FILE - Mike Parson, Virus Outbreak Trump

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a "National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools," event in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Washington.

(The Center Square) – The battle for Missouri’s lucrative prison health care program has commenced in earnest.

Gov. Mike Parson is looking to settle on a four-year deal with an option of four one-year renewals that could be worth upward of $1 billion to some private vendor, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Eager applicants have now started to line up local lobbying firms to make their sales pitches.

Among the companies known to have thrown their hats into the ring are Virginia-based Centurion, which has similar operations in 17 states, and is a subsidiary of Clayton-based Centene Corp. and Pennsylvania-based Wexford Health Sources, which has a history of having provided health services in Illinois.

Also in the running is incumbent Corizon Health, which has held the contract to provide services at the Missouri Department of Corrections for the last two-plus decades. Regarded as the country’s largest for-profit correctional health care provider, Corizon earned more than $147 million for its work in Missouri in 2019. Corizon has known ties to lobbyists Richard McIntosh and David McCracken.

The possible change in direction for the state is thought to be triggered by a still pending lawsuit filed by nurses who work in the prison system last year, where they charge they are owed untold millions in back bay by either the state or Corizon.

Some have compared the case to one where a Cole County jury determined that 13,000 current and former correctional officers were owed nearly $114 million in pay they never received for their services rendered. The state has since appealed the verdict.

Corizon’s ties to the state have long run deep, with the company also providing dental, behavioral health and pharmacy services to the state’s 20 prisons.

The 10-year old company was established when privately held Valitás Health Services Inc. of Creve Coeur and Tennessee-based America Service Group Inc., a provider of prison health services, merged operations.