States, in an attempt to cut costs, increasingly are outsourcing health care for inmates to for-profit companies, a trend is raising concerns among unions and prisoners' rights groups, reports Kaiser Health News. About 20 states, including Arizona, Illinois, and Maryland, have shifted all or portions of their prison health care operations to private firms. Officials in these states maintain that the companies, which provide physical, dental, mental, and pharmaceutical services, are less expensive than employing state workers — partially because using the companies saves benefits and pension costs.
“We believe that contracting out for inmate medical services is the best use of taxpayer money,” said Aurora Sanchez of New Mexico’s corrections department. “It is state law to provide quality healthcare to inmates, and we are positive that inmates are getting professional healthcare at a reasonable cost.” Human rights groups that private services are not always providing care that is as good or better than what the state could. Joel Thompson of the Health Care Project at Prisoners’ Legal Services in Massachusetts said using private services can carry its own set of problems. “As with anything privatized or contracted out, you worry about whether the incentive to cut costs becomes too great,” he said.