Now, Senate President Karen E. Spilka said she shall be calling on state insurance administrators to “work out a way” to make medical health insurance available for legislative staff on their first day of labor after the Legislature unanimously voted to pass a budget that didn’t include a provision to accomplish that.
Spilka said in a press release Tuesday that she was “very upset” that her chamber’s language to vary the medical health insurance policy didn’t “survive” and that she’s going to soon be sending a letter to the highest state finance officials and the Group Insurance Commission, which covers state employees, their families, and others, “requesting that they work together to work out a technique to implement this as soon as possible,” she said.
The budget provision would have required the Group Insurance Commission to permit state employers to supply health coverage to latest employees the day they begin work, effective in January 2023.
As House and Senate negotiators resolved differences between the chambers’ budgets before sending the $52.7 billion spending package to Baker for approval Monday, the Senate’s proposal was left behind.
In accordance with a spokeswoman for House Speaker Ronald Mariano, the House will “proceed to have interaction” on ways to enhance the chamber’s function as an employer, but that budget negotiators cannot reach a compromise on each piece in the large package.
“In conference committee negotiations for laws as large because the budget, it’s inevitable that negotiators won’t reach an agreement on every provision,” spokeswoman Ana Vivas said.
It’s not the primary time such a proposal has been left on the cutting room floor.
Closing the gap in medical health insurance coverage for employees was a part of the Senate’s budget debate in 2021, when state Senator Diana DiZoglio filed 4 amendments to handle staff compensation, including a technique to bridge the gap in health coverage.
DiZoglio, a former legislative aide, said she filed the amendments in response to results from a survey conducted by the staff-led group Beacon BLOC (Constructing Leaders of Color), which found that about one-third of staffers were impacted by the 60-day delay in coverage, citing high out-of-pocket medical costs and anxiety around being uninsured during surges of COVID-19 infections.
The amendments were ultimately adopted within the Senate’s version of the budget last 12 months, but stripped out of the ultimate budget throughout the conference committee, which included representatives and senators.
Through the 2021 debate, Senator Cindy F. Friedman, a former Senate staffer and a member of last 12 months’s and this 12 months’s budget conference committees, said she was receptive to the concept and told members that she had personally met with the Group Insurance Commission on the difficulty 3 times to debate what could possibly be done.
“It bothered all of us that this was something happening with our staff,” the Arlington Democrat said last 12 months. “I would love all of our staff to know that we take this very seriously. There will not be one in every of us who doesn’t consider that we should always fix it.”
Gaps in medical health insurance coverage is one issue that has been repeatedly cited within the legislative staff’s unionization effort, which was announced within the spring. The union has not been recognized by Spilka, who says she has asked Senate counsel to review the union’s request.
While Massachusetts has a protracted pro-labor tradition, state law carves out legislative staff from the definition of public employees who may collectively bargain.
In a press release Tuesday, the group of staff members who need to form a union said “legislative employees deserve the protection of a union to ensure them a seat on the table.”
“This can 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,” staff, who’ve organized because the Massachusetts State House Worker Union, said.
Nicole Eigbrett, a community organizer who worked as a legislative aide from 2017 to 2020, said the shortage of insurance on day one signals to staff that they will not be valued.
“What it comes right down to is, do House and Senate leadership see staff as integral employees to the Legislature’s operations?” she said. “Or are we simply just disposable labor?”
Samantha J. Gross may be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.