Tobin: Officials should boost insurance pay-in

March 30, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

Local City Councilor John Tobin is calling on the city’s elected officials to boost their health insurance employee contribution payments by 5 percent to match city unions that are already doing so—and to save the city millions of dollars that could go to other programs.

The city’s non-union employees—including Mayor Thomas Menino, city councilors and department heads—currently pay 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance plan, which uses Harvard Vanguard as a provider. “Health care is the best part of the whole job [package],” Tobin said. “It’s a great deal.”

However, not all officials choose the coverage, instead using private insurance or a spouse’s plan.

In negotiations with the city, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees recently agreed to a similar 5 percent contribution boost phased in over three years.

“It’s a smart move [by] the administration,” Tobin said of the agreement. But, he added, “I don’t know if it’s necessarily right or fair to ask colleagues in government to do things you’re not doing.”

Besides the 5 percent increase for non-union employees, Tobin said, he will also propose that all future city employees start at a 20 percent contribution rate “regardless of what union they’re in.” He noted that the state and Massport already have similar deals.

“Health care costs are crippling cities and towns all over the country,” Tobin said. Increasing the employee contribution, he said, will save the city money and make it look more fiscally responsible when it asks the state for local aid funds.

Tobin said his staff is still researching potential cost savings. “But I would have to think it would be in the millions of dollars,” he said. As one example, he noted the Boston Police Department’s $300 million budget is about 90 percent salaries and benefits.

One possible impact of such savings, Tobin said, would be reducing property taxes. In a separate proposal, Tobin is calling for an increase in the residential tax exemption rate from 30 percent of the average assessment to 40 percent. That proposal would require state approval.

The union’s agreement to boost health insurance contributions came in exchange for a loosening of the requirements that employees live in Boston. The residency requirement and health insurance contributions are expected to be major issues on the table as the city’s roughly three dozen unions all go into contract negotiations this year, Tobin said.

Tobin is a longtime foe of the residency requirement, saying the city “shouldn’t have one at all,” especially for such employees as “janitors making 29, 25 grand a year.” Instead, he said, the city should focus on retaining residents by lowering property taxes and fixing failing schools.

Tobin said he envisions the health care contribution boost as coming in the form of a mayoral executive order, and describes it as a “voluntary” measure. He was scheduled to submit the proposal to the City Council this week, with a hearing to follow.

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