Every day—and I do mean every day—since January 1, I have felt a heaviness in the pit of my stomach.
Every day, I know I am going to hear another story about what has befallen my fellow retired Texas public school employees courtesy of Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Texas Legislature.
As many of you may have heard, during the 2017 Legislative Session, these elected officials decided to turn our healthcare world upside down, despite the fact that we retired under the promise of affordable healthcare, a promise made to us years ago when we began teaching and again when we completed all of the paperwork for retirement.
Instead, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Texas Legislature voted to appropriate DOUBLE the amount of money for retirees in the state’s other retirement system, ERS, that they did for our retirement system, TRS, despite the fact that they have HALF the number of participants. ERS handles pensions and healthcare for all other state employees. It is no coincidence that retired legislators are members of ERS when they retire at age 50 with a mere 12 years in office or at age 60 with a mere eight years.
Meanwhile, TRS, also controlled by the Texas Legislature, handles pensions and healthcare for me and all of my fellow retired public school employees—teachers, custodians, bus drivers, administrators, cafeteria workers, counselors, librarians, maintenance workers, secretaries, diagnosticians, and classroom aides (and anyone else who worked in our public school system).
Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Texas Legislature also increased our deductible from $400 to $1,500. Now, not one penny of the medical costs or prescriptions (except a list of standard, generic drugs) for TRS retirees under 65 is paid until we pay the ENTIRE $1,500 out of pocket. Think no co-pay. For retired public school employees who include their spouse on their insurance, their deductible is $3,000. For them, the plan does not pay a single penny until they reach the entire $3,000, not $1,500 for each of them.
Meanwhile, in ERS Land, all other state employees (and retired legislators) not only have 100 percent of their premium paid for by the state, but they also have no deductible. No, as in zero. That means while we are paying 100 percent of our healthcare costs and prescription costs out of pocket until we reach $1,500 (then, we have an 80/20 split), they have no deductible to meet. No, as in zero.
One of the stories I heard last week was about Chuck and Leslie. Leslie retired from Northside ISD in San Antonio in 2014. January 1, their premium increased from $140 to $689. This $689 is 23.5 percent of Nancy’s gross monthly annuity.
This incredible financial burden has resulted in the couple considering dropping their health insurance. “But we don’t want to burden other taxpayers with OUR hospital bills if we ever do get sick,” Chuck told me. This is the choice they are facing after Leslie spent years working in our public schools.
I also read the story of Donna, who lives in Hewitt (near Waco). She taught in Texas public schools for 27 years, about half of those in special education and seven as a diagnostician. She has a master’s degree. Her monthly prescription drug costs went from $100 to $1,200. Although she has found some discount cards she is now using, the hit it has taken is painful and frightening.
One of my close friends in the Rio Grande Valley is a retired teacher and a single mom who receives no child support for her son, who is a freshman in college. She told me last week she has decided she is not going to the doctor any more, despite the fact that she battles high blood pressure. “The deductible is just too high,” she told me.
I’m sick. I’m sad. I’m angry. I’m still in disbelief. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I honestly believe someone is going to die because of the decisions made by Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and several members of the Texas Legislature.
I think what sickens and frightens me most is that the endless stories I have heard are all from teachers and administrators. If so many of them are suffering with these changes, what are those who earned far less than us while working—which means far less than us in retirement—doing?
SHAME ON YOU, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and every Texas legislator who voted to cripple all of us who devoted our careers and our lives to the children of this state. I hope all of us, our former students, and all who love us will JOIN THE MOVEMENT to BLOCK VOTE!