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Boston May Require City Retirees To Join Medicare

Boston city workers would be required to sign up for Medicare retirement plans, under a proposal being taken up Wednesday by the Boston City Council.

City retirees currently have the option to choose Medicare, but many do not, leaving the city to pick up the bill. Boston officials insist that moving retirees' health care plans over to Medicare would not adversely affect the cost or quality of their plans, and in some cases could actually lower payments.

The proposal, expected to easily pass, is estimated to save the city $300,000 next year, with savings of about $2.5 million over the next five years.

But critics say the move does not go far enough, because the proposal would allow about 1,700 already-retired city workers who are eligible for Medicare to remain on the city's health care plan.

"The city is leaving on the table millions of dollars of savings," said Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, "at a time when the city needs to realize and achieve every savings that's possible, that makes sense, that hopefully might prevent libraries from closing or layoffs."

Tyler says current retirees should be required to join Medicare, a move he estimates would save an additional $5 million next year. "The city needs to take every step it can to try to maximize savings," he said, "And this is certainly an option that's available to it."

City Councilor Mark Ciommo says requiring current retirees to change their plans would be a violation of ongoing "good faith" talks with labor unions, which emphasize a gradual approach in dealing with current retirees.

"We're talking about people that have been retired for 20 years, possibly in their nineties," Ciommo said. "We don't want to force them into an anxious position where they feel like they're losing benefits."

Ciommo favors a plan to conduct outreach programs to retirees, which would explain the benefits of switching to Medicare. "I believe we can get current retirees on the Medicare plans," he said, "and actually we'll save money that way without creating the anxiety for all these current retirees who are in their plans."

Other cities, like Worcester and Springfield, have already implemented retroactive Medicare plans for their retirees.

This program aired on March 24, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

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