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 email@example.com. (Photo by Sarina Manahan)