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19 Nov
0

Senate State Affairs Committee Discusses TRS Today

The Senate State Affairs Committee will hold a hearing today to discuss several issues pertaining to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), as well as other state agencies.  The committee’s agenda includes a charge to examine the feasibility of implementing health reimbursement accounts (HRA) and Medicare exchanges for Medicare eligible participants currently covered by and receiving health coverage through TRS.  The committee will also work to identify any cost savings to the state and to retirees that would occur under such a plan.

The State Affairs committee, like the Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee (PIFS) in the Texas House, examines the long-term sustainability of the state’s pension funds. The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) testified in September at the PIFS hearing and will share similar information at the State Affairs hearing today.

While much of our testimony will reiterate the same core tenets, the addition of HRAs to the agenda gives TRTA some pause.  We know many TRS retirees are going through significant changes in their health care coverage options right now.  The new Aetna Medicare Advantage plan gives many retirees a program more suited to their health care needs, while others have chosen to opt out and remain in TRS-Care.  More changes to retirees’ health care plans are sure to create apprehension.

The basic definition of a health reimbursement account is that it is an employer-funded medical reimbursement plans. The “employer” (in this case, TRS) would set aside a specific amount of pre-tax dollars for employees to pay for health care expenses on an annual basis. HRAs are most commonly offered in conjunction with a high deductible health plan. As a rule, moving to a high deductible health plan will result in reduced premium costs, which creates real savings on healthcare costs for the employer.

All employer contributions to the plan are 100% tax deductible to the employer, and tax-free to the employee. Enrolling in an HRA provides two major advantages to employees: (1) a reduced health insurance premium resulting from the high deductible health plan, and (2) availability of employer-sponsored funds to pay for medical expenses incurred prior to point at which the insurance deductible is met.

Depending on the plan design, expenses that may be reimbursed from the HRA include the following: deductibles, co-payments, co-insurance, prescription medications, vision expenses, dental expenses, and other out-of-pocket health-related expenses.

TRTA firmly believes that there is no better health care option for our members than TRS-Care.  We feel it is vital that the Legislature focus all of its resources on addressing the revenue shortfalls that are imminent in the TRS-Care plan.  While we are always open to working with the Legislature on solutions for protecting the health insurance program for the long term, TRTA does not support introducing HRAs as an option for TRS retirees at this time.

Regardless of how the discussion about HRAs proceeds today, TRTA will emphasize the need for the Legislature to protect the TRS-Care program.  TRS-Care is quickly running out of reserve funding and may experience a funding shortfall in the next two to three years. That funding shortfall may be as much as $1.2 billion!

TRTA expects action this session to improve the funding condition of the TRS-Care program. TRTA members need to tell legislators that their health care is a vital part of their retirement benefit and their livelihood. They should also remind legislators that this program is not a “no-cost” health care plan. TRS-Care participants pay significant premiums to participate in this plan. Combining what retirees pay in premiums, as well as deductibles and out-of-pocket costs indicates that plan participants are paying the highest portion of these health care costs.

TRTA members want the Legislature to restore funding to the TRS-Care program that was cut last session and to be ready to provide any additional funding necessary to maintain the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program.

Here are TRTA’s key points from today’s testimony regarding the pension fund:

  • TRS is NOT in crisis and under current contributions levels and investment return assumptions, the plan can pay benefits through the year 2075
  • TRS is not coordinated with the federal Social Security program and is the sole source of retirement security for 95% of retired public school personnel
  • TRS is not being ignored by the Texas Legislature, while other states with flailing pension plans have skipped contributions to their systems, sometimes for years
  • Implementing a defined contribution style plan for TRS is not needed, and is not good public policy; it is, in fact, drastic, costly, and fiscally irresponsible
  • TRS is not a tremendous burden on Texas taxpayers and is not an entitlement program
  • TRS is not an overly rich benefit plan with an average monthly benefit of $1,867
  • TRS is not far from achieving actuarial soundness
  • TRS is not perfect, but would benefit significantly from modest changes to the system while maintaining its defined benefit structure
  • The issue at hand is about ideology versus good public policy
  • TRS is in the forever business, with 75 years of proven success in providing benefits for its members
  • TRS brings tremendous value to the state of Texas, including $690 million in state revenues
  • TRS is a bargain for Texas taxpayers, costing them far less than what private sector businesses pay in for their hourly employees
  • TRS is well-managed and has earned more than $40 billion since the two major market declines in 2008 and 2009
  • TRS provides real retirement security and is a legacy worth protecting.

