Blog

01 Jan
0

TRTA Wishes You a Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to all the TRTA Inside Line subscribers. TRTA has had a great year mobilizing our membership and working with all our partner associations to prepare for a difficult legislative session. I will speak on that issue more in just a minute.

Let me begin this message by saying “thank you.” Your willingness to receive these emails is greatly appreciated. We have thousands of Inside Line subscribers from varied backgrounds and walks of life. Many of the Inside Line subscribers are, of course TRS retirees and members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. We also have many subscribers who are active school employees, legislators, legislative staff, state agency officials, members of the media, and those who are generally interested in pension news and information.

Whichever category you find yourself, please know how grateful we are to have you as an Inside Line email subscriber.

Many TRTA members have received, or are receiving, their latest issue of the association news bulletin, The Voice. This current issue provides the most recent information on how TRTA has prepared and is now ready to engage in the upcoming legislative session. It also has key talking points to share with your legislators as they return to Austin, as well as a fact page you can detach from the bulletin and then mail to your legislator. We hope that you find this information useful and are able to send the fact page with a short note to your legislator explaining your needs and expectations for the coming legislative session.

TRTA has worked diligently over the last 8-months raising the alarm to all TRS members, retired and active, about those who want to drastically change your TRS pension trust fund. We know there is a movement working hard in Texas to eliminate defined benefit plans for public education employees. Many times, the people behind these proposed changes say that existing TRS retirees will not be impacted in any way. We have exposed this untruth for what it is and are ready to oppose any proposal that drastically changes or eliminates the TRS defined benefit plan.

Simply as a point of encouragement to our current TRTA retiree members and as an expression of gratitude to those who provided us the opportunity, I wanted to let you know that a large majority of the meetings that TRTA leaders participated in over the past 8-months have been with active school employees! TRTA is grateful to help educate our working school employees on the war that is being waged against their pension benefits. It will take all of us working together to remain informed, to be active, and to protect and improve this vital piece of our retirement security.

While there has been much said about the war against the TRS retirement benefit program, TRTA has also been working equally hard on protecting the TRS-Care health insurance program. This is the health insurance program that many TRS retirees are participants and has served our state TRS retirees well for over 25-years.

The program is simply running out of money and TRTA is prepared to work this entire session on restoring cuts made to the program last legislative session, and find any additional revenue that may be needed to keep the program strong and protect retiree premiums.

As many of you know, TRS plan administrators have already adopted changes to the plan that include an introduction of a new Medicare Advantage plan, as well as a new Medicare D prescription drug benefit. While TRS officials have worked very hard to ensure as little disruption in the level of care and service our retirees now enjoy, these changes have been introduced as cost savings measures and member participation in these new options is said to be vital to the continuation and financial security of TRS-Care.

Legislators need to know that TRS retirees in the TRS-Care plan are not getting a “free ride” and pay significant premiums, co-pays, out-of-pocket expenses, meet various deductibles, and many times pay Medicare costs on top of the TRS-Care expenses. This plan must be adequately funded and now is the time to see serious legislative action to protect the vital health care plan now and in the future.

TRTA members who have been retired for a number of years know that there has not been a permanent pension increase since 2001. TRTA championed and helped pass a supplemental payment for TRS retirees in 2007 (paid in 2008). But that benefit came five years ago. The Texas Legislature MUST consider providing some form of benefit increase for TRS retirees. Some in the legislature may be unwilling to pass legislation providing a benefit increase to retirees so long as the fund is not actuarially sound. If this is the case, TRTA calls on the legislature to do what it must to help make the fund actuarially sound and provide retirees a much needed pension increase.

These are the major issues we will all be working on in the coming session. While we will be putting every effort into these state legislative issues, please know that we have not forgotten our national legislative efforts to protect your retirement security. We know that many of you are impacted by the Social Security provisions know as the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. TRTA has a strong presence working on these issues on the national level, as well. TRTA is also defending the TRS fund from issues such as mandatory Social Security. Our national legislative efforts also include working with partner organizations to protect Medicare funding and more.

