R.I. Makes a Cameo in Mass. Governor's Race

A sleepy race for months, the Massachusetts gubernatorial contest is finally picking up steam, with incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick facing an increasingly tough challenge from Republican Charlie Baker, former chief executive at health insurer Harvard Pilgrim. Today, Baker's dramatic move to pull Harvard Pilgrim out of Rhode Island in 1999 is the subject of a lengthy piece in the Boston Globe:

In December 1999, an ailing Harvard Pilgrim Health Care pulled out of Rhode Island with two months’ notice, shuttering the company’s three health centers there and forcing 1,200 physicians and other employees to search for new jobs. Thousands of patients suddenly had to find new doctors, and about 128,000 subscribers scrambled for other health insurance.

The Ocean State accounted for about 10 percent of Harvard Pilgrim’s customers but 45 percent of its losses, and to save the company, new chief executive Charles D. Baker essentially cut off its Rhode Island leg.

In the aftermath, pediatrician Fortunato Procopio and a handful of other physicians from the closed Warwick health center hurriedly cobbled together a practice while trying to reassure their anxious patients.

“We had four to five weeks,’’ Procopio said. “We had to incorporate, we had to forge new alliances with insurance companies, we had to buy computer systems, had to arrange for billing systems . . . and patients were walking into a building that looked abandoned.’’

Procopio, now medical director of health services at the University of Rhode Island, said Baker “made a tough decision and he made it work for his company, but it was calamitous for those of us involved.’’

Eleven years later, Baker, 53, is the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts, and he often points to his decade at the helm of Harvard Pilgrim as an example of the leadership he would bring to Beacon Hill. He talks about how he rescued the insurance company from the brink of bankruptcy in 1999, in part by slashing the payroll, and transformed it into the top-ranked health plan in the country.


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