The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) and Aetna announced earlier this week several meeting locations for their Medicare Advantage seminars. Many TRTA members quickly contacted TRS and Aetna to make a reservation to attend one of these sessions.

Others have not been as fortunate. Many TRTA members have contacted us about not having meeting locations in their vicinity. In fact, some TRTA districts do not have any meetings scheduled in their area.

We are communicating your concerns directly to TRS. Many of you are making suggestions about locations where you would like to see these meetings scheduled.

TRS released the following statement:

“While working with TRS, Aetna assessed where the majority of the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage eligible participants live and then tried to design a schedule that would accommodate the vast majority of participants, so that as many participants as possible could attend a workshop in person.

Aetna will also be having conference calls for those participants who cannot make it to one of the scheduled workshops, and provide them with the same information & opportunity to have any question or concern answered.

Finally, after the first round of workshops, Aetna will continue to work with TRS to identify opportunities to deliver additional similar educational & informational sessions for participants as needed.

We may not be able to conduct a face to face workshop in every desired location, but we can certainly do some outreach or set-up an alternative plan such as a conference call.

Aetna will be responding to questions about alternate Medicare Advantage workshop locations just the same.”

We know that TRS and Aetna want to meet with as many TRS-Care participants as possible. Their goal is to answer your questions and provide you with the information you need to know about the new TRS-Care Medicare Advantage options.

TRTA will continue to work closely with TRS and identify additional locations. If and when new meeting locations are announced, we will update you through the TRTA Inside Line.

In addition, TRTA leaders and staff will attend meetings and report back to you through the Inside Line with answers to frequently asked questions.

As TRS indicates in their announcement above, there are also conference calls and webcasts that you may participate in to learn more about Medicare Advantage.

We also know that many of our TRTA members who live out of state have questions about the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plan. We will work with TRS to answer your questions as well.

TRTA is encouraging TRS and Aetna to expand their meeting locations and total number of seminars. This is a challenging task, but TRTA believes that a change of this magnitude warrants as much direct, personal communication as possible.

Update from NCSL

As TRTA reported earlier this week, state legislators from all over the United States met in Chicago to discuss the many issues facing state governments. TRTA Board members and staff attended this national conference.

One issue gaining much attention at NCSL is public pension reform. This is a hot button issue in many states, and NCSL attendees received updates from states working on reforming their public pension plans.

Here are some of the key observations that TRTA leaders made at this week’s meeting:

  • Texas statewide pension plans, such as the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the Employees Retirement System of Texas, are not viewed by many to be “in crisis;”
  • Texas TRS is a well-funded, well-managed pension plan;
  • Only the most extreme advocates for drastic change to the TRS defined benefit plan may categorize public education retiree benefits as overly generous;
  • States making changes to their retirement plans, for the most part, have not made good funding or benefit decisions for many years, exacerbating the funding shortfalls these retirement plans are now experiencing;
  • Legislators around the country are struggling with the idea of making changes to their retirement plans, knowing that these changes may lead to higher costs for the taxpayer or a new class of seniors retiring into poverty;
  • This may be even more likely in states that are not coordinated with Social Security (like Texas);
  • Legislators in many other states are predicating their policy position on traditional retirement plans on the premise that younger workers do not want a pension plan;
  • TRS Texas provides a great value to all Texans with some of the lowest pension costs in the country, as well as one of the best-funded pension plans.

“The fact is that there are problems around the country when it comes to preparing for retirement,” said Maridell Fryar, TRTA State President. “Whether it is the state that has a public pension plan that is now underfunded due to decades of bad decisions by that state’s legislature, or the private sector model of defined contribution plans and personal accounts that are woefully underfunded, there are serious concerns about how this country will deal with older workers who are reaching retirement. The work now must be focused on improving these retirement options on a state-by-state basis; but in Texas, we must work to protect what we have,” said Fryar. “Texas TRS is working, it is well-funded, and it is a success. We can continue to make modest improvements in the years to come and ensure our public educators that they will receive their pension,” she concluded.

Many Texas legislators attending the conference talked to TRTA about protecting the TRS defined benefit plan. “There is still strong support for the TRS defined benefit plan in the Texas Legislature,” said Bill Barnes, TRTA State Legislative Committee Coordinator. “Unfortunately, our Texas legislators are hearing about changes in other states, and the groups and individuals pushing for reform elsewhere also are pushing hard to reform Texas TRS. We must work to protect Texas TRS and its benefit programs—both the pension plan and the health care benefit,” said Barnes.

TRTA is leading the effort to protect TRS retirement benefits. We know that you are working with us in this effort. The fight is intensifying, and we need your help to maintain these much needed programs.

TRTA will provide additional commentary on the NCSL meeting in upcoming publications.

Thank You

TRTA is so grateful for your support and membership. Retired and active public education employees must remain strong and united in the effort to preserve their retirement benefits. If you are not a member and would like to join, please contact our office at 1.800.880.1650.