Public Hearing on H59 Thursday

OCTOBER 28, 2013: Arguably the biggest issue to come before the legislature during the current two-year session reenters center stage on Beacon Hill this week, when H59, the much watched Retiree Healthcare Reform proposal, receives a public hearing.

The bill has been pending before the Joint Committee on Public Service since it was first filed by Governor Deval Patrick in February 2013. Chaired by Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End) and Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), the Committee has spent months carefully reviewing the issues surrounding H59 before holding a public hearing.

Members will note that H59 is the byproduct of the report filed by the Special Commission on Retiree Healthcare in 2012, on which the Association’s Shawn Duhamel served as the Retirees’ representative. The twelve-member Commission met for ten months, gathering testimony from a host of labor, management and healthcare experts before issuing its report in December.

While all existing retirees and survivors are exempt from the proposed changes in retiree healthcare benefits, as are most active employees close to retirement age, a number of inequities have been discovered within H59 as currently proposed.

“On Thursday, we expect to hear from a number of union officials and their members who inadvertently fall through the cracks due to the way H59 is currently drafted. Andrew Powell (AFL-CIO representative on Commission) and I set out last year to protect all retirees and any active employee close to retirement age,” explains Duhamel. “It always seemed unfair to pull the rug out from under someone nearing retirement. Last year, we really believed that we had struck a pretty good balance.

“Since that time, we’ve heard from a good number of individuals who would fall victim to the changes due to entering public service later in life or due to the nature of their job, such as correction officers and State Police. The legislature is closely reviewing these issues and seems to be working toward improving the bill.”

Active employees, who are tracking the bill’s progress, are asked not to panic and retire prematurely. Observers believe the issue will be voted on in early-mid 2014.

“As we keep saying, keep an eye on the bill by visiting our website. But there is no reason to believe a bill will pass in 2013. This issue still has a ways to go,” continued Duhamel.

The Hearing begins Thursday, October 31st, at 11:00 a.m., in the Gardner Auditorium at the State House