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Centurion Health Supplants Corizon in Missouri After Court Ruling

by Keith Sanders

After a trial on November 3, 2021, a Missouri court ruled in favor of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in a challenge to its decision replacing its private healthcare contractor Corizon with a competitor, Centurion Health.

At stake was a $1.4 billion seven-year contract to provide medical care to the state’s roughly 23,000 prisoners. Corizon, the largest for-profit prison healthcare provider in the country, had held the contract since 1992. But a spate of lawsuits and the company’s loss of contracts in Tennessee, Michigan, and Kansas prompted DOC to re-evaluate. It then granted its next contract to Centurion Health.

Corizon filed suit in state Circuit Court for Cole County, claiming that Centurion Health, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Centene Corp., supplied false information in its bid proposal and participated in the bidding process in bad faith.

Specifically, the firm said that during a similar bidding process with the DOC in Tennessee, where Corizon is based, emails surfaced between the prison system’s chief financial officer, Wesley Landers, and a Centurion Health vice-president, Jeff Wells, showing that Landers provided Wells with internal documents regarding the contract. Centurion Health then won the bid, but the Tennessee DOC subsequently put the contract out to rebid in May 2021 after the insider dealing came to light, and Centurion Health fired Wells.

Yet in the provider’s response to the Missouri DOC’s Request for Proposals (RFP), he was still listed as a company vice president. In its suit, Corizon alleged that this inaccuracy constituted false information and that not disclosing it was misconduct, both of which should disqualify Centurion Health from bidding for Missouri’s work.

“That information was relied upon by the state of Missouri in making an award to Centurion,” Charles Seigal, a spokesperson for Corizon, wrote in an email. “We believe as a matter of law that the award to Centurion should be cancelled and a new RFP issued.”

Circuit Judge Daniel R. Green disagreed. At trial, for which neither party requested a jury and agreed instead to have the case heard by the Court, Judge Green ruled that “Corizon failed to carry its burden to establish that Defendant’s decisions to award the contract at issue to Centurion and to deny Corizon’s bid protest were unconstitutional, unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion.”

Specifically, the Court noted that Centurion Health was not obligated to disclose Wells’ termination nor was DOC required to fact-check the firm’s proposal. At issue was Corizon’s claim that its competitor’s proposal was “non-responsive” to the RFP, in which case the state cannot award a contract. However, the Court pointed out that the RFP said bidders “should” identify their corporate teams rather than “must” or “shall,” and thus did not require Centurion Health to identify “specific individual members.”

With the Court’s ruling, Centurion Health began providing healthcare to Missouri prisoners on November 15, 2021. See: Corizon v. Office of Administration, Mo. Cir. Ct. (Cole Co.), Case No. 21AC-CC00343.  

Additional source: Missouri Independent

Related legal case

Corizon v. Office of Administration