ANDOVER — Selectmen are urging state Sen. Barry Finegold to support a municipal health care reform legislation passed by the House.

The House, in its budget proposal last month, approved an initiative that would strip municipal unions of significant bargaining power over the design of their health care plans, including the levels of co-payments and deductibles for employees and retirees.

"We need to make sure that our Senate delegation understands that we are very interested in the House bill and don't want it watered down," Selectman Alex Vispoli said. "It is probably one of the most critical votes out there, certainly in this legislative session."

Yesterday, Senate President Therese Murray confirmed that the Senate budget proposal due to be released today will include a version of municipal health care reform, but declined to offer details.

Proponents of municipal health reforms say changes are needed to help cities and towns collectively save roughly $100 million, savings that lawmakers claim will help offset another cut in local aid scheduled for next fiscal year.

Selectmen sent a four-page letter to Finegold last week asking him to "vote for the bill that most closely resembles all of the provisions included in the House bill."

The board called the House plan "strong, balanced, meaningful and fair reform."

"We cannot afford to keep the unique and special veto power that municipal unions hold over health plan features; this veto power is costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year, forcing cuts in essential municipal and school services," the letter reads. "Without real reform, taxpayers will continue to pay millions more for health insurance than they should, which will force even more service cuts and layoffs."

Unions lambasted House members after their vote for failing to protect collective bargaining rights and union leaders turned their attention to the Senate with hopes of obtaining more favorable language.

"The House-passed plan would eliminate the double standard in state law and give cities and towns the same power the State has to implement necessary cost savings in municipal health insurance plans, up to a point," the selectmen's letter said. "This is a very focused and moderate proposal offered in a spirit of compromise to find meaningful middle ground while achieving meaningful reform."

The letter says collective bargaining would still govern any change in the employee-employer premium share, giving municipal unions more bargaining authority than state unions.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to vote on its fiscal 2012 budget bill at 11a.m. today.

Material from the State House News Service was used in this report. To see the full letter from the Andover Board of Selectmen to Finegold log onto eagletribune.com

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