Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Life of a Retired Educator in Texas

Dear Governor Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Texas Legislature,

WARNING!  What I am about to share with you is very personal and extremely difficult for me to discuss; however, this needs to be said.

            I suffer from anxiety. 

            It is actually one of the reasons I decided to retire.  The anxiety over things I could no longer control at work--relentless meetings, class sizes, loads of paperwork, lack of funding for even the basics in my classroom (my entire budget for my final year of teaching was approximately $67.  Yes, $67)—became overwhelming.  I would have worked 35-40 years if it was just about TEACHING because I miss my students to this day, but “teaching” is definitely no longer about teaching. 
            So back to anxiety.  I experienced a dramatic decrease in anxiety when I retired.  However, over the past year, it has been building, and recently, that overwhelming feeling of anxiety has been coursing through my body.  Anyone who suffers from anxiety will tell you it is not just mental.  It is definitely physiological, as well.
            At least 10 years ago, I was given a prescription for a generic anti-anxiety medication.  I didn't need it every day, but at those times when I felt anxiety creeping in, it made a BIG difference.  I have carried that same bottle with me all this time. (You are probably thinking it was expired and no longer good, but I assure you, that little 0.5 mg pill could "stop the coursing.")  This week, when I reached in my purse for it, knowing I still had 2-3 left, I discovered the bottle had opened in my purse, and because they are so small, they were crushed. 
            But the pathetic, shameful insurance you--Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the 2017 Texas Legislature--gave all retired educators under 65 in Texas starting January 1, 2018, prefers for us to "visit" a virtual doctor through Teladoc rather than our own doctor.  I signed on Thursday to renew my prescription.  Well, sorry, the Teladoc doctor was unable to write a new prescription for me.  Guess what THAT did to my anxiety?
            You may be asking why I didn’t just call my family doctor here in McAllen and go for an office visit.  First of all, I don’t think I have seen her since our healthcare nightmare began, and let me tell you why.  Thanks to YOUR legislation in 2017, as of January 1, 2018, my deductible went from $400 to $1500.  As if that were not bad enough, I have to pay 100 PERCENT OUT OF POCKET—NO COPAY--until I reach that $1500, as if you know so many retired educators (and I include in this our bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, classroom aides, counselors, nurses, librarians, cafeteria staff, interpreters, and administrators who are all in the same boat) with $1500 readily accessible. For those of my retired colleagues under 65 whose spouse is on their insurance plan, they have to reach a $3000 deductible—not $1500 per person but $3000 total, OUT OF POCKET, before their insurance will pay a penny.  All of this thanks to you, Governor, Lt. Governor, and all members of the 2017 Texas Legislature who put this into motion and 2019 legislators who did not fix it.
            Meanwhile, all other retired state employees—including our retired legislators—are covered under a different plan that has a $0 deductible for medical care and a $50 deductible for prescriptions.  The difference between $0 and $1500 is $1500, and the difference between $50 and $1500 is $1450 OUT OF POCKET!  Oh, and they also have a $0 monthly premium.  Mine is $200 per month for pathetic insurance.  What does this say about equity in the State of Texas?           Back to why I haven’t gone to my own doctor, despite my rising level of anxiety.  For a year and a half now, I have avoided doctors as much as I can because of the out-of-pocket expense.  Nevertheless, this is what I am faced with at this moment:
  • Annual mammogram I cannot miss because my sister passed away from breast and lung cancer at the age of 50.  $615.98 – Negotiated to $277.19.  Paid by Aetna as it is preventive , but my surgeon had to make it a screening mammogram rather than a preferred diagnostic exam because a diagnostic mammogram is not covered.
  • Required annual thyroid sonogram because of multiple nodules – Cost for only the sonogram:  $981.72.  Aetna negotiated discount: $539.95.  MY 100-PERCENT OUT-OF-POCKET RESPONSIBILITY:  $441.77
  • Radiologist bill for thyroid sonogram:  Not yet received, but 100 PERCENT MY RESPONSIBILITY. 
  • Follow up with surgeon to discuss thyroid sonogram results:  $73.34--MY 100-PERCENT OUT-OF-POCKET RESPONSIBILITY
  • Dermatologist to check growth.  $65.14—MY 100-PERCENT OUT-OF-POCKET RESPONSIBILITY.  In-office procedure to remove the growth is scheduled for next week:  MY 100-PERCENT OUT-OF-POCKET RESPONSIBILITY.

