A bit of history on TRS health care

Editor’s note: A lot of members have been asking why they don’t have the same, and better, health care programs that state employees have. Here’s a bit of history covered in the past by TxEd in the Media.

TEXplainer looks at TRS health care
July 23, 2018

The Texas Tribune does a pretty good job of laying out how TRS-ActiveCare got started, although it spent a little too much online ink noting how districts can’t get out of it once they opt in. The main point to convey is what we’ve been highlighting to legislators for years–that the state hasn’t raised its $75 contribution to school employee health care since the program began in 2002. Can any rational person not be shocked by this fact, that the state hasn’t put one penny more toward rising health-care costs in almost 17 years?

Well, I guess we shouldn’t really be shocked, after I delve a bit deeper into how this whole thing got started. Texas AFT–then the Texas Federation of Teachers–had been fighting for a statewide insurance system for school employees for at least 20 years, but penny-pinching legislators who couldn’t understand the need for such a system blocked the idea every session. In 2000, we started the drumbeat to finally get over this hurdle and our president, John Cole, traveled the state gathering stories from members about how their district health plans were failing them–either they were too expensive and/or the benefits were dismal. Districts were on their own to provide coverage, so you had a mish-mash of plans, usually with small districts having the worst due to a low number of employees in the insurance pool.

Our Texas Teacher publication in 2000 ramped up the campaign for a health-care system

Cole, our legislative team and thousands of members writing to legislators all pushed the same message: “Health insurance as good as the governor’s” should be available to every school employee in the state. Essentially, they were pushing for something akin to what all state workers and state higher-ed employees got, which was full coverage paid for employees and half of dependent coverage paid. Actually, state law said districts had to provide access to similar coverage, but the catch was that unlike the state plan, there was no state money going to districts.

Our efforts finally were successful–to some extent. We saw the creation of the TRS health-care system in 2001, along with a defined state and district contribution to health plans–$75 per employee from the state and a minimum of $225 per employee from districts. (Employees also got a $1,000 health-care stipend to pay toward premium costs, but that was cut to $500 in 2003, supposedly temporarily–only to be erased altogether when it was rolled into a 2006 state pay increase for teachers. Whoosh, that’s another story!)

So with rising premium costs and no increase in state contributions, districts have been once again in the mish-mash category–on their own to try and cover the added costs, or lumping them onto employees, or both. The state’s inaction has now diminished the success of that monumental achievement in 2001 for a statewide system. And it’s why we continue to push every session for “Health insurance as good as the governor’s.”

Here’s a chart that unfortunately sums up the problem. (It’s a tad out of date, and we’ll be updating it soon.)