Local Health Plans in the HWM Budget

The House Ways and Means budget includes a relatively strong form of the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s plan design proposal.

Municipalities will be able to adopt plan design powers by vote of the Board of Selectmen or the City Council — this adoption provision is still subject to some modification and clarification.

Once a municipality adopts the section, plan design changes will work as follows:

  • The mayor or selectmen of the municipality will be able to change the municipality’s health care plan design or to enter the Group Insurance Commission without collective bargaining.
  • However, if the mayor or selectmen adopt a new plan design other than the GIC, the plan must have copays and deductibles no greater than the GIC.
  • Employees will automatically receive 10% of the savings from the new plan (in addition to the savings that they may receive through lower premiums).
  • Employees will continue to have the right to bargain collectively over the share of the plan premiums that they will pay.

With the rules requiring parity with the GIC, municipal employees will be assured of having health care plans at least as good as state employees (including state legislators). They will, however, retain greater collective bargaining rights than state employees — state employees do not have the right to bargain over premium share.

This proposal is very much subject to further negotiation with the Senate — the Senate has not settled its position on this issue.

I am prepared to support this plan — it is consistent with my standing position on the GIC issue. While most municipal unions have voiced opposition to this plan, one thing is clear: It will save municipal jobs — local health care costs have been chewing up most of the increased aid that the state has been able to provide through the last decade.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

40 replies on “Local Health Plans in the HWM Budget”

  1. Will can you comment on the Walsh / O’Day amendment (#749) which as I understand it strikes a middle ground here, in that it requires expedited coalition bargaining — it looks to me like the timeframe is 90 days max — if the municipality opts for it, but does not eliminate bargaining rights?

    Thanks …

  2. I’ve had the opportunity to read the Walsh/O’Day amendment. It is basically the existing option of coalition bargaining plus a provision for submitting the issues to an arbitrator. Arbitration is usually not a good process for municipalities. Even with ostensible deadlines, the process is unlikely to move swiftly and will have unpredictable results. It’s not something that I can support.

    With the reforms proposed by the speaker, which I do support, municipal employees will continue to have more collective bargaining rights than state employees — municipal employees will still be able to bargain over the premium that they pay; for state employees, that premium is set by statute.

    1. I thoroughly disagree. The people who work in our cities and towns understand that they live in communities, and they can work with town managers to achieve the balance that each town needs.

      Not long ago Speaker DeLeo pushed a casino bill that would have given slots directly to the racetrack where his father had worked (and been a top employee). No competitive bidding in the process. The Speaker was legislating a tremendous advantage for this small group.
      The MMA has a subsidiary insurance company, the Mass. Interlocal Insurance Agency, which provides (IIRC) insurance plans to 1/5 of Mass. towns. The Speaker’s position would be a great advantage for the MMA, and its subsidiary MIIA, wouldn’t it?

      1. I’m not sure I can see a way that this proposal would help MIIA. MIIA is just one private insurer out there — they all would be equally impacted. They all arguably stand to lose as municipalities move to the GIC.

        While I shared your concern about the gambling proposal, I don’t see a parallel or connection here.

        The speaker’s proposal would be an advantage for all cities and towns and the people who live in those towns, not for the MMA as an institution.

  3. Thanks for the response re the Walsh amendment.

    I guess the fundamental underlying question here is this: Is the ability to bargain over wages, other compensation, working conditions, etc. a right that workers have, or a privilege granted by the state?

    If it a privilege then the legislature can do whatever it wants and only needs to be fair for moral reasons (out of either a sense of fairness), or for political reasons.

    However, if this is truly a right then the legislature has no business limiting it, and especially so if the limits are unilateral.

    Re the specifics …

    As a municipal employee, the fact that we have one more right (bargaining over premium share) is only meaningful in the context of the larger picture of all of the compensation and rights. This really sounds more like “It could be worse” than like a substantive benefit.

