Blog

22 Feb 2020
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Addressing the TRS Health Care Provider Change

Dear Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) Members,

Thank you for your patience and diligence in communicating with us about the issues that concern you.

After posting our last update about the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) announcing a change to their Medicare Advantage provider from Humana to UnitedHealthcare (UHC), many of you have sent emails or called us about concerns you have with provider participation.

Many members from the Houston area have contacted us, and we have many requests to check on Houston Methodist hospital.

Below is a message from the TRS regarding Houston Methodist:

“We (TRS) work to ensure that our participants have access to a broad network of high-quality providers. UnitedHealthcare will offer a larger selection of providers for TRS-Care Medicare Advantage participants to choose from, and 99% of the providers that TRS-Care participants use the most are in the network.

We understand that retirees have questions about whether Houston Methodist Hospital will be in UHC’s network. We have confirmed with Houston Methodist Hospital will continue to see UHC Group Medicare Advantage participants, including TRS-Care Medicare Advantage participants.

In addition, TRS-Care Medicare Advantage participants will continue to be able to see any provider who accepts Medicare who is willing to bill United Healthcare.

UHC will have a provider search tool available online in advance of the change has committed to provider outreach and working closely with TRS and our members to ensure a smooth transition.”

This is the most current information TRTA has at this time.

TRS manages a very robust group Medicare Advantage program and generally has more ability to work with providers due to the size of the covered group. TRS also has the ability to establish provider guidelines.

In the meantime, if you have questions about large provider networks in your area, please feel free to email us at info@trta.org, and we will deliver those questions to TRS so they can work with UHC to know where the concerns may be.

In addition to the Houston Methodist group, we have also been asked about MD Anderson. As the days unfold, I know we will receive many provider questions, and we will gladly provide those inquiries to the TRS for their information.

We have also been asked about Silver Sneakers. TRTA will get information about this highly used, much loved program as soon as possible.

As a final note, TRS has reported that the premiums and benefits remain unchanged for the next plan year.

Some TRTA members have asked if the “savings” TRS reported will help reduce out-of-pocket expenses for health care participants. While we are pleased to learn that TRS hopes to save more through this procurement, there are many details that must be reviewed before we can predict how any savings may be applied to the program. This is all very new and we did not have a chance to hear any of the presentations the vendors made to TRS as they were reviewed by the TRS Board in closed session.

We are optimistic that TRS will be responsive to these concerns and we will do all we can to help answer these questions as quickly as possible.

Please know that your benefits are secure, as the change of providers is not set to go into effect until January 1, 2021.

Thank you for your membership and thank you for supporting the Texas Retired Teachers Association!

Tim Lee
Executive Director

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21 Feb 2020
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TRS Board Meets, Chooses New Health Care Providers

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) continued its board meeting today, Feb. 21, and the board made a decision on the health care providers for its Medicare Advantage, TRS-Care Standard and TRS-ActiveCare programs.

BlueCross BlueShield will provide service for TRS-Care Standard and TRS-ActiveCare. United Healthcare will provide service for Medicare Advantage. If you’re a retired educator under-65, your TRS-Care provider will be BlueCross BlueShield. If you’re a retired educators over-65, your Medicare Advantage provider will be United Healthcare.

The change to the new vendors for retirees takes place on Jan. 1, 2021! Active teachers will transition on Sept. 1, 2020.

TRS stated in the meeting that it has a “robust” communications campaign to let all retirees know about these changes. The communications include digital, print and in person conversations. TRS said that there are health care seminars for retirees coming in October.

TRS is committed to ensuring that the transition to the new carriers is smooth and announced that a robust communications campaign will follow this announcement. All of the benefits that retirees are currently receiving will remain the same, and the provider networks will be even broader. The premium costs will also remain the same. More information about the provider networks will be announced at a later time.

According to TRS, the changes to the new health care providers will save the system $754 million over the next three to five years.

“We’re dedicated to supporting our members, retirees and their families throughout the transitions,” says TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie. “In the coming months, our members can expect a robust communication campaign and will see the new websites and customer services lines open up. And, as always, our staff is ready to assist our members with questions they may have.”

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20 Feb 2020
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TRS Discusses Lease Agreement, Reverses Decision to Move into Indeed Tower

Executive Summary:

  • TRTA addressed TRS Board regarding extravagant Indeed Tower building lease.
  • TRS Trustees defended decision-making process that led to signing a lease at the Indeed Tower.
  • TRS decided to extend its lease at its current location, 816 Congress Avenue.
  • TRS reports it’s unable to break the lease at Indeed Tower and is still be liable for the space despite a renewal at 816 Congress Avenue.
  • TRS will have to sub-lease the space at Indeed Tower, fulfilling its 10-year obligation.

