Rosenberg against public employee health plan changes

  • Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

For the Bulletin
Thursday, February 01, 2018

GREENFIELD — State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg said the state Group Insurance Commission’s plan to move 200,000 public employees onto different health insurance carriers “will turn a lot of people’s health care on its head for a savings of 1 percent” and would be made unnecessary by passage of a Senate Ways and Means bill to help save $500 million from the state’s health care system in the year beginning July 1.

Rosenberg’s comments came at a public hearing Jan. 23 in Greenfield Middle School — one in a series of hearings about a proposal about the commission’s decision to reduce the number of health plans offered to workers and retirees, including those from the University of Massachusetts, Greenfield Community College, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department, and the Mohawk, Gill-Montague and Hawlemont school districts.

The decision has drawn fire from a host of officials including Attorney General Maura Healey, who’s called the rollout of changes “seriously mishandled.”

While the Amherst Democrat commended GIC’s decision to retain Springfield-based Health New England serving employees and retirees of “the largest single state employer in the Commonwealth, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst,” he chided the commission for holding its nine public hearings after making its Jan. 18 decision, rather than before.

“Please reconsider this decision and work with others to look for a solution to the problem you are trying to solve,” said Rosenberg. “I do not support the underlying decision that would result in 200,000 individuals being forced to move from their current insurance plan to other plans” to save the plan what he said would be $20.8 million.

“Even though they are assured that they will be able to keep their doctors, the simple fact is that not all doctors take all insurance,” he said.

The health reform legislation, which passed the Senate Nov. 10 and is before the House of Representatives would, he said, achieve savings through increased transparency in pharmaceutical pricing, telemedicine and mobile integrated health, reducing emergency-room visits, expanding provider versatility, and reducing price variations between larger and community-based hospitals.

“While those savings would be spread throughout the entire health care system,” he said, they also “over time, impact the GIC’s bottom line. This proposal, which would upend healthcare for hundreds of thousands of public employees and their families, should be unnecessary, and I ask you to reconsider.”

GIC’s 8-5 vote eliminated Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Fallon Community Health and Tufts Health Plan as carriers for nearly 450,000 workers and retirees, although retirees using Medicare can still access Tufts Medicare Complement. The change would save the state an estimated $20.8 million next year. Union representatives on the GIC voted against the plan, and labor leaders quickly condemned the process as one that gave little time for employees to understand  the impact of the changes.