    More to the point, there are plenty of municipal unions — mine included — which stepped up to the plate and accepted a coordinated set of salary scales and modifications to health care benefits in order to save the municipality money, and save jobs. A note sent to staff in my district just last week by our superintendent indicated that we will likely be able to maintain staffing levels next year with some sacrifices but without an override, the major reason being that the staff “agreed to be part of the solution” in the last round of bargaining.

    With this bill the municipality will now have the opportunity to change one part of that negotiated agreement unilaterally. I don’t know that they will, because they respect the sacrifices we already made. But they can, and I don’t think that’s even close to right, no matter how pressing the needs are.

    One way to look at what is happening here is that the legislature is applying the same penalty (loss of bargaining rights) to those who have negotiated in good faith to be part of the solution, and to those who some say have refused to do so. And even with that addressed, applying any penalty presumes that the state should be making this decision for municipalities in the first place. It seems like this is only an appropriate remedy if the unions wield substantially more power than they should due to the way state law is structured, so the law must be changed to make things fair. I don’t think that’s the case. And if we are changing things not to make them fair but to save municipal budgets, there is no logical limit to what rights can be discarded for that purpose.

  4. Thanks, Tom.

    Freedom to associate and to speak out are fundamental human rights, guaranteed in the constitution. Collective bargaining is part of the panoply of statutory labor law that includes civil service, anti-discrimination laws, fair practices, wage and hour rules, etc. It’s closely related to constitutional rights, but the exact scope of bargaining is not written into the constitution.

    I think that’s too a philosophical conversation though. Here’s what I perceive to be the real issue — the collective bargaining process just doesn’t work well for the issue of health care plan design. Health care plan design is unique among issues at the municipal level in that it applies equally to all employees. Getting a dozen unions representing employees who each have different concerns to agree to a single plan takes a few years every time it is done. We need to be able to manage health care much more dynamically if we are going to control costs. And I don’t think that this is a zero sum game — it’s not just about cost-shifting: Dynamic management of plan design can really help control the cost-trend. They GIC has proved this.

  5. I’ve received roughly 100 similar cards and emails from public employees along the following lines:

    The municipal health insurance plan in the House budget is an
    unprecedented, unnecessary and unfair assault on the collective bargaining
    rights of public employees.

    The MTA and other unions have proposed a plan that will achieve the same
    savings in health insurance while preserving the voice, the values and the
    dignity of teachers and other municipal employees and retirees around the
    state. It is this plan that must be enacted when all is said and done.

    Representative Martin Walsh has filed the Municipal Health Insurance
    Amendment. The amendment would save jobs and programs by significantly
    reducing health insurance costs for municipalities. It would guarantee
    health insurance savings through an expedited bargaining process.

    I don’t perceive the Walsh amendment to be workable — the binding arbitration is, regardless of ostensible deadlines, slow and unpredictable.

    I also don’t perceive the speaker’s proposal to be an assault on collective bargaining, but an important improvement in the way we manage health care which will benefit everyone in the long run. Rising health care costs are eating up state aid, costing public employee jobs and strangling local services. We just have to get serious about managing them. Requiring municipal employees to standardize on health benefits that are at least as good as all state employees have, including legislators, seems pretty fair.

  6. I would like to add my perspective as someone who as a parent has championed the value of teachers for decades, including devoting 6 years to intense school committee service. I am also trained in finance, and my professional expertise is in evaluating the cost and quality of healthcare.
    So I shock my friends when I say I cannot support another override in my town (I worked hard for the last 2). Why? Because I refuse to throw good money after bad at health insurance companies that continue to scare consumers into believing that huge costs are equal to quality care. Insurers lose nothing when costs go up, and they have zero incentive to control costs. Period.
    Unless and until this issue is recognized, taxpayers and unions will claw at each other till there is a bloody mess. The GIC is just a way of forcing providers to keep medical inflation below 10% a yr. while maintaining quality. In any other industry this would be a no-brainer.
    Will is correct- “Requiring municipal employees to standardize on health benefits that are at least as good as all state employees have, including legislators, seems pretty fair.”