Thank you for being a TRTA member and supporting our efforts. Our member network exceeded 73,000 members last year. We hope that you will continue to support us as we fight to protect your retirement.

If you are not a member and want more information on joining, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650. TRTA membership is $25 per year.

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19 Oct
0

TRTA Update October 19th, 2012

TRS Releases Investment Report for FY 2012

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) released its FY 2012 Annual Investment Performance Report. The report states that TRS earned 7.58% on its investments for the fiscal year ending August 31.  The fund grew by over $4 billion to reach $111.1 billion in assets.

The report confirms the success of the TRS Strategic Partner Network, which utilizes external partners in locating investment opportunities in private equity and real assets, for example. The TRS Strategic Partner Network program independently earned 11.4% during the fiscal year.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie explains that the Emerging Manager program and the use of hedge funds aided TRS in its performance and helped the agency run its investment division more efficiently.

The report also includes information about expenses related to running the investment division, including salaries and building expenses.

TRTA members may recall that the fund’s value was at $95.7 billion in August of 2010 and quickly rose to $108 billion in February 2011. TRS continues to perform well through difficult market cycles, coming from a low of approximately $70 billion during the crash of 2008.

While the news we have received this week is good, TRS is not considered actuarially sound by Texas statute. In order for the TRS pension trust fund to be actuarially sound, it must be able to amortize its unfunded liability within 30 years. Right now, TRS has a funding period of “never.”

While TRS is financially healthy and your monthly annuity is not at risk of vanishing, retirees who have not received a pension increase in nearly 12 years are feeling the pinch. In order for the fund to achieve the level of success needed to provide you with a permanent cost-of-living increase, the Texas Legislature must consider making a higher contribution to TRS.

Presently, the state contribution is 6.4% for FY 2013. The retirement system was receiving the Texas Constitutional minimum for the benefit program of 6 percent in the previous biennium.

As you have read in recent issues of the Inside Line, the legislatively mandated study of the pension fund performed by TRS indicates that incremental increases in the state’s contribution can have a strong, long-term impact on the fund’s investment returns.

TRTA will continue to work with legislators now and during the 83rd legislative session to increase the state’s contribution to TRS while maintaining its defined benefit structure.

Medicare Advantage Update

TRTA continues to try and answer questions about the upcoming Medicare Advantage plan. Perhaps the most important questions TRTA has tried to answer over the last month are about medical providers in the plan. Many TRTA members emailed us their provider information to a special email account through doctorcheck@trta.org. There were a few challenges that developed out of using this email question and answer system. Surprisingly, they had nothing to do with technology issues, these problems really stemmed from rule limitations placed on Aetna and TRS from answering these emails directly, something we all believed was possible at the time, but turned out not to be the case (thank you federal rules governing Medicare Advantage plans).

Even still, TRS and Aetna worked diligently to help provide the necessary information so that TRTA could respond to these emails (well over 900 emails, and more than 3,000-plus actual provider questions). The bottom line is that TRTA has been responding to these questions as quickly as we receive new information about providers from Aetna.

We know this has been a frustrating transition, and we appreciate your patience and understanding as we have tried to help as much as possible. If you are still waiting to hear about the providers asked about in your email, we are working to get you than information as quickly as possible (TRTA has responded to about half of the emails we have received so far). For an immediate answer, you can always call Aetna and speak to a representative. Hold times on this toll-free call-in service are generally less than 1 minute. As you read in the TRTA Voice magazine, Aetna is the best and only source for information on your medical provider(s) acceptance of the new Medicare Advantage plan.

We know that specific provider information is critical to you knowing more about staying in or opting out of this new plan option. We are replying to emails as quickly as possible, but to restate, the best way to get an answer about your provider questions is to call Aetna. That number is 1.866.217.2409.

Concluding Comment

Thank you for being a TRTA member and supporting our efforts. Our member network exceeded 73,000 members last year. We hope that you will continue to support us as we fight to protect your retirement. If you are not a member and want more information about joining, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650. TRTA membership costs $25 per year.

