05 Apr 2017

MEMBER ACTION ALERT – House Voting Thursday On TRS-Care Funding!

The Texas House of Representatives is set to take the most important vote of the legislative session regarding TRS-Care!

Click here to send an email to your representative encouraging them to fund TRS-Care!

On Thursday, April 6, 2017, the Texas House is scheduled to debate and vote on Senate Bill 1, the appropriations bill for the 85th Legislative Session. This bill will set the state budget and expenditures for the 2018-19 biennium. More than 400 amendments have been filed to the budget, and we can expect a long and arduous debate!

This budget vote is significant for several reasons:

  • The house budget contains at least $500 million in state appropriations for TRS-Care, which is almost $200 million more than the amount approved by the Senate;
  • These additional dollars may be used to lower the proposed $4,000 deductible for TRS-Care participants under the age of 65 and/or to extend the life of TRS-Care;
  • TRS-Care’s funding is contingent upon a two-thirds vote from the House as opposed to a majority vote (100 votes are needed instead of 76);
  • This is because the money must be appropriated from the Economic Stabilization Fund (also known as the Rainy Day Fund), and the vote is considered politically risky for some legislators.
  • Your representative’s vote will be CRITICAL in passing this funding bill.

Take Action Today!

Now is the time for our statewide team of dedicated education retirees to send a positive message to our partners in the Texas House, letting them know that we support their vote to use the Rainy Day Fund to “Keep TRS-Care Affordable!”

Over the next two days, TRTA is asking that you do the following:

  1. Email your state representative today by clicking here.
  2. CALL your state representative today (April 5) and tomorrow (April 6), and use the talking points below to help you. Be sure to use our toll-free legislative hotline 1-888-674-3788.
  3. Forward this email to your friends and colleagues, and share it via social media to help us spread the word that now is the time to take action to “Keep TRS-Care Affordable!”

Sample Phone Script

Use the message below to guide you when communicating with your State Representative.

“Hello, my name is _______. I am a retired Texas educator, a member of TRTA, and I live in your district.

Thank you for being a public servant in our state and our community. As a fellow public servant who relies on my monthly TRS annuity to pay my bills, I support your vote to use the Rainy Day Fund to help retired educators keep our health care program affordable.

We hope you will help us by using any funding for TRS-Care to reduce the proposed $4,000 deductible for retirees under the age of 65 and to extend the program’s life for the future.

Retirees are willing to do our part to pay for TRS-Care! We appreciate your vote to use the Rainy Day Fund to keep TRS-Care affordable for the 260,000 retirees who rely on the plan to keep us and our families healthy.”

Thank You!

It is critical that all members of TRTA lift their unified voice to maximize support for additional funding for TRS-Care! Help us spread the word that now is the time to take action!

Thank you for your steadfast dedication to retirees all across Texas and your membership to TRTA!

We are fighting ardently for your benefits every day at the Capitol. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here. Be sure to read our comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions about TRS-Care here.

Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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04 Apr 2017

Senate State Affairs Discusses TRS-Care Bill

The Senate State Affairs Committee discussed a proposal today to make sweeping changes to TRS-Care, the state-run retiree health insurance program. Senate Bill 788 would eliminate TRS-Care 1, 2 and 3. The bill would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for all Medicare eligible participants. The Medicare Advantage plan would maintain a Medicare Part D Plan for prescription drug benefits.

Under SB 788, all Medicare eligible retirees will be moved into a plan with an estimated $146 per month premium. This includes retirees who aren’t Medicare Part A Plan eligible.

The bill also includes a tenet to ensure that Medicare eligible plan participants have sufficient access to health care providers and prompts TRS to develop a policy to facilitate provider access around the state, particularly in rural areas.

Senate Affairs Chairman Joan Huffman (R-Houston) authored SB 788.

For the high-deductible plan covering participants who are under 65, premiums would gradually increase over the course of four years, beginning in 2018. See an example of proposed premiums for the HD plan below.

  • Calendar Year 2018: Retiree only – $250/month, or $3,000 annually
  • Calendar Year 2019: Retiree only – $310/month, or $3,720 annually
  • Calendar Year 2020: Retiree only – $370/month, or $4,440 annually
  • Calendar Year 2021: Retiree only – $430/month, or $5,160 annually

* These are illustrative premiums; actual premiums will depend on funding and plan experience.

