14 Jul

Action Alert: Contact Governor Abbott and Ask that TRS-Care Funding Be a Priority During the Special Session!

UPDATE at 2:55 p.m. July 14, 2017: TRTA has received information from the Governor’s office that the call for special session is sufficient to include addressing TRS issues. We are now asking you to contact the Governor’s office and ask that TRS-Care funding be made a priority during the special session!

This has been a busy week for public education retirees in Texas. With multiple proposals on the table, Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) retirees are grateful to know so many state leaders and legislators are looking for ways to improve funding for the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program.

Members of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) know that House Bill 3976 may have saved the TRS-Care program from complete collapse, but that does not take the sting out of how those changes will impact retirement security for hundreds of thousands of TRS retirees.

Earlier this week, State Representative Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) rolled out two bills for the special session. One bill, HB 76, would authorize TRS to provide a cost-of-living increase for all TRS retirees who did not receive a COLA in 2013 when the Legislature authorized the first pension increase for retirees since 2001. TRS annuitants retired as of August 31, 2004 or before received that raise. Anyone who retired after that date did not.

Representative Darby also filed a bill, HB 80, to move $100 million more into TRS-Care for the coming biennium. This was welcome news as retired educators started sensing the special session may provide a real opportunity for legislators to improve upon the changes made to TRS-Care that go into effect January 1, 2018.

On Wednesday, July 12 more than 800 retired and active school employees rallied in Longview to send a message to legislators as they prepare for special session: We need better from our elected officials!

Yesterday, July 13, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick laid out an aggressive legislative agenda that included additional funding for TRS-Care and bonuses for TRS retirees. Patrick also released a video message for retired teachers via his Facebook page.

Today, July 14, State Representative Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) filed a bill, HB 151, to move $1 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) (the Rainy Day Fund) to TRS-Care. This bill is designed to provide $250 million in additional support to the program every year for the next four years, and cannot be used to offset the normal contributions to TRS-Care from the Legislature.

Representative Gooden is a strong supporter of retired and active educators and has worked closely with TRTA over the years. His bill incorporates ideas from his constituents as well as proposals TRTA has suggested, and will vastly improve the program if passed. Representative Gooden’s letter to Governor Abbott can be found here.

While all the proposals vary in their impact on TRS-Care, we can be sure of at least two things: many elected officials want to help TRS retirees, and if the House and Senate do not agree on at least one of these proposals, retirees will lose out on a great opportunity to improve the program.

TRS-Care would reap huge benefits if the Legislature pre-funded TRS-Care with $1 billion from the ESF as proposed by Representative Gooden. Gooden’s bill would nearly double the state’s contribution. With those extra dollars, TRS retirees could see reduced deductibles, improved benefits, and a far less burdensome hit for doctor visits or medication.

However, use of the Rainy Day Fund is no simple task. Approval of using funds from the ESF requires a two-thirds majority of members in both chambers. Many in the Legislature did not want to use the state’s saving account for anything less than a dire emergency. Many TRS retirees have said the TRS-Care crisis is such an emergency.

Representative Gooden’s bill also calls on TRS to keep the Legislature more informed about the status of TRS-Care, as well as program cost drivers and medical trend data. Representative Gooden has said he does not want the Legislature to be kept in the dark about TRS-Care’s money woes, and that retirees should not have to fear losing their benefits and beg to keep their preferred doctor.

The Lieutenant Governor also suggested retirees need help with growing TRS-Care costs. His proposal includes the use of additional revenue to help TRS retirees with disability dependents, as well as lowering prescription costs for pre-65 retirees and dependent costs for retirees age 65 and over.

Offering an idea to dedicate revenue from the proceeds of lotto sales, Lieutenant Governor Patrick wants to provide retired and active school employees with an annual longevity bonus. This is an interesting proposal, as it provides a way for retirees with 20 or more years of service to receive some much-needed financial help. This approach would not increase the TRS pension fund unfunded liability, and would not be subject to the law that prohibits TRS from providing a pension increase or supplemental payment if the fund is not actuarially sound.

Whether the House and Senate can agree to adopt this proposal without detracting from school funding is still to be determined. However, TRTA is encouraged to see alternative ideas being proposed to help retirees who are in desperate need of an increase in their income.

