Boston- As Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Public Service and appointed representative of the Massachusetts Senate on the Governor’s Local Government Advisory Commission, State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) rose today on the Senate floor and delivered his maiden speech to his colleagues. Downing’s comments, which focused on the merits of pending legislation that, if passed and signed by Governor Patrick, would create a new “local option” for municipalities to purchase health insurance through the Group Insurance Commission (GIC). After debate, this legislation quickly passed by a 35 to 0 vote and was engrossed in the Senate.
Downing’s remarks were met with a standing ovation and rousing applause from his colleagues, who had been called to their seats and advised by Senate President Therese Murray that he intended to deliver his first comments during a Senate debate. “I am pleased that we moved today, as a unified body, to improve access to affordable, quality health care plans for municipalities,” stated Downing. “This action will go a long way to help cities and towns control the financial strain of escalating health insurance costs.”
Since the early days of his term, Downing has been heavily involved with vetting legislation and proposals that have the potential to impact cities and towns across Massachusetts. With the costs of municipal health insurance increasing at unsustainable rates, employees, retirees, municipalities and taxpayers are being financially squeezed.
This legislation, An Act to Reduce the Reliance on Property Taxes Through Municipal Health Care, authorizes municipalities to opt into the GIC, which provides health insurance and other benefits for state employees and select other groups. GIC participants pay significantly less for high quality health insurance plans and offers substantially more diverse plans than most cities and towns can offer their employees and retirees.
This legislation now awaits enactment in the House and Senate before advancing to the Governor’s desk for final approval. It is highly anticipated that Governor Patrick would sign this legislation upon its arrival, as it is a key component of his Municipal Partnership Act and the first thereof to receive an endorsement by the Legislature.
“I want to congratulate the Senator from Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin on his maiden speech in the Senate Chamber,” Senate President Therese Murray said. “Senator Downing proudly serves the largest Senate district in the Commonwealth, and I am proud to have him as a member. Newly elected last November, Senator Downing understands the issues and concerns that are unique to his district, and his constituents are fortunate to have him representing them on a daily basis at the State House. He is an active member involved in many committees that serve the public’s interest, including consumer protection, veterans affairs and higher education. He is also chairman of the joint committee on public service. I look forward to hearing from Senator Downing on the floor of the Senate for many years to come.”
The Following is the Text of Downing’s Maiden Speech:
“I rise today in support of H. 2601, an act to allow municipalities the option to buy their health insurance through the Group Insurance Commission.
Filed by Senator Moore, endorsed by the Governor, and reported favorably out of the Public Service committee, this legislation is a vital first step to controlling municipal health care costs
In recent years, this body has taken major steps to put our Commonwealth on the path to universal, affordable health insurance. Now we have a chance to tackle the rising cost of health care. Madame President, it’s an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. We cannot afford to miss it because municipal costs are soaring and there is a better way.
Currently, municipal health care costs, per employee, are double those of state employees. For 2008, while all other Massachusetts employers will see their health care rates rise 11.3%, the GIC’s rates will rise only 5.04%. At the same time, the GIC offers high quality, comprehensive plans, which in most cases are more diverse than those offered by municipalities.
The GIC has a proven track record of providing high quality, cost effective health insurance. 286,000 state employees, including all of my distinguished colleagues and their staff are currently enrolled in the GIC. The city of Springfield joined the GIC last year and has already seen results.
Were all of our communities to follow Springfield’s lead, we could save $120-180 million annually. That’s real money that could be redirected to other priorities. If the City of Boston were in the GIC in 2006 they would have saved $6 million. $6 million in Boston would mean 85 new police officers, to help the Mayor and Commissioner tackle gang violence and 92 new teachers in our classrooms, to help Superintendent Johnson provide high quality educational opportunities to our capital’s children. And while not every community would save that much, every community should have the option. Even smaller communities are looking at the GIC. The City Council of my hometown, Pittsfield, endorsed this proposal on March 27th.
The case for the GIC is clear and the time is now. I applaud Chairman Moore, Representative Kaprilean and the rest of the coalition that crafted this legislation. Their work produced a consensus result that will benefit all. They did not produce perfection, but we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Too often, contentious debates, focus on what we need to do more of, or less of, and we miss the most important question – How can we do better? This proposal answers that question and for that reason, it deserves all of our support.”