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Menino targets health insurance

Wants more say on raising costs for employees

By Sean P. Murphy
Globe Staff / November 11, 2010

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Mayor Thomas M. Menino vowed yesterday to go to Beacon Hill to fight for a state law that would allow the city of Boston to save millions of dollar on health care insurance.

Menino said he could save at least $12 million a year if he gained the authority to shift a larger share of the city’s insurance costs from taxpayers to teachers, police, firefighters, and other city employees, retirees, and elected officials.

State law blocks Menino and other municipal managers statewide from shifting costs unless the unions representing municipal employees agree, something most unions have been unwilling to do.

“Taxpayers are fed up,’’ Menino told a gathering of municipal managers at a breakfast forum sponsored by Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School. “They are crying out for help.’’

But union representatives promised continued resistance, saying the benefits they now enjoy were gained over decades of hard-fought bargaining.

“We should sit down and negotiate and not let the city dictate what kind of health care we have,’’ said Rich Paris, president of the Boston firefighters union. “We will work together to get the best we can for our members. This is something that has always been bargained, and it should continue to be bargained.’’

To circumvent collective bargaining over health insurance, Menino would need approval of a so-called home rule petition by the City Council and the Legislature.

Menino said the city’s annual budget for health insurance is about $300 million, more than the Police Department budget. He said the city could save $1 million a month by shifting some insurance costs.

Menino said the home rule petition he plans to file would give the city the same kinds of tools that the state’s Government Insurance Commission uses to manage health care costs for state employees, retirees, and elected officials.

That commission has the authority to change copayments, deductibles, and co-insurance without collective bargaining.

Menino said he has the support of at least a couple of city councilors.

Earlier this year, Menino and other municipal managers pressed the Legislature for a change in state law that would have allowed cost-shifting without collective bargaining, saying it was their highest legislative priority.

But the Legislature failed to act, prompting Menino and others to say they would seek a statewide referendum on the issue, asking voters directly if municipalities should be given such power.

Menino said yesterday that he still supports such an effort, if necessary. Mayors Kimberley Driscoll of Salem and Robert Dolan of Melrose also spoke at the breakfast forum, which is dedicated to public policy issues and named for the late US Representative J. Joseph Moakley. They said getting relief from health insurance costs is crucial, especially as state aid declines, leaving many communities in a pinch.

Sean Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com.

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