DeLeo bucks public unions on health

Speaker backs legislation requiring towns to join Group Insurance Commission

House Speaker Robert DeLeo , in a move likely to erode his longheld union support, today vowed to push for legislation that would help rein in municipal health care costs by requiring cities and towns to join the state’s Group Insurance Commission.

“Unless cities and towns can find health insurance at the same or lower cost than the GIC, we should force them to join – bringing them under the more efficient and cost effective state system,” he told lawmakers in a speech after his reelection as speaker.

DeLeo’s comments put him at odds with the state’s public sector unions, who have resisted efforts to deprive them of their collective bargaining rights for health care benefits. Municipalities currently have the option to purchase health care coverage for employees through the Group Insurance Commission, but they can’t unless 70 percent of their unionized employees consent. Since 2007, only 30 cities and towns have joined and almost none recently.

DeLeo, a former Winthrop selectman, said his hometown joined the GIC and saved $900,000 over the last year. He said he has been disappointed that so few other communities have joined, calling municipal employee health insurance a budget buster.

“Our current fiscal climate demands that we move in this direction. I can no longer permit our residents to suffer because we are so slow to progress in this area,” he said.  “While I anticipate that there will always be some who will take issue with this approach, notwithstanding years of debate we have yet to hear a better solution to municipal cost control. We must move forward.”

Many mayors have called for the Legislature to give them the power to unilaterally design health care plans for their workers, but lawmakers and Gov. Deval Patrick in the past have been reluctant to cross public sector unions. As recently as last March, DeLeo indicated he was reluctant to strip public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights.

“I think the issue that we’re going to have to try to address is the issue of bargaining rights, and I think that’s the issue we’re all concerned about: are we able to get there while protecting those rights?” DeLeo told the State House News Service.

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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.

Separately, DeLeo made clear that all hiring in state government should be based on merit. The speaker, who has become embroiled in the patronage scandal at the state’s Probation Department because he recommended people, including his godson, for jobs there, said the House should do it parts of make sure that all state agencies operate transparently.

“We will make clear that all public servants must not only be qualified for their jobs; they must be the most qualified for their jobs,” he said. “And we will also ensure that state hiring authorities understand that we expect that they will serve but one master – the taxpaying public.”