How does Mass. $30.6 billion state budget affect retirees



Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday filed a 2012 state budget that includes no new taxes and effectively does not cut state aid to cities and towns. But it does cut funding to many state agencies and tries to help cities and towns reduce escalating health care costs by limiting municipal

The $30.6 billion spending bill, filed only hours before the new fiscal year begen on July 1, gives municipal officials more flexibility to make changes in co-payments, deductibles and other aspects of public employee health insurance by changing the collective bargaining process.

The budget adds $1 million to home care purchased services, and $758 thousand to the care management accounts. According to Mass Home Care, “We also succeeded in getting protective services lifted to $16.25 million.” According to a Mass Home Care statement, the group’s efforts are responsible for $3 million worth of amendments or restorations to Elder Affairs accounts. “We were also able to secure language requiring the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to fund the Options Counseling program. There is also language included which was submitted by Adult Day Health programs that freeze their rates and impose a moratorium on program capacity. No language on Adult Foster Care was included.”

The state’s drug assistance program for seniors, Prescription Advantage, will receive  $21.6 million dollars. Last year it was funded at $31.5 million.

Under the budget, cities and towns could shift their workers into the state’s Group Insurance Commission or another lower cost plan after a month-long discussion period with unions.

If the unions and municipal officials cannot come to an agreement within the 30 days, a 3-member committee would be authorized to implement the changes.

The committee, which would consist of a union worker, a manager and an arbitrator, would also have ten to days to decide how to offset the impact of higher costs to retirees and low-income employees.

That committee would also allow workers to receive up to 25 percent of the savings from new plans and cost-cutting changes.

“The compromise we have reached will provide for a very fair and balanced approach that will allow for folks to have a voice, but will also allow for us to achieve the savings that we all want to achieve,” said Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, who worked with Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre, and four other lawmakers from the House and Senate to craft a final budget based on the separate budget proposals filed by each of the chambers earlier this year.

Both House and Senate versions of the budget featured similar negotiation plans.

Lawmakers estimate cities and towns could save up to $100 million by joining less expensive health care plans.

The budget also aims to keep health care costs in check by reducing Medicaid reimbursements to doctors and hospitals, and eliminating some coverage areas under MassHealth.

A new provision would prevent welfare recipients from using electronic benefit cards to purchase alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.

Lawmakers hope to realize savings in the state’s indigent defense system by requiring 25 percent of cases be handled by state attorneys, instead of the current 10 percent. The remaining cases are handled by more costly privately employed attorneys.

The budget also cuts millions in funding for many state departments, which will affect various services and aid to the state’s most vulnerable populations.

Brewer said this budget was particularly difficult because the state did not receive any federal stimulus money, which lawmakers had relied on during previous years to avoid drastic cuts.

“This has been probably the most difficult fiscal year we’ve had in a generation,” he said.

Lawmakers did borrow $185 million from the state’s rainy-day fund to help close an estimated $1.9 billion spending gap.

Patrick will have 10 days to review the budget and issue vetoes. Earlier this week, he signed a 10-day stopgap measure to keep crucial state operations continuing until the new spending plan is in place. — AP

Information was also taken from other press sources and statements.