Charlie Baker: Right on Municipal Workers’ Health Insurance

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s main issue differentiating himself from Governor Deval Patrick has for weeks been his emphasis on cutting state spending, including eliminating 5000 jobs. But he hasn’t been specific about where those jobs are, so his criticism of the Patrick administration has lacked clarity, credibility and clout, easily dismissible as campaign rhetoric . Recently, however, the Globe reported that Baker has come out four-square for giving municipalities more flexibility in shaping the health insurance benefits that public workers enjoy. And that’s a solid plus for Baker.

City and town workers’ health insurance takes a huge bite out of city budgets, in some cases over 20 percent. That comes right out of property taxes and, hence, out of taxpayer’s pocketbooks. In some cases, those same taxpayers are underwriting a level of health benefits for public employees that those taxpayers don’t even enjoy themselves. A recent study by The Boston Foundation found that “these health benefits are among the most generous offered by any employer in the Commonwealth,including the state and federal governments, as well as private employers!”

That same report noted that Boston alone could save more than 17% or $45 million if its workers got coverage through the state’s Group Insurance Commission. Statewide, there would be tens of millions of dollars saved. Baker asserts that this could reach savings of $100 million.
The Governor, to his credit, signed the law that, for the first time, allowed cities and towns to join the Group Insurance Commission. But the law requires the approval of a whopping 70% of union members in a community to approve that move. That’s even more Draconian than the 60% of U.S. Senators required to end a filibuster! Small wonder that just 19 communities have taken advantage of this cost-saving option.

Boston Mayor Tom Menino has gathered together a group of like-minded mayors to consider a signature drive to put a petition on the state ballot. You go, guys! If local communities can’t achieve savings in their health insurance, it will certainly mean laying off police, firefighters, and teachers, some of the unions who are fighting to preserve their laughable $5 co-pays and scant 20% share of premiums.
Is it so unfair to limit what city and town workers have for health insurance to the level of benefits that state workers already enjoy?

There’s little backbone in the legislature on this issue. Many lawmakers are wary of tampering with benefits won through collective bargaining. But let’s face it. We live in tough times. People everywhere are having to pay higher co-pays and deductibles. Employers everywhere are having to switch to less costly coverage. Everyone has to share the burden.

Governor Patrick has admirably taken on the unions in allowing civilian flaggers instead of police patrols and in attacking the excesses of the Quinn bill. What does he have to lose in standing tall with the mayors on health insurance? Charlie Baker scores on this one.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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