08 Nov

TRTA Member ALERT: Medicare Part B Premiums to Rise in 2017!

Click here to send an email to your Congressman and help TRTA keep your premiums from increasing!

Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) may have heard that premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and other outpatient care, are projected to rise in January 2017.

Our members may recall that last year, due to there being no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security beneficiaries, premiums were estimated to increase by 50 percent for 2016 for about 30 percent of Medicare Part B participants. That situation was rectified, in part, by a one-time infusion of funds from Congress in the amount of $7.5 billion. Premiums still increased for many participants from the standard $104.90 monthly rate to $121.80 in 2016, however.

This year, things are somewhat different. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced a COLA for its beneficiaries of 0.3 percent, effective January 2017. But like last year, the concept of “hold harmless” will once again place the burden of the majority of the projected Medicare Part B increase on just 30 percent of participants.

Right now, this could mean that Medicare Part B premiums could increase by 20 percent or more for those who are not held harmless! This will impact many of our members!

Why is this Happening and What is “Hold Harmless?”

Social Security recipients who are on Medicare must, according to law, have their Part B premiums withheld from their monthly Social Security payments. (This is true for the majority of Medicare Part B participants, but not for those who do not receive Social Security at all. Many public pensioners, including Texas retired public education employees, pay for Medicare Part B out-of-pocket).

The “hold harmless” provision is a rule that Social Security benefits cannot decline for beneficiaries from one year to the next. (This applies to married couples earning less than $170,000 modified adjusted gross income or individuals earning less than $85,000).

In most years in the month of October, Social Security announces a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the following year for beneficiaries. When a COLA is announced, Medicare can boost Part B premiums, resulting in more money being deducted from people’s COLA-adjusted monthly Social Security benefits, essentially preventing the loss of income brought on by the premium increase.

The “hold harmless” rule means that most people who have their Medicare Part B premiums deducted from their SS checks are protected: their Medicare charges can’t increase by any more than their Social Security income goes up. For those 70 percent of beneficiaries, their Medicare Part B premium will rise only as much as 0.3 percent in 2017, but it will be covered by their SS raise.

Unfortunately, the projected increases in Medicare Part B expenses for 2017 are so high that Medicare does not expect to be able to absorb the extra costs. By law, Medicare must collect about 25 percent of Part B expenses from beneficiaries. Because Medicare cannot collect those funds from the 70 percent of beneficiaries who are held harmless, it must collect the 25 percent ratio from beneficiaries who are not held harmless.

Who is Not Held Harmless?

Those not held harmless from this projected increase in Medicare B premiums are:

  • New enrollees to Medicare in 2017;
  • People with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI) above $85,000 ($170,000 on joint tax returns);
  • Those who pay their Medicare Part B premiums out-of-pocket, either because they haven’t yet begun receiving Social Security benefits or will never receive Social Security benefits.

Ninety-five percent of Texas public school employees do not pay into the federal Social Security program! This means potentially hundreds of thousands of TRS Texas retirees could be impacted by this premium increase! (People with low incomes who have their premiums paid by their state are also not held harmless, but this means state budgets would take the financial hit).

How Much Could Medicare Part B Premiums Increase?

Right now, we do not know the exact answer to this question. As mentioned earlier, right now Medicare Part B premiums for those who are not held harmless may increase by 20 percent or more as of January 2017.

An example provided by Money magazine states that “people who aren’t receiving Social Security and who pay $121.80 a month for Medicare now may have to pay $149 a month, up 22 percent.”

Much of this decision will depend upon Congress and their plans to address this unfair increase. Last year, Congress chose to defray part of the cost.

Congress returns to session shortly after the election ends.

What Can Be Done?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is not able to fix this issue on its own, and must rely upon Congress to take action.

This potential premium increase affects public sector retirees disproportionately!Much like the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), it is unfair.

Now is the time for our members to reach out to their Congressional members and tell them that Texas public education retirees should not have to subsidize the premiums of the other 70 percent of Medicare Part B enrollees across the nation!

Legislation must be filed and passed this year to prevent exorbitant Medicare Part B premium increases for people who do not receive Social Security!

We need your help reaching out to your Texas Congressional members today.

Click here to send an email to your Congressman now!

Thank You

Protecting your health care benefits is TRTA’s top priority, and your participation can make all of the difference. Be sure to stay tuned to our other digital mediums to keep informed on all the latest news and updates. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Read More
04 Nov

Congressman Brady Talks HR 711, WEP with Retirees

On Thursday, November 3, members, officers and personnel of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), including Executive Director Tim Lee, joined Congressman Kevin Brady for a conference call regarding his bill, H.R. 711, the Equal Protection for Public Servants Act.

Congressman Brady discussed his efforts to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and provided an update about the current status of this important piece of legislation. Brady’s bill, which he co-authored with Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, would replace the current WEP formula with a new, fairer one.

Though the bill was scheduled to be heard by the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee in July, a committee chaired by Congressman Brady, the bill instead was postponed until agreement from affected public servant advocacy groups could be found.

During the call, Brady reminded listeners that this is the farthest a bill pertaining to WEP repeal has gone in the legislative process since this unfair provision was passed thirty years ago.

Brady also emphasized that agreement among the coalition members—advocacy groups representing firefighters, police, teachers, public workers and retirees across the nation—is the final hurdle that must be crossed before the bill can once again move forward.

“It is critical to have a strong, unified coalition or there will be no chance to move this bill,” Congressman Brady said.

