The Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) has heard from many members lately regarding changes to the TRS-Care retiree health insurance plan, as well as changes in monthly annuity amounts and IRS implications for tax returns. Below are some answers to the most frequently asked questions TRTA has received.

Annuity Letters

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) announced last week that all TRS members whose annuity amount will change this year due to new health care deductions will receive a letter by the end of January 2018 stating the new annuity amount and the amount deducted for health insurance.

Another letter will arrive in February reflecting changes in withholding amounts for federal taxes recently disseminated by the federal government. TRS has a dedicated phone line for questions specifically about these letters: 877.570.4192. Additional information about the two letters can be found online by clicking this link.

TRS-Care Grace Period

TRS is offering a grace period for TRS-Care participants who terminated health plan coverage but want to return to TRS-Care. Although the rule has been and remains that the decision to leave TRS-Care may only be reversed in certain limited, special enrollment events like marriage or birth, TRS has offered to allow members who were enrolled in 2017 and decided to leave the program a one-time chance to return.

In order to utilize this grace period, you must fill out an application and send it to TRS before February 28, 2018. Details are listed on the TRS website at this link.

Leaving TRS-Care

Medicare-eligible retirees are still under a special enrollment period with regard to guaranteed issue status and Medicare supplement (Medigap) policies. If you are a Medicare recipient and you were not enrolled in the 2017 Humana Medicare-Advantage tier two option (identical coverage as the current plan), you still have the option to enroll in a plan outside of TRS-Care under guaranteed issue status.

Guaranteed Issue Status means that you cannot be denied coverage in certain Medigap plans because of health problems because you lost your health care coverage through no fault of your own. This special enrollment period (SEP) applies only to 2017 TRS-Care Medicare-eligible enrollees who were not enrolled in the Humana plan mentioned above, and is available until March 4, 2018. Click here to view the TRS webpage with additional information.

Primary Election Update

We are less than a month away from the beginning of early voting in the Primary Election! Early voting begins on February 20, 2018 and continues through March 2. You must be registered to vote by February 5 in order to cast your ballot for this election. Please encourage all retired and active educators you know to verify their registration and be ready to cast their vote during early voting!

In Texas, the Primary Election is significant because more than 90 percent of the candidates who win their primary go on to win in the November General Election. Texas also is an open primary state. A registered voter does not have to choose a political party primary when registering. Voters are free to vote in either primary, and many people vote based on where their vote will count the most.

This option is a great freedom for Texans! Unfortunately, not many Texans take advantage of voting in any Primary Election, and by waiting until November, voters may give up the opportunity to affect the final outcome. This occurs because of the partisan make-up of the state and the way legislative districts are configured.

An excerpt from a Texas Educators Vote illustrates the point:

In the 2014 March Gubernatorial elections, 9.98 percent of registered voters voted in the Republican primary and 4.12 percent of registered voters voted in the Democratic primary. Those percentages aren’t even of eligible voters, but rather registered voters! The turnout among eligible voters is even lower! When it came time for the primary run-off elections in May, a mere 5.53 percent of registered voters participated in the Republican primary, and 1.48 percent of registered voters participated in the Democratic primary.”

With over 1 million active and retired educators in Texas, we have a fantastic opportunity to make our voice heard and push that low voter turnout percentage in a positive direction! Please make a plan to vote in the Primary Election and do your best to convince your active and retired colleagues to do the same. Let’s make a positive difference for Texas public educators!

Stay tuned for the first quarter issue of The VOICE, which will arrive in your mailbox in mid-February. This issue contains detailed information about the importance of voting and how to choose candidates who will support our priorities.