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22 Dec
0

Season’s Greetings from the Texas Retired Teachers Association!

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) wishes all of our members and friends a very happy, healthy holiday season! We are so grateful to have your support, positive action and enthusiasm as we move forward into what is sure to be an exciting, productive year.

While we must face many challenges, particularly as we address the TRS-Care retiree health insurance funding crisis, together we are doubtlessly strong and we WILL make a difference in the 84th Legislative Session!

We believe in our members and TRTA’s purpose of creating an organized and powerful voice for all public education retirees and all pre-retirees (aka, our active school employee friends)!

TRTA members are the most vocal, passionate members in the state. Our members dedicated their lives to education and to Texas schoolchildren, and deserve to reap the benefits of their hard work.

TRTA’s core belief is in the legacy of public education. TRTA was founded in support of public education and for those serving in this most worthwhile of professions. Our educators deserve the benefits they have paid into and earned during their careers. We will always work to protect and improve the retirement benefits of all current and future public education retirees in Texas!

Without any hesitation or doubt, we believe in the defined benefit plan that promises you a monthly annuity for life! This is a core value of TRTA, and our support of lifetime retirement security for all public education employees will never waiver.

We believe access to affordable health care is vital to your retirement security! We support the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program and will work to ensure it is funded properly so that your health care benefits are never in question during your retirement.

We believe in protecting the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) pension fund and TRS-Care, so that our active educators may also receive what they have earned!

You have accomplished great things this year. While it was not a legislative year, you have not been idle! Preparation is key in addressing the tough issues we will face in 2015. You have sent hundreds of letters to your Texas Senators and Representatives voicing your concerns about TRS-Care! You have made numerous visits to your elected officials in your home districts. You made it to the polls, often early, to cast your vote for the candidates that will best represent your interests.

As we take some time to enjoy our families and friends over the holidays, let us become energized and ready to work with our legislators in 2015! The 84th Legislative Session begins Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

If you have not sent in your letter to TRTA sharing your own TRS-Care story, you can still do so! Look in your 4th quarter issue of The VOICE that arrived in your mailbox this month and send page 3 to TRTA at 313 E. 12th Street, Suite 200, Austin, TX 78701.

If you have misplaced your news bulletin or would like to download another letter, you may do so here.

Thank You!
Thank you for your membership to the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), and thank you for your support of the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation’s (TRTF) charitable endeavors. Our very existence is dependent upon YOU!

If you are not a member of TRTA and want more information about joining, please contact us at 1.800.880.1650. Follow us on Facebook! Visit our YouTube channel for regular video updates.

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18 Dec
0

The Latest TRTA News: Social Security Update, TRS-Care Letters Pouring In

Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) attended a press conference this week hosted by Congressman Kevin Brady in the Houston area. As you may have read in a recent Inside Line article, Representative Brady recently introduced H.R. 5697, the Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act.
The bill, if passed, would repeal the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), and replace it with a more fair formula helping those who have been impacted by the WEP and those who will be in the future.

On Monday, December 16, Congressman Brady spoke about the bill’s potential effects while retired school personnel and other retired public servants discussed how the WEP has impacted them.
“Since 1983, it’s treated these workers, I believe, unfairly. It’s costly. I think it’s wrong, and it’s time that it be changed,” said Brady.

H.R. 5697, if passed, would:

 

  • Permanently repeal the current Windfall Elimination Provision and replace it with a new and fair formula that treats public servants like the rest of American workers.
  • Guarantee public servants receive the benefits they earned while they paid into Social Security.
  • Reduce the WEP by up to a third for current retirees, and up to half for future retirees – increasing lifetime Social Security benefits by between $20,000 and $32,400 (as estimated by the Social Security actuary).
  • Not impact the Social Security trust fund.

What does this mean for retired educators in Texas? If H.R. 5697 passes, your Social Security amount will no longer be figured by the arbitrary WEP formula established in 1983, but will be based on your real-life Social Security contributions and work history — just like everyone else.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, a committee on which Representative Brady serves.

After review by the Committee, the bill would need to be brought to the House of Representatives for a vote, then if passed, would need to be presented to the Senate for a vote as well. If the bill passed both Houses of Congress, it would then be sent to the President to be signed and become law.

