Minimal state contribution rates and rising health-care costs leave many with lower pay each year, and without resources to seek medical treatments
A survey released today shows many Texas teachers and other school employees are making less money each year because their school district health-care premiums are eating away any raises they receive. Facing the rising costs of health insurance, many teachers are considering other professions, according to comments from teachers and superintendents. (The Texas AFT online survey, with 1,885 school employees and 212 superintendents responding, was conducted from early March to mid-April.)
“The statistics on rising health-care premium costs in our survey were no surprise, but the stories school employees shared were poignant and often disturbing,” said Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro. “This survey points to a critical need for
the state Legislature to address the stagnant funding for health-care, since the state’s contribution to employee premiums hasn’t increased since it began contributing in 2002.”
Respondents’ comments reveal that many teachers are not even scheduling doctor’s appointments or necessary medical treatments because the costs are too prohibitive.
One survey respondent noted: “Last year I delayed seeking care for a respiratory infection due to the high out-of-pocket costs. When I became so ill I had to see the doctor, I was sent for surgery to remove a bronchial obstruction. Had I not been so worried about the cost, I would have sought treatment sooner and avoided surgery.”
Texas passed a law in 2001 requiring school districts to maintain or increase their level of local funding for health-care coverage for their employees while also adding state funding specifically earmarked for health insurance for the first time.
The state also created a statewide insurance plan called TRS-ActiveCare. Currently districts employing about half of all public school employees participate in ActiveCare, while the rest are covered by local plans sponsored through their school districts. The law initially provided for a state contribution of $75 per month and required a minimum school district contribution of $150 monthly for all school employees in ActiveCare and on local health plans.
At the time the law was passed, this combined minimum of $225 from the state and from each district covered roughly two-thirds of the cost of employee-only health insurance on the TRS-ActiveCare 2 plan. Today the proportions are nearly reversed, with school employees themselves shouldering about 60 percent of the costs of their own health insurance premiums, and those covering dependents are spending much more. At the same time, health benefits have been reduced, so employees are paying more and receiving less for it, whether on the state or local plans.
The survey shows 94 percent of the respondents faced rising health insurance costs in the last several years, and 62 percent reported decreased benefits. While some school districts provide additional assistance to cover employee premiums at rates above the minimum required, nearly half of employees reported small or no pay increases due in part to rising health-care costs.
Notes one respondent: “Any raises have come with higher health costs. When we hear there will be a pay raise, we joke that it must be time for the insurance to go up again. In ten years my take-home pay has risen only $200 per month—all my raises go to rising health insurance costs.”
Respondents who are covering dependent family members reported spending a minimum of $500 per month for coverage with many paying closer to $1,000. Reports in the survey of dropped coverage for children and spouses due to high costs were common.
“If we’re serious about attracting new, quality teachers to the profession, then we need to get serious about ensuring they aren’t getting pay cuts each year to an already modest salary,” Malfaro said. “Texas AFT is determined to achieve affordable health care for all education employees and retirees. Our ultimate goal is fully paid coverage for every employee and 50 percent for their families—health coverage as good as the governor’s plan.”
Malfaro noted that companion bills pending in the House and Senate (HB 1597 by Rep. Cesar Blanco, SB 659 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez) would double the monthly state contribution rate for health care to $150 per employee.
Texas AFT represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers.