Association Officials Participated

As you know, public retiree health insurance and healthcare policy are major focuses of Mass Retirees. Awareness and understanding of ongoing trends, while seeking new ways to improve healthcare benefits, are integral to our focus on these issues. In November alone, our Association participated in the Public Sector Healthcare Roundtable, Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA Labor Advisory Committee, and the state Group Insurance Commission’s first in-person Commission meeting since prior to the pandemic.

Our overarching belief is that public retirees deserve to continue to have access to the highest quality and most affordable health insurance plans available. Ensuring that you have choices when it comes to plan selection and can choose the providers that best meet your needs is equally important.

That said, we have deep concerns that some insurance plans are already very expensive or carry high out-of-pocket costs for retirees. This is especially true at the municipal level, where some communities require a 50/50 premium split.

At the local level, we are now seeing an increase of activity within local public employee committees (PECs) or insurance advisory committees (IACs). This is why we worked closely with BCBS of MA and several public employee unions in October to host an educational forum on local health insurance bargaining.


In November Frank Valeri, Nancy McGovern, and Shawn Duhamel attended a meeting of the BCBS of MA Labor Advisory Committee. The Committee, on which Mass Retirees has participated for decades, is made up of both public and private sector unions and labor organizations to serve as a sounding board for “The Blues”. Participation on the Committee also provides our Association with a unique firsthand opportunity to learn about healthcare trends and cutting-edge approaches to care before they are widely known. This helps us to better serve our members.


Also in November, our Association attended the first in-person meeting of the GIC’s commission since prior to the pandemic. The meeting coincided with the annual report of the state’s Health Policy Commission (HPC) that we reviewed in the November Voice. HPC Executive Director David Seltz and his team were on hand to present their findings and answer questions from GIC Commissioners.

The GIC closely collaborates with the HPC, using the data collected and findings to help develop policy choices for the 465,000 enrollees insured under the state plan. With that important point in mind, this was certainly an important meeting for us to personally attend.


In early November, Shawn and Nancy attended the Annual Conference of the Public Sector Healthcare Roundtable in Washington, DC. GIC Executive Director Matt Veno was also in attendance, along with senior leaders from dozens of public sector health plans from across the country.

In addition to in-depth presentations from healthcare policy experts, health economists, and senior government officials, several presentations stood out due to their immediate relevance to policy discussions being held here.

The development of wellness and disease management programs in Colorado was a topic that stood out early in the program. As you know, Mass Retirees continues to work closely with Scensio Systems to promote the Ibis Tele-Health platform. Ibis has been embraced as an important wellness and disease management tool by UniCare and the BCBS plans offered by MIIA.

Overall healthcare affordability was another key topic. Like the cautious approach taken by the GIC in choosing not to increase outof-pocket costs last winter, there is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the dire impact of high copayments or deductibles on healthcare costs. When people defer needed care due to cost, the end result is shown to be far more expensive.

We also heard from the CEO of Morgan Health, a subsidiary of JP Morgan Chase. Morgan Health invests in innovative healthcare and leads in serving as an incubator for innovation in healthcare delivery.

One of the more important discussions centered on the ever-rising cost of prescription drugs, pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs), and Medicare’s new-found ability to negotiate the price of certain medications. These related presentations reaffirmed that the country as a whole is facing the same problems and challenges when it comes to drug pricing without a clear or easy solution.

A related topic is expansion of Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, specifically the group MA plans that are made available to Medicare eligible retirees as an employer sponsored option. More than half of all Medicare plans offered through employers are now MA plans.

Provider consolidation was also a key topic discussed. The concern is not simply the merger of hospital systems or even hospital systems acquiring physician networks. An even more troubling trend is the merger of insurance plans with hospital networks and other providers, such as pharmaceutical providers. Whether these trends will prove to be good for healthcare or simply end as monopolistic endeavors remains to be seen.

A presentation that was particularly interesting was delivered by former US Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who is the founder of The Kennedy Forum – a highly regarded non-profit foundation focused on mental health and substance use disorder policy. Speaking of his own well documented personal struggle with substance abuse, Kennedy presented a forceful and compelling call to action for the future of mental healthcare in the US.

Through the BCBS Labor Advisory Committee, we have heard recent presentations from law enforcement officials and the building trades on a new approach to addressing mental health, substance use disorder, and recovery. Whether due to on-the-job injuries, trauma, or PTSD, there is a growing acknowledgement that these serious medical issues need to be properly addressed. Kennedy’s remarks fit within this new way of approaching issues that have traditionally been stigmatized and not openly discussed.

Our Association is exploring what steps we can help facilitate to ensure that proper mental health, substance use disorder, and recovery services are made available to retirees. As Nancy McGovern has pointed out, “Just because someone retires it does not mean that they are no longer in need of help.”

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