

Among other things, companies had complained the department was setting financial requirements such as performance bonds that few of them would be able to meet, and imposing excessive penalties on vendors that failed to meet contract requirements.

The department has reduced the number of performance requirements (many of which are already spelled out in department rules or statutes) and deleted the entire 11-page section of the bid proposal dealing with “liquidated damages” — specified financial penalties that reach into thousands of dollars per day if providers improperly restraining inmates, fail to meet staffing requirements, leave patients waiting more than three months for follow-up dental appointments, and or commit dozens of other possible shortcomings.

“They were really pretty cumbersome,” Chief of Staff Steven Ferst told the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday. “I think it was a little bit overboard to the vendors.”

Ferst said the department could seek damages from a company if it fails to live up to its obligations in a way that harms the state. 

The department negotiated other changes to appease the bidders that submitted protests, such as adding an inflation adjustment to address vendor concerns about costs rising over time. The legislature would have to approve that change. 

Ferst said the department expects the budget commission to meet in early March to sign off on the contract, which could then take effect in April and phase in the successful vendors by the start of the next fiscal year.

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