Healey probing if health plan snafu broke open meeting law


State House News Service
Thursday, January 25, 2018

Attorney General Maura Healey has opened an investigation into whether a state commission properly gave notice of last week’s meeting when a divided vote took place to consolidate state employee health plans.

Healey’s office sent a letter to the Group Insurance Commission on Thursday morning informing agency officials that its Division of Open Government would be reviewing whether the 8-5 vote to limit the number of health plans sold through the GIC complied with state open meeting law.

The letter, according to a Healey spokeswoman, requested meeting minutes, notices, and written communications between GIC members relating to the process for choosing insurance providers.

At the meeting last Thursday, the GIC voted to eliminate three of the six insurance carriers that offer coverage to the nearly 450,000 state employees and retirees. The change eliminates Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Fallon Community Health and Tufts Health Plan as carriers, and would save the state an estimated $20.8 million next year.

Tufts would continue to be able to offer Medicare plans along with the Indianapolis-based UniCare

Agency officials said that without the restructuring health insurance costs for members would have increased by 5 percent next year, and they have tried to assure labor unions and retirees that they will retain access to their current doctors and networks even if they are forced to switch plans.

Unions, lawmakers and other public officials have said they felt blindsided by the decision, and are skeptical of the GIC’s assurances that members will not lose access to their doctors. Labor leaders said their members on the commission, who all voted against the restructuring, said they did not receive final details of the plan until the evening before the vote.

Under the open meeting law regulations, any list of topics to be discussed by a public body must be noticed for the public with “sufficient specificity to reasonably advise the public of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.”

A spokeswoman for Healey said the standard for “sufficient specificity” used by the office is generally whether “a reasonable member of the public could read the topic and understand the anticipated nature of the public body’s discussion.”

The agenda posted before the Group Insurance Commission’s Jan. 18 meeting listed a planned vote under the header of “Procurement,” with the following description: “Medical/Behavioral Health Decision – VOTE.”

It then broke down the vote into two categories: Commercial and Medicare.

“The Open Meeting Law ensures that the public has access to government decision-making and that important decisions are made as part of a transparent process where the public has a chance to be heard,” Healey said in a statement.

If the AG’s office finds that there was a violation of open meeting law, the possible punishments range from a required training session to the nullification of any action taken at the meeting and a fine of up to $1,000.

Healey said during a radio interview Tuesday that the GIC “should very seriously reconsider” its decision which was made at a time when the health economist position on the board is currently vacant.

“This is a situation that was seriously mishandled, lacking in the appropriate transparency. And from the calls that I’ve received in my office over the last week, this is a huge deal,” Healey said during an interview on WGBH’s Boston Public Radio on Tuesday.