- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — The cost of providing medical care to Maryland’s inmates could increase by 60 percent because of new, expensive treatments for AIDS and hepatitis C and the need for more staff, state officials said.

The Board of Public Works has approved an increase in spending that could push the annual health care cost for inmates to $110 million for the state’s 27,000 prisoners.

“We are required to give adequate care,” Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, told the board Wednesday.

The board consists of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.

Contracts were awarded to five for-profit companies that will run different parts of the prisons’ privatized health care system.

Last year, the state spent $68 million on inmate health care, state corrections officials said.

“It’s a shame to pay $100 million for people who go out and rape and kill…and there are [law-abiding] people who don’t have any medical care at all,” Mr. Schaefer, the former governor, said.

Correctional Medical Services Inc. (CMS) of St. Louis won the biggest contract, a two-year, $125.6 million deal that involves providing medical services to state prisons and Baltimore’s state-run jails — a total of 32 facilities.

Under a state contract signed in 2000, the company has provided comprehensive medical services to three prisons in Hagerstown.

The state’s main prison health care contractor since 2000, Prison Health Services Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn., did not win any piece of the state’s business in the latest round of bidding.

CMS has operated in Maryland since 1987. It has been the target of inmate advocacy groups and unfavorable news coverage over quality of care.

“Correctional Medical Services’ history of cutting corners to maintain profits jeopardizes the lives of thousands of incarcerated people across the country,” said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, in a statement opposing CMS’ selection.

CMS spokesman Ken Fields said the company, founded in the late 1970s, has a long record of satisfied customers, including the state of Missouri for the past 12 years.

CMS will take over a system of inmate health care that, critics say, has been underfunded since at least 2000.

Under the contract signed that year, the state essentially paid a flat monthly fee to Prison Health and CMS for medical, pharmaceutical, mental health, dental and other services. Companies were responsible for expenses that exceeded a fixed amount.

Medical expenses — at least for Prison Health — far outpaced the revenue it received through its contract with the state, particularly over the past year, Prison Health officials have said.

One reason for the expected increase in costs was new treatment for inmates who have hepatitis C, a disease that has reached epidemic proportions in many correctional systems.

Maryland must adopt federal treatment protocols for hepatitis C — a blood-borne liver disease that can be transmitted through intravenous drug use and unprotected sex.

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