SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

November 4, 2013

Municipal health care reforms draw fire

(Continued)

At times during the hearing, the crowd booed or applauded speakers, prompting Rep. Aaron Michlewicz, D-Boston, who co-chairs of the committee, to scold them. Several times, the crowd became angry when they could not hear people testifying, yelling at speakers to talk louder.

Secretary of Administration and Finance Glen Shor turned to face the audience when he began testifying.

“Gov. Patrick and his entire administration value the many public employees who work in the commonwealth and are committed to providing them with excellent benefits,” Shor said. “Providing health care coverage to state and municipal employees and retirees is an important part of a benefit package that will attract talented employees to a career in public service.”

However, Shor said modifications to the system are “essential to keep the system sustainable for future state and municipal career employees and to maintain core government services for future generations.”

The cost of retiree health benefits for public employees in Massachusetts is among the highest in the 50 states and more generous than 90 percent of employers in the commonwealth, according to Shor.

Retiree health-care costs have grown with rising health-care costs, an aging workforce and longer life expectancy, according to Shor.

David Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees, threatened a lawsuit.

“I can tell you if this legislation is signed by the governor, there will be litigation,” he said.

Holway said there is no cost-savings, but a shift onto the backs of public employees. Holway said benefits should not change for current employees, regardless of their years of service. “As for current employees, we strongly feel that a deal is a deal,” he said.

But Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, told lawmakers the state faces “staggeringly large” unfunded retiree health-care liabilities. The liabilities, combined with existing pension obligations, threaten the long-term stability of local government finances, Widmer said, “and are already imperiling municipalities’ ability to provide basic services, including education, public safety and transportation.”

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