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Speaker Says State Will Tie Health Cost Increases to Economic Growth Rate

House Speaker Robert DeLeo

House Speaker Robert DeLeo (Courtesy)

House Speaker Robert DeLeo says the goal for future health care cost increases in Massachusetts will be “more in line with Gross State Product (GSP), which is 3.7%.”

DeLeo, speaking to members of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, did not say if the goal should be exactly in line with the state’s economic growth rate, a little higher or a little lower. The difference could mean billions of dollars, and it’s the topic of heated behind-the-scenes debate.

Some business leaders have been pushing for GSP -2 points while others say GSP +1 point (4.7% based on the current growth rate) is more realistic. Premiums for some employers in Massachusetts are growing well below 3.7% right now, but leading economists say this trend won’t hold without major changes in the way we deliver and pay for health care. Continue reading

From North Shore To Worcester, Rare Agreement On DeLeo Health Insurance Plan

In our fractious state, I’m not used to hearing such a harmonious chorus. Especially on anything to do with health care. But newspapers from Newburyport to Worcester to Boston this week are editorializing in favor of House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s proposal to give local officials more power to cut health insurance costs by letting them bypass union approval.

Putting myself in Speaker DeLeo’s shoes, I’d be feeling buoyed by the support — who doesn’t like being praised as courageous and visionary? — and huge pressure to get the plan through the legislature despite powerful union opposition. A sampling of the editorial voices:

Boston Globe masthead editorial (under the headline, “DeLeo’s plan to save on cities’ health costs has courage, vision:):

EMBRACING COMMON sense in state government shouldn’t require unusual political courage. But as cities and towns across Massachusetts creak under the weight of their employees’ health care costs, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey have incurred the wrath of powerful unions by proposing a straightforward way to help local governments bring those costs under control. Under their House budget plan, municipal officials would have the power to alter the terms of health insurance coverage without having to negotiate each provision with unions.
The long-overdue change goes well beyond a fuzzier plan by Governor Patrick that calls for further negotiations between towns and local unions, and it’s far superior to a union-backed plan that raises the prospect of binding arbitration.

The Worcester Telegram-Gazette:

It’s too soon to tell whether Massachusetts is in fact taking a page from Wisconsin’s book, but it has become clear that if cities and towns wait any longer for union agreement, it will be too late. The reforms and savings are needed now, and whether municipal workers wind up with the GIC or something similar to it, they will still have excellent health care benefits.
In Worcester, granting the city these powers would mean that all employees — police, fire, DPW, schoolteachers, school administrators, and City Hall workers, would be paying 25 percent toward their health care costs. That will save jobs and preserve city services.
We applaud Mr. DeLeo for including the plan design provision, and urge the Legislature to support it

The Newburyport News: Continue reading

Speaker DeLeo Says Towns Must Match Or Join State Health Plan

House speaker Robert A. DeLeo


Massachusetts House speaker Robert A. DeLeo spoke to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce today on a variety of topics from gambling to probation. Here’s what he said about municipal health insurance, according to prepared remarks:

I’d like to move to another topic that is particularly important to me – one that was a key part of the agenda I laid out January. This concerns the way our cities and towns provide health insurance for their employees. By the time the House completes its work on the state budget, we will have passed legislation that establishes the state’s Group Insurance Commission as the benchmark against which all municipal plans will be measured. If cities and towns can’t meet or beat the GIC, they will be forced to join it. I’ve seen my hometown of Winthrop save $800,000 annually by joining the GIC. If all cities and towns did so, this would collectively save $100 million. Whether cities and towns join the GIC or come up with their own plan, we need to realize at least that much in savings.

I am well aware of the competing municipal healthcare proposals out there – plan design, certain labor proposals and other ideas from elected officials. In fact, I was encouraged to see a coalition of unions took a step in the right direction with a proposal they offered last week. Unfortunately, this proposal did not go far enough.

Through the GIC, municipal employees can have quality healthcare at an affordable price. I can talk about it from first-hand experience. Like most public employees and state officials, I receive my healthcare through the GIC.

We absolutely must find a way to ease the financial pressures at the local level. Cities and towns will face brutal budgets in the coming months. Yes, we can ask local budget officers to work harder and smarter in their contracting for services and purchasing of supplies – but we are tinkering at the margins and at the end of the day, this tinkering isn’t going to make much of a difference. If we want to do what’s right for our children who attend public schools; if we want to provide public safety protection at adequate levels; if we want our streets plowed and our trash collected – it’s high time we give cities and towns the tools – through legislation – to make more than a dent in the cost of municipal health insurance.

Word from people present: Tufts Health Plan chief Jim Roosevelt asked DeLeo about the timing on health reform to contain health care costs, and DeLeo — much like House Majority Leader Ron Mariano last week — said it’s possible the legislature will come through with a plan this year, but it may well take until next year. That blurry timetable left some in the business community dissatisfied and calling for more urgency.