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18 Nov
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TRTA Member Alert: Legislative Study Group Releases Health Insurance Report, Retirees to Bear Burden of Growing TRS-Care Costs

Members! Click here to send an email to your Senator and Representative!

Special Comment from Tim Lee, TRTA Executive Director: 

Dear TRTA members, friends and supporters,

The information you will read below is TRTA’s first analysis of a Texas legislative report that is nearly seventeen months in the making. The information is bleak. The report suggests drastic, painful cuts to TRS-Care. The Texas Legislature will convene in January 2017, and this report will be the starting point for a discussion on how to address the TRS-Care funding shortfall.

TRTA is prepared to champion your interests on this vital health care program and what may come for TRS-Care in the future. It is important for every TRTA member to know, though, that your current TRS-Care health insurance benefits are secure. Your TRS-Care plan is funded on a two-year budget cycle, and the work we did last legislative session protects your plan today and through 2017.

While we have experienced some modifications to the TRS-Care plan that were implemented this past summer, your TRS-Care plan is one that you can count on and that is funded currently.

We say this because what you will read below is, unfortunately, not very encouraging. From time to time, TRTA members have questioned if they should even remain in TRS-Care. Someone may even read the report and consider leaving TRS-Care before the legislative session begins. This would be a rash decision and one that may have irrevocable consequences!

A decision to leave now is almost certainly the wrong decision to make. If you leave TRS-Care, the options available to return are extremely limited. TRTA recommends speaking to a TRS counselor on any decisions you may make about your retirement benefits.

We know the information in this legislative report is very concerning, even a little scary. TRTA has many friends in the Legislature, and we still have time to come together and work to find more reasonable solutions for TRS-Care.

Let’s all come together and do our best to educate our legislators about the need to improve funding for TRS-Care! Our response will not be measured by fear and misinformation, but by leadership, courage and the belief that when we come together and work in good faith, better solutions will be the outcome.

TRTA will keep you informed about every step taken to improve TRS-Care. Stay informed on this important issue by reading the Inside Line or following our social media.

I believe we can send a strong message to the Legislature when TRTA increases its membership from 80,000 to 100,000 or more! Let’s rally around the cause of protecting our health care program and be ready to fight for affordable health care for all retirees.

Sincerely,

Tim Lee, Executive Director, Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA)

TRTA Analysis of Interim Study Group Report

Members! Click here to send an email to your Senator and Representative!

The legislative study group tasked with analyzing TRS-Care, the health insurance program provided by Texas for retired teachers, released its highly anticipated report and recommendations for the program on November 17. Members can read the full text of the report by clicking here.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) appreciates the work of the members of the interim committee, as well as their diligence in releasing the report prior to January’s 85th Legislative Session.

TRTA has stated for years that TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare are in trouble, and this report confirms our belief. The report says “continuing to fund (TRS-Care) on a biennial basis is no longer feasible because costs continue to rise at an alarming rate.”

TRTA retirees are extremely grateful for the health care program provided by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The partnership between all involved parties is what has made this important benefit available for retirees. Unfortunately, this report’s primary recommendation is to put the burden of change, the impending $1.3 to $1.5 billion budget shortfall, on retirees.

While this conclusion is not a surprising one, it is disappointing. The two solutions presented in the study as potential options avoid the “share the pain” approach that has been utilized in the past to resolve funding deficiencies with the program, and ultimately shifts all of the burgeoning costs onto the backs of our public education retirees. Neither option would put more revenue into the program from any contributing group (the state, school districts, active employees) other than retirees. The report’s recommendations do not address the inadequacy of TRS-Care’s current funding mechanism.

In TRTA’s opinion, the options presented are not “fiscally responsible solutions to ensure long-term sustainability” as dictated by Senate Bill 1940 when the committee was established. Rather, the solutions presented would eliminate the TRS-Care program as we know it today!

The proposed plans would shift an additional $600 million in health costs for retirees in 2017. These additional costs would likely increase each year thereafter.

The report provides two options for the Legislature to consider: provide a $400 monthly stipend to non-Medicare eligible retirees to purchase health insurance, or create a high-deductible plan for non-Medicare eligible retirees. Each option would require all Medicare eligible participants, retirees who are 65 and older, to go into Medicare Advantage or choose another plan outside of TRS-Care.

