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Shady changes to Senate bill undermine health care savings

Globe Editorial

Shady changes to Senate bill undermine health care savings

LAST-MINUTE provisions inserted in the Senate budget undermine much of the effort on Beacon Hill to give cities and towns the tools they need to control the rising health care costs of municipal workers. It’s a setback to the stellar work of the House, which earlier passed a plan to save an estimated $100 million annually by allowing municipalities to place their workers in the state’s less-costly Group Insurance Commission or a similar plan.

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed that the Senate also understood that cities and towns could no longer provide basic city services if forced to cover double-digit increases in health care costs for their workforce. Apparently not. The Senate budget passed instead with amendments that would almost certainly discourage communities from seeking relief. The worst by far is a provision that would require cities and towns that seek to make changes to their health care plans to equalize the percentage of costs paid by active workers and retirees. If, for example, a town now pays 85 percent of the premium for current workers and 70 percent for retirees, local governments would be forced to pay the difference — a potentially huge expense.

These provisions must not become law. House and Senate negotiators must restore the House language to a final bill — and the Senate should pass it.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association estimates that savings in at least a third of the state’s communities would be wiped out under the ill-conceived retiree adjustment plan in the Senate budget. Perhaps the senators were hibernating in February when the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation released a report showing that the state’s 50 largest cities and towns alone face a retiree health care bill of $20 billion over the next 30 years.

Other mischief in the Senate budget would make it harder for cities and towns to join the GIC or steer workers into lower-cost tiered network plans common for state workers.

Unions and special interests battered the House, seeking to weaken the municipal health reform effort. The House stood firm. There wasn’t much action in the Senate, however. Suddenly, it’s clear why. The Senate isn’t serious about municipal health care reform.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.