We are still in the very early stages of the bill’s progress. While the news is good, there is much work to be done to get H.R. 5697 passed! TRTA will launch an email advocacy campaign on this issue with our Texas Congressional Delegation in the weeks to come.

For now, TRTA members can spread the word to their fellow retirees and their friends in the active school community that we have not given up on the idea of fairness for our members and their Social Security earnings. We are gearing up to pass a bill that puts more money back into your pockets!

WEP Repeal Fact Sheet

Send in Your TRS-Care Letter!

Hundreds of members of TRTA have used the fourth quarter issue of The VOICE (page 3) to send in a personal letter about TRS-Care and how it impacts their lives. TRTA is calling on all members to tell their story and let our Texas legislators know that TRS-Care is a vital part of retired educators’ benefits!

As TRS-Care faces a funding shortfall that nears $1 billion, the Texas Legislature must make some tough decisions about resolving the crisis. The Legislature will be faced with choices such as drastically increasing premiums, reducing benefits or BOTH!

We cannot allow the entire burden of the shortfall to fall onto the backs of retirees! We must make our voices heard NOW and work with the Legislature to save TRS-Care!

Please take some time to review page 3 of your news bulletin and write a short letter in the space provided. The back of the page includes several charts and figures that will provide valuable information for your legislator.

Please mail your letter to the TRTA state office by addressing it to: TRTA, Attn: TRS-Care, 313 E. 12th Street Suite 200, Austin, TX 78701. TRTA will hand-deliver your letter to your Texas State Senator and Texas State Representative!

The response we have received so far has been very positive, and we thank you for taking the time to discuss what TRS-Care means to you. Please let your fellow retirees know that their input is important. Encourage them, as well as active educators you know that hope to use TRS-Care during their retirement years, to send in their letter today!

You may also download the letter here.

Thank You!

Thank you for your membership to the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), and thank you for your support of the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation’s (TRTF) charitable endeavors. Our very existence is dependent upon YOU!

If you are not a member of TRTA and want more information about joining, please contact us at 1.800.880.1650Follow us on Facebook! Visit our YouTube channel for regular video updates.

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25 Nov
0

TRTA Reviews Final TRS-Care Sustainability Study

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) finalized its sustainability study of the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program last week. Earlier this year, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) reviewed the possible options as the study progressed and received feedback from thousands of our members.

TRS-Care is facing a funding shortfall of nearly $750 million, as you have read many times over the past year and a half. When we first heard about this crisis, the shortfall was projected to be closer to $1 billion. While it is good news that the shortfall is not as high as originally expected, $750 million is still a considerable financial gap that must be overcome if our public education retirees are to have access to affordable healthcare.

YOUR PREMIUMS COULD DOUBLE if the Legislature does nothing in 2015 to address this issue. TRS ably reduced the shortfall by introducing the Medicare Advantage program nearly two years ago. That program currently has a 70 percent participation rate, resulting in a savings of about $300 million by August 31, 2015. The Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, which is at 80 percent participation, will save TRS-Care $162 million by August 31, 2015.

TRS has exhausted its options for extending the life of TRS-Care, and the Legislature must make some funding decisions in 2015. TRTA is ready and willing to work with all legislators to devise a long-term solution that provides retirees with access to a quality health care program at an affordable cost.

TRTA believes the Legislature effectively managed their role in pension fund decisions last session, but has woefully underfunded the TRS-Care program for more than a decade. TRTA will not support any legislation that puts the burden of the financial shortfall solely on the backs of retirees!

The final sustainability study conducted by TRS presents seven options that may be considered by the Texas Legislature in 2015. Some of the options presented work as stand-alone solutions, while others would be combined to achieve program savings.

  1. Pre-fund the long-term liability
  2. Fund on a pay-as-you-go basis
  3. Fund for a 10-year solvency
  4. Retiree pays full cost for optional coverage
  5. Require purchase of Medicare Part B; mandatory participation in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans
  6. Fixed contribution
  7. Consumer driven plan for the non-Medicare population

While these options are all on the table and are likely the basis for developing a short and long-term solution for TRS-Care, no one can say that any of these proposals will represent the final word on legislative action for the program.

