Blog

29 Oct
0

TRTA Members Push Congress to Act on Medicare B Premium Hike

Phone calls from Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) members have pushed Congress towards a Medicare Part B compromise. As we reported two weeks ago, Medicare Part B premiums are set to increase next year for retirees whose premiums are not automatically deducted from their Social Security benefit payments.

The originally proposed premium increase would affect approximately 30 percent of Medicare Part B recipients, including retired educators who are impacted by the Government Pension Offset (GPO) or the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) but who do not receive enough Social Security income to have their Medicare Part B premiums automatically deducted.

Also included in the proposed premium increase are retirees who receive no Social Security income due to GPO and WEP, those who will be enrolling in Medicare Part B next year for the first time and those who have higher incomes and are charged higher premiums. The other 70 percent of Social Security recipients with Medicare Part B are held harmless from this premium hike because there is no increase projected for Social Security this year.

TRTA members rallied together on this issue, arguing that the premium increase was unfair and required immediate congressional intervention.

Congress’s proposed compromise includes reducing the premium increase to 17 percent. The original premium increase would have been 52 percent. In terms of dollars, most retirees affected by this increase would pay $120 per month for Medicare Part B (with an additional $3 per month “surcharge”) instead of the proposed $159.30 per month.

This budget deal passed the House and is off to the Senate for consideration.

TRTA still contends that no Medicare B premium increase should impact one group of retirees over another, and we are still working with our members of the Texas congressional delegation to see if more can be done to reduce the impact of this proposed increase. For now, TRTA members can feel assured that their voice is being heard, and that TRTA is working diligently to help you with this important matter.

Thank you for your tireless support and ongoing effort to get results. TRTA believes that our members are the most dedicated, organized, and active advocates in Texas and in Washington, D.C.! Please let your friends and fellow TRS retirees know that TRTA is getting results, and that we will continue to make a difference if we all rally together and stay involved in our great organization.

We will keep you posted on this important matter as it progresses through the Congressional process.

Thank You

Protecting your health care benefits is one of TRTA’s top priorities, and your participation makes all of 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
28 Oct
0

Planting the Seeds: TRTF Classroom Assistance Grants in Action

Randy Mayer has spent 15 years teaching; but in his three years with Hays ISD, he’s found an uncommon amount of support for his non-traditional methods.

Mayer teaches students with special needs at an alternative school in Buda, Texas. He is a master gardener who has been craving the opportunity to educate students through the medium of horticulture.

Thanks to the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF), his wish is finally starting to come true. TRTF provided Mayer a $500 classroom assistance grant in March. The grant has allowed Mayer to start a botanical greenhouse, wherein he teaches his students with multiple disabilities practical life principles.

“It’s really cool to see the passion in their eyes,” said Mayer, “and the passion would have never even been explored if we didn’t have the greenhouse.”

Hays ISD matched TRTF’s grant, so Mayer was given $1,000 to build his greenhouse. Mayer used the money to purchase ultra-violet sheeting, shovels, gloves and wheelbarrows. Mayer said he doesn’t want a lot of “bells and whistles.” He is focused on providing an education the students can take home.

“What we will do is keep everything organic and everything simplified, so that these students can take what they’ve learned here and duplicate it in their own backyard,” Mayer said.

Once the plants have come to fruition, Mayer sends them home with his students. Mayer’s program focuses on vegetables such as tomatoes, squash and beans.

“They see it from a seed package to their own dinner table,” Mayer said. “Delayed gratification happens over four to five months when you’re gardening, and it teaches so many different skills.”

Mayer already is starting to see results, as one of his senior students was able to complete the program and is on his way to graduating high school.

“I can’t thank the Foundation enough,” said Mayer. “To see the passion in these kids is all it would take for anybody to donate to your organization.”

TRTF delivered 15 $500 classroom assistance grants in 2015, and the organization hopes to match that amount next year, too. You can submit a donation online here or call 1.800.880.1650 to donate over the phone. Members of TRTA also received a donation card and envelope in their third quarter issue of The VOICE, which can be used to submit donations by mail.

Help celebrate TRTF’s Foundation Month by donating to its four charitable programs: Classroom Assistance Grants, Student Scholarships, “A Helping Hand,” and the Legacy Campaign.

