Health care reform signed into law last week could begin saving the town money as early as its 2012-2013 fiscal budget, which will kick into effect next summer.

Last week, Gov. Deval Patrick signed reform into law that would, among other things, allow towns to control costs of health care provided to union employees by adjusting the rates those employees pay for certain services, including co-pays and deductibles. According to Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski, the next step in the process is developing the tools necessary to use the reform, a process he said "will be heavily debated, because the language (of the reform) will be interpreted."

"The law has been passed," Stapczynski said. "The governor signed it, and that is the first of 1,000 steps. We can't do anything because the regulations aren't even in place yet."

Officials from Andover, as well as other towns throughout the state, started reaching out to state legislators earlier this year as health care costs became a heavier burden on Massachusetts communities. Lauded as legislation that would save towns across the commonwealth an estimated $100 million, the reform was not welcomed by unions due to the fact that, as a result of the reform, a portion of the burden of health care costs would be shifted from the town to the individual subscribers.

Stapczynski said he wasn't comfortable putting a date to when the regulations could become available to towns.

"To put a timetable on it is a little sketchy at this point, because the rules and regulations aren't written," Stapczynski said. "It is so important, and it is 14 pages of single-spaced typing that really goes into quite a bit of detail. The parties that worked on this need to work together to come up with a concentrated set of rules."

The town's current health care plan will need to be renewed by July 1, 2012, Stapczynski said. Possible changes in health care costs could come as early as that fiscal year, which would encompass July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.

In the meantime, the town is looking at possible plan design changes that could be available to it, while officials will also be attending a number of seminars and information sessions over the next year that aim to explain the reform, how it works and how it can be used, Stapczynski said.

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