By Andrew Firestone
The long-discussed and highly controversial Group Insurance Commision Healthcare bill was signed into law Tuesday, July 12, after several months of debate. This bill gives cities and towns the opportunity to sign onto the GIC, thus lessening the total healthcare costs by $100 million across the state. Public labor unions had been wary, and many officials on the state and national level had spoken against curbing union rights. Governor Deval Patrick personally added four amendments to the bill, which were made to lessen costs on the citizens.
The first included, changing how funds would effect especially vulnerable peoples, such as retirees, employees with major health issues and low-income workers, so that cities would have to set aside up to a quarter of the money saved in the first year to offset impact to those who apply. The second requires municipalities to prove that could save at least five percent in switching to GIC. The third freezes any increase to percentages retirees would pay until the middle of 2014, and the final amendment was to clarify that cities cannot unilaterally change any coverage.
The new bill gives public unions 30 days to negotiate, then transfers the issues to a review board, with representatives from the union, the city and the State. The main change through the whole debate is that the bill eliminates collective bargaining from the table.
One state representative who spoke on the issue was Representative Denise Provost, who said that the new amendments “made everybody happy.” The bill in its final form also won support from the Massachusetts Municipal Association.