Published in the March 17, 2016 edition


NORTH READING — The Selectmen held a special meeting Monday night to ratify the new health insurance agreement negotiated with the town’s employee unions over the last two weeks and described it as “meaningful health insurance reform” for the budget year 2017.

Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto said the new agreement is the result of two meetings with the Insurance Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives of the employee unions and significant consultation with Harvard Pilgrim, the town’s health insurance carrier. The new agreement “hits the budget numbers we needed to be at,” Gilleberto said and after working with Town Counsel they structured agreements with the 13 different unions representing town employees. 

The plan design allows the town to hit its intended budget number of $5.66 million in fiscal 2017, Gilleberto said. Prior to the agreement, Harvard Pilgrim had served notice the town’s health insurance costs would rise 12.5 percent, an unaffordable number for any budget. But considering that health insurance is already the town’s second largest budget (at $5.5 million), behind only the school department, that number was pretty much a non–starter to begin with. The agreed–to plan design changes hold the increase in the health insurance budget to about 6 percent.

The redesigned health insurance plan, which takes effect July 1, will have $300 individual and $900 family deductibles, as opposed to the current plan which has no deductibles. There will be higher co–pays for office visits and specialists, emergency room visits, and higher prescription co–pays.

Selectman Stephen O’Leary said the Insurance Advisory Committee process was a success. “I’m glad time allowed for the process to play itself out. Obviously, the employees were willing to step up to the plate and advised their membership wisely.”

Selectmen Chairman Robert Mauceri said TA Gilleberto put in a “hero’s effort and time” to make it all happen considering other things going on in town. 

Board member Michael Prisco said he hopes there’s a smoother process next year and the employees are integrated into the communication at an earlier stage. He thanked the employees for stepping up. “They had to trust us a lot at the end because they felt they had a gun to their head.”

Kathryn Manupelli agreed that if plan design changes are on the table again next year, the employees should be brought into it at an earlier stage.

Mauceri said the challenge every year is getting an accurate quote in a timely manner from the health insurance carrier. But now that North Reading’s plan has been realigned to coincide with the start of the fiscal year July 1, that may be easier.

Gilleberto said “it was a lesson learned” for him that North Reading has employees who want to work with the town for a fair solution.  

“In this case we’ve been able to institute meaningful change and I want to commend them for standing by their word.” 

The vote to ratify and sign the agreements was 4 to 0. Selectman Jeff Yull recused himself and did not take part in the discussion.