First Things First

TRS-Care proposals will be useless unless Governor Abbott adds TRS-Care to the call for this special session. Retirees cannot afford to have legislative gridlock on this important issue!

TRTA members are fearful that their healthcare is going to be unaffordable, or that their doctor will refuse to accept their insurance after changes are implemented next year. These concerns cannot be assuaged by words and promises. Retired educators need more than promises. We need bold action and we need it now!

TRTA commends Representatives Lance Gooden and Drew Darby for proposing their initiatives. We are also grateful to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick for his focus on TRS issues this special session.

Retired educators know that it will take bold action, bipartisan cooperation, and all elected officials working together to achieve these goals. It is far too easy to offer great ideas and let politics-as-usual kill them, leaving retirees with a handful of promises and no real financial relief.

Retired educators have all eyes focused on this special session. Merit can be found in all of these proposals. A billion dollars would provide serious financial relief for the next two biennia if Representative Gooden’s bill is adopted. Retirees in need of real financial help would welcome a dedicated funding source for a longevity bonus paid every March as proposed by the Lieutenant Governor.

Now is the time to work together on these ideas. Allowing them to die on the altar of good intentions will not sit well with retired educators. In fact, it may be the surest way to inflame them even more.

Our TRTA call to action is simple! Please click here to send an email to Governor Abbott asking him to add TRS-Care to the call this special sessionTRTA enjoys a good relationship with the Governor, and we hope he will consider this issue and add it to the call. Without a place to start, these ideas are doomed to going nowhere!

If and when TRS-Care funding is added to the call for special session, TRTA will do all we can to work with state leaders and legislators to help our dedicated public education retirees!

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA! TRTA has more than 82,000 members, but there are more than 320,000 TRS retirees. That means hundreds of thousands of TRS retirees are not involved in the largest retiree organization advocating for their TRS benefits. To improve funding for TRS-Care, we need as many retirees as possible to join TRTA and stand with us!

It is vital that you join TRTA today! If you already are a member, please ask your fellow retirees to join. Many retirees are still unaware of the impending TRS-Care changes! Let’s all work together to improve retirement benefits for current and future retirees.

Be sure to connect with us via FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

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11 Jul

Rallies Planned and Bills Filed: TRTA Readies for Special Session

The Texas Retired Teachers Association’s (TRTA) members have been communicating with fellow retirees, active teachers and their legislators back home since the 85thLegislative Session concluded on Memorial Day.

Many public education retirees in Texas are understandably concerned about how their fixed monthly income will support the impending changes to the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program. As our members may recall, TRS-Care faced a $1 billion shortfall this session. Without legislative action, this shortfall would have fallen entirely on the backs of retirees, causing premiums to spike to an estimated $1,200 to $1,500 per month.

Instead, House Bill 3976 was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott. This bill, though not a perfect solution to a program that continues to experience financial crises, was a necessary step as we move forward in keeping TRS-Care alive. Without its passage, TRS-Care would have closed within one to two years, leaving Texas educators without access to a health care option through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS).

However, the expected deductibles for the under age 65 group may put many retirees at risk for financial insolvency or force them to choose to between health care and daily staples needed to live.

Likewise, the lack of prescription drug coverage for the under age 65 group will make drugs unaffordable for many retirees. We have also heard concerns that the spousal and dependent costs for the over age 65 age group are untenable.

TRTA has heard from thousands of members across the state through Facebook, emails and phone calls. We hear your concerns and we want you to know that our work is not done!

The Texas Legislature begins a special session called for by the Governor on July 18. TRTA fully intends to ask Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus to increase funding for TRS-Care.

As TRTA continues working with legislators this week, please know an action alert will be released soon and we will be asking for participation from all of our members! We need all TRTA members—and any friends and active school personnel you know—to rally to the cause and ensure our collective voice is heard! While we are grateful that TRS-Care is no longer on a path to complete and total collapse, retirees simply cannot bear a significant financial burden to keep the program alive.

Rallies Planned at Texas Capitol and More

Many TRTA members, friends, and active educators are participating in or planning rallies throughout the state to ask for more support for TRS-Care and other education issues. We encourage our members to participate in these events and reach out to your Senators and Representatives and invite them to attend as well.

