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GIC To Reconsider Health Plan Consolidation

The Group Insurance Commission, relenting to days of withering criticism over its decision to limit health plan offerings to nearly 450,000 state employees and retirees, plans to reconsider that vote when it meets next week.

The move came after Attorney General Maura Healey announced Thursday morning that her office had opened an investigation into whether the GIC properly gave notice of last week's meeting.

Soon after the state commission announced its plans to reconsider the vote, Healey released a statement, saying:

The GIC’s vote to limit its health care options was seriously mishandled and left a lot of unanswered questions for workers, families, and retirees across Massachusetts. I’m hopeful that the Commission is now headed in the right direction and will start acting with greater transparency.

After the initial vote, unions, lawmakers and other public officials said they felt blindsided by the decision, and are skeptical of the GIC's assurances that members will not lose access to their doctors. Labor leaders said their members on the commission, who all voted against the restructuring, said they did not receive final details of the plan until the evening before the vote.

The GIC has a meeting scheduled for next Thursday when it was supposed to consider benefit design within the three providers — UniCare, Neighborhood Health and Health New England — that were selected to sell plans through the agency after a procurement process.

The agency now says it will put a motion for reconsideration of the Jan. 18 8-5 vote on its agenda for the Feb. 1 meeting.

"As a result of candid feedback from members and stakeholders, the agenda of the next GIC Commission meeting on Thursday, February 1 will include a motion for reconsideration of the recent vote to narrow carriers. While the goal of the GIC action to narrow options was to provide members with continuous coverage in a comparable plan while retaining their networks and doctors, and simultaneously controlling out-of-pocket and premium costs, the GIC recognizes that there is opportunity to better engage stakeholders more directly and robustly in the strategic process moving forward," GIC Chief of Staff Ashley Maagero Lee said in a statement Thursday morning.

Under the open meeting law regulations, any list of topics to be discussed by a public body at an open meeting must be noticed for the public with "sufficient specificity to reasonably advise the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting."

A spokeswoman for Healey said the standard for "sufficient specificity" used by the office is generally whether "a reasonable member of the public could read the topic and understand the anticipated nature of the public body's discussion."

The GIC said that if the motion to reconsider is successful, a second vote will be put on the table to "accept the full list of finalists to the platform," which would bring Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Tufts Health Plan and Fallon Community Health back into the fold.

The reinstatement of those three Massachusetts-based insurers would prevent roughly 200,000 people from having to choose a new insurance plan, although the GIC has insisted that even with a switch those people would not have lost access to their doctors or networks.

The reversal also removes the possibility that those insurers may have had to resort to layoffs after losing a significant piece of their business.

National Association of Government Employees President David Holway issued a statement Thursday in response to the announcement thanking the five labor representatives on the GIC and many lawamkers — include House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Acting Senate President Harriette Chandler, House Majority Leader Ron Mariano, Rep. James O'Day, Sen. Cindy Friedman and Sen. Karen Spilka — for speaking out against the changes.

"It is obvious that the Governor heard the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of those effected (sic) by this ill-conceived and non-transparent plan marching to the polls to express their anger towards the Baker administration," Holway said in the statement.

The NAGE president, however, cautioned, "This reprieve, if voted on, could possibly only be temporary until the Governors re-election bid in November."

With additional reporting from the WBUR Newsroom

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