    1. I agree with Sue Sheffler. The Medical Services Delivery industry (so-called Health Care) is out of control. It’s rapacious attitude is now bankrupting local governments, small and medium sized businesses, and anything else that gets in its way. If the GIC is going to help reign this in, even just a little, I’m all for it.
      We are going to have to generate a much more powerful vision for how to provide medical care and improve our health, very soon, now.

  7. I strongly support the House Ways and Means Committee proposal and agree with Will, and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, and Scott Lehigh, who wrote powerfully on the subject in today’s Globe (http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2011/04/22/from_labor_a_health_care_trojan_horse/). There is no sacrosanct labor principle at play here; why should municipal workers have the right to dictate plan design when state workers can’t? And a return to binding arbitration would be an absolute nightmare for taxpayers.

  8. The simple reality is that municipal employee health benefits are unsustainable and completely out of synch with the rest of the market — including state employees, federal employees, private sector employees, and the self-employed. The reason for the difference in benefits is the requirement that municipalities collectively bargain any change to the benefits, including co-payments, co-insurance, and deductibles (which are non-existent among local government health benefits). Virtually all other employers — including unionized state and federal employees — are able to adjust their employees’ benefits without negotiating every nickel and dime change to cost sharing.

    I’ve authored a number of reports on this topic, including the most recent report that exposes the stark difference between municipal health benefits and the health benefits other working families have available (see http://www.masstaxpayers.org). The issue is one of fairness, equity, and sustainability. In the city of Revere, every single dollar of additional local property taxes is gobbled up by health insurance premiums for local workers….that means NO money for anything else. In Somerville, health insurance premiums consume over 20% of the city’s ENTIRE budget. Come on…does that make any sense? Somerville workers pay $5 co-payments for doctor’s visits and virtually nothing for all other health care. Is it anti-union to suggest that something’s wrong with this situation?

    My dad was a janitor who worked for the state of Rhode Island…and my mom was a crossing guard in the city of Providence…I grew up in lower-income family…but I’m sure my dad would want more teachers in classrooms…and longer library hours…and swimming pools open longer…if the trade-off was that he had to pay $15 or $20 to see a doctor…or $25 for a brand name drug…instead of $5 or $10 to see the doctor and $10 for a prescription. it’s not like we’re talking about $5,000 deductibles! This is chump change, but the cops and firefighters and teachers would have you believe it’s the end of the world.

    The Speaker’s proposal sets a floor. No municipal worker will go broke paying for their health care. Not sure I can say that’s true for other working families in Massachusetts.

    I appreciate your clear-eyed, common sense approach to this issue, Will.

    Bob Carey

    1. Thank you, Bob, for your clear and logical statement on this situation. Those of us in the private sector have been paying much higher doctor and prescription co-pays than municipal employees for years – and we have NEVER had a voice in designing the coverage or the premiums.

      The GIC program, from my perspective, would be a step up for many of us in the private sector.

      Will – you’re on the right track and your fellow state house members should follow your lead and bring common sense back to Beacon Hill.

  9. This issue is delicate and difficult. I respect Will for being willing to take a stand on a difficult issue and explain clearly the reasons.

    For me, at the heart of this issue of how to set health care premiums for municipal employees is my strong support for single payer health care for all – as a right. And to achieve that goal, we should eliminate any parts of the health care system which do not add value. To me, that means we should move towards a single payer system for everyone – whether run by each state or parts of state, or the country. The savings on administration should be put into preventive health care. We’d all be better off.

    Since the GIC is the closest to that vision, I support moving everyone into the GIC, including all municipal employees, unilaterally. I also wonder if the state could make the GIC available to small private sector employees, and to the self-employed, who are suffering the most from unsustainable premiums.

    I see health care as a right, but not any specific health care plan or structure. The sooner we have one system, the better.

