19 Aug

Details Start to Come Into Focus for Upcoming TRS-Care Changes

Starting Sept. 1, TRS-Care participants will begin paying increased deductibles and out-of-pocket limits. These changes were approved by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) to the health care program in a June 16 Board meeting.

TRS-Care serves more than 250,000 retired educators, but its funding has been at a critically low level. Without the assurance that the health care plan would remain solvent through Aug. 2017, the TRS Board of Trustees made changes to save TRS-Care money.

TRS began detailing these changes to members in its recently released August newsletter. The changes to deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums are the first of several changes, which are projected to save the program close to $40 million.

Starting Jan. 1, 2017, the prescription drug plan for Medicare eligible participants will be the Express Scripts Medicare Part D plan. Additionally, a $10 convenience fee will be charged to members after the first fill for maintenance drugs dispensed at retail pharmacies.

Another significant change occurring in January will be a switch to Humana for all Medicare Advantage plans through TRS-Care. To find out if your provider accepts to Humana, please call 1-800-320-9566. The 2017 benefits and premiums for Medicare Advantage plans will stay the same as they were in 2016.

TRS also briefly discussed some of these changes in the latest edition of TRS Today.

These changes are the first of many that could occur for TRS-Care unless it receives a significant funding overhaul from the Texas Legislature in 2017. TRS-Care is expected to face a $1.5 billion funding shortfall, and the only way the program can continue to provide affordable, quality health care services is from a commitment by the Texas Legislature to its retired state educators.

TRTA needs your help to ensure the future of this vital health care program. For many participants, increasing health care costs are a life and death issue.

How you can help:

  1. Encourage your friends, family and co-workers to join and renew with TRTA.
  2. Attend TRTA local unit meetings.
  3. Establish a relationship with your Texas Legislators, and be prepared to vote in the General Election.
  4. Stay alert to TRTA Inside Line updates, and be ready for calls to action.
  5. Read our issues of The VOICE.

Thank You

Thank you for your support of TRTA. We are committed to getting you all the information you need to know about changes to TRS-Care, and we are prepared to fight for your benefits in the Texas Capitol!

Be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

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29 Jul

TRS Board of Trustees Talks Budget, Plans for TRS-Care

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Board of Trustees met today, July 29, to discuss TRS-Care and budget requests that will be made to the Texas Legislature later this summer.

TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee provided impassioned public comment, approaching the trustees with heartfelt concern about the looming TRS-Care budget crisis.

Lee stressed that the participants in the retiree health insurance program pay $1.4 billion in revenue to sustain the program annually (35 percent of the program’s total revenue), while the state pays $300 million and school districts pay $150 million per year approximately. The health care plan covers 260,000 lives, and provides a vital, quality retirement benefit.

Lee also expressed that TRTA members are concerned about the $40 million in changes to TRS-Care that were approved by the TRS Board of Trustees during their June meeting. TRS is still working to enact those changes and develop a frequently asked questions list. In the meantime, our members may learn more about these changes by clicking here. Those changes will go into effect this September.

Lee communicated a deep desire for legislators, stakeholders and TRS to come to the table as quickly as possible to address the TRS-Care crisis.

A joint select committee on TRS-Care was established at the end of the 84th Legislative Session. The legislative members named to this group are: Senators Joan Huffman (R-Houston) – Co-Chair, Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), and Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls); and Representatives Dan Flynn (R-Canton) – Co-Chair, Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), and Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio).

On March 30, the committee held its first hearing to discuss TRS-Care, which TRTA reviewed in the Inside Line. During the meeting, each legislator was divided on how to approach the conversation of solving the TRS-Care crisis.

Though no additional public meetings of the select committee have been held yet, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie reassured all those listening that the committee members have been requesting information and “vetting and re-vetting” the potential solutions presented by Mr. Guthrie at the March 30 meeting.

While TRTA and other stakeholder groups do not know what direction the legislative study group intends to take at this time, the study group plans to present a comprehensive report on what they deem a correct course of action, and legislation will likely be filed that provides wide-ranging authority to the TRS Board of Trustees to make changes based on legislative direction. As Tim Lee stated, “we want to solve problems, that’s what we do, we work together.”

The TRS Board of Trustees and Executive Director Guthrie have your best interests as your fiduciaries at heart. Chairman David Kelly remarked, “we understand the crisis . . . and empathize with what TRTA members are going through.”

