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State Rep. Jim Dwyer Tackles Health Insurance Reform, Death Penalty

Check out the latest "Ask Your Official" feature.

Last week we asked our readers to ask State Rep. Jim Dwyer some questions to be featured in our latest "Ask Your Politician" feature. Today Stoneham Patch, in cooperation with Reading Patch and Woburn Patch, we bring you the answers to those questions.

We will continue this cycle each month. So, if today's answers inspire a new question, ask it in the comment section below, or email mark.ouellette@patch.com. Important: You must be a current Stoneham resident to ask a question.

Here are five questions that the state representative answered for this month's installment:

What does the passage of the Municipal Health Insurance Reform bill mean for municipalities? 

The passage of the Municipal Health Insurance reform will allow cities and towns to take proactive steps in reining in health care costs. Cities and towns will come together with those representing municipal employees to discuss changes and develop an agreement that saves the city/town money but also make sure that health care costs don’t skyrocket for employees. Also, there are protections that have been put into place that will make sure cost shifts don’t affect retirees who are living on fixed incomes. With the savings in mind, I believe the legislation to be strong agreement that had all parties at the table to make sure that the benefits were realized by the taxpayer and the municipal workers. Here is an excerpt from the Governor’s office that outlines the process of negotiations:

The municipal health care reform law will help communities collectively save more than $100 millionwhile protecting health care quality for retirees and municipal employees. Cities and towns will have the choice to implement health care plan design changes under a newly-created process. The process will include expedited collective bargaining to negotiate a new health insurance benefit plan for employees. If the municipalities and unions fail to reach agreement within 30 days, the case is submitted to a three-person review panel, with one member appointed by unions, one by the municipality and one selected by the Secretary of Administration and Finance.

Municipalities will be able to use this process to adopt co-pays and deductibles, along with other cost-sharing health care plan design features that are not higher than those offered by the Group Insurance Commission (GIC). Alternatively, municipalities can transfer employees to the GIC if it would result in at least 5 percent more savings than could be achieved through a local health care plan. The law also allows a portion of savings to be returned to employees and includes protections for retirees and employees with existing health concerns, who are likely to incur higher co-pay and deductible costs.

This plan is a responsible step for municipalities and workers with broad support from the Massachusetts Municipal Association, Massachusetts Taxpayers Association, and the Public Employee Coalition of Municipal Health Insurance.

(The above excerpt source can be found at: http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=gov3pressrelease&L=1&L0=Home&sid=Agov3&b=pressrelease&f=110712_municipal_healthcare_budget&csid=Agov3)

What are some bills you are currently working on this summer and when do you plan to file them in the future?

Most people have the impression that there is no official business being conducted at the State House during the summer. That could not be farther from the truth. Right now, the Legislature’s committees are still conducting hearings on legislation that has been filed this legislative session (2011-12) and many legislators are still in the process of garnering support for their legislation that they filed during this session. Four pieces of legislation that I am continuing to work on are as follows:

  1. Parole Board Reform
    Parole Board reform legislation that I filed this session addresses the systemic problems that have become drastically apparent in our parole system. I am also in support of Melissa’s Bill which would make sure that those who are habitual, violent offenders  would not be able to be paroled (Three strikes law).
  2. Massachusetts Travelers Bill of Rights
    The Massachusetts Travelers Bill of Rights is legislation in response to the many unnatural deaths of American tourists that have been occurring outside of the United States, particularly in Mexico. The legislation would require that those booking travel would be informed of the type of medical infrastructure their destination has, what type of medical professionals are located on site at a resort, whether or not lifeguards are on duty, and whether or not the state department has travel watches or warnings declared in those areas being visited.
  3. Permanent Annual Sales Tax Holiday
    The permanent annual sales tax holiday would establish a sales tax holiday, every year, during the 3rd weekend in August. This would allow citizens the ability to make sales tax free purchases, while stimulating our local economy.
  4. Chapter 70 funding reform
    Just recently, I co-sponsored legislation that would make sure that the state is funding 17.5 percent of each city or town’s school budget by July 1, 2014. Several years ago, a promise was made by the Legislature to fully fund 17.5 percent of every school department budget in the state. However, the Legislature has yet to meet that promise. This legislation will hold the Legislature responsible to its prior commitment.

Unfortunately, for the most part, legislation is filed “on-time” in the first two weeks of a legislative session (for instance, this session’s filing period was January 7, 2011 to January 21, 2011). After that, all legislation filed is considered late, and must go through a process of acceptance before being considered for a hearing.

Why does the government like to scare us? I’m on social security, and I have paid into it for a long time. Now the President is saying they may decrease our amount we get per month. What happened to all our money we paid for years? Sad, very sad the government has to scare the elderly.

As someone who is rapidly approaching the age of 65, I can understand your concerns with comments that are being made in Washington, D.C. As your State Representative, I can only advocate to our Congressman your concerns about the situation with regards to Social Security, since the Social Security program is run by the federal government. However, I for one can agree with you that it is sad that our federal government has devolved into partisan bickering and political demagoguery. For years now, politicians in Washington have used Social Security has a lightening rod in political campaigns and have used the concerns over its solvency as tools to be elected. Unfortunately, we are faced with the prospects of our economy dipping into yet another recession if our federal government cannot come to an accord addressing our ever rising deficit and national debt. I can only hope that cooler heads prevail, and an agreement is reached that has the best interests of everyone in mind.

Why isn't there stronger sentencing towards criminals? People who have DUIs get back out and reoffend. There should be more programs and reform for criminals because more than likely, they will reoffend. Why can't laws change like having the death penalty here in Massachusetts especially if someone is caught in a horrific crime?

I agree with you that we need to address the issues of driving under the influence. Time and time again, we read through a newspaper and see that someone is being hauled into court after their 6th, 7th or even 8th DUI. Enough is enough. We should be making sure that habitual offenders are unable to get behind the wheel of a car to recommit these offenses. With regards to your comment relative to the death penalty, I have co-sponsored legislation that would make the death penalty an option in the instance of heinous murders of children, and the murder of law enforcement officials.

In regards to healthcare, how can the state justify the degradation of healthcare for their employees (Umass System) by changing their plans to cost more in premiums and out of pocket expenses while those on mass health get better benefits, pay less and abuse the system on a frequent basis?

I cannot justify health care changes made in the employee coverage for the UMass system because I have not seen those changes. Unless I can see the changes being offered and compare them to MassHealth’s plan, I cannot make a judgment. However, I am skeptical that the changes made to premiums and out of pocket expenses in the UMass system lower the level of health care being offered to below the standards set forth by MassHealth. I do agree, however, that more audits of the way MassHealth operates and the way we make sure that benefits are not being abused. In the recent state budget, there was a proposal to have multiple audits of Mass Health throughout the year to ensure efficiency and cost effectiveness while providing oversight on abuses to the system.

David Whelan July 19, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Rep Dwyer: Below are questions that I asked Senator Clark. Some of my questions relate to Stoneham: Katherine: A few questions: 1) How come Melrose has higher per household income, higher property values, and still gets $600 more per child under ch 70 as compared to Stoneham? BTW, I know ch 70 is complicated, but $600 more per child?? 2) Do you support the fullfillment of the requirements under ch 70 sect 4 and will you be requestion that the Commonwealth comply for the first time since 2001 in the year 2012? 3) Were you aware that Wellesley gets more per child under ch 70 than Stoneham? Thank you in advance. -- David P. Whelan, Jr. 781-771-2732

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