State Leaders Call for TRS-Care Premium Reduction, Re-Enrollment for Medicare-eligible Retirees

Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Senate Finance Chair Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) sent an open letter to TRS Board of Trustees Chair Jarvis Hollingsworth asking him to examine the possibility of reducing premiums for Medicare-eligible retirees. Due to the prospective premium decrease, the letter also directed the TRS board to consider allowing retirees who previously left the system to re-enroll for a limited time. 

Retirees know that TRS-Care premiums jumped significantly in 2017 as the system faced a budget shortfall of nearly a billion dollars, and the premiums have remained high since. However, after billions of dollars of state aid were injected into the system and structural changes were made to Medicare administration at the federal level, the system is now solvent. It is past time to pass on those savings to our state’s retirees.  

Because the recent budgetary savings arose thanks to administrative changes to Medicare, it appears as though Medicare-eligible participants in TRS-Care Medicare Advantage will be the only population eligible for premium reduction. 

After the dramatic increase in premiums in 2017, one of the biggest hits to retirees was the dissolution of the zero-dollar premium plan for individual retirees. This plan was a lifeline for -income earners who could barely survive, much less pay medical premiums, with their meager pension. The dissolution of this plan, and the increase in premiums for all TRS-Care participants, especially those with plans that covered spouses and dependents, caused tens of thousands of retirees to leave TRS-Care. In net, TRS-Care membership has never regained its membership levels from before the premium increase. 

In 2021, after the system became financially stable, legislation was passed to allow certain TRS-Care retirees who left the system between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2019 to return. However, relatively few retirees took advantage of this narrow re-enrollment period. With the promise of lower premiums and broader re-enrollment eligibility, it seems likely that more retirees will take advantage of any upcoming re-enrollment period that occurs. 

Texas AFT Retiree Plus appreciates this action to address TRS-Care’s high premiums. TRS-Care is an important benefit that our state’s retirees, living on a limited and fixed income, earned throughout their career and that they now rely on for high-quality care.