Amid Outcry From Government Employees, GIC Reconsiders Vote To Drop 3 Insurers

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The state's Group Insurance Commission will reconsider its recent decision to restructure its health insurance system -- a move that would impact about 450,000 state and municipal employees and retirees.

There's been a mounting outcry from those who would be affected by the change ever since last Thursday, when the GIC voted to no longer offer plans from three Massachusetts-based insurance providers: Harvard Pilgrim, Tufts Health Care and Fallon Community Health.

The GIC said its rationale was rooted in an attempt to save the state and municipalities $20.8 million.

This Thursday more than 100 angry government employees and retirees grew even more frustrated as they were forced to wait in the lobby of the Hurley State Office Building, where the GIC was holding a hearing to ask for input on its decision.

"I deal with older people who are retired, and they are getting very, very, very scared about what's going to happen to them," said Cheryl Stillman, of the Mass Retirees Association. "[They're asking:] What they're going to have to pay? Can they go to their own doctors? Can they go to their own hospitals?"

"Our members are pissed about this decision!" said Karen Coughlin, vice president of the Massachusetts Nurses Association.

She told GIC staff that she loves her job with the Department of Mental Health.

"I went into it knowing that it would be a difficult job and that my pay would be much less than what I could receive in the private sector for the last 34 years," she said, "but I did so knowing that I had a pretty good benefits package, and that continues to erode."

What irks the government employees and retirees is the decision to drop the plans seemingly came out of nowhere, with no input from the people who will be affected.

"This is a critical issue to so many, but you seem intent to ram it through without regard to the effect of the decisions you have made," said Jim O'Brien, president of the Boston Carmen's Union. "Imposing changes and restrictions on employees' health care can have a real effect on employees lives. This is unacceptable. They deserve to have the freedom to choose the health plans that is best for themselves and their families. Not have it dictated to them."

"This is a critical issue to so many, but you seem intent to ram it through without regard to the effect of the decisions you have made."

Jim O'Brien, president of the Boston Carmen's Union

The decision has caught the attention of the Legislature and state officials. Gov. Charlie Baker said that despite good intentions, the process of rolling it out was flawed.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Maura Healey's office raised the possibility that last week's meeting agenda might have been too vague and potentially violated the state's open meeting law. One possible remedy would be ruling any actions made at the meeting null and void.

With the groundswell of criticism, and questions raised by Healey's office, the GIC appeared to be backing away from its decision. At Thursday's hearing, GIC Executive Director Roberta Herman announced the commission will vote next week to reconsider last week's vote.

"Assuming that is successful," she said, "a further motion will be put forward to accept the full list of finalists to the platform, and this list will include the current slate of insurance carriers who are currently in the GIC."

That would mean the three health insurance carriers would continue to be made available to employees, for the time being.

This article was originally published on January 25, 2018.

This segment aired on January 25, 2018.


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Steve Brown Senior Reporter/Anchor
Steve Brown is a veteran broadcast journalist who serves as WBUR's senior State House reporter.



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