We MUST stay vigilant and active in the coming session. TRTA’s success will be based largely on our growing membership’s involvement. Please know that we need your help, active involvement, and membership to resolve this issue. We will never give up on working for our retirees and pre-retirees and their health care and pension benefits!

Option 1: Pre-fund the long-term liability

Option 1 is very similar to how the pension trust fund is funded and managed, in that investment income pays a substantial portion of the benefits. For example, the pension fund receives a contribution from the state of 6.8 percent of active teacher payroll. The annual required contribution (ARC) to fund TRS-Care in advance would need to be 5.86 percent. Bear in mind that the current state contribution to TRS-Care is only 1 percent.

TRS-Care also receives contributions from the school districts and active employees, which combined with the state’s equals 2.2 percent. To advance fund TRS-Care, these rates would need to increase by 2.7 times. This equals $1.061 billion per year or $2.122 billion for the biennium.

While this would extend the life of TRS-Care indefinitely, the cost associated with doing so is very high. This does not preclude increases in retiree premiums, which would likely increase each year to keep up with medical and pharmacy cost trends.

Option 2: Fund on a pay-as-you-go basis

This short-term solution is the current method for funding TRS-Care, a method TRTA considers broken and inefficient. The major flaw with this method is that it does not provide a long-term sustainability plan for TRS-Care. It could be handled in multiple ways.

2a. Increase only the state contribution (from 1 percent to 2.23 percent in 2016-17, and to 3.19 percent in 2018-19)

2b. Share the increase proportionally by the state, school districts and active employees (current rates are state 1 percent, active employees .65 percent and school districts .55 percent) with no change in premiums for retirees.

Example:

State                  Active Employee       District

2016-17   1.56%                1.01%                         .86%

2018-19   1.99%                1.30%                         1.10%

This option would impact active school employees who have experienced multiple increases in premiums over the years for their TRS-ActiveCare insurance program.

2c. Share the increase proportionally and include retiree premium increases

Example:

State                  Active Employee       District               Retiree Premiums Increase By

2016-17   1.35%                0.88%                         0.74%                34.8%

2018-19   1.62%                1.05%                         0.89%                20.2%

Bear in mind that premiums for a TRS-Care 3 participant with 25 years of service is $295 per month, meaning their premiums would increase to $398 per month in 2016 and to $478 per month in 2018.

2d. Reduce benefits along with a premium increase.

In this option the drug benefit for TRS-Care 2 and 3 Part D plans would be reduced to the TRS-ActiveCare 2 level. Premiums would increase to approximately $311 per month in 2016 and $376 per month in 2018. This scenario assumes that the contribution rate increases in 2c apply.

Option 3: Fund for a 10-year solvency

In Option 3, TRS would project expenditures for 10 years and adjust contributions accordingly.

3a. Increase only the 1 percent state contribution rate to 3.87 percent (no increase in active employee or school district contributions or retiree premiums).

3b. Share the increase proportionally by the state, active employees and school districts with no retiree premium increases.

Example:

State                  Active Employee       District

Biennium  1.00%                0.65%                         .55%

2016-25   2.31%                1.50%                         1.27%

3c. Share the increase proportionally and include retiree premium increases.

Example:

State                  Active Employee       District               Retiree Premiums Increase By

Biennium  1.00%                0.65%                         .55%

2016-25   2.01%                1.30%                         1.10%                14.9%

In this option, premiums would increase 14.9 percent each biennium. For example, a TRS-Care 3 retiree with 25 years of service at a $295 per month premium rate would increase to $339 per month in 2016 and to $592 per month by 2024.

Option 4: Retiree pays full cost for optional coverage

TRS-Care 1, catastrophic coverage, is required by law to be offered at no premium cost to the retiree. In this option, the full cost of TRS-Care 2 or 3 would be the responsibility of the retiree (presently it is subsidized). Premiums would increase substantially as well.

For example, a retiree on TRS-Care 3 with 25 years of service who has a premium of $295 would have a premium of $616 per month for FY 2016. For a TRS-Care retiree and spouse who are both non-Medicare, a $635 per month premium would increase to $1811 per month for FY 2016. Increases would be required each year to keep up with cost trends.

