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Saint Al's sues Idaho prison contractor over $14M in medical bills

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Idaho Department of Correction’s inmate companion program features more than 200 inmates who help prevent prison suicides by helping staff stand watch over a suicidal inmate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The private company hired to provide medical care for Idaho's prison inmates owes a local hospital system more than $14 million, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Saint Alphonsus Health System against prison contractor Corizon.

Saint Al's and Corizon signed a deal in January 2011. The health system and its flagship hospital in Boise would provide care to patients, and Corizon would pay for it, at rates based on formulas in the contract. The deal ended in February 2015.

Corizon proposed a new contract, offering to pay Saint Al's at Medicaid rates, which are among the lowest payments for health care. Saint Al's turned down the offer, telling Corizon that it would have to pay the regular full price for any patients getting care at Saint Al's.

But from February 2015 through March 2018, Corizon has "refused" to pay Saint Al's "usual and customary rates, and asserts it should only be required to pay the Medicaid rate of reimbursement."

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Saint Al's says that after three years of that, Corizon owes it $14 million. The lawsuit also seeks $5 million in interest on the medical bills.

It isn't rare for inmates to need care at local hospitals. State records requested by the Statesman showed that inmates from the Idaho State Correctional Institution were hospitalized an average of seven times per month last year. Those inmates spent an average of 32 days in the hospital.

"Saint Alphonsus has not sued the Idaho Department of Correction because Corizon's conduct, not the department's, is at issue and it is Corizon's obligation to pay what is owed to Saint Alphonsus for inmate care," the health system said in an emailed statement. "Given Corizon’s refusal to pay the significant amounts it owes Saint Alphonsus, and its refusal to engage in meaningful settlement discussions, Saint Alphonsus has no reasonable choice but to file the lawsuit."

A spokeswoman for Corizon said the company doesn't usually comment on active litigation. But in this case, it made an exception.

"[We] believe it is important for taxpayers and policy makers to understand that Saint Alphonsus has been appropriately paid for every Corizon Health patient who has been sent there for care," Martha Harbin, director of external relations for Corizon, said in an email. "As established by the state, Saint Al's is paid Medicaid rates for patients from the prison system, a compensation level reinforced in statute by the Legislature during the recently completed session. We find it unfortunate that a charity hospital would seek an additional $19 million from state taxpayers to care for patients who, if not for being incarcerated, would most likely access the hospital as indigent patients."

Saint Alphonsus argues in its lawsuit that the Idaho Supreme Court recently decided that the statute setting Medicaid as the rate for prison patients does not apply to private medical contractors like Corizon.

The prison contractor is facing other lawsuits in Idaho and elsewhere in the U.S. An Idaho inmate last year sued Corizon for lack of medical care, claiming he had to swallow a razor blade to get prison officials to take him to the hospital.

Audrey Dutton is an investigative reporter for the Statesman. Contact her at 208-377-6448, adutton@idahostatesman.com or on Twitter at @audreydutton.

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