Retired teachers relying on Texas health care system face uncertain future

Retired teacher Rowena Garcia said her TRS-Care insurance premiums skyrocketed. The agency said adjustments were made after the 2017 legislative session for the first time in more than a decade.
Retired teacher Rowena Garcia said her TRS-Care insurance premiums skyrocketed. The agency said adjustments were made after the 2017 legislative session for the first time in more than a decade.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many retired teachers who get health insurance and benefits through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas have noticed spikes in premiums after more than a decade with minimal increases.

“I understand that everything is going up, prices increase, but to go up more than about $400 more is unbelievable,” retired El Paso teacher Rowena Garcia said. The bills each month for her and her husband shot up from $130 to $529.

“I was a teacher for 25 years and then I was a counselor for 11, so that’s 36 years in the retirement system, and I’ve always been happy with [TRS]. But this time I feel really betrayed,” she said of the state’s TRS-Care program, which serves nearly 270,000 retired Texans and their families.

TRS-Care experienced a budget shortfall in 2017 and was set to run out of money this year. Lawmakers stepped in and came up with temporary fixes, totaling $700 million, a representative for TRS said.

“The remaining shortfall was addressed through adjustments to premiums and benefits to help to sustain the program,” TRS spokesperson Kaylee Nemec said in a statement to El Paso NBC affiliate KTSM. “The retirees have not seen any contribution increases in more than 12 years and saw few benefit changes in the same time frame.”

Retired teacher Rowena Garcia said her TRS-Care insurance premiums skyrocketed. The agency said adjustments were made after the 2017 legislative session for the first time in more than a decade.
Retired teacher Rowena Garcia said her TRS-Care insurance premiums skyrocketed. The agency said adjustments were made after the 2017 legislative session for the first time in more than a decade.

Monty Exter, with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said “it became clear that that amount of money was going to be untenable,” which prompted lawmakers to address the budget shortfalls during the special legislative session last summer, where the state “added a little more.”

“The things that they put in place were not a permanent fix, they are absolutely going to be talking about this next session,” Exter said.

Nemec said the rate hikes should not come as a surprise, as TRS began to notify beneficiaries last year.

“TRS began communicating the upcoming rate and benefit changes to its nearly 270,000 retirees in the summer and significantly increased the outreach in the fall,” Nemec said in her statement. “In addition to mail outreach and electronic channels, TRS hosted a series of more than 90 meetings across the state reaching more than 45,000 retirees face-to-face.”

Garcia said she and her husband will now have to work to balance their budgets with the new monthly bills.

“It’s a significant amount of money that we have lost in our monthly income, we are going to have to make adjustments,” Garcia said.

“After putting so much time into the profession and giving so much, I feel they should’ve taken better care of us,” she added.

The agency has experienced a higher-than-normal call volume of Texans with questions about changes in benefits or insurance costs. Officials encourage anyone with questions to call 1-800-223-8778 about pension benefits, or 1-888-237-6762 for TRS-Care questions.

TRS is hosting a series of group and individual sessions for teachers preparing to enter retirement. For a complete list of upcoming TRS group presentations across Texas, click here. A list of sessions to ask individual questions related to TRS-Care can be found here.

Reporter’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the group and individual presentations are for teachers preparing to enter retirement.

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