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Friday, July 8, 2011

Curtatone Pens Op-Ed on Health Insurance Reform

By the Mayor of Somerville, Joseph Curtatone

Somerville — During his inauguration Governor Patrick called on the Legislature to pass meaningful municipal health insurance reform and six months later the Legislature has delivered a bill that does that exactly. All it needs now is thegovernor’s signature.

Politics does not happen at high speed and this particular issue asked members of the statehouse to take politically uncomfortable stands. Changes in benefits packages often turn into emotional issues even when the logic behind the changes is rock solid. Yet, thanks to the leadership of House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, the Legislature braved the inevitable political storms caused by this reform and have sent the governor a bill that can save one hundred million dollars a year at the municipal level in this state, while still providing some of the best health coverage in the nation for municipal employees.

That is one hundred million that can fund services for the taxpayers, including jobs of the people who provide those services. As I have said repeatedly during the past year, cities like Somerville have been caught in a fiscal vise between plummeting state aid (our net state aid is down $28 million since 2002) and wildly escalating health costs (which have tripled to $37.8 million). We need relief.

Every mayor and town manager in the Commonwealth has been adamant about the need for this reform. At the same time, we wanted to make sure our employees are getting the best possible coverage and that organized labor is getting a fair shake. The Legislature weighed those concerns and has crafted a proposal that gives labor a seat at the table while allowing municipalities to get the fiscal relief they desperately need.

The bill in front of the governor would allow a city like Somerville to join the Group Insurance Commission (GIC). The GIC offers four of the top 10 health plans in the nation. It is the same coverage given to every elected official at the Statehouse and every state worker. It will be the same coverage that my family and I would receive should the city be allowed to make this change. It is an excellent plan and, because it is a much larger coverage pool, it is able to contain costs much better than the self-insured model employed by most municipalities, including Somerville.

Simply put, rising costs and changes in healthcare delivery necessitate that we change with the times. The cost of not making these changes – in services and jobs lost – is too high.

Now the governor has the chance to finish what he started. This is a good government measure that ultimately will benefit municipalities, municipal workers and taxpayers. It has come about after months of thoughtful deliberation and, in Somerville, we are eager to move forward with a more sensible and affordable approach to employee health insurance.

Want to know the exact numbers? ResiStat has published an Excel Calculator on the Budget page of their website. This will enable you to see the GIC figures for yourself.

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