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 email@example.com. (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)