Yesterday, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) sent out a review of Option 5 of the ongoing TRS-Care retiree health insurance sustainability study being conducted by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS).

We have received an enormous response to our review of Option 5. First of all, THANK YOU for your responses. The hundreds of emails we have received should prove to any elected official that you are ready and willing to participate in this vital discussion! Your feedback enables TRTA to approach both TRS and the Texas Legislature with the information that is needed to make workable, reasonable solutions that will impact hundreds of thousands of retirees.

Please remember the information we shared at the beginning of this special TRTA series on TRS options for sustaining our retiree health care program are part of a study. These options are NOT part of any absolute plan that is being implemented.

Could these options be implemented? Yes. Will TRS make these decisions? Not likely. Will this TRS study guide a conversation on how to deal with these important issues? Yes. Will the Legislature be involved in this TRS-Care crisis before any option or plan is implemented? Yes!

Does TRTA and its membership have an opportunity to lead on this issue and make the outcome better? Absolutely!!! 

Ask yourself this one question and feel free to pose it to any other TRS retiree or future retiree you may know: Will the Legislature’s response be more favorable or less favorable to the TRS-Care crisis if we are not organized and TRTA does not play a part? We know the answer is that TRTA members MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

None of the study options are being implemented this year. TRS-Care is strong and solvent with no major benefit changes and no premium increases expected for this fiscal year that ends August 30, 2015. This should not lull us into a false sense of security. TRS-Care is in crisis, it has a projected $1 billion shortfall, and action will be necessary next session or the outcomes will be very difficult for all TRS-Care participants.

The actions taken during the next session WILL HAVE A DIRECT IMPACT ON THIS CRISIS. We believe our members deserve to know all the options that are being considered so that we can effectuate the most positive outcome possible. TRTA believes you deserve quality health care benefits at a reasonable cost. TRTA’s mission is to protect and improve your retirement security!

TRTA Members Respond to TRS-Care Option 5

As you read in yesterday’s Inside Line, in Option 5, the mandatory participation in the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D plans for Medicare-eligible TRS-Care participants includes a caveat that non-participation would provide the insured with TRS-Care 1 only. This option includes an appeal process, allowing participants to opt out if there is inadequate access to providers that accept Medicare Advantage plans.

The majority of responses received from our members indicated that Option 5 is unacceptable to them. While many of our members participate in the Medicare Advantage plan and have found that it works well for their medical needs and is accepted by their doctors, numerous others said that their doctors do not and will not accept the plan. Many live in rural areas where access to medical care is limited already.

TRTA believes that Aetna and TRS must work with the medical providers and promote the TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plan. As TRTA has reported on other occasions, not all Medicare Advantage plans are created equally. TRS and Aetna have developed one of the best, most comprehensive Medicare Advantage plans available compared to other products. It is a credit to TRS and Aetna that our Medicare Advantage plan is so much better than just about any other plan offered.

While we may know this and our members who participate in TRS Medicare Advantage will attest to it, TRS and Aetna must convince those skeptical doctors and providers who are holding out that our plan is better. Without the doctors and hospitals buying into the option, our members’ participation will be less than what TRS and Aetna predicted and hoped to see.

Some TRTA members expressed their willingness to try the Medicare Advantage plan, but would be at a loss for what to do if the plan did not work for them and their only option would be to use the catastrophic plan, TRS-Care 1. Many of our members who opted not to take the Medicare Advantage plan despite eligibility prefer and enjoy using TRS-Care 2 or 3. The idea that these plans would no longer be available to them is alarming. TRS-Care 1 does not provide the kind of coverage many of our members need, especially if their health concerns escalate.

TRTA is sharing your concerns with TRS. In yesterday’s article, we briefly mentioned the TRS Retiree Advisory Committee (RAC), which consists of retired members of TRS who participate in the retiree health insurance program. This committee of volunteers may create cost-benefit analyses and recommendations regarding TRS-Care, and may recommend related actions to the Board. The RAC does not support Option 5 and has asked that the option be removed from consideration.

Until the sustainability study is completed in September, TRTA does not know if this option will be on or off the table. However, we must be aware of every option that is being considered because the Texas Legislature is not required to abide by the results of the study. The more that our members know now, the more prepared we can be when we work with our legislators in 2015 to resolve the TRS-Care funding crisis.

Please know that TRTA will not advocate for any option that reduces access for TRS-Care participants or forces many to use a plan that ultimately provides them with little or no benefit personally.

TRTA does support efforts by TRS and Aetna to strengthen the current Medicare Advantage network and improve acceptance of its coverage by more physicians and medical providers. The plan works very well for some, but even those participants who enjoy its advantages realize that this is not a one size fits all program.

Thank You!

Thank you for being a member of TRTA. If you are not a member and would like to join, please contact our Membership Department at 1.800.880.1650.

Please continue reading the Inside Line over the next two weeks as we provide detailed updates about the remaining four options being studied by TRS to improve and sustain the TRS-Care health insurance program. Our next update is about Option 6: Defined contribution-Establish a Health Reimbursement Account (HRA) for non-Medicare retirees.

Share these articles with every retiree you know, as well as with active school personnel! Your input is important. Your membership and support are crucial.

If you are concerned about this situation, PLEASE contact your fellow TRS retirees and ask them to join TRTA. The louder our voice is, the better our ability to develop more positive outcomes for TRS retirees.

If you know any active school employees, let them know that TRTA is working to protect their retirement benefits and their future health care options. We encourage their active participation in a professional association that represents their core interests as an active school employee, but they may also consider joining TRTA as an associate member to help us fight to protect their future retirement security and health care options.

Thank you for all your help and support. Contact us at info@trta.org with your questions, thoughts, or concerns.