Eric Dahlberg Criticizes Legislature for Failing to Reduce Municipal Health Care Costs

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Eric Dahlberg, a candidate for the 3rd Middlesex Senate District, has called out the legislature for failing to pass health insurance ‘plan design’ for cities and towns.

A central feature in Massachusetts health care reform is the creation the Group Insurance Commission (GIC) Health Insurance law. All private entities and the state government benefit from the reduced health insurance costs.

In the past few years the budgets of our cities and towns have been being decimated on two sides. On the one hand the legislature has cut the chapter 70 local aid that towns use to fund their school budgets. On the other side, health insurance costs for city workers have been increasing every year. The result has been reduced city services, school program cuts, teacher layoffs and property tax increases.

Municipalities have been trying to get a law passed to allow them to put city workers on GIC insurance, which is opposed by municipal workers unions. The legislature, which is as always beholden to every special interest that pays campaign contributions, has opposed the reform.

The reform would save municipalities $100 million per year, and would to some extent shield them from further health insurance cost rises. Without this, taxpayers will continue to see their municipal budgets eaten up by health insurance costs.

Today in a letter to the Lowell Sun, Eric Dahlberg has called out the legislature for again failing to protect Massachusetts tax payers:

The Legislature’s conference committee budget for fiscal 2011 misses a $100 million opportunity to deliver services to the taxpayers more efficiently and effectively. It excludes a provision to grant health- insurance plan-design authority to cities and towns.

Such authority is currently exercised by every private-sector organization in the state, as well as by state government itself. If granted to the 351 communities of the commonwealth, it would empower local elected officials to make cost-saving changes to municipal health plans without having to go through the collective-bargaining process. This is clearly in the best interest of the taxpayers.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates that granting such authority would save up to $100 million annually. That’s money we in local government could use to provide property-tax relief to residents, to improve deficient services, or to replenish our stabilization funds.

It is concerning and, frankly, bizarre that our legislators have failed to include this straightforward, common-sense measure in the fiscal 2011 budget, even as the economy continues to lag and federal stimulus funds dry up.

Yet again, Beacon Hill’s special-interest politics has gotten in the way of prudent public policy.

A budget amendment with a watered down ‘plan design’ provision narrowly passed the Senate in May, but was defeated in a conference committee. The Massachusetts Municipal Association has a discussion of the amendment which shows us exactly on whose side our legislators are on.

The watered down provision would allow only 25% of the health insurance cost savings to go to town budgets – our school budget and police department budgets. 25% of the savings would be a windfall for city workers unions. The remaining 50% would be negotiated with unions.

Under this amendment, small towns in Massachusetts would have just 45 days to negotiate with multiple state-wide workers unions simultaneously! And if negotiations failed the town would be ineligible for GIC.

But even this amendment, highly favorable to the unions, was defeated. The great majority of our legislators failed to vote even for that.

By coming out in support of ‘plan design’ Eric Dahlberg isn’t going to make any friends with municipal workers unions – but he’s putting Massachusetts taxpayer’s interests first.

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