The Group Insurance Commission – in what the MTA considers a travesty of government by the administration of Governor Charlie Baker – voted on Thursday to drastically reduce the number of carriers offering health insurance to active and retired state and municipal employees throughout Massachusetts.
 
The impact of the vote – taken with no public notice on its crucial specifics – is wide-ranging and will have an impact on hundreds of thousands of employees, including many educators, as well as on their families.
 
The hypocrisy of the action, taken just before the GIC will conduct a series of hearings around the state and after “listening tour” sessions at which the plan was not discussed, is stunning.
 
And the time is now for MTA members to make their voices heard.
 
Members are urged to go here for a list of GIC hearing dates – and they are strongly urged to sign up to attend a meeting and tell the commissioners what they think of this outrageous decision.
 
The secrecy surrounding the vote was astonishing. It was taken with only a few hours’ notice even to members of the GIC. The result was eight to five, with two abstentions. MTA member Timothy Sullivan and the four other labor representatives voted against the motion.
 
For active employees, the number of carriers is being cut from six to three: UniCare, Neighborhood Health Plan and Health New England. Participants will no longer be able to sign up for Fallon Health, Tufts Health Plan or Harvard Pilgrim Health Care after July 1.
 
Medicare carriers were cut from five to two: UniCare and Tufts Health Plan. And for the estimated 10,000 retired municipal teachers in what is known as “Pool 2,” UniCare will be the only carrier. 
 
In a further outrage, as noted by the State House News Service: “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 migrate to new plans and have an opportunity to select a new plan during annual enrollment if they wish.”
 
So many employees will be subject to “automatic” shifts to different carriers, even as the choice of carriers is sharply reduced.
 
The GIC administers health insurance coverage for about 400,000 state workers and retirees. Changes to GIC plan designs also affect many other public workers and retirees because their cities and towns – while not included in the GIC – benchmark their coverage to the GIC.
 
The MTA condemns the commission’s vote and the new provisions in the strongest possible terms. It must be recognized for what it was: a middle-of-the-night anti-worker action taken by the Baker administration.
 
The vote also serves as yet another example of why the Legislature needs to pass a bill reconstituting the GIC so that it represents those who are affected by the commission’s decisions.
 
In addition to the impact on subscribers, many Massachusetts-based jobs could be lost as a result of the vote. Tufts, Fallon and Harvard Pilgrim employees will lose out while Indianapolis-based UniCare will gain. The GIC claims the move will save more than $20 million next year in administrative costs.
 
At its next meeting on Feb. 1, the GIC is scheduled to review and approve benefit designs for the plans the new carriers will offer.
 
It is critical that MTA members be heard at the GIC’s upcoming public hearings. Tell the GIC that the new carriers must offer the same benefits to members so that switching carriers does not mean different doctors, different hospitals or reduced benefits.
 
The MTA is looking into additional actions to address the changes made at Thursday’s meeting and the changes that the GIC will take up next month regarding plan design.
 
In the meantime, please be sure to to go here for a list of GIC hearing dates around the state this month. Sign up to attend a meeting and make your voice heard.

                 

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