Time to take a stand on health care

On January 29, 2011, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

By Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

Last week Governor Patrick proposed a momentous change in how municipalities deliver health care to their employees, and the fate of this legislation will make or break many cities and towns across the state.

Currently, most municipalities are self-insured, like Somerville. Whenever a city employee goes to the doctor, the taxpayers get the bill. We contract with insurance providers like Harvard Pilgrim, Tufts and Blue Cross Blue Shield to use their negotiated rates with doctors and hospitals, but we are not part of a larger insurance pool and the money comes straight out of the City budget. If we want to change anything, we have to negotiate with our local collective bargaining units to make that change.

The State government does not work this way. All state employees are in something called the Group Insurance Commission (GIC), which provides top quality care at much more affordable rates to more than 300,000 members. How much more affordable? The City potentially could save $8.7 million a year by switching to the GIC.

That money can help preserve and improve services for the taxpayers, allowing them to get more of a bang for every dollar they pay to the City. This past year every new dollar the City raised through its property tax went straight into covering the rising cost of health coverage for City employees. It is an unsustainable situation and Governor Patrick is looking to give us the tools to get our health care costs under control.

The Governor’s proposal would allow the City to shift to the GIC or an equivalent plan for the next fiscal year. It is an absolute lifeline to communities that have cut meat and bone to balance their budgets in recent years.

If this passes, my administration absolutely will make a switch. If we select the GIC, City employees will have the choice between Harvard Pilgrim, Tufts, Fallon and Health New England, ranked 1, 3, 7 and 8 nationally among commercial health plans by U.S. News & World Report. The one major insurer not in the GIC is Blue Cross Blue Shield, ranked #12 by U.S. News & World Report.

As you can see, we’re still talking about top quality health care. We are not looking to take short cuts on quality. This is the same coverage that my wife, my sons and I will be receiving. However, we can get that top quality coverage at a much better rate because of the savings associated with being in a vastly larger pool.

Those savings also will be passed along to many of our employees in the form of lower weekly premium payments. And our employees, who pay different premium rates dependent upon which bargaining unit represents them (with our retirees paying the highest premiums), will all pay uniform rates for uniform benefits, which the right and fair thing to do.

More money to provide services for taxpayers, a budget crisis averted, top quality coverage, lower premiums for most of our employees and a fair deal for every City employee and retiree – this represents a win for everyone involved.

Speaker DeLeo already has signaled his support for the bill and our local delegation needs to join with him in order to alleviate the crushing burden of health coverage that has been placed upon cities and towns. This legislation must move swiftly in order to provide relief for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

Municipalities deserve the same opportunity as the State to manage their health care costs. The current situation makes no one healthier. All it does is take increasingly more money away from the services we should be providing to our taxpayers, not to mention the jobs of the people who provide those services.

Governor Patrick is demonstrating the kind of no-nonsense leadership this state needs and municipalities need the no-nonsense passage of this bill to follow in short order. The health of this city depends on it.

 

5 Responses to “Time to take a stand on health care”

  1. Joseph Keller says:

    Sounds like a no-brainer… But the fact Curtatone has to spend time arguing for this indicates that there is some opposition. Who is opposing this and why?

  2. Sue says:

    Being self-insured also precludes members from taking advantage of the state regulation allowing your children to remain on your plan until the age of 26. The new federal law supercedes the state, but is only offerred to you at your next enrollment period, which for many municipalities is not until July.

  3. J. Connelly says:

    Despite the rhetoric from Gov Patrick & the Mayor, the insurance issue may not be an easy sell. We all agree that health insurance costs are too high. Then again look at some of the high paid (million$) CEOs in our heathcare systems…Baker, Levy, Roosevelt, etc. all former politicians.
    There is a insurance fund reimbursement system in that high cost medical treatments, (some costing hundreds of thousands of dollars) are reimbursed to private industries and cities/towns that apply, Somerville is one of those cities that has received $$$ from this fund…Yet you never hear it mentioned by Somerville’s elected officials.

    The GIC told state employees that it would be offering insurance to municipalities and it did. The Mayor’s statement that “Those savings also will be passed along to many of our employees in the form of lower weekly premium payments”, is not true.

    The same was said to the state employees when the offer to add municipalities first occurred, but it DID NOT. The past effort of taking municipalities on has led to increased premiums for those enrolled in the state’s insurance plan. The GIC is the only plan around that has it’s own created “Tier” plan. The GIC makes judgement on the physicians and thus issues different co-pays. My doctor’s practice has several doctors. Under GIC the co-pays in this practice vary from $15.00 to $35.00 per visit or possibly more depending on what the GIC has decided. So if my doctor is not in the office on the day I go my co-pay can be higher.

    The public constantly complains about the public employee pensions in that they believe it is the publics funds. the FACT is that for several decades, (40 or more years) each week the public employees have pension money taken out of THEIR paychecks. THEIR OWN MONEY!
    Yet for several decades the state/municipalities have failed to put their share of money into this fund, Thus the public employees have been “Enroned” for decades by the state and municipalities.

    The state and municipalities have used the money that they should have been putting into the pensions each year for their pet projects instead. On top of that they have dipped into the money the employees have placed into the fund to bail the state and municipalities out. An example, when the Cutler School had asbestos, the city “borrowed” money from the employees pension fund to remove the asbestos.

    So after seeing what the state and municipalities have done to the pension system the public employees would not be too trustful of the rhetoric from the politicians. The public officials tout that there will be layoffs and they do occur but when you check the records the high paying hacks remain on the payroll and the real workers who deliver the services are the one’s wrongfully laid off.

  4. Definitely a no-brainer as J.K. says. I’m glad to see Mayor Curtatone finally showing some public leadership on this issue. It’s been four years since joining the GIC became an option, as one-time mayoral challenger Suzanne Bremer pointed out seven months ago in her June 2010 article Go for the Enchilada that the mayor ought to spend some of his vast political capital to negotiate joining the GIC with the municipal unions. Perhaps if he’d done this earlier, he wouldn’t have to privatize so many city jobs.

    Joseph, I believe the opposition is principally municipal worker unions who fear they’ll lose benefits and see increased costs and insurance companies which probably would generate less revenue.

    J. Connelly’s concern about the probability of savings not being shared with municipal workers is discussed in Friday’s Globe op-ed Municipal health care reform?
    What we really need to lower is a single-payer “Medicare for All” system, like what’s being proposed in Vermont and Oregon.

  5. Me says:

    “Who is opposing this and why?” Unions, city employees ect. All of us pay more so they can pay less.

    It would be nice if Mayor Curtatone would pledge to have all city workers pay the monthly premium equal to the average resident of Somerville, in addition to his pledge to switch to the GIC

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