Tuesday, January 23, 2018

What’s Good for the Educator Should Be Good for the Legislator

             For years I’ve heard the idiom, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”  I had never felt like a goose before, but I sure do now!
            Since January 1, I have dreaded the thought of getting sick, of having to go to a doctor, or of needing a prescription.  After retiring from teaching in 2013, I felt a sense of peace should any medical condition arise because I paid into the Teacher Retirement System of Texas for 29 years with a guarantee that when I retired, the state would take care of my healthcare needs.  I’ve learned not to trust idioms, and that peace I felt for four years has been shattered.  What’s good for the goose is definitely not good for the gander, and what’s good for the educator is definitely not good for the legislator.
            In a January 9 editorial in Beaumont Enterprise titled “State bungled retired teachers' health care,” The Enterprise editorial staff writes, “For decades teachers in Southeast Texas and the rest of the state worked under a basic understanding: Their salaries wouldn't be that great, but like many government workers, that would be offset in part by better benefits. Educators believed they would have affordable health insurance through the Teacher Retirement System's TRS-Care. As they learned to their surprise in this new year, they don't…. It's outrageous, and the blame must fall squarely on the Legislature for failing to avoid this problem… A crisis like this reinforces the absurdity of wasting so much time and energy last year on a non-issue like the bathroom bill - despite strenuous opposition from Texas businesses and the threat of costly boycotts. If a fraction of that effort had been devoted to a basic issue like teacher retirement, more educators might be facing the new year with hope instead of fear.”
            I can honestly say I am, indeed, facing each day with fear now.  Reading countless social media posts by other retired public education employees about healthcare issues they are already facing---some opting to go off of critical medication because they now cannot afford it, others choosing not to get necessary exams for the same reason—confirms that this truly is a crisis for all of us who dedicated our lives to teaching this state’s children, our children!
            Let’s combine math, social studies, psychology, and reasoning to work this complicated word problem:
            A teacher in Texas retired in 2013 after 29 years of teaching in the state’s public education system, a system Texas voters approved in 1936 and the Texas Legislature put into effect in 1937.  This non-Medicare-eligible teacher paid a monthly premium of $295 and had a $400 health-insurance deductible.  In 2017, the Texas Legislature met for the biennium.  State legislators raised this retired teacher’s deductible to $1500 beginning January 1, 2018, for both medical expenses and prescriptions and took away all copays for both until she reached the $1500 deductible, resulting in her paying 100 percent of these expenses out of pocket.  This same teacher now pays a premium of $200 per month that will rise each of the next four years until it reaches $385.
            Meanwhile, a legislator in Texas retires at age 50 after a mere 12 years in office or at age 60 after even fewer (eight) years in office. This legislator is a member of the Employees Retirement System of Texas, which voters approved in 1946 and legislators established in 1947.  This non-Medicare-eligible legislator had a $0 premium and a $0 deductible for healthcare.  In 2017 when the Texas Legislature met for the biennium, legislators chose to keep this legislator’s premium at $0 and his deductible at $0. 
1.  If the teacher worked in our public education system for 29 years and the legislator worked for eight or 12 years, should the legislator have a significantly better healthcare plan?
2.  The legislator claims there are two different retirement systems in Texas (TRS and ERS) because teachers and others who work in our public education system are not state employees. After all, the legislator claims, the public education employees’ paychecks come from the district in which they work. 
            a. Why does the Texas Legislature decide the minimum amount Texas teachers can be paid if we are not state employees? 
            b. Why does the Texas Legislature decide what we must teach in our classrooms? 
            c. Why does the Texas Legislature determine how much public educators are allowed to put into our retirement accounts if we are not state employees? 
            d. Why does the Texas Legislature control our pensions and our healthcare if we are not state employees?
3.  Should there be two separate retirement systems with two such disparate benefits?

HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) Bonus Question:
Should what’s good enough for the educator be good enough for the legislator?