Thank You

Thank you for all that you do to support the Texas Retired Teachers Foundation and the many teachers, students, and retirees whose lives are changed every day by your generosity! Since 2008, TRTF has given over $200,000 to educators of the past, present and future. You can donate to TRTF here or visit www.trtf.org to learn more.

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
23 Oct
0

TRS Hosts Town Hall Meeting, Discusses Future of TRS-Care

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) held a Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, October 22 to discuss the health care programs administered by the agency, including the TRS-Care retiree insurance program.

This meeting was just the first step in finding solutions to the program’s funding instability. Though we won one battle in securing additional funding for TRS-Care in 2015, the war is far from over!

TRS-Care’s projected 2018 funding shortfall is more than $700 million. This figure will grow to an astounding $1.7 billion by FY 2019 if nothing is done to protect the program and its participants!

The interim between now and the 2017 Texas Legislative Session will have a huge impact on proposed program solutions. Your participation in the various meetings and hearings that will occur is vital!

Now is the time for our members to get involved and be as vocal as possible! YOUR VOICE MATTERS. In fact, your voice matters more than any other voice in this process!

The decisions that are made between now and 85th Texas Legislature will affect your benefits, premiums and financial security.

We encourage you and your fellow retirees, as well as pre-retirees, to keep reading and sharing the Inside Line and to participate in meetings either in person or online when they occur!

Meeting Overview

Meeting attendees and online viewers were able to listen to various panels about the health care environment, strategies for cost containment and consumerism, as well as panels dedicated specifically to TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare.

Questions submitted by both live and online audience members were answered. While not all questions could be answered during the meeting, TRS will provide answers to all submissions on their website in the coming days. TRTA will be sure to provide this information when it becomes available.

During the panel “What is Driving Health Cost Growth and What Can You (or Anyone) Do About it?,” presenter Len M. Nichols, Ph.D. of George Mason University discussed why health reform was passed and the factors that continue to impact health care costs.

Nichols said that the fraction of family income designated for health care premiums has risen from 10 percent to 17.5 percent since the 1990s and continues to rise. In fact, health care costs are growing faster than anything else in the U.S. economy. Drugs and the administration/net cost of insurance have gone up significantly, as has utilization. Nichols reported that, in general, deductibles have risen 67 percent and premiums 24 percent, while workers’ incomes have increased by only 10 percent since 2010.

A panel discussion on strategies for cost containment in health care included Carl King (Aetna), David Ellis, M.D. (United Health Care), Dan McCoy, M.D. (Blue Cross Blue Shield), Glen Stettin, M.D. (Express Scripts), and Jane F. Barlow, M.D. (Caremark). The panel responded to questions posed by the TRS Board of Trustees about methods that may help control health care costs and what their respective companies are doing to achieve cost savings.

TRS-Care Panel Discussion

During the panel discussion on TRS-Care, panelists discussed the program’s history and structure, financial status, past recommendations for sustainability, and current strategies for cost containment, such as consumer outreach. The panelists were Bill Hickman, Eric St. Pierre, and Amy Cohen of Gabriel, Roeder, Smith and Co; and Katrina Daniel, Edward Esquivel and Yimei Zhao of TRS.

TRS-Care’s enrollment is expected to grow from its current 251,758 participants to 259,578 by 2016.

TRS-Care received more than $2 billion in revenue by multiple funding sources in 2015. Contributions from active employees, school districts and the state are based on active employee payroll, not medical trends.

Revenue sources for TRS-Care for 2015

Active employee contributions: 9.6%

District contributions: 8.6%

Retiree contributions: 18.6%

State contributions: 14.8%

Federal contributions: 9.8%

Supplemental contributions from the state: 38.4% (this is the $768 million approved by the Texas Legislature in House Bill 2)

TRS-Care Projected Shortfall Numbers

Although the state’s FY 2015 supplemental funding was intended to prevent any TRS-Care budget shortfalls through FY 2017, it is possible for a shortfall to be created by rising pharmacy costs. Those rising costs could generate an $81 million budget shortfall.

As of this fall, projected shortfalls to the program are as follows: FY 2018 – $738 million, FY 2019 – $1.7 billion and FY 2020 – $2.9 billion. The TRS Town Hall meeting and Texas Legislature’s interim health care committee are charged with finding a solution to either prevent or reduce these shortfalls.

What is Being Done?

Two sustainability studies have been completed on TRS-Care by TRS on ways to maintain the program for the long-term, including one in 2014. TRTA did a thorough review of the most recent study options in 2014.

