The Alabama prison system is trying to find a way to get out of paying retail for inmate hospital visits.
State Finance Director Jim Main on Wednesday said the state could cut spending by $4 million or more a year by negotiating the price of inmate health care.
"We don't have anybody negotiating for us, getting us a fair price," Main told legislators.
The Department of Corrections is spending $47 million this year for inmate health care plus overages that are a constant problem, said spokesman Brian Corbett. The department wants to talk to the State Employees' Insurance Board and Blue Cross Blue Shield about getting better rates from hospitals.
According to insurance board deputy administrator Gary Matthews, everyone is pushing to get a deal "as quick as possible," noting that something should be in the works by Oct., 1, the beginning of the budget year.
The state prison system is at double its capacity and continues to be a financial thorn in the state's side.
A House committee on Wednesday approved $22.5 million for DOC to get through the current budget year, a year in which the department is having trouble making payroll.
Legislative committees also approved more than $300 million to fund DOC next year. In his budget presentation to legislators earlier this year, DOC Commissioner Donal Campbell asked for $578 million, a total that included $151 million for two new prisons that could house a total of 4,000 inmates.
The state prison population has been growing at a rate of more than 100 prisoners a month, on average. The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka is operating under a federal court order stemming from a 2002 class-action lawsuit and is required to keep a maximum inmate population of 700 at the largely un-air-conditioned facility. Tutwiler is keeping below the number by housing about 260 inmates at a private facility in Louisiana.
Gov. Bob Riley has formed a corrections task force to work on solutions to prison overcrowding and infrastructure problems such as kitchens running 20 hours a day, seven days a week to feed inmates.