TRTA had a very productive 2012. It is impossible to say too much about how great our TRTA local unit leaders and district representatives partnered together to make this a very successful year for TRTA. Without our local unit network, TRTA would not be nearly as influential as it is today. If you are not yet a member of one of our active and growing local units, please consider joining one today.

Again, thank you for being a member of TRTA and a subscriber to this email news update service. We have a busy 2013 planned with a challenging legislative session ahead of us. TRTA has always been the most successful when our members had good information and worked as active participants in our legislative initiatives. We are ready for the coming challenges and we know that you are too.

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

Tim Lee

Read More
04 Dec
0

TRTA Update on New TRS Report–December 4, 2012

Texas Comptroller Releases Report about Public Pensions

The Texas Comptroller’s office recently released a report about public pensions, providing details about Texas’ local and state pension programs as well as information about plans throughout the country. Included in the report is information about the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). Page 12 of the report focuses specifically on TRS and the Employees Retirement System of Texas (ERS). You may read the report in full at the following link: www.texastransparency.org/yourmoney/pdf/TexasItsYourMoney-Pensions.pdf

The report accurately states that TRS has a funded ratio of 82.7%, and also mentions that “a funded ratio of 80 percent or more signifies a fiscally sound plan.” The report, however, suggests that this is only one measure that assesses the financial soundness of a system and other measures must be considered.

The report reiterates much of the information that TRTA has shared with our readers over the past several months. Some of the key facts included in the report are that “more than 80 percent of TRS members are not covered by Social Security” and TRS has “a 30-year investment return that is higher than the plan’s assumed rate of return of 8 percent.”

The report also features several mini-articles about pension plans in other states that have experienced significant funding crises. However, the Comptroller points out that most of Texas’ public pension plans are NOT in crisis, stating that “by recognizing early how public pension plans affect state and local finances around the country, state and local governments can act on this issue before it becomes a crisis in Texas.”

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) has stated repeatedly that TRS is not in crisis. As you know, TRTA has stood firm in its position that the TRS defined benefit plan is a solid one. Groups such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and Texans for Public Pension Reform (TPPR) have pushed the Legislature to change TRS and other pension funds into defined contribution-style plans (such as 401(k)’s), that would drastically diminish the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of public education employees.

The comptroller’s report reinforces TRTA’s stance that moderate changes to pension systems can have a tremendous long-term financial impact. TRTA agrees that “in Texas, many public pension systems appear to be stable and should be able to support the workers who have paid into them through retirement.”

On page 17, the Comptroller lists methods of improving defined benefit pension plan health. Those methods include increasing contributions (from employees as well as employers), and reducing benefit costs (for example increasing retirement ages or years of service). TRS has made changes in the past five years, including adding restrictions on salary spiking and return-to-work requirements.

For the upcoming 83rd Legislative Session that begins in January, TRTA supports the state increasing its contribution to the TRS pension fund to a minimum 6.4% in both years of the biennium. In the previous session, the state reduced its contribution to TRS to the constitutional minimum (6.0%) for one year of the biennium.

TRTA also believes the State should increase funding to TRS by at least half a percent each year of the coming biennium (6.9% and 7.4%) to further stabilize and improve the TRS pension fund.

On page 11, the Comptroller singles out TRS and ERS stating that although “most of Texas’ local pension plans are on track to be fully funded within 30 years, ERS and TRS…are projected to run out of money without changes to current contribution rates and promised benefits.” The Comptroller’s report affirms that “state and local governments and their employees must maintain adequate contributions to ensure their plans remain fiscally sound.”

What does this mean? It means now is the time for those moderate changes to be made so that the system may be protected for the long-term.

TRTA’s major priorities this coming session include not only improved funding for the pension fund and TRS-Care, but working with the Legislature to create long-term solutions for both programs. Funding these plans using a two-year cycle is not working! TRTA is ready to work with the Texas Legislature to create a strategy that improves TRS for the long-term, one that enables the system to be financially sound enough to provide a much-needed cost-of-living increase to TRS annuitants.