The proposed deductible for this plan is $4,000 for an individual. Prescription medication is also subject to the deductible, as there is no prescription drug coverage with this proposal. After the retiree has paid the first $4,000 in medical and prescription costs, the plan then pays 80 percent of in-network claims and drug costs, and the retiree will continue to pay 20 percent of those costs until they have hit their out-of-pocket maximum of $7,150.

The bill proposes to have no premiums for disability retirees who are not yet Medicare eligible for the first four years of the plan.

SB 788 includes a structural funding change, which would increase the state’s contribution from 1 percent of active teacher payroll to 1.25 percent, resulting in a permanent funding increase from the state. This would be about $170 million more in state funding.

In total, the Senate is proposing approximately $311 million in increased funding for TRS-Care. The remainder of the $1 billion budget shortfall will be paid for by retirees through premium increases and plan design changes.

Senator Huffman said that TRS-Care has experienced “dozens of design changes over the years,” noting that this is not the first time the plan has faced a shortfall. The Legislature covered a shortfall in 2015 in the amount of $768 million. Huffman said that there was “a better economic climate” during the 84th legislative session in 2015, but also stressed that despite the supplemental funding, no permanent solutions were made at the time to address the rising costs of health care.

“This solution is viable, but it is not perfect,” Huffman said. She emphasized that there are no easy answers given the state’s budgetary constraints. She also said if nothing is passed, the TRS board will have limited flexibility to address shortfall, and the shortfall would then be fully borne by retirees. The result would be a drastic increase in premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

Huffman also acknowledged that retirees are a vulnerable group who do not have rich pensions and live on fixed incomes. Senator Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) asked what happens if the state does nothing to address TRS-Care this session, and Huffman answered “the plan will collapse.”

Huffman also said SB 788 makes a substantial difference, but its passage does not mean that there will not be plan shortfalls in the future. A plan that would have prevented any future shortfalls “would be too draconian,” Huffman said.

The committee heard from several invited witnesses, including TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee. Lee thanked Senator Huffman for her leadership in this ongoing, difficult discussion. “TRTA believes the state needs to triple its contribution to TRS, or this program will not survive,” Lee said. Commenting that this may not be the session that such measures may pass, Lee suggested that prefunding the TRS-Care fund with an additional appropriation from the state Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), also known as the Rainy Day Fund, may be a way to help make needed changes to the TRS-Care program, but also minimize the cost burden on retirees.

Lee said many retirees plan on having a modest income during retirement, but the ever-increasing cost of health care needs to be addressed.

Lee also said that retirees “know that if we want to keep TRS-Care alive, everybody is going to have to put more money into it.” He stressed that though there are fewer dollars to go around and it is a harder conversation to have, retirees hope that the state will be able to increase their contribution by more than the proposed .25 percent.

Lee said an affordable health care plan is a requirement for retirees, and that for many retirees, a $4,000 deductible is not feasible.

The current TRS-Care system does not allow retirees to return to the program once they have opted out. Lee suggested that this statute change if SB 788 were to pass. He recommended that retirees should be allowed to return once they became Medicare eligible.

TRTA is concerned that SB 788 doesn’t do enough to address retirees’ financial needs, but our position on the bill remains neutral as negations continue. Without this bill or similar legislation, TRS-Care will not survive. TRTA is working to secure more funding through the budget process. Without more money, TRS-Care’s direction will either bankrupt retirees or end the plan altogether.

The Texas House’s TRS-Care Proposal

The Texas House’s budget bill proposes to provide additional state funding for TRS-Care. The House’s funding would come from two sources: the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) and general appropriations. The proposed budget includes $500 million from the ESF to help fill the $1 billion TRS-Care budget shortfall, as well as raising the state’s contribution into TRS-Care from 1 percent of active educator payroll to 1.25 percent.

It is very likely that the House will debate whether to pass its budget this week. Now is the critical time to call your legislators and tell them that you support the House’s budget. Use the toll free legislator hotline 1-888-674-3788 to let your representatives know you support their efforts to keep TRS-Care affordable!

