December 21, 2018

TRS Fix Teachers Retirement System


  • With retired teachers' health care at stake, legislators clash on fixes.

    The House and the Senate are figuring out whether they can compromise on exactly how to put $212 million into an underfunded health insurance program for retired teachers. Teachers say they'll take their frustration to the polls.

    When David Hatcher got a blood test at his oncologist's office two summers ago, the doctor spelled out his results decisively: “The bad news is you’ve got leukemia. The good news: It’s the kind we can treat with a pill.”

    A retired public school history teacher, Hatcher might soon be unable to afford the tablets that keep his chronic myeloid leukemia in check — his health care costs are set to rise, whether or not the Texas Legislature can agree in the next two weeks on a temporary fix for the retired teachers’ health insurance plan.

    "After working for 31 years for the state of Texas, being very successful at teaching kids and giving all my time to kids, I'm going to be rewarded ... with them taking basically 25 percent or more of my [monthly pension payment] from me just to pay health care," he said. "That to me is a travesty."
  • Governor, call a special session to fix teacher retirement system
    José Menéndez, For the Express-News Updated 11:29 am CST, Monday, February 19, 2018

    The Texas Federation of Teachers held a protest rally in front of the Stafford office of Congressman Tom DeLay in 2003, wanting a bill granting teachers full Social Security spousal and family benefits in addition to their Texas Teachers’ Retirement System benefits. That didn’t come true and now rising insurance premiums are eating into their TRS benefits.

    Educators in my district are honest, hardworking public servants who make financial sacrifices by choosing a career in education over high-paying private sector jobs for which they easily qualify. They make the choice to become educators because they believe in giving back, they love children, and they want to help strengthen our future.
  • As of Tuesday afternoon, the House and the Senate had each voted out bills that would put $212 million into the Teacher Retirement System to make the TRS-CARE health insurance more affordable for retired teachers over the next two years, lowering their deductibles and premiums. The one-time influx of money would temporarily bolster a state-run program that has been faltering for years, with the state keeping base funding stagnant despite the rising costs of health care.

    Legislators are considering a long list of education issues this special session — including school finance reform and "private school choice" — but many have said providing relief for these retirees is among the most pressing.

    The problem: The chambers want to take the $212 million from different places in the budget and so far have been unwilling to compromise during the July-August special session. The House wants to take millions from the state's savings, while the Senate wants to employ an accounting maneuver in another part of the budget and make up the difference later.
  • In exchange for their efforts in preparing our children, the state of Texas told its teachers they would receive a pension upon retirement that would provide quality, affordable health care coverage during the years following a lifetime of service.

    Texas has not honored that promise, and now the future for some 270,000 retired educators is in jeopardy. This past session we approved a bill providing only about 70 percent of what was needed to keep the Teacher Retirement System, or TRS, health program solvent. That pushed a shortfall projected to reach $400 million by 2021, according to the San Antonio Express-News, onto the backs of retired teachers.

    These retirees are now seeing astronomical increases in premiums and out-of-pocket costs right in the middle of a dangerous flu epidemic. To place this financial burden on the retired educators who believed the promise they were given by their employer and who are now struggling financially is unconscionable. Texas has broken the trust that retired teachers had in our system, and we must do what is necessary to restore that trust.
  • Another problem: For the retired teachers like Hatcher, who need insurance to cover expensive medicine, even $212 million isn't enough.

    And teachers say they'll take their anger with them to the polls for the March primaries.

    Legislators are considering the $212 million patch to fix a problem they created during the regular session. Back in the spring, they increased funding for TRS-CARE by $483 million over the next two years. But they also changed the structure of the program to dial back benefits, in order to keep the system running, leading to higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, especially for retired teachers younger than 65. Those changes go into effect in January 2018.

    "A lot of retirees knew those were coming, but a lot of them did not," said Brian Guthrie, executive director of the Teacher Retirement System, which broke the news to the teachers as the regular session concluded in May. Many were surprised to find out they would have fewer options and less extensive benefit packages.

    Hatcher, 63, found out in June that he would soon have to pay 10 times his current deductible before his insurance would pay any portion of his medical care costs. He might have to spend more than $600 on his leukemia medication each month, up from around $30 to $65. No fix the Legislature is seriously considering this month would significantly reduce the cost of his pills.
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