OPTION 1: Health Reimbursement Account & Medicare Advantage Plan (“HRA Plan”)

Non-Medicare participants: Receive $400 per month in a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA). These participants would purchase health care via the federal exchange and would be prohibited from using TRS-Care plans until Medicare eligible.

Non-Medicare participant dependents: Unable to use TRS-Care plans until the retiree becomes Medicare eligible.

Medicare-eligible participants: Must use TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plus Medicare Part D for prescriptions, the only plan available through TRS, or utilize an option outside of TRS-Care.

Non-Medicare eligible dependents of Medicare eligible retirees: Eligible to enroll in the TRS-Care 2 plan.

Proposed effective date: January 1, 2018

Concerns:

  • This option assumes that the health care exchange will still be available in January 2018, an issue TRTA has concerns about.
  • A retiree-only HRA is not subject to the Affordable Care Act’s insurance market reform rules.
  • Though many TRS retirees who are Medicare eligible enjoy the Medicare Advantage plan, retirees in rural areas struggle with having adequate access to providers.
  • It is unclear from the report whether or not Medicare Part B only participants will be required to purchase Medicare Part A out-of-pocket, which would be an additional cost of approximately $400 per month.
  • The out-of-network maximums are not limited by federal law, meaning the maximums would be set by the TRS Board.

OPTION 2: High Deductible & Medicare Advantage Plan (“HD Plan”)

Non-Medicare participants: Eligible to enroll in a high deductible health care plan similar to TRS-Care 1. The plan would feature a $4,000 in-network deductible.

Non-Medicare participant dependents: Eligible to enroll in a high deductible health care plan similar to TRS-Care 1. The plan would feature a $4,000 in-network deductible.

Medicare-eligible participants: Must use TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plus Medicare Part D for prescriptions, the only plan available through TRS, or utilize an option outside of TRS-Care

Non-Medicare eligible dependents of Medicare eligible retirees: Eligible to enroll in the TRS-Care HD plan

Proposed effective date: January 1, 2018

Concerns:

  • A $4000 in-network deductible would be very difficult for retirees to afford, in addition to the maximum out-of-pocket limits.
  • Though many TRS retirees who are Medicare eligible enjoy the Medicare Advantage plan, retirees in rural areas struggle with having adequate access to providers.
  • It is unclear from the report whether or not Medicare Part B only participants will be required to purchase Medicare Part A out-of-pocket, which would be an additional cost of approximately $400 per month.
  • The out-of-network maximums are not limited by federal law, meaning the maximums would be set by the TRS Board.

IF NOTHING CHANGES AND RETIREES PAY FULL COST OF SHORTFALL

Below is the committee’s prediction of FY 2018 premium costs for retirees assuming no plan design changes and no increase in contributions from the state, school districts, or active school personnel. These amounts would increase year over year as medical costs continue to rise.

The Bottom Line

There is no silver bullet to resolve this issue. Our work with the Legislature in providing quality, affordable health insurance for our public education retirees is far from over.

Members, know this: while the options presented by the study group may cause you concern and are far from the solutions TRTA wanted to see, inevitably, TRS-Care faces a $1.3 to $1.5 billion shortfall by the end of the next biennium.

These may not be the options that pass, but drastic measures must be taken during the 85th Legislative Session! If the Legislature does nothing at all, retiree premiums would have to cover the entire $1.3 to $1.5 billion shortfall. This also means increased copayments, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses for all plan levels.

We have many friends in the Texas Legislature. We must work hard, together, with them, with a strong, unified voice to find the best solutions for your health care!

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We will continue to follow the progress on TRS-Care. TRTA will provide you many more opportunities to get involved as we protect your hard earned retirement benefits!

If you are not yet a member, we need you to help us protect your retirement security. Please join TRTA today!

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

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16 Nov
0

Making a Difference: TRTF Offers New Beginning Teacher Scholarships!

As our members may know, November has been designated by the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) Board of Directors as Foundation Month, a time to increase awareness of our charitable partner organization’s programs, good deeds, and plans for the future!

