Positive News to Report From Meeting on TRS-Care

More than 1,200 Texas AFT members wrote to the TRS-Care Retirees Advisory Committee this week urging its members to stand up for retirees and stand against any potential proposals to decrease retiree health benefits or raise premiums. We are pleased to report that no such proposals were advanced in today’s meeting of the committee.

Texas AFT spokesman Ted Melina Raab spoke up in the public-comment portion of the meeting, citing the large number of messages from our members and urging the Retirees Advisory Committee and the TRS board of trustees not to provide any cover to lawmakers for their failure to fund TRS-Care adequately.

TRS staff offered reassurance that the only benefit change on the table for trustees’ consideration next week would be an improvement in wellness benefits. They also noted that the TRS-Care fund balance (even with the state cutting its contribution in half for the fiscal year beginning September 1), will remain positive through the coming fiscal year.

TRS staff did present proposals for a couple of other TRS-Care changes in the coming year, and they did bill the changes as a potential source of savings in TRS-Care costs. But they said the changes would not involve a decrease in benefits or increase in out-of-pocket costs to retirees.

One change would technically adjust the way in which Medicare Part D covers prescription-drug benefits for TRS-Care participants who also have Medicare, taking advantage of an Employer Group Waiver Plan option provided under federal law. Participants should have no adverse impact and would retain the ability to opt out, according to the information provided today.

A second change would automatically enroll TRS-Care participants in a group Medicare Advantage plan, if trustees approve a vendor next week. This group Medicare Advantage plan, like the Part D option above, should have no adverse impact on participants’ benefits or out-of-pocket costs; participants would retain the ability to opt out. The idea was presented today as essentially a technical change to take advantage of another new feature of federal law.

TRS staffers also previewed the upcoming switch by TRS-Care to a new pharmacy-benefit manager (PBM), as approved by the TRS board in February. As of September 1, Medco Health Solutions, Inc., will replace Caremark in this role. Medco Health Solutions meanwhile is completing a merger with Express Scripts. While the chairman of Express Scripts was on hand to offer assurances that retirees would see no adverse effects from the merger, TRS staff said retirees might run into some confusion in the transition from one PBM manager to another and from one name of the new PBM manager to another.

Texas AFT will be at next week’s TRS board meeting to look out for your interests, and we will report further on the status of both TRS-Care and pension benefits.

Meanwhile, we commend the 1,200-plus members who took the trouble to write to the Retirees Advisory Committee this week. It was an unprecedented move, and it served notice that retirees and active school employees alike intend to be vigilant and active in defense of their health-care and pension benefits in the runup to the 2013 session of the legislature.