Baker calls rollout of health insurance changes for state workers ‘flawed’
Following an outcry, Governor Charlie Baker on Wednesday criticized the way a state agency announced big health insurance changes for hundreds of thousands of state employees, retirees, and their families.
“I think the way this has been rolled out has been very poor,” Baker said at a State House press conference after unveiling his annual state budget.
Baker declined to say whether the state’s Group Insurance Commission should reconsider its Jan. 18 decision to reduce coverage choices from six insurers to three.
“They need to take seriously the blowback and the feedback that they’re getting from a lot of people because the rollout process on this was flawed,” he said.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, meanwhile, said he is establishing a special committee to examine the controversial move.
“The process has been flawed, and the policy is questionable: These changes will be very disruptive, while resulting in ambiguous savings,” DeLeo said in a statement.
The commission announced last week that it was axing plans from the popular insurers Tufts Health Plan, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Fallon Health — which are used by some 200,000 public workers and their families. The change, which takes place in July, is supposed to save the state $20.8 million next year, officials said.
The surprise decision has been slammed by public employee unions and several Democratic politicians. Tufts Health Plan has said it might have to cut jobs to deal with the loss of state business.
The commission’s board is appointed by the governor. A minority of the board members represent labor unions.
“I made clear to the GIC that they need to sit down and talk with the affected parties that are involved in this because there’s a tremendous amount of confusion out there,” Baker said Wednesday. “When something’s sprung on people — which is the way it feels to a lot of folks — it does create confusion.”
Commission officials have defended their decision and the process that led to it. They have said that the concept of “consolidating” health plan options was discussed for several months. They decided which insurers to keep and which to eliminate based on a scoring system that considered costs and other factors.
Officials have stressed that public workers will be able to keep their doctors even if their health insurance changes.
The commission’s move has been widely condemned. While the House is setting up a special committee — led by majority leader Ronald Mariano — to look at the commission’s actions, the Senate is planning an oversight hearing next week. Senator Cindy Friedman of Arlington said she’s considering filing legislation to address the issue.
Attorney General Maura Healey also said this week that the commission mishandled the move and urged it to reconsider.
David Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees, sent a letter to the commission’s executive director this week. “The GIC has moved a life-changing proposal with zero input from our members,” he said, “and we are livid.”