Heard: January 9, 2019.
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on August
case was heard by James F. Lang, J., on motions for summary
L. Lichten for the plaintiffs.
Foskett (Ryan P. Dunn also present) for the defendants.
Present: Milkey, Maldonado, & Kinder, JJ.
2016, the town of Andover increased the percentage share that
retired town employees had to pay for their health insurance.
Three retired town employees brought this action alleging
that G. L. c. 32B, § 22 (e), prohibited the town from
implementing such increases prior to July 1,
2018. On cross motions for summary judgment,
a Superior Court judge ruled that the language of § 22
(e) unambiguously supported the town's position that the
increases were lawful. For the reasons that follow, we vacate
municipality may, but is not required to, provide health
insurance coverage to its employees and retirees.
Somerville v. Commonwealth Employment
Relations Bd., 470 Mass. 563, 564 (2015). Where a
municipality has chosen to provide such coverage, it
generally has a variety of options regarding the percentage
it will contribute towards the insurance premiums. Although
G. L. c. 32B, § 9, states that retirees are to bear the
full cost of their health insurance, municipalities may elect
to pay a share of those premiums by "accept[ing] the
more generous provisions of G. L. c. 32B, § 9A or §
9E." Id. at 565. By opting into § 9A, the
municipality can pay fifty percent of the premiums, and by
opting into § 9E, they can pay a higher percentage.
Somerville, the Supreme Judicial Court addressed the
question whether a municipality that had elected to opt into
§ 9E could "unilaterally reduce its percentage
contribution to retired employees' health insurance
premiums without engaging in collective bargaining over the
matter with current employees." Id. at 573. The
court held that a town could do so, thus reaffirming that
municipalities enjoyed broad statutory authority to raise the
percentage share that retirees had to pay for their health
insurance premiums. See id.
2011, the Legislature enacted a law to allow municipalities
to pursue additional cost savings in the provision of their
health insurance plans. See St. 2011, c. 69, § 3,
inserting G. L. c. 32B, §§ 21-23 (2011 act).
Specifically, municipalities now could elect to opt into a
program through which they could redesign their health
insurance plans, e.g., through changing the copayments and
deductibles that those enrolled in the plans had to pay, and
through adopting "tiered provider network copayments and
other cost-sharing plan design features." G. L. c. 32B,
§ 22 (a) . The 2011 act created a sui generis,
streamlined process through which such changes were to be
negotiated or, barring an agreement, determined by a
specially constituted "municipal health insurance review
panel." G. L. c. 32B, § 21 (c). While union
representatives were given an important role in that process,
the process otherwise bypassed ordinary collective
bargaining. See G. L. c. 32B, § 23 (a), (c), (q)
(providing that decisions by municipality to redesign its
health insurance plans are not subject to collective
the new authority offered by the 2011 act was layered on top
of the authority that municipalities already possessed to
decrease the percentage share that they contributed to their
retirees' health insurance premiums. See G. L. c. 32B,
§§ 9A, 9E. This meant that retirees now potentially
could be subjected to two types of increases implemented
outside the traditional collective bargaining process:
increases to the percentage share that they had to pay for
their premiums, and increases to their copays, deductibles,
and the like. As both sides agree, when the Legislature
enacted the 2011 act, it placed temporary limits on the
ability of municipalities to subject retirees to increases on
both fronts. Specifically, municipalities who elected to use
their new authority to implement design changes to their
insurance plans outside collective bargaining temporarily
were precluded from using their already existing authority to
raise the percentage share that retirees had to pay. As
Governor Patrick stated in proposing the language
establishing this moratorium,  the purpose was "the
protection of current retirees from short-term increases in
premiums." Governor's Message, 2011 House Doc. No.
3581. Although the parties before us generally agree about
the role that the moratorium was intended to serve, they
disagree about the details as to how the moratorium was
intended to operate and, most specifically, when
municipalities would be relieved from its effects.
enacted by St. 2011, c. 69, § 3, the moratorium language
set forth in § 22 (e) reads as follows:
"The first time a public authority implements plan
design changes under this section or section 23, the public
authority shall not increase before July 1, 2014, the
percentage contributed by retirees, surviving spouses and
their dependents to their health insurance premiums from the
percentage that was ...