Here are some events TRTA is participating in or sponsoring over the next couple of weeks. If possible, make a plan to attend! (Click on the links to learn more about each event)

Bills Filed for Special Session

TRTA has been communicating with several legislators since session ended, and bills already have been filed to address retiree issues for the coming special session. TRTA anticipates that more bills will be filed after the July 18 start date.

Representative Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) has filed two bills:

HB 76
Relating to a supplemental appropriation for Teacher Retirement System of Texas retiree health.

HB 80
Relating to a cost-of-living adjustment applicable to certain benefits paid by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

TRTA will keep members informed as the special session progresses!

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. If you are not yet a member of TRTA, please join today.

Be sure to connect with us via FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

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29 Jun

ew TRTATV Episode: TRTA Interviews Top TRS Officials

Tim Lee, the Executive Director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), hosted a new episode of TRTATV yesterday. Originally, the episode was scheduled to appear on Facebook Live, but due to audio technical issues, the video could not be broadcast live.

Nonetheless, the episode has been recorded with the Executive Director of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) Brian Guthrie and the Katrina Daniel, the TRS Chief Health Care Officer.

Guthrie and Daniel both stressed the importance of contacting TRS with any questions regarding changes to TRS-Care. TRS has drastically expanded its efforts in communicating about TRS-Care benefits.

TRS has launched a new website for members to learn about the health care program. Additionally, TRS has a hotline to call for any questions: 1-888-237-6762. Members can also contact Humana, the health care administrator to whom TRS has bid out the contract to manage TRS-Care, at this help line: 1-800-320-9566.

TRS is also scheduling meetings all across the state to ensure TRS-Care participants are informed about the changes made during the legislative session. When announced, TRTA will compile the list and post it.

TRS is also expected to announce a full list of “general maintenance” prescription drugs that will be covered under the health care plan for pre-65 retirees. Please remember, all of these changes go in to effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Special Message From Tim Lee

Many legislators are hearing from TRTA members and other TRS retirees about how painful the changes to the TRS-Care program will really be once they go into effect January 2018. Let’s just call it like it is, retirees are not happy.

While TRTA’s legislative team communicated this sentiment all session and many of our friends in the Legislature knew these were not easy options to vote on, legislators are getting a much clearer view of how the TRS-Care changes will put a tremendous financial strain on TRS retirees.

TRTA members know that the options we had to support this legislative session are best summed up as kept TRS-Care alive through some additional revenue, but deep cuts to TRS-Care benefits and increased premiums were also going to be made, or oppose any changes and watch TRS-Care enter death spiral and see it fall completely apart leaving retired school employees with extremely limited access to health care options.

TRTA supported the option to keep TRS-Care alive and to continue to fight for more funding for this critical program.

Now that elected officials have been home and are preparing to return to Austin for a special session, TRTA members want to know if anything else can be done to improve this situation before the program changes go into effect. While a special session is on the horizon, it seems the options are limited to help retirees. Limited, though, is not impossible and we urge our members to contact your elected officials BEFORE the special session starts on July 18, 2017.

The best way to make a difference is to call your legislators’ offices, both your House member and Senate member, and let them know that these changes are putting a tremendous financial burden on your fellow retirees and you. Let them know that there are many retirees who are unable to afford the new TRS-Care plan. Say it in a nice, but firm way, and ask them how they intend to make this better. Use the legislator hotline (1-888-674-3788) to contact your legislators’ offices today.

TRTA encourages members to communicate with their elected officials about the heartfelt factual presentation of reality. Legislators need to hear that when TRTA and retirees supported the TRS-Care solution in the regular session, it was to keep the program alive and ensure retirees access to healthcare, but more could have been done with more state financial support to TRS-Care.

Our health care plan needs more money, and legislators have to appropriate those dollars or retirees are stuck with the bills. But we can’t afford the cost of nonstop medical inflation. Something has to be done, and cutting retirees’ benefits is not the answer. The more legislators hear this message, the more they will prioritize your needs.

Thank You

Thank you for your membership to TRTA. If you are not yet a member of TRTA, please join today.

Be sure to connect with us via FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

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