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees met today, Thursday, February 20, 2020 to discuss the agency’s recent decision to lease space in a downtown Austin luxury high-rise office building known as the “Indeed Tower.” TRS has come under fire for its decision to lease the Indeed Tower space for $326,000 per month.

After a lengthy presentation from key decision-makers, including TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie, the TRS board voted unanimously today to not move into the Indeed Tower. TRS will instead renew its lease at 816 Congress for seven years. TRS will lease additional space at 816 Congress to address its growing staff requirements. The state agency will sub-lease the Indeed Tower space. In total, TRS projects that it will save $9.1 million over the course of seven years, provided that the sub-lease is in place, by staying at 816 Congress.

Public comment was available at the start of the board meeting, and Texas Retired Teacher Association (TRTA) State President Patricia Macias provided public testimony.

“If all TRTA members were here today, they would tell you and everyone listening that we need a raise!” Macias said. “Last month, we read stories about TRS using our fund – our money – to pay for its ever-increasing administrative costs. These costs include not only the lease for lavish office space, but also increased bonuses and salaries for TRS employees. We’re not disparaging the need to provide the dedicated TRS staff pay increases. However, we know that the administrative costs are paid out of our fund—the same fund that TRS said cannot afford to provide retirees with a COLA. This is seen and felt as a double standard.”

The full statement is available here.

Earline Hopkins from the Katy Area Retired Educators (KARE) made a powerful testimony too. She explained how the luxury office building compares to the environments that Texas teachers work in.

“It hurts. We worked in portables,” Hopkins said. “Luxury isn’t in the vocabulary of an educators’ life.”

Hopkins also highlighted the pain that educators have been feeling from not receiving a cost-of-living increase. “It’s our money that you’re spending,” she said. “No amount of explaining is going to take away this hurt.”

The Lieutenant Governor shared the following statement with TRTA today:

“Aside from a parent, no one has more impact on the success of a child than a teacher and no group has played a larger role in building the intellectual capital and ingenuity of our state than our retired teachers. That’s why I have taken the lead in providing a secure retirement for our teachers including pension reforms in the last session that will make the retirement system actuarially sound going forward. We have ensured that Texas will not be mired in the pension debt that plagues other states. Since I have been Lt. Governor, we have invested over $1 billion dollars in TRS-Care. I am also particularly proud that we were able to add a thirteenth check for retired teachers in 2019. I spoke up when the TRS Board wanted to raise your health care premiums and I am standing with you now in protesting the outrageous rental costs recently proposed by TRS. I have issued an interim charge to the Senate Finance Committee and they will hold a hearing on this issue later this month.”

TRS Staff, Board Defends Decision to Lease Indeed Tower Office Space

Guthrie led the board in a discussion about long-term facilities planning. Guthrie explained that he has met with over one-third of Texas legislators regarding the decision about the Indeed Tower building lease. “We understand and take very seriously that we have a fiduciary responsibility to you, our members, and to the fund,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie then led the trustees through a timeline discussion explaining the agency’s long-term facilities needs, saying the investment division of TRS has been downtown since 2008 at its current 816 Congress location.

 

TRS staff and trustees provided the following rationale for selecting the Indeed Tower:

TRS Board Votes to Renew at 816 Congress, Will Sub-Lease Indeed Tower Space

TRS staff discussed what’s changed since the decision to lease space at the Indeed Tower was made in 2018. The staff emphasized that additional space wasn’t available at 816 Congress when the decision to move to the Indeed Tower was made.

The TRS board was presented with the following options:

TRS stated it does not have unilateral right to terminate the lease at the Indeed Tower and will essentially become landlords to whatever tenant or tenants sub-lease the space. TRS will still be liable for the lease fees whether a tenant for the space is found or not for the full lease term of 10 years.

TRS staff asked the Board of Trustees to adopt a resolution to negotiate a renewal and expansion of their lease space at 816 Congress, signing on for additional seven years once the current term ends in March 2021. The resolution includes TRS pursuing the subleasing of the space they have at the Indeed Tower. Trustee David Corpus made a motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by trustee Nanette Sissney. The motion was passed unanimously.

TRS Called to Testify to Texas Legislature

Now that the TRS Board of Trustees have made a decision to renew their lease at 816 Congress Avenue and sub-lease the space at the Indeed Tower, TRS will address the Texas Legislature.

TRTA is grateful for the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for making TRS a priority by having a Senate Finance Committee hearing next week. The meeting will be held at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, February 25 at 10:00 a.m. in Room E1.036.The House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee will also host a hearing on March 9, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. in Room E2.026. TRTA will provide more details about these scheduled meetings soon.

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