Democrats in Massachusetts Take Health Care Out of Collective Bargaining
Reality has hit Massachusetts’ Democratic politicians, from the Governor on down: they realize the state can no longer afford to negotiate fixed medical co-pays in government employee contracts that span multiple years while the actual costs quickly increase well past the negotiated level.
House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly last night to strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care, saying the change would save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns.
The 111-to-42 vote followed tougher measures to broadly eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states. But unlike those efforts, the push in Massachusetts was led by Democrats who have traditionally stood with labor to oppose any reduction in workers’ rights.
Democratic leaders claim this allows them to put more money directly towards services and retaining or hiring personnel.
“What we’ve recognized is that unfortunately, because of the cost of health insurance, that a very large percentage of the monies we commit are unfortunately going to fund municipal health insurance,” said House Ways and Means Chair Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill). “Now, that’s not anyone’s fault. We’re not blaming anyone for the rise in health insurance. But, it’s a fact. It’s a fact. The cost of health insurance is going up, and the money we commit every year, it’s unfortunately not going to textbooks. It’s not going to classroom size. Unfortunately, it’s going to a large degree to fund municipal health insurance.”
“I applaud the members of the House for taking the vote that will save more than $100 million for cities and towns,” [Massachusetts House Speaker Robert] DeLeo said in a statement. “By spending less on the healthcare costs of municipal employees, our cities and towns will be able to retain jobs and allot [sic] more funding to necessary services like education and public safety.”
Notice that this was done at the state level. In Rhode Island, individual cities and towns have proposed–or may try–similar reforms. Doing it at the state level would save a lot of time. Everyone is in the same boat, after all.
Why doesn’t Massachusetts (and Rhode Island) use it’s purchasing power and competition among health care providers to lower prices/costs instead of taking health care away from it’s employees?
In RI, United is the only provider, after they swooped in for some backroom deal with Carcieri. Prior to that, Blue Cross was the only provider for state employees. The state should open the health care contract with providers and to solicit all the bids, and different levels of plans (single, married, and family/kids). That way competition will help drive prices down, and the employers and employees will be able to pay the least for their coverage.
Hopefully this action by Democrats in Massachusetts will embolden Democrats in other states and cities to do the same.
In response to the comment by “sick and tired”, above, when the number of competing insurers is only two or three, I suspect there’s little incentive to compete on price. There are more than enough customers for everyone at the highest prices (compare Cox versus Verizon, for example: most of the purported price competition is imaginary). And wouldn’t the doctors simply move to the provider with the higher reimbursements?