Insurers told to lower costs of health coverage for state workers and retirees

Leaders of the Group Insurance Commission, which administers health benefits for the families of state employees and retirees, have drawn a line in the sand.

Insurers who want to offer plans starting in April to the nearly 400,000 people it serves must agree to lower costs of coverage—and save the state money—within a five-year contract.

“I do not mean increases that are lower than they might otherwise have been,” said executive director Dolores Mitchell, speaking on a panel at the annual conference of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans. “ ‘It could have been worse,’ is not what we have in mind. I mean lower total dollars spent.”

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Mitchell said when Governor Michael Dukakis hired her to lead the commission 25 years ago, he asked her to control “the cost monster.”

The commission has “tried everything,” including limiting which doctors and hospitals enrollees can visit, conducting physician performance evaluations, and introducing programs for managing chronic diseases.

“But,” she said, “I do not feel at this moment in time that I have yet gotten my arms around the cost monster.”

The state’s new health cost control bill, the election results, and the preservation of the Affordable Care Act serve as leverage for bold action, she said.

Mitchell said she knows that some have looked at the commission’s proposal and said it asks too much in too little time.

“It is indeed possible that some of those naysayers are here today in this room,” she said, to a room packed with health plan executives, their staff members, and policy analysts. “You don’t need to identify yourselves. I already know who you are. We say, in response, ‘We have waited long enough.’ Twenty-five years to get serious about a problem that we’ve known about for 25 years, it seems to me, is more than enough time.”