New bill affects teachers who retire before turning 65

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - A bill signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last week affects teachers who retire before 65-years-old.

Now they will no longer get the same health care plan they were promised. Premiums and deductibles are going up and one local woman says teachers are not being warned how drastically it's about to change.

“I just never believed they would do this to the teachers. To the teachers,” Nancy Rilling said.

Rilling, 63, loves to take things slow, since she retired from teaching due to chronic back pain but said, “It would have been worth suffering to stay working even with the pain.”

Starting in January 2018, a new law changes health care costs for retired Texas teachers under 65, like Rilling who covers herself, her husband and her adult child, with the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) health care plan.

“My in network are increasing 130 percent, doubling, and my out of network 361 percent, so that's over tripling,” Rilling said, “Really my entire pension is going towards health care costs and that’s before we even get sick!”

Lawmakers said retired teachers under 65 are costing the system the most money because they are not eligible for Medicare and the TRS plan is spiraling toward empty.

“There will still be a shortfall,” sponsor of the bill, Texas Sen. Joan Huffman, said. “By treating under 65 a little differently, the bill also provides under 65 - you are free to leave and come back for Medicare when you reach 65.”

Huffman sponsored the bill that increases the deductible to $3,000.

The average retired teacher receives about $24,000 per year.

Rilling said that’s unaffordable, especially for the teachers recently retired who do not have the option of going back to work in the classroom right now.

“I want to go back to work but you cannot go back to work as a teacher unless you sit out a whole year and I substituted last year,” Rilling said.

Huffman said she added a perk to this bill that will allow retirees under 65 to receive many of their generic prescription drugs at no cost.

In a statement to KPRC, she said:

“During the 85th Legislature, lawmakers heard testimony from stakeholders, including retired teachers
from all over Texas, regarding the dire situation of TRS-Care. Due to increasing health care costs and other factors, TRS-Care had a projected shortfall of approximately $1.1 billion for the 2018-2019 biennium. The plan design changes in HB 3976, in conjunction with the increase in the contributions from the state and school districts, were needed in order to save TRS-Care from going into a “death spiral.”

"As a result of these changes, retirees under the age of 65 may see an increase in their contribution rate but most over 65 will not.

"An additional benefit that I added to the legislation will allow retirees under 65 to receive many of their generic maintenance prescription drugs at no cost to the retiree. Though HB 3976 essentially preserved TRS-Care for our retired and active teachers, the Legislature will be closely monitoring the changes throughout the interim as we work with stakeholders and retirees to ensure that the State of Texas continues providing quality health insurance for its retired educators.”

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