Our healthcare coverage just got a whole lot more expensive

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—I dread the biennium. Texas teachers know that when the Texas Legislature is in session, it is almost always bad news for us. A lot of it! For those of us who have retired, the biennium signals what I call the TRS-Care-Scare, threatening the healthcare we were promised when the Teacher Retirement System was created. This biennium, the TRS-Care-Scare has become our reality.

The TRS-Care proposal that is sitting on the governor’s desk as I write this column makes me angry. Really angry! I retired four years ago after taking the cost for my TRS-Care (the health insurance for retired Texas educators) into account, both the premium and the deductible. Although I knew the impact the $295-per-month premium would have on my pension, in addition to my $62.62 monthly premium for dental and vision insurance, I felt confident I could budget my money in a way to afford this $357.62 chunk. But then the 85th Texas Legislature went into session.

Forgive me if I’m not feeling loads of gratitude to our legislators for saving the day and preventing TRS-Care from going totally bust. It’s difficult to feel grateful when my healthcare deductible will rise from $400 to $3000. It’s difficult to feel grateful when my monthly premium will go from $295 per month to $370 over the next four years. It’s difficult to feel gratitude when that $75-per-month increase still does not include dental and vision insurance.

Meanwhile, ERS retirees are still sitting pretty. Remember: Texas has two separate retirement systems. One, ERS, is for all other state employees AND our state legislators. While my premium will rise to $370 over the next four years, do you know what ERS retirees pay? Zero dollars and zero cents. How is that even possible? How is ERS funded in a way that allows their retirees to have free healthcare insurance while those of us who worked for years in the public education system in our state get a $2600 increase in our deductible and a $75-per-month rise in our premium over the next four years?

Why hasn’t there been more media coverage about this? In fact, other than in this column, I haven’t seen any of the Valley media cover this situation, this inequity, at all. Why?

I recently read online that some retired teachers make as little as $24,000 a year, while retired custodians make $12,000. Keep in mind that everyone who worked in the public education system in Texas is under TRS. All of us will see these significant increases in our healthcare costs. (If a person worked for both the public education system and for the state outside the public education system, that person can choose to retire under TRS or ERS. Of course, the choice will be ERS because their benefits are far greater.)

I forgot to mention in previous columns on this topic that the Texas Legislature has only given a Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) once since 2001. Once.

Fellow TRS retirees, here are a few more things you need to know:

1. Whereas our deductible is normally reset each year in September, our current plan will run until December 31, and our new $3,000 deductible will go into effect in January.

2. All retirees 65 and over will move into Medicare Advantage. Your monthly premium is expected to be $146 and your projected deductible is $500.

3. If under-65 TRS retirees decide to get out of TRS-Care for another healthcare plan, you will not be able to rejoin TRS-Care until you reach 65.

4. If 65-and-over retirees choose to leave TRS-Care, you are not allowed to rejoin later.

5. Originally, the 85th Legislature planned to have both medical care and prescriptions under the $3000 deductible rather than having separate prescription drug coverage. In the plan on Gov. Abbott’s desk, $20 million has been added for generic standard maintenance drugs, though no list has been provided yet as to which drugs.

6. For those of us under age 65, our Maximum-Out-of-Pocket (MOOP) will go from the current $4900 to the new MOOP of $7150. (As I write, my anger is increasing.)

7. For more information on what’s coming for TRS-Care, visit the Texas Retired Teachers’ Association website at trta.org or visit the TRTA Facebook page. You certainly won’t find it in Valley media coverage.

Yes, I am grateful to have healthcare coverage. But oh how I wish retired educators in Texas had healthcare as good as our legislators’.

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.