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15 Sep
0

TRTA Update September 15, 2012

TRTA Helps Lead a United Front Defending TRS Benefits

 Associations Testify in Favor of Maintaining Pension and Health Care Benefits

The House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee (PIFS) met this week to discuss their interim charge on the Teacher Retirement System and other statewide, county, and municipal retirement programs. TRTA expected an attack on the defined benefit traditional retirement program by those interest groups that seem determined to implement a privatized retirement program for all educators and other government workers. Unfortunately, these attacks may just be the beginning.

TRTA members from around the state attended the hearing. Many of these TRS retirees stayed the entire day listening to over 8 hours of testimony on various pension fund structures in the state. All TRTA members and all TRS retirees are fortunate to have such dedicated TRTA members giving their time to be present through these hearings.

TRTA made a strong case promoting the value of the existing TRS defined benefit retirement program for education employees and retirees. Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director, testified before the committee stressing the need to continue with the TRS defined benefit program. Key points from the TRTA testimony are provided below.

You can also watch Tim’s presentation by clicking here (Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Committee hearing September 12, 2012 advance video to mark 7:25…towards the end of the video presentation).

Key points of the TRTA Testimony:

  • TRS is NOT in crisis and under current contributions levels and investment return assumptions, the plan can pay benefits through the year 2075
  • TRS is not coordinated with the federal Social Security program and is the sole source of retirement security for 95% of retired public school personnel
  • TRS is not being ignored by the Texas Legislature, while other states with flailing pension plans have skipped contributions to their systems, sometimes for years
  • Implementing a defined contribution style plan for TRS is not needed, and is not good public policy; it is, in fact, drastic, costly, and fiscally irresponsible
  • TRS is not a tremendous burden on Texas taxpayers and is not an entitlement program
  • TRS is not an overly rich benefit plan with an average monthly benefit of $1,867
  • TRS is not far from achieving actuarial soundness
  • TRS is not perfect, but would benefit significantly from modest changes to the system while maintaining its defined benefit structure
  • The issue at hand is about ideology versus good public policy
  • TRS is in the forever business, with 75 years of proven success in providing benefits for its members
  • TRS brings tremendous value to the state of Texas, including $690 million in state revenues
  • TRS is a bargain for Texas taxpayers, costing them far less than what private sector businesses pay in for their hourly employees
  • TRS is well-managed and has earned more than $40 billion since the two major market declines in 2008 and 2009
  • TRS provides real retirement security and is a legacy worth protecting.

TRTA is convinced that the argument to eliminate the TRS defined benefit plan is based more on political ideology than any fiscal need. As TRTA already reported, the TRS study on alternative plan design (TRTA report, click here…TRS Study, click here) indicates that changing to a defined contribution plan would increase the TRS unfunded liability by $11.7 billion!

Make no mistake, TRTA and our members will do whatever we can to protect the TRS retirement program! We are meeting with legislators, talking to educators, sending letters to newspapers, talking to additional media, and informing our own members about this attack. We will never stop fighting those interests that want to undermine the TRS benefit plan.

While it is important to be fully engaged in the existing attacks on the TRS defined benefit plan, the far more critical issue is adequate funding for the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program. Again, as TRTA reported earlier this month (click here), the TRS-Care health insurance program is quickly running out of reserve funding and may experience a funding shortfall in the next two to three years. That funding shortfall may be as much as $1.2 billion.

TRTA expects action this session to improve the funding condition of the TRS-Care program. The need for action was highlighted by Brian Guthrie, TRS Executive Director, stating that the healthcare issue is in need of attention far more than any perceived pension funding crisis.

TRTA members need to tell legislators that their health care is a vital part of their retirement benefit and their livelihood. They should also remind legislators that this program is not a “no-cost” health care plan. TRS-Care participants pay significant premiums to participate in this plan. Combining what retirees pay in premiums, as well as deductibles and out-of-pocket costs indicates that plan participants are paying the highest portion of these health care costs.

TRTA members want the legislature to restore funding to the TRS-Care program that was cut last session and to be ready to provide any additional funding necessary to maintain the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program.

TRTA is working hard to be your voice on these important issues. Thank you for being a TRTA member and supporting our efforts. Our member network exceeded 73,000 members last year. We hope that you will continue to support us as we fight to protect your retirement.

If you are not a member and want more information on joining, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650. TRTA membership is $25 per year.

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