Privatization of state services should always be approached in a careful, thoughtful way.

Turning state operations over to the private sector may warrant consideration, but it’s no panacea and has potential to make bad situations even worse when decisions are based more on profit margins than ensuring high-quality services for people in the state.

One area targeted for privatization in recent years in Kansas was prisons. While the state stopped short on that idea, a related and questionable change came in 2014 in a deal with a private company to provide health care to prison inmates.

Tennessee-based Corizon Health has since been accused of failing to meet performance standards, to include not providing adequate health care staffing, and currently faces numerous federal lawsuits over its care. Much focus in Kansas has been on inmate cases of Hepatitis C, a viral infection that can lead to serious liver damage, and allegations of prisoners being denied medication and care for the condition.

Nearly 600 inmates in Kansas prisons have Hepatitis C, with the estimate to treat them at about $9 million — significantly more than the $1.5 million annually for treatment in the current contract. Kansas now is at risk of being sued for not treating inmates for Hepatitis C, as has happened in other states. There’s also the threat of exposing others to the ailment.

The Department of Corrections reported plans to renew its contract with Corizon for one year rather than the two-year option, unless there’s improvement in the company’s performance. While that’s prudent, the situation also drove home the importance of exercising great care when turning government services over to private firms.

Privatization was a high priority for the administration of former Gov. Sam Brownback, an ultraconservative, and in keeping with the thinking of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Koch-funded bill mill that creates model legislation designed to increase corporate profits at public expense. ALEC concepts may be worthy of consideration and debate, but the problem is in lawmakers buying into ideological, politically motivated positions without due consideration of Kansans’ specific needs and welfare.

Unfortunately, decision-making that puts politics above practicality stands to cost Kansans more in the long run — with the prison health care issue and its fallout one such possibility.

 

Gatehouse Kansas