Option 5: Require purchase of Medicare Part B; mandatory participation in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans

TRS currently does not require that Medicare-eligible participants purchase Part B. The standard Part B premium is $104.90 per month for 2014. TRS-Care participants must have both Medicare Part A and B to participate in the Medicare Advantage program.

In this option, all retirees with a retirement date of September 1, 2015 or after and their dependents would be required to purchase Part B when they are first eligible. Retirees who do not purchase Medicare Part B would be enrolled in TRS-Care 1 (retirees who retired prior to September 1, 2015 would be grandfathered).

This option includes mandatory participation in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D for all eligible TRS-Care participants. The incentives currently offered to enroll in these plans would be removed. Those who opt out would be moved to TRS-Care 1.

Several of our members have informed us that their doctors are not accepting this Medicare Advantage program. While 90 percent% of providers in Texas accept the plan, there are isolated areas in Texas where it is not. Because of this issue, TRS would establish an appeal process where participants could opt out and be covered under a TRS-Care standard plan.

Option 6: Fixed contribution

A Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) would be created for current non-Medicare TRS-Care 2 and 3 retirees. New non-Medicare retirees would have the option of choosing the HRA or TRS-Care 1. TRS would deposit a monthly stipend, and the retiree would obtain coverage in the federal exchange. At age 65, these retirees would have an open enrollment opportunity for TRS-Care Medicare Advantage and Part D plans.

One example of the monthly stipend amount is $502 for a TRS-Care retiree with 25 years of service and is not Medicare-eligible. Please note that this option does not contemplate a contribution to the HRA for a dependent. Low-income retirees might be eligible for a subsidy through the federal government but would have to forfeit the HRA.

Option 7: Consumer driven plan for the non-Medicare population

This option eliminates TRS-Care 2 and 3 for the non-Medicare population. The general idea is that patients are referred to managed care procedures inside a contracted network of providers. Steerage programs aim to motivate participants and their dependents to choose better health care providers. The challenge for employers and other payers is finding the right mix of health care services, communication and rewards to shift patients to health care providers that deliver higher value.

This option introduces preferred networks. Enrollees in certain urban areas would be required to participate in an Accountable Care Organization (ACO). These organizations share in the risk of cost and must meet quality of care metrics.

Those retirees residing in non-urban areas would have access to a broader network, but the plan design would include a tiered network with copay differentials that would steer them to providers with performance based contracts.

This option assumes reference based pricing, which refers to the reimbursement of a fixed amount for certain medical services. Examples of such services include CT scanning, MRI, cataract removal, and colonoscopy procedures.

Under this option, retiree premiums are set to be equal to the current contributions for TRS-Care 3 enrollees with 30+ years of service, $280 per month per non-Medicare retiree.

Impact Chart

The chart below summarizes how each option impacts all stakeholders who are impacted by the options in the TRS-Care sustainability study.

In previous versions of the study, other options, such as combining TRS-Care and TRSActive-Care were considered. Those options have since been eliminated.

Time for Action!

We are now a little over a month away from the beginning of the 84th Legislative Session. We want to help you magnify your voice! TRTA is in the final stages of producing the fourth quarter issue of The VOICE. We are preparing a special section for you to take action. It includes vital facts about the TRS-Care program, and also provides a section for you to write a message to your legislators. Expect to receive your issue in mid-December!

We will hand-deliver these personal messages to every legislator in Austin! If our members use the special section, it will create a tidal wave of powerful messages to legislators as they start the 84th Legislative Session.

TRTA is ready to work every minute of every hour of every day of every month of this legislative session for you!

Help us make the most of the coming opportunities by preparing your fellow TRTA members and your legislators for the days of work, opportunity and victory on our vital legislative agenda!

Thank You!

Thank you for being a member of TRTA! It is your steadfast support that allows us to be the state’s lead advocate for protecting your retirement and health care benefits. If you are not a member of TRTA and want more information about joining, please contact us at 1.800.880.1650. Follow us on Facebook! Visit our YouTube channel for regular video updates.

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