A small dose of the Worcester health care plan

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

Last week City Manager Michael O’Brien announced that he could stave off 131 layoffs with the creation of a local health care plan that would act similarly to the GIC and the subsequent movement of the city’s union and non-union employees into that plan. Nick Kotsopoulos of the T&G explained some of the proposal yesterday:

The new plan includes an innovative local health care network designed specifically for city employees. It incorporates provider discounts and an improved medical management program that gives employees access to high-quality health insurance providers.

Mr. O’Brien said the plan mirrors the state’s GIC, but it maintains local control. He said the plan would include lower premiums for the city and employees. In turn, however, employees would have to pay deductibles and tiered co-payments that are similar to those in GIC health plans and higher than what they pay now.

O’Brien has already moved 630 non-union employees over to this new plan, a figure that includes a number of school employees and school principals. While this new plan kicks in on July 1, details about deductibles and co-pays are still hard to come by, but word is those 630 employees should know what they have around the beginning of April.

As for information about the Manager’s health care proposals that doesn’t involve numbers or percentages, Fallon and Blue Cross/Blue Shield will still be offered but there will be tiered plans and changes will mimic yearly moves made in the GIC. Overall, the city will incentivize its employees to go with the lowest cost plan, such as the city offering to pay the premium for a month or two.

But the huge amount of savings predicted — $6-$8 million just on the school-side, and another $5.5 million on the city-side — relies on having a number of employees switch to the lowest cost plan.

This may present some issues on the school-side, especially with the teachers union: not only is the city asking those teachers still on the 80/20 split to go to 75/25, but they’re also asking them to change plans. Even if this goes smoothly, there’s still going to be some grappling within city government over who’s in control of the local option for school system employees.

The point of all this is to beat the state legislature’s passage of either the Governor’s or the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s bills to change the way health care is negotiated, and to keep Worcester’s health care coverage terms local. Assuming the unions buy into O’Brien’s Worcester plan, the question becomes who sets the yearly deductible and co-pay costs on the school-side — the City Manager or the School Committee?

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