State needs to reform municipal health insurance

During this election season, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is calling on all candidates for the Massachusetts Legislature to pledge their support for reform legislation to give cities and towns the ability to control skyrocketing health insurance costs and save local taxpayers $100 million a year. We encourage all voters and taxpayers to do the same.

Paying for health insurance is a problem for everyone, but cities and towns have been forced to pay much more than necessary because of a state law that gives municipal unions a veto over routine plan changes that would reduce the cost to taxpayers. Over the past ten years, cities and towns have seen their health insurance costs rise by over 150 percent, squeezing out vital services and costing local taxpayers more and more.

The state has cut local aid by $825 million, and cities and towns have laid off thousands of employees, cut services and increased their reliance on property taxes. Without real health insurance reform, communities will continue to pay too much for employee health benefits, which will force even more service cuts and layoffs while local taxpayers pay millions more than they should.

When the new Legislature convenes in January our representatives and senators need to support real reform that gives local government the same authority the state has to design health insurance plans outside of collective bargaining. Cities and towns would be able to their lower health insurance costs by $100 million statewide. This is real savings that taxpayers deserve and need.

The reform legislation would provide relief from an indefensible state law that allows local unions to block even modest changes in health plans, such as increasing any co-pays or deductibles. Many municipalities are locked into plans that offer $5 co-pays for office visits, and no co-pays or deductibles for many expensive procedures. But state employees have $20 co-pays and much higher deductibles because state leaders have exempted themselves from this collective bargaining mandate, and state officials routinely implement plan changes to save money on health insurance with no union approval required.

Cities and towns should have the same authority as the state. There is no excuse for keeping the unique and special veto power that municipal unions hold over health plan changes. This veto power is costing taxpayers millions, forcing cuts in important services that cause the elimination of teachers, firefighters and police officers from local budgets.

We urge all voters and taxpayers to ask candidates for the Legislature for a commitment to pass strong municipal health insurance reform when the Legislature convenes in January. Otherwise, the fiscal problems we face will get worse, and local taxpayers will continue to pay more and get less in return.

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director Massachusetts Municipal Association

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