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Sarina Manahan)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Educating the Medical Community

             Education isn’t only about students, teachers, and administrators.  Actually, every sector of our workforce and our communities needs ongoing education to be the best we can be.  It is with this in mind that I decided it was high time I provide a citizen’s view of our medical community.
            Time and time again, the overwhelming complaint I hear from friends regarding the medical community is the lack of respect for their patients’ time.  One, two, three hours is common in countless medical offices, and I’m sure all patients would agree with me that, except in an emergency, this is totally unacceptable.
            You spend quality time with your patients?  I sincerely admire that, but have your staff schedule appointments accordingly.  So many people fail to show up for appointments that you overbook your appointments in anticipation for that?  Why should all of us who do show up for our scheduled appointment be penalized for those who don’t?  
            In teaching, we often talk about “Best Practices.”  I actually have two “Best Practices” in the area of scheduling, medical professionals who respect their patients’ time.  The first, Dr. Sam Hargis, a McAllen dentist, should win an award for the incredible job his staff does scheduling patients.  If I have to wait more than 5-10 minutes, an earthquake must have hit McAllen.  The other is surgeon Dr. Guillermo Marquez.  In his office, I may have to wait 20-30 minutes, but it’s rare to wait longer than that before being called in. 
            Admittedly, I suffer from White-Coat Syndrome.  It isn’t unusual for me to have a rise in blood pressure and other signs of anxiety when I have a doctor’s appointment.  Sitting in a waiting room for one, two, three or more hours aggravates this problem exponentially.  I will never forget making an appointment with a local family-practice physician.  I was in search of a new doctor and someone recommended her.  I showed up, my heart working overtime due to my aforementioned White-Coat Syndrome.  I sat down and waited and waited and waited.  To this day, I cannot believe I stayed two-and-a-half hours, but I did.  When my name was finally called, it was after 6:00 p.m.  The doctor walked into the office and said, “You look really stressed out.”  I looked at her, stunned, fighting the words that desperately wanted to escape my mouth.  Finally, I said something to the effect of, “That’s what waiting two-and-a-half hours in a doctor’s office does to me.”  Regardless of the recommendation or her skills, I never returned.
            Recently, I have noticed two disturbing trends in the medical community.  As patients, we go to get a test or procedure done, confident that we chose a doctor and/or a hospital that is “in network.”  However, what we learn later is not only disturbing but costly.  One is the practice of a hospital having physicians who are “independent practitioners.”  The other is when we see an ad for a special price on a mammogram or other—usually diagnostic—test; however, in small print, we learn there will be additional charges to the patient from these “independent practitioners” who have to interpret the tests.  In order for a medical facility to qualify to be “in network” for our employers and insurance companies, shouldn’t they also have to commit to having all of those who will treat their patients also be “in network” to avoid these costly and unacceptable surprises? 
            Finally, I would obviously be remiss if I ended without discussing the cost for treatment in most facilities within the medical community.  Here, I include the cost for pharmaceuticals.  While I have been cognizant of these costs for years, because of the dramatic and negative changes the Texas Legislature made to all public school retirees in the state, which began January 1, my awareness has turned into panic.  Now, instead of a $400 deductible, we each have a $1500 deductible.  Now, instead of paying co-pays for our medical visits and prescriptions, we have to pay 100 percent of those costs until we reach that magic $1500 mark.  For those who have a spouse on their Teacher-Retirement-System healthcare plan, they have to pay 100 percent of all medical and pharmaceutical bills until they reach a $3000 deductible.  This has caused me to wonder how often the medical community looks at what they are charging to decide if it is a “fair price” for the product or service.  I could go on about this for hours, but I don’t think that’s necessary.  As patients, we are often “trapped” because we would not be at that facility or buying that medication if we didn’t need it.  This is where ethics comes in to play.
            Martin Luther King has been credited with saying, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”  In “Educating the Medical Community,” my goal is to ask members of the medical community to use intelligence and character in fixing parts of the system your patients can tell you are broken.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com. (Photo by Sarina Manahan)