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Shirley Leung

Dear Aetna. You won’t get big dough like GE, but Mass. is still the place to be

Aetna headquarters in Hartford, Conn., in 2014.Jessica Hill/Associated Press/File

An open letter to Mark Bertolini , CEO of Aetna, one of the largest health insurers in the country.

Dear Mark:

It has been the worst kept secret in New England. You want to get the hell out of Hartford.

Like General Electric, you grew tired of Connecticut and its decidedly unfriendly business climate. For over a year now, you’ve been looking to relocate Aetna’s headquarters, and among the leading contenders are New York and Massachusetts.

Your team has been scouting sites from Boston to Worcester, looking at existing buildings and new construction that could accommodate up to hundreds of employees.


Aetna could move its headquarters here like GE did; other times you seem more interested in significant expansion in Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth would of course love to scoop up another corporate giant from the Nutmeg State — the goofy nickname is reason alone to leave – but let’s be clear about something: If you’re expecting a sweetheart package like the one GE got last year, fuhgeddaboudit.

GE’s $150 million in public incentives is a once-in-a-century deal. GE will have 800 employees in a signature building in the Seaport District and a shot at the region leading the digital industrial revolution.

I don’t mean any disrespect, but Aetna is no GE. Persuading a for-profit health insurance company to move to Massachusetts is hardly a game changer.

But it could be for Aetna.

Leave New York for the financiers and media moguls. Massachusetts is the capital of health care, from our world-class hospitals to leading life sciences companies. We discover drugs. We cure cancer. We incubate health care reform.

Come to Massachusetts for the same reason GE chief executive Jeff Immelt uprooted his company with a market value of $235 billion. He wanted to be in the center of innovation and tap the brains graduating from Harvard, MIT, and other schools that can accelerate the digital transformation of the industrial giant.


No doubt the health care industry is going through a similar disruption. Sure, New York can offer you a fancy address, but digital health care is just a buzzword to them. We’re doing the work, and we want to be the undisputed leader in this space. Silicon Valley can be the king of tweets and viral videos; Boston is aiming to own health care tech.

We already have over 350 health care tech firms, including established companies like athenahealth, which makes medical software, and startups like PillPack, which is taking the pharmacy into the digital age and to your doorstep. We’ve got incubators that support digital health startups, and a venture capital fund to fuel local digital health companies.

Big data is changing health care too, and Massachusetts is wired into that trend as well. And if you ever want to talk health insurance, well, Governor Charlie Baker can speak your language. He used to be the chief executive of health insurer Harvard Pilgrim.

No doubt Gary Loveman, one of your top lieutenants, is also giving you the hard sell. He was a Harvard Business School professor before he made an improbable career change that led him to running the Caesars Entertainment casino empire. Loveman never gave up his home in Wellesley and famously commuted to Las Vegas. Two years ago, he joined Aetna and runs a major consumer health and services unit, which is based in a Wellesley office complex.


New York can probably offer a richer relocation package than Massachusetts. But this state can provide an environment where Aetna can thrive and help shape the future of health care.

GE turned down bigger money when it came to Boston. Immelt chose opportunity over the bottom line. You can, too, Mark.

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @leung.