House rejects health insurance proposal

A proposal to increase health care costs for MTA public higher education members and other state employees has been defeated in the House of Representatives.

The ill-advised plan was rejected on May 2.

The vote followed an all-out effort by the MTA and other public employee unions to lobby legislators and mobilize members to voice their opposition to the plan. The effort in the House was led by Rep. Marty Walsh, D-Dorchester, who had more than 100 House members sign on to his amendment to restore the status quo. Under the proposal, many faculty and staff at the state's colleges and the University of Massachusetts would have faced premium increases of as much as 67 percent, or $120 per month per family.

"When we learned of this proposal, we called on our legislators to oppose it," said MTA President Anne Wass. "Based on the House's actions, our voices were clearly heard."

The MTA worked in coalition with other public employee unions and also orchestrated a separate campaign involving its 107,000 members. Through direct mail and the MTA Web site, members were asked to contact their legislators and call on them to reject the health insurance proposal.

In another positive development, the House passed an amendment to increase the annual cost-of-living adjustment base from $12,000 to $16,000.  MTA has been actively campaigning for legislation to increase the base amount on which a retired public employee's annual 3 percent COLA is computed from $12,000 to approximately $26,000. The $26,000 figure is equal to the average Social Security base.

MTA retirees have sent thousands of postcards and e-mails to legislators and turned out in large numbers at lobby days organized to promote this issue.

The maximum annual COLA that a retiree or survivor can receive has been $360 since 1997. With a maximum monthly COLA of just $30, it is not hard to see why an increase in the base is warranted.

The COLA base was set at $6,000 in 1971, and that has doubled to $12,000 during the past 36 years. Meanwhile, the cost of living in Massachusetts has increased more than fivefold since 1971.

This is a step in the right direction, Wass said, but more increases will be needed in the future to help retirees keep pace with inflation.