TRS is a legacy worth protecting, and has 75 years of proven success in providing retirement security to its members. As the Comptroller states in her report, the “challenges facing these systems are significant and will continue, calling for continuing vigilance from our leaders.” TRTA is looking to the Legislature to be partners with us in facing these challenges head on.

TRTA appreciates the work of the Comptroller’s office to produce a comprehensive report about the public pension systems in Texas. The accuracy and perspective provided by the report are beneficial to all who take the time to read it. We hope our members will take full advantage of this opportunity and provide feedback to the Comptroller as well as TRTA.

Thank you for being a member of TRTA. Your membership matters to us, and we hope to represent YOUR voice on these issues.

 

If you are not a member and want to join, please contact TRTA at 1.800.880.1650.

Read More
27 Nov
0

TRS Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D Follow Up

TRTA continues to receive calls and emails about the new TRS Aetna Medicare Advantage plan as well as the Express Scripts Medicare Part D prescription plan.  In this Inside Line, we are sharing a few additional TRS resources with you as you continue to assess your medical care needs.

Aetna Medicare Advantage
TRTA has received reports of some members experiencing long hold times when contacting either Aetna or TRS. Please know that hotline hours have been extended (during November only) for those with questions about the TRS-Care Aetna Medicare Advantage plan. Those hours are as follows:

Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Central Time)
Saturday, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Central Time)

If you want to opt-out of the Aetna Medicare Advantage plan and remain with your current TRS-Care plan, please call the TRS-Care Aetna Medicare Advantage Hotline at 1-866-217-2409 (TDD:711).

If you are still uncertain as to whether or not this plan will work for you, please review the Aetna Medicare Advantage Checklist provided by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) at the following link: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/TRS_care/documents/aetna_medicareAdvantage_checklist.pdf.

Express Scripts Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan
TRS also created a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page about the Medicare Part D Express Scripts prescription drug plan.  We are finding this to be a great resource for answering sometimes complicated insurance questions. The link to the FAQ can be found here: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/retirees.jsp?submenu=faqs&page_id=/TRS_care/faq_trscare_2_and_3.

Contact TRS-Care Customer Service at 1-800-367-3636, Option 2, to discuss opting out of the Express Scripts Medicare plan.

Questions and Answers about Both Plans
TRS has also created a helpful “Decision Chart” that may provide you with some insight as to whether or not one or both plans are right for you.  Please view the decision chart here: http://www.trs.state.tx.us/TRS_care/documents/trs_care_enrollment_decision_chart.pdf.

One of the questions we receive most often is “can I stay in the new Aetna Medicare Advantage plan, but opt out of the new Express Scripts Medicare PDP?”  The answer is yes.  We also receive the opposite question “can I stay in the new Express Scripts Medicare PDP, but opt out of the new Aetna Medicare Advantage plan?”  Again, the answer is yes.  You can also opt out of both or choose to stay in both programs.

We encourage you to get all the facts before making a decision, as some will find that they receive richer benefits and lower costs associated with the new plans. Remember, you can always go back to your original TRS-Care coverage if these plans don’t satisfy your needs.

As we mentioned in our most recent issue of The VOICE, the opt–out provision allows you to assess the plans and measure your satisfaction by either continuing in the plans or opting out at your discretion. Participants will not be able to opt out and then opt back in within the same plan year. You will be able to opt out and revert back to Medicare and TRS–Care 2 or 3 (the plan you have now) after the plans go into effect in January. There is a waiting period to get back into the existing system, which is the first of the following month after you opt out.

We hope these resources are helpful to you and provide you with the information you need to make an educated decision.

Thank you for being a member of TRTA. Your membership matters to us, and we hope to represent YOUR voice on these issues. If you are not a member and want to join, please contact TRTA at 1.800.880.1650.

Read More