Comptroller: Retired Texas teachers’ health care premiums could triple this year

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Published 6:10 pm, Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Texas Legislature is mired in the budget process, which comes with its own special angst.

But what really has retired Texas teachers on edge is talk about impending increases in their health insurance premiums.

The subject, of course, is closely related to the state budget, so retirees’ concerns may not be quickly assuaged. And the looming crisis did not develop overnight.

Last week, State Comptroller Glenn Hagar laid out the problem in a special edition of his periodic newsletter, Fiscal Notes. Mincing no words, Hagar flat-out states that retired teachers’ premiums could triple, starting Sept. 1.

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In a footnote, Hagar attributes the information to testimony March 30, 2016, from Tim Lee, executive director of Texas Retired Teachers Association before the Texas Joint Committee to study TRS Health Benefit Plans.”TRS” refers to Teacher Retirement System.

TRS-Care is a self-funded program, established in 1985, to provide health care benefits for Texas public school retirees, according to Fiscal Notes. As of Aug. 31, the program covered about 261,500 retirees, dependents and surviving spouses, the newsletter states.

“TRS-Care faces a large and growing shortfall,” Hagar states in the newsletter’s special edition. “In the absence of supplemental appropriations or changes to the plan’s design, retiree premiums could triple starting on Sept. 1, 2017.”

Whether it comes to that remains to be seen, with a few legislative proposals under discussion.

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The $106.3 billion budget approved unanimously by the Texas Senate on Tuesday included $316 million to stabilize the Teachers Retirement Fund.

The 2015 Legislature created the Joint Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans, which presented some proposals in a November report. The proposals include:

 – Health reimbursement accounts that would provide pre-Medicare retirees with $400 a month to purchase health insurance or pay for medical expenses.

– High deductible of $4,000 for in-network expenses for pre-Medicare retirees, with an estimated cost of $430 monthly for a retiree-only plan.

 – Medicare Advantage plan would be the only one available to Medicare-eligible retirees through TRS-Care. These retirees would be expected to enroll in Medicare Advantage and Medicare Part D for prescription drug benefits.

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