    However, I have to add that it is galling that while unions are being criticized for not wanting to give up the option of whether to join the GIC, economically irrational policies like the film tax credit (which generates a loss of about 84 cents for every dollar invested — and creates a handful of jobs which cost us taxpayers over $150,000 each job ) continue, unchallenged. And of course union members are skeptical about the fiscal crisis used to justify changes — since at the same time the state apparently is considering spending millions on another boondoggle convention center expansion, subsidized by us.

    Patty Nolan

    1. Thank you, Patty, for mentioning the film tax credit losing 84 cents of every dollar dedicated to it. Who does that 84 cents go to? People like Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz had 25% of their salaries paid by the Commonwealth.

  10. I support the Speaker’s efforts.. I’ve spoken to state employees on the GIC, and they seem to like it. I’ve compared the GIC to my own company’s health care plan, and its pretty much identical – this is the plan that covers my family, including my newborn son. I don’t take it lightly.

    Its difficult to beat economies of scale, and our town’s unions have not placed forward any option that could control costs as effectively as that. So far, it seems to have been just an exercises in “No” – perhaps a hope that if they can hold onto these benefits just a little while longer, an improving economy will take the focus off of municipal costs.

    But they plans they often have, these are the very plans that our Administration has stated are part of the problem – plans that encourage overconsumption, and monopolize the resources – the doctors, the hospital beds, that will be needed to cover the currently uninsured as they gain coverage. These plans were actually penalized in the health care reform bill for this very reason.

    All in all, public collective bargaining is a privilege, given to the municipal employees because it was felt that system of determining benefits and compensation was the best for the citizenry – the residents of the town. Its not a right – public bargaining was excluded from the Wagner Act that gave private sector workers the ability to unionize and bargain. It can’t be a right, because millions of state and federal workers enjoy a wide variation in what is allowed in collective bargaining. So for this privilege, is it working for the towns and cities of our state? No, for this benefit, its not – contracts around health care benefits have become a way to impede progress, to hold the taxpayers hostage to a benefit that has rapidly rising costs. And if these privileges become a negative to the the town, they need to be changed.

    So I hope this passes, and the Walsh amendment is defeated. I see the upcoming override as my necessary sacrifice to prevent layoffs in Arlington – and it will be an expense that will mean cutting back in other areas of my family’s life. But I will not support it if I don’t see similar sacrifices from our town’s unions. I have too many friends looking for work to accept that..

  11. Am writing this without reading other comments. I consider myself a supporters of unions generally, and collective bargaining, as offset to corporate/employer strength. But am often upset at union stands, which give too much priority to benefits instead of doing everything to keep as many people as possible employed; and am often upset when union members vote against their interest (e.g., support of Scott Brown).

    Present situation requires decision to either curtail collective bargaining, or help communities with their budget problems. Since communities’ budget problems involve number of people with jobs, in this situation I come down in favor of the communities and saving jobs, which may mean forcing unions into GIC.

  12. I’m in favor of using the GIC for local health insurance, but it sounds like this bill creates an opportunity for some temporary sleaziness. A friend at work, has a wife who teaches, and she remarked that they just negotiated a contract where they traded wages for (they thought) preserved health care benefits. If they knew they were going to get less in the way of health care benefits, they would have instead pushed for higher pay. Setting aside the efficiency issues (which is what makes me favor GIC), they made a deal, and if towns (in this interim period, while already-negotiated contracts are in place) unilaterally change health care plans “because now they can”, the unions will have every right to be furious. But the next time a contract comes up for negotiation, sure, health insurance through GIC.

    One hopes that cities and towns will take advantage of this law (assuming it passes) in graceful and ethical ways.

  13. Will, you are on the right side here. I am strongly in favor of allowing municipalities to adopt the GIC as their health plan. As you and a number of others have pointed out, on the current pace health care costs will eventually swallow up everything else. In a world of constrained budgets the progressive position is to recognize this distortion and act to preserve funds for other important priorities (some involving employment for additional union members).

