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. 
            Questions:
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)

10 comments:

  1. Add another one to your list...why were we forbidden to have union dues deducted from our paychecks if we weren't state employees?

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  2. I was an insurance agent before I decided to become a teacher. The insurance proposed as Medicare advantage has no advantage. I opted out of TRS and got my own supplement to Medicare and it is cost effective and better. But I am still enraged about the audacity to promise us benefits and then deny them. Bad enough though fully vested I gave up part of my SS and survivor benefits should my husband die before I do.

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  3. e. Why is the seal of the State of Texas on our teaching certificates if we are not state employees?

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  4. Unknown--though that bill regarding payroll deductions for "union" dues passed in the Senate, it stalled in the House and did not pass.
    Diana--"Enraged" and "audacity" are perfect words for what our legislators have done, at both the state and federal level. This is why I support block voting 100 percent! Until educators and those who love and support us VOTE, we will continue to be treated unfairly and shamefully!
    As for the seal---AMEN!

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  5. I'm with you. We need to vote them OUT! What they did to teachers is unforgivable. We are the lowest paid professionals and to treat us like they have during our retirement years does not fly with me. Teachers need to stick together in this.

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    1. ABSOLUTELY! Until we UNITE and VOTE, nothing is going to change!

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    2. I understand your outrage. But I think the underlying financial point here is RETIREMENT IS MEANT FOR THE ELDERLY OVER 65 yrs old. If you choose to retire early..and many teachers retire in their 50s, you must be able to affords your decision. I deliberately waited to retire after I was 66 and my medical thru TRS is fabulous and incredibly cheap. Be patient,...and learn the whole story.Retire when you are retirement age and not just when you are eligible because of years worked. If you are stopping early and taking a pension...you are not retired..you are " independently wealthy.." stop complaining.

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    3. What you don't understand is the reason I retired. I retired after two breast cancers in a period of 4 years. My retirement was strictly related to health issues. I would've stayed in it longer if the stress was not affecting my health. I don't appreciate you judging people like me when you don't know the reasons for retirement. STOP JUDGING!

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    4. Appropriate Retired with TRS---I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Before I made the decision to retire, I went to Austin and met with a TRS representative. I looked carefully at the amount of my pension and the cost of the insurance premium and deductible. Then, and only then, did I decide to retire in my 50s. Furthermore, why would TRS even have had the Rule of 80 if "Retirement is meant for the elderly over 65"? And finally, to tell me--or others on this thread to "stop complaining" is both disrespectful and a failure to look at the underlying issue of the inexplicable discrepancies between ERS and TRS.
      Annabella--I agree as far as the judging. People retire for different reasons, and regardless of those reasons, we should NOT be facing the shameful healthcare situation we are, thanks to the Texas Legislature!

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  6. Thanks for your for your commentary and exposure of this information, Chris! To add to the insurance insult, the Texas Legislature let the increase for TRS Retirees die too! When is the last time the TRS retirees got a cost of living increase? 20+ years ago? Some states give their retired educators a cost if living increase every year! Also,the Federal WEP and Offset bills affecting our SS income in Texas and a HANDFUL of other states, that our Texas legislators helped author in Congress a few years back, does not effect the Social Security income of those state employees covered by ERS, only those covered by TRS!! Additionally,some of our Congressmen are saying they are now authoring a partial repeal of the WEP Bill, but it will only impact those who turned 62 by 2017! What kind of outrageous B.S. is this??? How is this better for everyone, and who do they think they're talking to? So sick and disgusted!!!

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