Just in time for Foundation Month, the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF) is pleased to announce its newest program, Beginning Teacher Scholarships!

Previously, TRTF offered scholarships for high school graduates seeking to study education and college students pursuing their degrees. Beginning Teacher Scholarships replace that program, and will be given to recent college graduates who need money to purchase classroom supplies and pay for teacher certification tests.

Ten scholarships will be provided in 2017. Each scholarship is worth $750! If you know of a soon-to-be or recent college graduate who will begin teaching for the first time in the fall of 2017, have them apply for the scholarship via this application. The deadline to submit applications is March 16, 2017.

Members can donate to the Foundation to support this program here.

The TRTF Board of Trustees spent their careers in public education, and now they are giving back to the community by volunteering their time. Unanimously, their advice for new teachers is simple: love what you do!

Elva Garcia worked as a home economics teacher for 35 years at San Diego High School in San Diego, Texas. Her inspiration to teach came from her home economics teacher.

“I loved her method of teaching,” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, on certain days of the week, we had an end product to either eat or to wear or whatever the case was.”

During Garcia’s time as a teacher, she learned the value of teaching with passion.

“I never wanted to be an administrator. I loved what I did. I loved my students,” she said. “When I retired, I missed them more than I missed my colleagues.”

Garcia’s best advice for new teachers is to be well-prepared and punctual.

“They need to arrive at school early enough to where the students can see that she cares. That she’s there before they’re there,” Garcia said.

Lynn Granzin worked 41 years in public education between San Angelo ISD, Lubbock ISD, Bronte ISD and Miles ISD. Her primary purpose was to teach math. She believes the new generation of teachers are under additional pressure to make sure students are receiving passing grades.

“The pressure comes from the state to begin with,” Granzin said. “Of course, then it trickles down to the superintendents and to the principals… Your schools have to pass in order for the school to be accepted.”

Carlos Ortiz serves as TRTF’s Vice-President. He worked in public education for 33 years as a math teacher, principal and associate superintendent at Alamo Heights High School and North Side ISD in San Antonio, Texas. His best advice for a beginning teachers is to master the subject.

“In your subject matter, whether it be English or math or elementary education, know the how and the why of teaching,” he said. “Know how to reach what that youngster has between his ears.”

Ortiz said the most important information a teacher needs to know is the student’s name. He describes it as “the sweetest sound” a student can hear.

Donate Today!

Foundation Month is when TRTF makes its annual call for donations. It is a time to give back to the education community and reflect on the great legacy of public education.

Thank you for your generous contributions to TRTF. So far, TRTF has raised over $33,000! TRTF will continue to improve the legacy of public education through its Beginning Teacher Scholarship program.

The future of Texas lies in the hands of educators, and with your support, we can make that future even better and brighter! Please help us reach our goal of $100,000 in donations by the end of 2016. Donate today!

You may donate to TRTF online here, or you may call and donate over the phone with a credit card at 1.800.880.1650 (please ask for Dawn).

The third quarter issue of The VOICE also featured a special article about the Foundation, along with TRTF’s annual appeal letter and donation card. You can mail in your donation using the pre-paid envelope included with your issue. All donations are tax-deductible.

Thank You

Thank you for considering the Foundation when you do your charitable giving this year. Your donations help educators of the past, present and future!

Be sure to follow TRTA on Twitterlike us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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16 Nov
0

TRS-Care Study Group Releases Its Interim Report, Changes Likely Imminent For TRS-Care

The TRS-Care Study Group released its report today on the TRS-Care shortfall in a 200-page report. The report features letters from legislators, recommendations on the future of TRS-Care and background information.

The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) will have a comprehensive overview for our members by tomorrow.

You can access the report here. The basis for the study group’s recommendations is the idea that no additional revenue will be available for TRS-Care. The recommendations suggest retirees will shoulder the increased costs associated with the $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

We will breakdown what these proposed options mean and how they may impact TRS-Care participants.

It is vital for TRTA members to understand that TRS-Care changes will not take place until next year. Your current benefits are safe. However, the Texas legislative session begins in January. TRS-Care’s future will be decided from January to June next year.

TRTA is prepared to work every day to protect your health care program. Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We need you more than ever as we face this difficult challenge!

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