    It would be impressive to see the Democrats get this done in the face of strenuous lobbying by one of their strongest constituencies. It would show real leadership by Robert DeLeo, someone I have not been a fan of in the past.


  14. The fact that Senator Deleo has lead on this emotional issue is commendable and Will, your long time interest in the details makes your support of this legislation noteworthy. As I has written in this forum, I think government jobs should be compensated as those in the private sector whether it be at the state or municipal level and that public employee unions have an unfair advantage in negotiating with those they fund to elect, that said this legislation as written and unamended is a good step given the realities of Massachusetts politics.

  15. The problem with this is – as David Chase notes – that people have negotiated contracts and given up wage increases in return for health benefits. They’ve agreed and they are adhering to the terms of of the contract and delivering what they’ve agreed to deliver. If contracts can be abrogated, why should anyone sign them?

    One of the major reasons that unions were formed was to protect individuals who do not have power. They are the reason that we have child labor laws and other wages and hours laws. It is a matter of grave concern when states take steps that would hasten a return to the Gilded Age when none of us who work had any protection at all. It’s bad enough that private industry workers at all levels have been forced into contract situations where they don’t get benefits. Extending this to government workers is another step in the wrong direction.

    That said, negotating contracts would make sesne. Absogating them has implications far beyond this issue and they are not good ones.

  16. As a self-employed person, and speaking to many in my field who are similarly paying for their own health insurance, the premium is shockingly high. I know many hard working, well educated professionals who find the cost prohibitive and simply don’t have any health insurance. Instead they pay a mortgage, including their real estate taxes, thus, ironically, they help shoulder the cost of the health insurance policy of the municipal employees. Elected officials, who want to keep their office, are not in a position to take a stand against the major unions in their town. It’s a lop sided negotiation. The union does the work for the insurance industry by insisting upon lavish coverage, which continues to be paid well after the employee is retired, and they are breaking the budgets of municipalities. The benefit packages far outstrip the private sector, while the salaries are comparable, if not better.

    Using a standard, such as GIC, as a bench mark against which costs are measured is absolutely necessary. My concern is that GIC be subject to oversight to ensure that it remains a quality plan, accepted by the best hospitals and physicians.
    As an aside, the comments on this site are impressively well informed. As much as I’d like to rant I feel constrained by the level of professionalism.

  17. As a state employee (who has paid increased amounts toward my health insurance and increased copays through GIC), I believe municipal employees should be offered the same options. I don’t want to see collective bargaining destroyed, but I do think health care costs and budgetary concerns are such that this needs to be taken out of collective bargaining. GIC offers good plans, which cover basic and catastrophic health care needs; I know, I received standard tx for Non-Hodgin’s Lymphoma, was not in remission, then had an autologous bone-marrow transplant. That was 16 years ago; my tx, which was ridiculously expensive, was mostly covered and my payments did not bankrupt me. Of course, co-payments have increased since then, but I think most people are shamefully unaware of what the true cost of their health care actually is. We all need to become more oriented to this; at least with GIC, they are able to negotiate cost savings with providers.

  18. Some of the posters above have indicated a hesitance with this bill because unions “gave up” salary increases to preserve benefits. I find this argument built on pretty weak foundations.

    First, unions didn’t give up anything – it was a negotiation, they pushed for all they could get, and when the town(s) said no to one thing, they used it as a bargaining chip for something else. At present, they are probably hurt by their insistence on the status quo, because towns have to protect against a benefit cost that might rise 7% or might rise 12% in a year – you can’t be flexible on salary if you have to save every dollar possible to protect against next year’s health insurance increase.

    Second, when towns (and companies) started providing health insurance years ago, it was with the understanding it was stable, fairly predictable benefit – like salary, it could be planned for and managed. That has changed – over the next decade, or generation, as governmental boards decide which benefits and procedures will be covered, health care coverage and costs will rapidly change. So the predictability towns made deals around is gone..