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We are fighting ardently for your benefits every day at the Capitol. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here. Be sure to read our comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions about TRS-Care here.

Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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30 Mar 2017

TRTA Hosts Successful Convention and Day at the Capitol

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) held its 64th Annual Convention this week in Austin on March 27-28, followed by a rousing day of advocacy at the Texas Capitol on March 29, where nearly 1,500 TRTA members and friends convened to rally and meet with their legislators.

The convention was a two-day affair held at the Hilton Austin packed with information, including committee and officer training sessions and a productive House of Delegates meeting. To download a committee or office resource guide, please visit our website here. TRTA will provide a full update on bylaws amendments in second quarter issue of The VOICE.

Maridell Fryar, TRTA’s former President,
accepted the E.L. Galyean award, TRTA’s highest honor.

On Tuesday, March 28, TRTA held a legislative luncheon for 650 members, featuring a panel led by TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee. Lee started the program, which aired live on Facebook, by discussing the current state of TRS-Care with Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Executive Director Brian Guthrie. A few moments into the panel, Chairman John Zerwas and Chairman Trent Ashby, who lead the Appropriations Committee and Appropriations – Article III Subcommittee respectively, arrived to thunderous applause.

Watch the Legislative Luncheon here:

The luncheon gave members the opportunity to hear directly from legislative leaders who are working to find funding to help with the TRS-Care shortfall. As you may recall, Chairman Zerwas originally filed House Bill 2, a supplemental appropriations bill, which included $500 million for TRS-Care from the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund. While HB 2 was being used as the vehicle for the TRS-Care funding, the Texas House Appropriations committee has moved this money from HB 2 to HB 1. Next week, the Texas House will debate the budget on the House floor, and TRTA members will be able to support this process by asking their legislators to support the House budget bill. We will report more on this issue as the budget gets closer to floor action.

Chairman Ashby filed House Bill 3976, which would increase the state’s contribution from 1 percent to 1.25 percent of active teacher payroll if adopted.

On Wednesday, March 29, TRTA members from all across the state began arriving at the Texas Capitol, some coming from the Austin Hilton, and hundreds on chartered buses. The enthusiastic crowd of educators wore red shirts, carried red bags and donned specially made buttons that read “Keep TRS-Care Affordable!”

Throughout the day, retirees were honored with proclamations in both the House and the Senate and set up meetings with hundreds of legislators. TRTA is thankful for all the legislators who honored retirees. Watch the House’s proclamations here. Watch the Senate’s proclamations here. At 11:30 a.m., hundreds of retirees gathered on the Capitol’s South Steps for a rousing rally and heard from multiple legislators.

Chairman John Zerwas addressed TRTA members
on the south steps of the Texas Capitol.

TRTA wishes to thank all those legislators who took time out their very busy schedules to speak publicly to our members and meet with them one-on-one. During the rally, TRTA was honored to share the platform with Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston), Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond), Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio), Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio), Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton), Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas) and Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington). Rep. Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton) also joined members on the east lawn for a long visit and Amy’s Ice Cream later in the day.

Members, if your legislator took the time to join us during Day at the Capitol, please be sure to send a handwritten thank you note or give them a phone call to let them know you appreciate their support. Day at the Capitol made a huge impression and put hundreds of faces to the very real and challenging issue that is the TRS-Care insurance program.

Now is not the time for TRTA and its members to rest, though! We ARE making progress in both the House and the Senate, and we must continue communicating with our legislators about the importance of health care and retirement security for all current and future public education retirees.

Thank you to each and every member of TRTA for their participation in our convention and Day at the Capitol. Your presence was felt whether you were able to be here in person or not. Thank you to those of you who made phone calls and sent emails, participating virtually and helping us remind legislators to Keep TRS-Care Affordable!

TRTA members flooded the House, Senate and south Capitol steps,
as legislators praised retirees’ work.

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We are fighting ardently for your benefits every day at the Capitol. If you are not yet a TRTA member, please join here. Be sure to read our comprehensive Frequently Asked Questions about TRS-Care here.

Be sure to like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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