25 Feb 2020

TRS Testifies Before Senate Finance Committee About Indeed Tower Lease

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) provided testimony today, Feb. 25, 2020, before the Senate Finance Committee. Among the topics discussed were the long-term facilities planning for TRS, including the recent decision made by the TRS Board of Trustees to continue leasing space at 816 Congress Avenue for its Investment Management Division (IMD) in lieu of moving into the Indeed Tower. The committee had already scheduled TRS to testify on a Senate interim charge relating to the agency’s investment responsibilities, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick added a discussion about the Indeed Tower lease to the Senate Finance Committee charge.

As TRTA reported last week, the space TRS reserved at the Indeed Tower, which is still under construction, will be sub-leased per the TRS Boards decision. The decision to back away from moving into Indeed Tower was influenced by a massive amount of public backlash, including more than 4,000 Facebook comments. The decision for TRS to stay and expand its current space, 816 Congress Ave., is projected to save $9.1 million.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie testified before the panel of legislators. Sen. Jane Nelson serves as the chairman for the Senate Finance Committee. She communicated that Senators were prohibited from going into detail about the Indeed Tower decision due to restrictions set by the State Attorney General. However, Nelson and her fellow Senators used the opportunity to question the decision-making process of TRS and the lack of oversight that the state has over the agency.

In particular, Nelson questioned why TRS found it necessary for its investment team to be in downtown Austin.

Guthrie said that housing the investment team in downtown Austin represents and opportunity to be closer to the action.” He said that the location represents a recruiting tool for talent, and he said that TRS is competing for talent with Wall Street and Chicago.

Nelson said that TRS made a good decision in not moving its team to the most expensive real estate in downtown.”

Guthrie said the TRS decision to keep its team downtown is a short-term, interim” plan. He added that TRS is considering moving out of downtown and establishing a different headquarters. Guthrie said that staying at 816 Congress was TRSs first choice, but originally, there wasnt enough available space to house the growing investment team.

Retired Texas educators received support from Senators during the meeting. Senators reported receiving a lot of feedback from educators, and the TRS decision reflected poorly on the Senators.

Sen. Charles Perry stated that he was surprised at how much lack of real oversight the legislators have over the TRS community.” Perry lamented that legislators didnt have jurisdiction to tell TRS how to spend administrative funds.

Guthrie said that TRS maintains a close partnership with the Legislature and listens to their direction.

Sen. John Whitmire expressed frustration about the lack of accountability that TRS is being held to.

Im getting a lot of questions from retired teachers. I dont have a lot of answers,” Whitmire said. He described TRSs Indeed Tower lease as a hell of a mess” and that it was a dumb decision.

Nelson echoed Whitmires sentiments, and she said that legislators had been flooded” with hand-written letters from retirees.

What were you thinking?” Nelson said. There are some very disheartened retired teachers.”

Each (legislator) now has to explain your severe bad judgement,” Whitmire said. It gets down to arrogance. Somebodys head ought to roll.”

Guthrie said that TRS made a mistake when we made a decision to sign the lease.” However, Guthrie said that the mistake wasnt a financially irresponsible decision. He said that the mistake was that by signing the lease, TRS couldnt release the information that shares the reasoning.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst that TRS had tarnished the good feeling that retired educators experienced from the 13thcheck. For all the good that we did last session, it was undone.”

Sen. Pete Flores said that TRS had lost its memberstrust with the lease. Theyre struggling to pay their bills and their prescription drugs… Basic trust is the most important of all.”

TRTAs Executive Director Tim Lee provided public testimony to the committee. Lee said that retired educators are badly in need of a COLA. When the TRS members saw the Indeed Tower lease paid for out of the pension fund, “it was shocking.”

In a written statement Lee said, “TRTA members did not want their retirement security dollars being used to pay for luxuries they themselves would never dream to have and did not think were necessary to increase the funds performance. It looked frivolous. And the idea of frivolous or unnecessary spending when our retirees are struggling to make ends meet is why that issue met so much resistance.”

He concluded with,“At TRTA, we believe a well-managed, strongly backed, transparent, TRS pension trust fund is a benefit to all Texans. We are all in this together, and I know that our partnerships will help ensure future decisions are handled differently. TRTA believes it is important to win the hearts and minds of the trust fund members before their dollars are spent.”


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22 Feb 2020

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, 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

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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