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Lawmakers raise concerns, delay prison healthcare contract

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Members of a legislative oversight committee on Thursday raised concerns about the Alabama prison system’s $1 billion inmate healthcare contract, questioning a state official about the cost, selection process and lawsuits filed against an earlier version of the company.

The Legislative Contract Review Committee put a 45-day hold on the contract between YesCare Corp and the Alabama Department of Corrections. The delay illustrates lawmakers’ discomfort with the contract, but has little practical effect since the committee can’t void the agreement. The 4 1/2 year contract is scheduled to take effect April 1.

Democratic Rep. Chris England, a committee member, argued the contract should be cancelled, saying he believed there was a “massive cloud” over the selection process.

“We’re talking about a billion dollars. We are also talking about the Department of Corrections. Just based on recent activity, most if not all of the the things that the Department of Corrections is involved in probably need to be looked at several times,” England said.

A private practice attorney, who is defending the Alabama Department of Corrections in an ongoing lawsuit over inmate medical care, had been named to YesCare’s advisory board in June, according to a company statement.

Mary-Coleman Roberts, acting general counsel for the Alabama Department of Corrections, defended the selection process. She said the bids had already been redone because of the concerns.

The prison system had initially selected YesCare in July, but rescinded that decision. Roberts said there had been an allegation of improper communication with the selection committee, and although it did not involve the healthcare contract, it “looked bad.” She said they also discovered that Bill Lunsford, the attorney representing the prison system in the lawsuit over inmate care, had the offer to join the YesCare board.

“We didn’t think he did anything wrong, but it was enough that we didn’t think it was fair,” said Roberts, adding that Lunsford is no longer joining the board.

She said they shared information about the healthcare case with other vendors and added contract language to forbid an overlap of contractors and legal counsel.

YesCare also won the second selection process.

“We believe that YesCare would be a good partner for the state of Alabama,” Roberts said. She said she understood that there will “probably be some sticker shock with this price tag.”

YesCare did not submit the lowest cost proposal, but they scored better for staffing and services, she said.

The department did not release the scores or bids. The scoring summary for the bids will not become public record until the contract is executed, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Corrections said last month.

YesCare was formed out of Corizon, which previously provided healthcare services to the Alabama prison system and was the provider when a class action lawsuit was filed against the state over the quality of healthcare and mental health care.

During the oversight committee meeting, Democratic Sen. Billy Beasley asked about litigation filed against YesCare and Corizon in other states. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan sued Corizon over unpaid claims in 2022.

“I don’t know that it would be a good idea for the state of Alabama to do business with those charged with litigation,” Beasley said.

Republican Sen. Dan Roberts, announced at the beginning of the meeting that the contract would be put on hold because of members’ concerns.

“We respect the Alabama Legislature’s oversight role in reviewing contracts related to important state services like correctional healthcare,” YesCare CEO Sara Tirschwel said in a statement. “We will continue to work to address any questions on the part of committee members, and we look forward to returning to Alabama on April 1 to serve the people of the state.”

The other companies that competed for the contract were Centurion, Vital Core and Wexford. Wexford is the state’s current provider.

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