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Maura Healey attacks Charlie Baker for contracts with McKinsey in wake of opioid settlement: ‘It’s outrageous’

Attorney General Maura Healey
Attorney General Maura HealeyJohn Tlumacki/Globe Staff/file

Attorney General Maura Healey directly attacked Governor Charlie Baker’s decision to tap McKinsey & Co. to handle a $1.6 million state study into the “future of work,” seizing on growing criticism of the state’s contracts with the consulting giant while it pays out settlement money to Massachusetts and dozens of other states.

The Baker administration’s announcement it had picked McKinsey came after state’s health secretary, Marylou Sudders, told lawmakers she would weigh whether the health and human services department would continue its contracts with the firm, having paid it more than $18.6 million since the start of 2020, according to state records.

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Healey’s office in February announced McKinsey reached a $573 million settlement with 47 states after it was accused of helping “turbocharge” sales for OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma amid the opioid pandemic. Healey has said Massachusetts will receive more than $13 million in the agreement.

She said Thursday that for Baker to continue to give the firm work is “outrageous.”

“After what they did to families here, why would we reward them [with] more state contracts?” the Charlestown Democrat wrote on Twitter.

“Our settlement with McKinsey will bring $13 million to Massachusetts for treatment, prevention, and recovery services. This is money our communities need,” she added. “The Administration should not be enriching a company that has profited from the devastation of our communities.”

Healey is largely viewed as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2022, while Baker, a Republican, must decide whether to seek an unprecedented third consecutive term in office. She has repeatedly stoked speculation about her political plans with a series of escalating critiques of Baker, including some made while visiting COVID vaccination sites in February.

This week, Healey made a string of public appearances in Worcester, including to visit nurses striking outside St. Vincent Hospital.

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Aides to Baker did not directly respond to Healey’s comments Thursday. Sarah Finlaw, a Baker spokeswoman, pointed to Baker’s record of responding to the opioid epidemic, including a proposal he’s repeatedly made to tax opioid manufacturers.

“While the industry is fighting the Governor to stop the legislation, the Administration hopes all public officials join the governor in supporting this important policy,” Finlaw said.

State education officials have also paid the firm nearly $1.2 million since last year. Baker administration officials said this week they had also charged McKinsey with helping it get a better picture of how substantial the remote-work trend will be once the pandemic is over.

Baker’s office released documents Friday showing the administration put the contract out to bid before selecting McKinsey’s $1.59 million proposal, but it wasn’t immediately clear what other companies may have been considered. McKinsey has already been engaged on this front in Massachusetts, most notably with a series of discussions hosted by the Massachusetts High Technology Council.

The firm has been intimately involved with the state’s response to COVID-19 since March 2020. Sudders said in a legislative oversight hearing on Tuesday that McKinsey helped the state stand up its COVID command center a year ago and continues to help the state distribute vaccines and compile regular public reports on its progress.

Sudders acknowledged its recent settlement, calling it a “sad chapter in McKinsey’s history,” but disputed a legislator’s assertion that it is performing “core government” work.

“They’re not making government decisions. They provide me with data and analytics,” she said.

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State Senator Jo Comerford, who co-chairs the Legislature’s COVID-19 and emergency preparedness committee, then asked Sudders whether she would consider ending the contracts with McKinsey, given the dichotomy of the state paying it millions at the same time it agreed to pay millions as part of the settlement.

“They have worked with us for a year,” Sudders said. “I hear what you’re saying. And I will think about that.”


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.