During the interim, a Texas Legislature interim committee will undertake a study of both TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare. This committee is not yet fully formed, as we await the appointment of Texas State Senators. House members were appointed just recently: Representative Dan Flynn, Co-Chair; Representative Trent Ashby; and Representative Justin Rodriguez.

These members have all developed a strong relationship with the Texas school employee retirees in their districts. Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van) is well-known by many of our TRTA members, as he is presently serving as the Texas House Pensions Committee Chairman. He also attended the TRTA 62nd Annual Convention this past April and provided considerable insight into the 84th Texas Legislative Session.

Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) served as the House Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman on Education. Representative Ashby was instrumental in helping TRS-Care receive the $768 million to protect TRS retirees’ health care premiums this last session. We also were fortunate to see Representative Ashby at the TRTA Annual Convention in April, and we look forward to working with him on this committee.

Representative Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) is a member of the Texas House Pensions Committee and has a great working relationship with the TRTA local units in his district. As a member of the House Pensions Committee, Representative Rodriguez has met numerous times with TRTA to discuss pension and health care issues.

Once established, this committee will examine the financial soundness of TRS-Care, assess the plan’s cost and affordability, and evaluate the sufficiency of access to physicians and health care providers.

TRS-Care Cost Drivers

Increases in medical and RX costs, increased utilization due to an aging population and the development of new biogenetic drugs are the primary cost drivers for not only for TRS-Care, but also health insurance programs across the nation. Particularly for TRS-Care, the increase in usage by non-Medicare eligible retirees is a concern. Medicare eligible participants have the majority of their insurance costs covered by Medicare, with TRS-Care as their secondary payer. For non-Medicare participants, TRS-Care is the primary payer.

Cost Containment Efforts

The introduction of Medicare Advantage has enabled TRS-Care to achieve cost savings. Through August 2015, Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D have save TRS-Care $400 million. The Medicare Part D plan alone will help TRS-Care save $157 million between now and the end of FY 2017. Cost containment efforts will continue to be reviewed by the interim committee.

TRTA Testimony

Today, Tom Rogers, an Austin RTA member and longtime supporter of retired school employees, provided powerful, factual and thought-provoking testimony with specific recommendations to make health care affordable and accessible for TRS retirees.

Rogers encouraged the trustees to work the Texas Legislature Interim TRS-Care Study Committee to provide retirees with a program that has “financial soundness, affordability, sufficiency of access to physicians and health care providers and sustainability of the plan.”

Rogers emphasized that the best solution considered in the TRS-Care Sustainability Study is pre-funding, saying that “in general pre-funding facilitates economic planning and efficiency in operation” and “takes the guess work out of budgeting.”

Although this option would “require a boom period in the state’s history to get it started,” Rogers says the state currently has the financial resources available to accomplish pre-funding and secure the long-term solvency of TRS-Care now.

Pre-funding TRS-Care would help not only retirees, but also help the education profession attract career-minded teachers to the state. Pre-retirees should also be concerned about the longevity of TRS-Care, as many will utilize TRS-Care as their primary or secondary health insurance program upon retirement.

TRTA Executive Director Tim Lee participated in a panel of association executives to provide stakeholder testimony. He was joined by representatives from the Texas Classroom Teachers Association (TCTA), Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), Texas American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA), and Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA).

Lee spoke about how we will go into another legislative session in 2017 with many of the same problems we faced in 2015. While TRTA and its members are very grateful for the $768 million supplemental appropriation to TRS-Care, now is the time to address long-term solutions for the plan.

Something must be done differently this time in order to achieve an outcome more favorable to long-term solvency. Lee encouraged stakeholder groups, TRS and the Legislature to come together throughout the interim to work on viable solutions with a goal of achieving quality health care with reasonable benefits at an affordable cost.

School employees and retirees are amazing planners and problem-solvers. Your participation in the legislative interim committee study is important. The Legislature will be seeking ideas from the people impacted by their decisions.

The decisions that are made between now and the 85th Texas Legislature will affect retirees’ and future retirees’ benefits, premiums and financial security.

TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie and Board Chairman David Kelley thanked the panel members for their participation and commended them for coming together to help solve the health care issues facing both active and retired teachers.

Thank You!

Your support helped us receive $768 million towards TRS-Care during the 84th Texas Legislative Session, but there is still more work to be done. Protecting TRS-Care is one of TRTA’s top priorities, and your help 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