Part IX

As summer comes to an end, so does this series. And speaking of coming to an end, I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see a legislative session come to an end as I am to see this one do so. The 85th Legislature, or to be more specific, the 85th Texas Senate (with a few exceptions), has not been kind to public school employees or to public education. Thank God for the Texas House!

So where do we stand now? As I write this column, retired teachers’ and other public school employees’ financial and healthcare fate lies in the hands of the House and the Senate and their ability to come to an agreement before the end of the Special Session. Although there are other public-school-employee-saving bills being considered in the House, the one that seems to be gaining the most traction is HB 20, co-authored by Rep. Trent Ashby, Rep. Drew Darby, Rep. Gary VanDeaver, Rep. John Zerwas, and Rep. Donna Howard. The Senate’s solution is SB19, co-authored by Sen. Jane Nelson and Sen. Joan Huffman.

On two issues, they agree:

1. Both houses want to reduce the TRS-Care (healthcare for retired public school employees) deductible for non-Medicare-eligible retiree/family, beginning January 1, 2018, from the $3000/$6000 they raised it to during the Regular Session to $1500/$3000. (Our current deductible is $400. The deductible for all other retired “state” employees and legislators is $0.)

2. Both houses also want to reduce the premium for retirees with adult children who are disabled by $200 per month because of the hardship they imposed during the Regular Session.

These are the differences between SB19 and HB20 as the Texas Legislature attempts to undo a bit of the damage they created during the Regular Session through HB3976:

1. SB19 reduces the Maximum Out-of-Pocket for non-Medicare-eligible retiree/family from $6550/$13,300 to $3000/$6000. HB20 reduces the MOP to $5650/$11300 (My current MOP is $4900.)

2. SB 19 reduces premiums for Medicare retirees by $25.

3. HB20 reduces the premiums for the spouse of both a non-Medicare and a Medicare retiree by $100.

4. HB20 reduces the premium for the covered children of both retiree groups by $25, which results in a reduction of $125 for retiree and family.

Neither SB19 nor HB20 attempts to undo the damage they have done to our prescription drug plan. Now, for non-Medicare-eligible retirees, there will be a list of generic “maintenance” drugs that will be covered at 100 percent. (No list has been provided yet.) All other drugs will be covered at 80 percent but not until the deductible has been met. We will pay 100 percent of our prescriptions (no co-pay) until we reach the deductible.

Probably the most significant difference between the Senate bill and the House bill is how they plan to pay for the proposed changes, which amounts to roughly $213 million. The Senate wants to delay payments to Medicaid managed-care organizations during the next biennium to fund SB19, while the House wants to take the money from the Economic Stabilization Fund (aka Rainy Day Fund) to fund HB20. The Senate has repeatedly said they won’t even consider taking their umbrellas out for this. The ESF is projected to be $10.25 billion by the end of the 2017 fiscal year, $10.39 billion by the end of FY18, and $11.34 billion by the end of FY19.

We should know by the end of this 30-day Special Session, which began July 18, what the verdict is. I hope the two houses can come to an agreement. As bad as the agreement might be, living with the curse of HB3976 could cripple many a Texas retired public school employee.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com.