Legislative Spotlight on Healthcare

Litany of Bills Before Public Service Committee

At its first public hearing kicking off the fall legislative calendar, the Joint Committee on Public Service heard testimony on a litany of bills related to retiree and employee life and health insurance.

The Committee is chaired by Representative Jerald Parisella (D-Beverly) and Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington). This hearing marked Friedman’s first as Senate Chair, having been elected in this summer’s special election following the death of Senator Ken Donnelly. Friedman, who our Association endorsed, served for nearly a decade as Donnelly’s chief of staff.

Testifying on behalf of Mass Retirees was Association President Frank Valeri and Legislative Director Shawn Duhamel. Valeri focused his testimony on legislation to increase the basic state life insurance benefit to $10,000. The bills, S1430 and H2564, propose increasing the benefit for the first time since 1985 when the current benefit was set at $5,000.

Joining Valeri to testify on behalf of increasing the benefit was State Senator Tom McGee (D-Lynn) – the lead sponsor of S1430. McGee outlined a compelling case to the Committee as to why the time is overdue to raise the life benefit – primary of which is that today’s burial and funeral costs far exceed those which existed in 1985.

“We have to find a way to move the needle when it comes to increasing the basic life insurance benefit. When today’s $5,000 benefit was set back in 1985 the plan was to incrementally increase the amount in order to keep pace with inflation. Unfortunately, this has not turned out to be the case,” explains Valeri. “It goes without saying that $5,000 does not go very far today. Average burial and funeral costs are more than double that amount.

“As retirees age, our basic life insurance is our only affordable option. After age 75, the optional insurance is no longer affordable for most retirees. That plan works like a term policy and is not designed or intended to cover elderly retirees. Therefore, the basic life plan is what must be updated to reflect modern times.”

Retiree Healthcare Protections

For his part, Duhamel tackled the five health insurance related bills filed by Mass Retirees for the 2017-18 session (H2567, H1366, S1402, S1449, and S1474). The bills seek to relieve the pressure now placed on retirees, who face the constant threat of rising out-of-pocket costs, increased premiums and reductions in benefits.

Mass Retirees was joined at the hearing by leaders of nearly every public employee union, as well as AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman. To kick off the hearing, Tolman anchored a panel of union leaders who testified in favor of legislation that would protect retirees and active employees from rapidly increasing insurance costs and plan design changes.

The Association is an active participant in a working coalition of public employee unions, spearheaded by the AFL-CIO and focused on healthcare advocacy. 

“For more than a decade, Mass Retirees has worked as a coalition with the AFL-CIO and every public employee union to protect both retiree and active employee health insurance benefits. Together we are working to give our members a greater voice when it comes to healthcare benefits, as well as advance legislation protecting your rights,” explains Duhamel. “Our members deserve greater protection when it comes to healthcare and our goal is to pass stronger laws that do just that over the next 10 months.”

In his testimony, Duhamel also expressed Mass Retirees’ deep concern over the rise in copayments and deductibles. He also criticized recent appointments made to the GIC by Governor Charlie Baker. A main focal point for both Mass Retirees and labor is the passage of legislation that will balance the scales of the 17-member Commission.

“For years we’ve had concerns that the GIC is unbalanced and those concerns have only grown in recent years as the situation has worsened. With an 11-6 disadvantage, our members are outnumbered nearly 2-1 on just about every vote,” continued Duhamel. “And the governor’s recent appointees, who bring no apparent healthcare policy or insurance experience, have made matters worse. All we’re asking for is a level playing field.”

Mass Retirees officials will now work closely with Public Service Committee members to advocate for the advancement of life insurance legislation, as well as omnibus legislation to bring about reforms to both the state’s Group Insurance Commission, as well as municipal insurance programs.

The current 2017-18 Legislative Session runs through the end of 2018, with formal activity ending next July.