Governor Patrick signs municipal health bill

Governor Patrick signs municipal health bill

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Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday signed into law municipal health insurance reforms that lawmakers have debated for years, providing a new option for cities and towns to make health plan changes under a new process.

Under the new law, which proponents claim will help cities and towns collectively trim their own costs by $100 million, municipalities may opt for an expedited collective bargaining process to negotiate new benefit plans for employees. If municipalities and unions fail to reach agreement in 30 days under that process, the case would be submitted to a three-person review panel for resolution — a panel that would include one union appointee, one municipality appointee, and an appointee selected by the Secretary of Administration and Finance, a post controlled by the governor. The three-person panel would need to resolve matters within ten days.

According to Patrick’s office, municipalities will be able to use the process to adopt copayments and deductibles and other cost-sharing health plan features that are not higher than those offered by the state-run Group Insurance Commission. Municipalities may also transfer employees into the state-run plan if it would result in at least a 5 percent savings compared to the local health care plan. The reform allows a portion of savings to be returned to employees and includes protections for retirees and employees with existing health concerns who are likely to incur higher copayments, according to the administration.

Patrick signed the bill in the Governor’s Council chamber at a ceremony attended by Senate President Therese Murray, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, as well as other state lawmakers and labor and municipal officials.