Massachusetts Senate restores medical health insurance provision for staffers, calling ongoing omission ‘unacceptable’


Future Beacon Hill staffers, plus 1000’s of other public employees across the commonwealth, might even see their medical health insurance coverage take effect immediately or soon after their first day on the job — relatively than needing to attend months to see a health care provider and avoid steep out-of-pocket costs, based on a provision Massachusetts lawmakers unanimously approved Thursday.

The successful amendment from Sen. Becca Rausch, filed inside an almost $4.6 billion economic development and tax relief package, reinstates a workplace profit that Senate staffers, who’re actively organizing to determine a labor union, thought they’d already secured — but ultimately lost — throughout the fiscal 2023 budget.

The medical health insurance established order on Beacon Hill, which causes staffers but not elected leaders to forgo medical health insurance for as much as 60 or 90 days is “simply unacceptable,” Rausch said on the Senate floor late Thursday.

“This amendment does not only impact the lots of of legislative staff for whose work we’re deeply grateful day by day on this chamber and in our colleagues’ chamber across the hall,” Rausch said in her prepared remarks. “This policy affect tens of 1000’s of state employees who currently serve and can serve our commonwealth in the long run. There’s simply no reason why we should always deny our fellow public servants and their families immediate access to medical health insurance coverage.”

Because the economic development bill now heads into conference committee, Rausch urged House and Senate members to preserve the medical health insurance provision and never scrap it again. Staffers’ insurance would take effect on their start day if that coincides with the primary of the month or “as of the primary day of the month following their employment start date if such start date falls on any day apart from the primary day of the month,” in keeping with the amendment.

Rausch, as she persuaded colleagues to adopt recent eligibility parameters through the Group Insurance Commission, recounted medical horror stories amongst legislative staffers who’ve contended with no coverage while suffering illnesses or accidents.

One staffer earning an annual salary of just $35,000 ended up paying $2,000 for an emergency room visit before his medical health insurance kicked in. One other staffer needed to quit her antidepressants cold turkey after being unable to afford the prescription. And a unique worker delayed treatment for a chronic condition by two months and hoped to avoid any flareups before gaining medical health insurance coverage, Rausch said.

“The Senate version of the economic development bill shaves this unnecessary and harmful waiting period all the way down to under one month,” union organizers said in a press release to MassLive Friday. “This can be a huge victory for not only the legislative staffers, but in addition over 90,000 Commonwealth employees: the teachers, social employees, public health professionals, higher education administrators, MBTA operators, government administrators, and so many more who work tirelessly to maintain Massachusetts afloat.”

The initial inclusion of revamped insurance advantages within the budget forged a milestone in Senate staffers’ ongoing push to unionize and seek voluntary recognition from Senate President Karen Spilka.

But because the reconciled budget emerged from conference committee, the Massachusetts State House Worker Union lamented the omission of the medical health insurance overhaul. In addition they noted the irony of the end result, noting how “lots of of legislative staff worked tirelessly to craft a FY 2023 budget to support working families across Massachusetts.”

“This may force State House employees to proceed paying out of pocket for health coverage as much as 90 days after starting their state service, continuing the financial strain on the staff who keep our Legislature afloat,” union organizers said in a press release Monday, before Rausch filed her amendment. “Legislative employees deserve the protection of a union to ensure them a seat on the table of their workplace.”

Spilka, whose chamber last month unveiled a minimum of 10% pay adjustments for all staffers, has yet to take decisive motion on the unionization front — to the dismay of staffers who want to begin ameliorating a slew of workplace concerns, including pay inequities and anti-harassment policies, before the July 31 end-of-session deadline. The legal complexities underlying which public employees can unionize remain under Senate Counsel review, Spilka told reporters earlier this month.

However the Ashland Democrat herself praised the medical health insurance tweak embedded throughout the Senate’s budget proposal.

“In response to requests by many Senate staff, I’m pleased to announce that there’s a provision on this budget that may require GIC to permit state employers to supply medical health insurance at first of employment,” Spilka had told reporters in May.

State Sen. John Keenan, speaking in support of Rausch’s amendment Thursday, said public employees expect to be treated with dignity and respect. However the Massachusetts Legislature can’t be a horny workplace if employees must spend up to a few months worrying about how they’ll cover unexpected medical needs for themselves or their children.

Keenan, echoing Rausch’s plea, said he hopes the pending committee will codify the insurance provision and walk “the complete mile” with public employees.

“Who might want to come back to this constructing or in any of our state buildings and work under difficult conditions, to work for less money that they may earn elsewhere?” Keenan said. “Who would need to do that work given the context of the environment — not a lot here, but across the country — where persons are losing faith? People need to go and work in a spot where they will feel they make a difference.”

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