While progress on resolving the funding issues with TRS-Care may seem slow at times, please know that there are many groups—and many caring people—who are working on TRS-Care every day. TRTA’s visits to the Texas Capitol are not restricted to the 140-day session; in fact, we are visiting legislators and their staff members every week, asking for their support of your top priorities: affordable, quality health care, and protection of your TRS defined benefit plan.

What can TRTA members do to protect their vital health care benefits?

Please encourage others to join TRTA. Our membership exceeds 81,000, but there are more than 260,000 people in TRS-Care! If all 260,000 participants united with TRTA, we would stand a much better chance at funding this program adequately now and in the future.

TRTA members must recognize that the battle for health care funding will be very difficult. We have many friends in the Texas Legislature, but many are saying that fewer dollars will be available. TRTA is a successful advocacy organization because we find ways to work with our elected officials and make good things happen.

It takes hard work and a consistent effort to tell our story. It takes dedicated members willing to call and email their elected officials and let them know our TRS-Care program is in dire circumstances.

The struggle for more funding for the TRS-Care plan is underway already. The Texas Legislature must take a comprehensive look at how they fund this vital retiree health care program.

The changes made to TRS-Care in June may be viewed as a modest reduction in benefits for retirees; however, if the Legislature does not act to deal with this health care crisis, TRS-Care plan design and premium increases may make the plan unrecognizable compared to how we know it today.

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. We will continue to follow the progress on TRS-Care, and provide you many more opportunities to get involved! 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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20 Jul

TRTA Legislative Committee Meets, Solidifies Plans for 85th Texas Legislature

The Texas Retired Teachers Association’s Legislative Committee held meetings throughout July 18-19 to discuss the 2017 Texas Legislature. The committee is comprised of 21 members from the various TRTA districts.

It is the responsibility of the state Legislative Committee to communicate with their local unit counterparts to ensure a cohesive, well-organized lobbying effort throughout the interim and during the legislative session.

The Legislative Committee from left to right:
(Back row) Dr. Wayne Berryman, Paul Pearson, Dr. Charles Thompson, Jerry Pybus,
Billy Jack Rankin, Roger Huber, Dannie Hefner, Rueben Saenz, Terry Allen, Dr. James Warner,
Kenneth Hanson, Gayle Watkins, Charles Starcke. (Not pictured: Wayne Byrd)
(Front row) Paula Miller, Genoveva Castillo, Jack Teddlie, Bill Barnes,
Dr. Mary Widmier, Tonna Duke, Dr. Carole Ann Buchanan.

Many of the committee discussions centered on the issue of TRS-Care. TRS-Care is the health care program provided to nearly 250,000 retired educators by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The preservation of TRS-Care is paramount to the livelihoods of retired educators, and its funding system is in need of an overhaul.

During the 84th legislative session, TRS-Care required $768 million to remain solvent for the biennium. For 2017, that number could jump to $1.6 billion. Even as the funding for TRS-Care has come, the health care program has experienced significant changes to its benefits structure.

The TRTA legislative committee has made it a priority to communicate with legislators both before and during session about the best solutions to preserve the program, and to provide key resources to help the legislators make the best decisions.

The committee meeting also featured presentations from TRTA’s Pensions Consultant, Ronnie Jung, and TRTA’s Legislative Consultant, Vicki Truitt. Truitt’s presentation touched on the importance of the November elections and the preservation of the TRS Defined Benefit plan.

Josh McGee, the Vice-President of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is serving as the Chairman of the Pension Review Board. McGee is an out-spoken advocate for replacing defined benefit plans, such as the one provided by TRS.

Meanwhile, Jung detailed history of TRS-Care and how the health care program’s current operating budget is not in line with rising health care costs. Since the Legislature first created TRS-Care, the program has received funding from a pay-as-you-go strategy. Jung explained that the only way to ensure TRS-Care’s future is for the Texas Legislature to pre-fund the program.

While pre-funding TRS-Care is the most initially expensive option for the Legislature to consider, its long-term benefits would be enormous, as it would provide safety and security for retired educators’ health benefits. According to TRS estimates, the Legislature would need to invest $2.7 billion into TRS-Care during the 2018-19 biennium and $2.8 billion during the 2020-21 biennium to pre-fund TRS Care.

Additionally, the committee focused on federal lobbying to reform the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO). Recently, H.R. 711, a bill designed to reform the WEP and put money back into retirees’ pockets, suffered a major setback. TRTA and the legislative committee are determined to get the bill back on track and help the retirees who have been unfairly penalized since 1983.

Thank You

TRTA’s Legislative Committee is committed to providing consistent, clear communication with Texas legislators. You can find more information about the committee here. You can read the committee’s resource guide here and the training guide here.

Please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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