            Then, yesterday, I received The Pulse, the TRS newsletter.  The top story?  “NEW:  TRS-Care Standard Will Offer Virtual Mental Health Services Starting Sept. 1, 2019.”  So I clicked on the link.  Please forgive me if disbelief and disgust immediately followed my initial feelings of hope.  The site reads: “Visits with Teladoc Mental Health providers are only available through video conference via a computer, smart phone or tablet”—because God forbid a retired educator in Texas should get any necessary help face-to-face.  And if that wasn’t enough, this came after:
  • Initial Psychiatry Session                                                        $185
  • Follow Up Psychiatry Session                                                $ 95
  • Therapy Session with Licensed Psychologist or Therapist     $ 85

OUT OF POCKET, of course!!!! But what “great” news. (Can you hear my sarcasm?)--all costs go toward my deductible!
            They should have added:
  • A simple refill of my anxiety medication                               N/A – SUFFER, TEXAS                                                                                                        RETIRED EDUCATORS!

             And suffering is what I am doing right now as I contemplate crossing the border to Mexico to get the medications there, something I have never done, but…
            Do you know what the irony in all of this is, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and Texas legislators?  I feel quite certain there is a dramatic rise in the need for mental-health services and prescriptions for retired educators in Texas because of what YOU did to TRS-Care and to retired educators across the state.

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 (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)


  1. Did you send this as an op-ed to major newspapers in the state?

  2. No, I didn't! All of our stories should be printed in these newspapers! It was shocking how this healthcare nightmare was ignored during the 2019 Legislative Session!
    I will hold out hope.....
    Thank you!

  3. I know this situation. I broke my ankle in 3 places while away from home. Emergency surgery cost $8,000 out of pocket because of sorry insurance! In 5 more months I would turn 65 and have ‘slightly’ better coverage...
    I have since ditched TRS for a private supplemental policy for the Medicare. I’ve not looked back!

    1. I'm so happy for you, but HOW SHAMEFUL!!!!!!!!
      I hope your ankle is now completely healed!

  4. My heart cries that Mike Collier ALMOST won.....but didnt😭😭😭. He listened and empathized with our sorry state of predicament. Dan Patrick always says during campaigns "Vote straight ticket!"
    He knows this is his ONLY hope. He rides on the backs and merits of others. I'm thankful for the 13th check....but I have a 3,000 deductible. Medical needs take a

    1. I totally agree with you! I definitely supported Mike, and my entire 13th check will go toward medical bills. That's a relief for this year, but what do we do in 2020? Shameful!

  5. What people forget about is that we payed into this farce for years,then when we need it they take it away. Look at all the retirees that payed in to this so called insurance and now have dropped it for a more affordable health coverage.The problem is that Abbott,Patrick and the TX.legislators don't care about the retirees their healthcare is great.This is nothing but legalized theft.

    1. EXACTLY! And throughout our careers, we were PROMISED we would have AFFORDABLE health care in retirement! I will NEVER understand how they can justify ERS retirees having FAR SUPERIOR health care than TRS retirees!!!!

  6. Why r retirees not rewarded highly in retirement? we need more money to live off of?

    1. Why? Because there are said to be 1.5 MILLION retirees in TRS, but maybe 200 of us, MAX, are IN THE FIGHT to get what we earned! Until more retirees get involved, we can expect more of the same. :-(

  7. Chris thanks for all your hard work,when will you be putting out your list on who to vote for (blockvote) I don't care if they are Republicans or Democrats.Trs retirees need serious help with this so called healthcare and I am willing to vote for who ever will help us and so should every trs retiree regardless of political party

    1. Hi! Sorry for responding so late! Right now, I am focused on Social Security Fairness! I will be watching Texas AFT Retiree Plus, Texans for Public Education, and Texas Retired Teachers Association closely throughout 2020 regarding voting and will keep everyone posted!
      THANK YOU!!! We have a big fight ahead for the 2021 Legislative Session, and we need to be ready!