Dempsey tweaks Patrick proposals

House plan curbs union power on health costs

The new House budget proposal tweaks two of Gov. Deval Patrick’s major initiatives, eliminating collective bargaining for many aspects of municipal health plan design and reducing the number of attorneys the state would hire to represent indigent defendants.

The House health care proposal would allow municipalities to unilaterally set copays, deductibles, and other features of their health plans or shift workers into the state’s Group Insurance Commission without approval of public sector unions. By contrast, Patrick’s proposal required collective bargaining over all health care benefits, but shifted workers into the Group Insurance Commission if an impasse was reached.

The House’s proposal is sure to stir union anger, but House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said the new approach is necessary. “If we do not rein in the cost of health insurance, we will not have the number of teachers and textbooks we need in our classrooms,” he said.

Dempsey tempered his proposal somewhat by requiring municipalities to continue to bargain with their unions over what percent of health plan premiums union members should pay. The bill would also require 10 percent of any cost savings (he is estimated total cost savings of $100 million per year across the state) in the first year to be returned to employees to help pay for health care-related expenses.  The bill would also limit copay and deductible increases to no more than what is charged by the Group Insurance Commission’s largest subscriber plan.

In his budget, Patrick had proposed a dramatic change in the way the state provides legal representation for indigent defendants. He said he could save $60 million by replacing private attorneys who are paid on an hourly basis with 1,000 state lawyers plus 500 backup personnel. (The Patrick proposal, and opposition to it by the Committee for Public Counsel Services, is the subject of an argument and counterpoint in the latest issue of CommonWealth. The issue’s editor’s note also deals with this subject.)

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The House proposal scales back the governor’s initiative by adding 200 instead of 1,000 new public defenders, but it nevertheless still purports to achieve $53 million in savings. The proposal would cap the total billable hours of private attorneys and reduce billings for private investigators, psychiatrists, and photocopying. It would also bar members of the board of the Committee for Public Counsel Services from representing indigent clients and require indigent clients to verify they lack the money to pay for an attorney.

Homepage photo by the State House News Service