Texas is the state most dramatically affected by the WEP, according to Congressman Brady. “I have worked on for more than a decade,” he stated. “I am committed to it.”

Brady also said that he doesn’t want to wait until all of Social Security is overhauled to make changes that will benefit both current and future retirees.

While the process has not been easy for retirees or for Congressman Brady and his staff, he says he has not and will not give up hope. “We are so close to getting (HR 711) put together,” he said.

At this point, it is possible that movement on the bill may not resume until 2017 when a new Congress is seated. However, Brady stressed the need for retired and active police officers, firefighters and teachers to share their examples of how they are hurt by the WEP.

Please, if you have not done so already, share your story about the WEP has harmed you and ask your friends, family members and colleagues in other states who are impacted to share their stories as well. Your stories really help!

Send your story to today!

Your stories help to convince lawmakers in other states not impacted by the WEP why it’s such a bad provision and why it needs to be fixed in a bipartisan way.

Members, please be sure to share this Inside Line with any active educators you know! Their retirement security will be impacted by the WEP as well! We need their support to help the bill move forward and to find a common sense solution to the problem.

Brady’s office continues to work daily to get data from the Social Security Administration as to what retirees are affected and how they would be affected by the passage of HR 711.

Let’s work just as hard and help Congressman Brady by spreading the news about the negative impacts of the WEP and by sharing our stories!

Thank You

We would like to thank our members, our national coalition partners and all those who have made phone calls and sent letters on this issue. We will ask for your help again in the very near future, and we appreciate your patience and continued support.

TRTA especially thanks Chairman Brady for his tireless work on the bill, as well as Congressman Neal for his steadfast support and passionate plea for all groups to come together in agreement.

TRTA will continue to provide national leadership and help others come to the table on this critical issue. Please be sure to follow us on FacebookTwitter and YouTube for all the latest legislative news.

If you are not already a member of TRTA, please join today. Only by working together will we be able to resolve the WEP. If you are already a member, please encourage your fellow retirees to join and renew.

TRTA is ready to get to work on finding agreement with advocacy groups across the country, and will do so tirelessly until our members and public service retirees across the nation receive financial relief!

Read More
01 Nov

Texas Educators Come Together to Get Out the Vote

Early voting continues in Texas this week through Friday, November 4. We know many members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) have made it to the polls already, and many more will cast their votes soon.

Election day is next Tuesday, November 8, but we recommend that all members avoid those longer lines and vote early!

TRTA is proud to partner with Texas Educators Vote, and we encourage all retired and active educators to take the oath to vote! We also encourage our retired members to volunteer at polling locations, or even at their local schools.

Together, we can help create a civic-minded environment on every school campus with a focus on getting all educators to vote!

Many TRTA members are volunteering on school campuses this week and next so that our friends in the active educator community can take time out of their busy schedules to get to the polls. Our retirees also serve as great advocates for first-time student voters, explaining the voting process to them and letting them know that every vote matters.

Austin’s NPR station, KUT, published a great article today about how educators, both retired and active, across the state are coming together to get out the vote! Texas Educators Vote is a coalition of education groups working together to build strength in numbers.

“The idea,” according to Texas Educators Vote Executive Director Laura Yeager, “is to educate teachers and hope that education trickles down to students and other school employees.”

Read the article in its entirety by clicking here.

If you are a retiree who wants to help out on a school campus this week, please contact TRTA Administrative Coordinator Brock Gregg or visit the Texas Educators Vote website to learn more. You can also follow Texas Educators Vote on Twitter or Facebook.

Locating Early Voting Sites

You will be able to find early voting locations by using the search site Am I Registered?, which will be populated with voting sites a few days before early voting begins. Or, you may want to contact the Early Voting Clerk for State and County Elections in your county. Also, many newspapers publish early voting and Election Day polling locations, so you may be able to find the information there.

Local unit leaders, activate your phone trees and remind your members about early voting schedules. Check with members who you think may need a ride to the polling location and offer to start a carpool on an early voting day!

Who to Vote For

Elections determine policy outcomes. They are the biggest factor in determining what happens during the Texas Legislative Session. We must elect officials who see the value in not only the TRS defined benefit plan, but our other valuable retirement benefits as well!

The Senators and Representatives who are elected during this cycle will have the enormous responsibility of deciding the future of TRS-Care. If nothing is done during the next Legislative Session to protect TRS-Care, participants in the program could see massive premium increases or changes in benefits, or both!

Many statewide races may have been decided during the March primaries, but there are still several competitive races on the ballot. Click on the links below to review Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives races.

Click here to find Texas State Senate races.

Click here to find Texas State House of Representatives races.

Take some time now to visit your legislators in their district offices and contact any candidates to share this TRTA Fact Sheet with them. Ask them for their support of initiatives that provide our education retirees and pre-retirees with financial security and affordable, quality health care!

Still not sure who to vote for? Below are some resources TRTA recommends to help you conduct research on candidates. We also encourage you to visit a TRTA local unitand ask your fellow retirees who they are voting for and why!

Teach the Vote
Texas Educators Vote
Texas Teachers Vote
Texas Parent PAC
Texas League of Women Voters
Texas Tribune

Thank You

Thank you for being a member of TRTA! If you are not a member and are interested in joining, please contact our Membership Department at 1.800.880.1650.

Protecting your retirement benefits is one of TRTA’s top priorities, and your participation makes all the difference! Be sure to stay tuned to our other digital mediums to stay informed on all the latest news and updates. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Read More