Health care for public officials ticks people off

As someone who has to fork over an annual deductible equal to one-third her annual salary, cushy health benes for elected officials has always rubbed me the wrong way. But as I found writing about the issue, it makes the people who pay for it really mad.

Aldermen’s health care is ‘obscene’ burden on taxpayers

WHEN THE ALDERMEN take on the budget this week, one of the decisions they’ll be asked to make is whether to pay more toward their city health insurance. If the board and Mayor Ted Gatsas are going to ask city unions to pay more toward their ever-increasing health care costs, the theory goes that it’s only fair the aldermen take the same hit, too.

In an economy in which many workers are being asked to pay more for health insurance and are seeing their benefits cut and in some cases eliminated, health care of any kind for a part-time elected post is pretty generous. Or as resident Lisa Gravel told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Board of School Committee on Wednesday, it’s obscene.

“The fact many of you are taking health care is obscene to me,” Gravel said. “At least these people (school paraprofessionals) are working. You are public servants and have no right to get health and dental care on my back.”

Pretty harsh words for a benefit that cost the city $97,000 in fiscal year 2010. In fiscal year 2011, which we are in now, the city budgeted more than $122,000 for the aldermen’s health and dental costs.

There are 10 aldermen on the dental plan and eight taking city health insurance. Under the mayor’s proposed budget, aldermen would contribute 20 percent of the premium cost and higher co-pays at doctor visits — the same plan Gatsas wants city unions to take.

The Manchester School District paid more than $95,000 in health insurance premiums between July and December 2010, which includes payment for the five school board members on the dental plan. But premiums are just an estimate of total health care costs made each year. Data on how much the school district actually paid in medical claims are unavailable. The New Hampshire Union Leader asked for that data, but our Right-to-Know request was denied, with federal health privacy laws cited as the reason.

The school board agreed during the crafting of its budget to increase its contribution to 20 percent and to pay higher co-pays. Committeeman Arthur Beaudry pushed to have the board completely give up the plan or at least receive the same benefit as part-time school workers, but those proposals failed.

If the school board would give up its benefits, Beaudry said, that would fund three paraprofessionals slated for layoffs.

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AS HE SAID earlier this year, Democratic Alderman Garth Corriveau is running for something. Last month, he posted on Facebook that he was “excited about the new domain name I just bought.” A former alderman then wrote on his page, “Run, Garth Corriveau, Run!” for mayor.

Then Corriveau announced last Friday he is using his aldermanic Facebook page to call for Republican House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt’s resignation over comments Bettencourt made about Roman Catholic Bishop John McCormack. This week, in an e-mail that looked very similar to those regularly sent out by the New Hampshire Democratic Party, he called on U.S. Reps. Charlie Bass and Frank Guinta, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Ovide Lamontagne and State Sen. Jeb Bradley to “condemn these hurtful and inappropriate remarks.”

This is some high-profile stuff for a first-term alderman. You’re running for something, Corriveau. Just tell us what it is.

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CHANCES ARE if you’re reading this column, you’ve cast a ballot in Manchester in the past four years. But if you haven’t, expect to get a postcard-sized notice in the mail asking you to update your registration or risk getting booted from the voter checklist.

This isn’t a political conspiracy or a dirty trick. It’s sometimes referred to as a voter checklist “purge” and is mandated by state law despite sounding rather sinister.

If you happened to get one of these postcards, get to the City Clerk’s Office to register. There’s a city primary election in September.

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THE CONTROVERSIAL Gold Star Mothers statue is currently under construction in Stanton Plaza, in front of the Radisson Hotel on Elm Street. Construction is slated to continue for the next two weeks and a dedication ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1.

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IT’S BEEN A MISSION of Alderman Ed Osborne’s for years: mandatory vehicle liability insurance. Backed by a 2007 vote in which 83 percent of voters said they favored the state requiring residents to buy car insurance, Osborne has been pushing the Legislature ever since to get a bill at least to the House or Senate floor. Past attempts have failed. When mandatory vehicle liability insurance came up this year, in House Bill 203, Osborne thought he had another shot.

Then it was killed in committee.

“With it passing by more than 80 percent in Manchester, how can individuals just brush it under the table and not bring it before the floor?” said Osborne. “I just can’t see this way of running politics.”

State Rep. John Gimas of Manchester, co-sponsor of HB 203, said, “It always comes up and always gets killed. It’s like the lousy location for the restaurant that keeps going out of business.”

Even with the bill, he added, it doesn’t mean people would follow the law. Gimas said insurance company data show that in mandatory car insurance states, 10 percent to 20 percent of drivers still go uninsured.

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THE CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL Hall of Fame comprises an elite group that is about to get a little bigger with the induction of another class at the annual All-Class Reunion Banquet. Hosted by the Manchester High School Central Alumni Network, the event will mark the school’s 165th birthday on Friday, May 6, at the Radisson Hotel Center of New Hampshire. More than 1,000 people attended the Central Sesquicentennial Banquet, in 1995, the same year the Alumni Network was formed, and banquets since have been sellouts. Chris D. Kehas is selling the $40 tickets and can be reached at 625-9587 or cdkehas@comcast.net.

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