The TRS-Care health plan for retired school employees faces a funding shortfall of more than a billion dollars, and HB 3976 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) is an attempt by the House to deal with that problem. The bill is due to be debated on the House floor Wednesday afternoon or evening, just like the accountability bill.
HB 397 would put non-Medicare-eligible retirees into a plan with a $3,000 deductible and monthly premiums starting at $200 a month (rising to $370 over four years). Medicare-eligible retirees would all go into a Medicare Advantage plan, with some premium increase anticipated for most participants. The House plan is supported by more than half a billion dollars in the House version of the budget bill–a significantly higher amount than the less-favorable Senate alternative would provide.
HB 3976 can best be described as necessary but not sufficient. It is necessary to pass a bill to provide for some solution to the TRS-Care funding crisis, and this bill is a much better option than the Senate version, which would put much more of the burden of rising health costs on the backs of retirees.
But HB 3976 as yet is not sufficient to protect many retirees from substantial cost increases. The state has never pre-funded TRS-Care, preferring to hold down state outlays by proceeding on a pay-as-you-go basis. Now the bill is coming due. TRS retirees, whose pensions average $2,000 a month, with no cost-of-living adjustments, are ill-prepared to absorb so much of the plan’s rising costs. We need to try to improve HB 3976 and to redouble our efforts to secure more funding in the 2018-19 budget bill to achieve a better deal for retired school employees.