    Finally, a contract is not an exercises of “take what I have and add to it”- its a 3-4 year agreement decided what works for the town and its employees going forward. For the next 3-4 years, towns are going to have a hard time. Contracts should be stable, but the past precedents are not locked in stone. If things are better in 8-10 years, after healthcare reform has been fully implemented, and its makes sense, unions could always argue for this privilege back. If they can show its a better deal for the citizens of a town, more power to them.. but they haven’t been able to show that up to this point, in today’s environment.

    1. In a negotiation, there are a set of options on the table. No one gets exactly what he/she wants. Instead, as the sides talk during the negotiating process, each side sees what is most important to the other ranging to what is least important. The resulting agreement is a compromise in which each side “gives” some of what it wants in order to obtain the things it considers most important.

      In this case, salaries were considered to be less important than health care benefits. As a result, the unions did not press for higher salaries but did press, and succeeded in obtaining, better health care benefits.

      Taking these away by abrogating the contract means that the negotiation was useless and that the contract can be broken. Union members have delivered work based on the contract negotiated in good faith. The government has an obligation to deliver on a contract if people are to take contracts seriously.

      This proposal suggests that it is OK for the government (and other state governments) to absrogate a contract. There is no way that individuals who are the other part of this contract could get away with that.

      1. Government abrogates contracts all the time – its called legislating. Our government gets to set the rules of the game. A legislature changes the rules, and the parties impacted deal with it. The rules prior were that healthcare benefits were negotiated by contract in a 3-4 year time span. They are perfectly entitled to change that rule by saying that now healthcare benefits are out of the purview of direct benefit-by-benefit negotiations.

        I purchased my home based on the “rules” that said I could deduct my home mortgage interest from my taxes. That may very well change in the next few years, and I’ll pay more in taxes. Kind of stinks, but I accept it – I don’t go back to the prior owner and ask for money back, because I need a do-over..

        But overall, I believe its fair that some of the savings be turned into salary.. but you can’t ask for an even trade – we’ve all been forced to bear more the burden of our health care costs and decisions. This falls apart of the stance is “okay, you need to replace one unsustainable benefits with an unsustainable benefit of equal value”

        A contract isn’t just an exercise in “MORE” – where you take everything granted in prior years and add an extra pile of stuff on top of it. Benefits should be consistent, and steadily grow to match cost of living, but there’s no rule in there saying we can’t have moments of bigger change. And our PEU’s have had years here to address how to handle that change. In my town, its been more an exercise in saying No.. and that’s how we’ve gotten to this point…

        1. I disagree with the remark that “legislation is just changes to contracts”. Sometimes it is, usually it isn’t, and usually it is arranged to it changes the ground rules of future contract negotiations, not existing ones. For example, the building code added a requirement for monoxide detectors while our home addition was under construction; our contract with the builder was unaffected, and because the permit predated the change, the detectors are not required.

          I think, also, that it’s telling that we would even discuss allowing unilateral changes to a negotiated contract (I don’t know that the legislation actually allows this, or mandates the next-negotiation timing). Towns negotiate lots of contracts, and if we can renegotiate this contract, why not the others? The obvious reason is that if towns did this, they would rapidly find themselves unable to negotiate long-term contracts — all transactions would be like buying stuff on Craigslist, where you swap cash for goods and you’re done. The fact that we even contemplate this for teachers, suggests that their unions are not exactly the all-powerful bosses of local government. We need their services, they need their jobs.

  19. I have read through all of the postings to date, and I’m truly amazed and encouraged by the high level of discourse. The contrast with what I am accustomed to hearing from the national media is like night and day. Like most really important issues, I see this as far from a “black-and-white” issue; yet, even or especially in such cases, we ask our leaders to make decisions. However one may feel about the outcome of this process, we should all be able to feel that it has been thoroughly researched and debated.

