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    State workers’s health insurance choices shrink in cost-cutting move

    State employees will have fewer choices come July, when the number of plans allowed to offer health insurance coverage through the Group Insurance Commission will be cut in half, a move designed to save the state an estimated $20.8 million next year.

    The GIC, which administers health coverage for roughly 400,000 state workers and retirees, voted 8 to 5 on Thursday to restructure its health plan offerings, with officials reassuring enrollees that the vast majority will be able to keep their doctors and networks — even if they are forced to switch plans.

    The decision came after a monthslong procurement process that began in July and included surveys of members and a “listening tour” in October to gather feedback from employees on what they valued most in their plans.

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    “Despite the fact that we’re eliminating some plans, the most important thing we heard was the ability of people to keep their doctors and their networks, and we believe that people will largely be able to do that,” said Ashley Maagero Lee, chief of staff at the GIC.

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    Beginning July 1, the number of plans available to active state workers and non-Medicare retirees will drop from six to three, with members offered enrollment in Unicare, an Indiana company, Neighborhood Health Plan, and Health New England.

    Medicare offerings will drop from five carriers to two – Unicare and Tufts Health Plan – and Pool 2 members, including retired municipal teachers, will have only one option, Unicare, instead of six.

    Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, which was once run by the ciurrent governor, Charlie Baker, and Fallon Health are being eliminated as GIC carriers. And Tufts will no longer sell plans in the commercial market. All three plans are based in Massachusetts.

    “The GIC is making these changes to provide the greatest benefits to the GIC and its members. Through this decision, we will move from a patchwork of carriers offering similar benefits and services to a model that provides meaningful choice, sustainability and simplification for each of you,” GIC Commissioner Roberta Herman wrote in an e-mail to state employees.

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    A number of union executives and health plan officials could either not be reached for comment or said they needed more time to review the changes.

    Maagero Lee said the GIC estimates it will save $20.8 million in the first year, fiscal year 2019. The GIC anticipates that nearly half of its members will be able to retain their current health plans, while the remaining 200,000-plus members will automatically be switched to new plans and have an opportunity to select a new plan during annual enrollment.

    On Friday, the GIC will begin a series of nine public hearings over 10 days, starting in Worcester, to solicit feedback. Benefit design decisions will be made Feb. 1, and final rates will be determined Feb. 22.