Members of the House and Senate are scrambling to plug a $212 million hole in the teacher retirement system, which provides health benefit for retired educators. Changes made to the TRS-Care system during the regular legislative session could cause some retirees' health care costs to increase tenfold.
Aliyya Swaby, a public education reporter for the Texas Tribune says lawmakers cut health benefits to keep the program solvent.
“Premiums went up, deductibles went up, out-of-pocket costs for medication went up,” Swaby says. “And now they’re trying to figure out a way to temporarily relieve those teachers, even though the fix will not completely solve the problem.”
In a story for the Tribune, Swaby profiled a retired teacher who take medication to control symptoms of his leukemia. Under the benefit cuts passed by lawmakers, the cost of his medication will jump from the current $30-$60 per month to an estimated $600 per month. His cost would still rise under by the same amount under either the current House or Senate fix.
The two chambers haven't agreed where to get the money they acknowledge is needed to provide relief to retirees.
Swaby says the House wants to tap the state’s “rainy day” fund to restore the shortfall, while the Senate plan would borrow the needed money from an account that pays Medicaid providers – they would repay the account during the next session of the Legislature, in 2019.
“Neither is ideal. Part of the problem is that during a special session, there’s limited money available, so you have to find the money wherever you can in a budget that’s already been signed by the governor,” Swaby says.
Retired teachers have been vocal in their opposition to benefit cuts and the impending increase in costs. Swaby says retirees are a strong voting bloc, and their displeasure could spell trouble for the state’s Republican leaders.
“Their starting o get frustrated with legislators for not doing something to fix a problem that’s really immediate to a lot of them,” Swaby says. “That means having medication that could save their life, or not being able to afford that medication.”
Swaby says the solution to the legislative impasse could amount to one side giving in – taking the money from the other chamber’s preferred source. Or not.
“The Senate has said that they would definitely never take the money from the rainy day fund,” Swaby says. “The House has been more amenable, but the author of the bill would much rather prefer [to] take money from the rainy day fund than to defer payment to the health care companies.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.