    Having read a lot about this, I find that I agree with Will’s position. I would offer one thought to those on the other side: If municipal workers continue to be seen as getting much more generous health care benefits than state workers and workers in the private sector, this will only lead to a rising level of resentment of municipal workers among the rest of us. This can’t be a healthy development and could conceivably lead to much more draconian measures against municipal workers sometime in the future.

  20. I believe you are on the right track. Everyone should be expected to be part of the solution. The sooner the better for our children.
    I’m waiting for someone at the Federal level to take the lead and tell the military that they are going to have to contribute to their pensions and their retiree health insurance.
    We can’t be “entitled” to something that is not sustainable.

  21. Will:
    I strongly support your position. Arlington employees have declined two options to jin the GIC under terms much more generous thanSpeaker DeLeo is suggesting, and this has cost the Town millions of dollars, and cost the employees two years without raises. For most employees, the GIC or a similar program is as good or better than their current plans, and there are ways to mitigate the situation for those employees who fall out of that category (Town Contributions to Health Reimbursement Accounts, for example). As with Sue Sheffler, who commented earlier, this is one of the reasons I will not support an override in Arlington this year.
    Please keep up your good work!

  22. The House Ways and Means are offering towns a tool that we can use. As a member of the Arlington Finance Committee for years, and recently elected to the Board of Selectman, I’ve been waiting and working for this for a long time.

    Will, you know as well as I do: the goal is to provide quality health insurance to our town employees at a price that both they and the towns can afford. This plan gets us there.

  23. I strongly support your stand on this issue, Will. I’m sensitive to labor issues and collective bargaining rights, especially in these public-employee bashing times, but controlling spiraling health care costs benefits all of us.

  24. Will, I support your position. If we don’t do something to control health care costs we will not be able to manage our town budgets. I think we have to bring public and private employe benefits more in line with each other. Thanks for the work you do. Lynn

  25. Will, I support your stand on this issue. I believe that public employees and teachers in particular should be well paid in that they do critical work. However, the highly subsidized health care benefits have driven up costs for too long and a lot of damage has been done to the educational systems as a result. My real issue with the uncompetitive benefit packages in the public sector (too good) is that workers are driven to choose the public sector plan because it is cheaper above a second plan that might be available to a family. Participation rates in public sector health plans are extremely high and this is a significant reason. Profit driven corporations are off loading their benefit costs onto the mission driven public sector in this way. Thanks for your work and communication.

  26. Yes, health insurance has become such a contentious issue, and I can speak from my experience when I lost mine. When Polaroid went into bankruptcy, I had some few years earlier taken an early retirement program offered by the Company. At the time I retired, the Retirement Manager counseled me and in reviewing my situation, told me with an honest certainty, ” You will always have your health insurance.” He believed it, and I believed it because that was Polaroid. I knew that Manager well, and knew that he was telling me the truth as he knew it.

    But with thet bankruptcy a few years later, came the news that the health insurance was gone – that day. In the uproar the Company arranged a day in a facility with representa- tives of a number of insurance companies where retirees could sign up with the company of their choice, at the individual’s expense of course. And since that time costs have risen substantially. I have kept my insurance because I have no other choice.

    In my experience, I recognize the reality of costs. I think that employees need to recognize that health insurance is a burden, and a blessing, that needs to be shared.

  27. I strongly support the Speaker’s bill and your support of it (and am surprised that the Speaker filed it). The current arrangement is unworkable. It’s designed to ensure that nothing changes or only a little over a long period of time. The towns are caught in an ugly situation: rapidly rising healthcare costs, an increased reliance on property taxes for revenue, a bad economy, and unions that seem to be reluctant to recognize the reality of the situation.

    Negotiating the details of healthcare plans with multiple unions is nuts. To me it seems to guarantee that the union taking the hardest line with the town will always win because it has veto power and other unions are not going to turn down better benefits than they might be willing to accept on their own.

    I support unions. But as a taxpayer, I also support the town’s need to have more control over its fiscal affairs. It’s hard for those of us who are paying very expensive healthcare premiums to subsidize plans that cost town employees far less.

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