Monday, February 5, 2018

Shame on You, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and Texas Legislature

             Every day—and I do mean every day—since January 1, I have felt a heaviness in the pit of my stomach.  Every day, I know I am going to hear another story about what has befallen my fellow retired Texas public school employees courtesy of Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Texas Legislature. 
            As many of you may have heard, during the 2017 Legislative Session, these elected officials decided to turn our healthcare world upside down, despite the fact that we retired under the promise of affordable healthcare, a promise made to us years ago when we began teaching and again when we completed all of the paperwork for retirement.  Instead, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Texas Legislature voted to appropriate DOUBLE the amount of money for retirees in the state’s other retirement system, ERS, that they did for our retirement system, TRS, despite the fact that they have HALF the number of participants. ERS handles pensions and healthcare for all other state employees.  It is no coincidence that retired legislators are members of ERS when they retire at age 50 with a mere 12 years in office or at age 60 with a mere eight years.  Meanwhile, TRS, also controlled by the Texas Legislature, handles pensions and healthcare for me and all of my fellow retired public school employees—teachers, custodians, bus drivers, administrators, cafeteria workers, counselors, librarians, maintenance workers, secretaries, diagnosticians, and classroom aides (and anyone else who worked in our public school system). 
            Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and the Texas Legislature also increased our deductible from $400 to $1500.  Now, not one penny of the medical costs or prescriptions (except a list of standard, generic drugs) for TRS retirees under 65 is paid until we pay the ENTIRE $1500 out of pocket.  Think no co-pay.  For retired public school employees who include their spouse on their insurance, their deductible is $3000.  For them, the plan does not pay a single penny until they reach the entire $3000, not $1500 for each of them.
            Meanwhile, in ERS Land, all other state employees (and retired legislators) not only have 100 percent of their premium paid for by the state, but they also have no deductible.  No, as in zero.  That means while we are paying 100 percent of our healthcare costs and prescription costs out of pocket until we reach $1500 (then, we have an 80/20 split), they have no deductible to meet.  No, as in zero.
            One of the stories I heard last week was about Chuck and Leslie.  Leslie retired from Northside ISD in San Antonio in 2014.  January 1, their premium increased from $140 to $689.  This $689 is 23.5 percent of Nancy’s gross monthly annuity.  This incredible financial burden has resulted in the couple considering dropping their health insurance.  “But we don’t want to burden other taxpayers with OUR hospital bills if we ever do get sick,” Chuck told me.  This is the choice they are facing after Leslie spent years working in our public schools.
            I also read the story of Donna, who lives in Hewitt (near Waco).  She taught in Texas public schools for 27 years, about half of those in special education and seven as a diagnostician.  She has a master’s degree.  Her monthly prescription drug costs went from $100 to $1200.  Although she has found some discount cards she is now using, the hit it has taken is painful and frightening. 
            One of my close friends in the Rio Grande Valley is a retired teacher and a single mom who receives no child support for her son, who is a freshman in college.  She told me last week she has decided she is not going to the doctor any more, despite the fact that she battles high blood pressure.  “The deductible is just too high,” she told me.
            I’m sick.  I’m sad.  I’m angry.  I’m still in disbelief.  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  I honestly believe someone is going to die because of the decisions made by Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and several members of the Texas Legislature.
            I think what sickens and frightens me most is that the endless stories I have heard are all from teachers and administrators.  If so many of them are suffering with these changes, what are those who earned far less than us while working—which means far less than us in retirement—doing?
            SHAME ON YOU, Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and every Texas legislator who voted to cripple all of us who devoted our careers and our lives to the children of this state.  I hope all of us, our former students, and all who love us will JOIN THE MOVEMENT to BLOCK VOTE!


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.  Her columns will also be appearing regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.  And watch for upcoming LIVE Facebook conversations on "All Things Education" on the Guardian's FB page.  (Photo by Sarina Manahan)



JOIN OUR MOVEMENT



Go to texansforpubliceducation.com 
On the home page, scroll down to "Our Ratings" to read the rationale behind the ratings for each incumbent and his/her opponent(s).
(I) Incumbents
Blue-Opponents
UNFRIENDLY
FRIENDLY
NEUTRAL

TEXAS GOVERNOR



TEXAS LT. GOVERNOR



TEXAS HOUSE
Sheet 1:  DISTRICTS  3,18, 56, 57, 103, 104, 105, 116,123, 131, 145
Dallas, Grand Prairie, Houston, Lufkin, Magnolia, San Antonio, Shepherd,  Waco 

Sheet 2:  DISTRICTS  24, 25, 40, 58, 73, 76, 83, 112, 113, 128, 138 
Angleton, Cleburne, Deerpark, Edinburg, El Paso, Fredericksburg, Friendswood, Houston, 
Lubbock, Richardson, Sunnyvale   


Sheet 3:  DISTRICTS 8, 11,  54, 82, 95, 98, 117, 147 
Corsicana, Fort Worth, Houston,  Killeen, Midland, Nacodoches, San Antonio, Southlake


Sheet 4:  DISTRICTS  7, 17, 22, 46, 72, 111, 134, 135, 136, 142 
Austin, Beaumont, Cedar Park, Dallas, Houston, Lockhart, Longview, West University Place   


Sheet 5:  DISTRICTS 2, 23, 69, 84, 99, 106, 109, 120, 148  
Canton,  DeSoto, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston,  Houston, Lubbock, San Antonio,
Wichita Falls


Sheet 6:  DISTRICTS 4, 5, 31,34, 41, 52, 75, 97, 119, 143
Clint, Fort Worth, Houston, Mission, Mt. Pleasant, Rio Grande City,  Robstown, 
Round Rock, San Antonio, Terrell   


Sheet 7:  DISTRICTS  12, 32, 33, 45, 48, 49, 50, 100, 127, 139
Austin, College Station, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Dripping Spring, Houston, Rockwall  


Sheet 8:  DISTRICTS 15, 44, 61, 71, 80,  81, 88,  91, 102
Abilene, Batesville, Canadian, Dallas, Fort Worth, Odessa, Seguin, The Woodlands, Weatherford  


Sheet 9:  DISTRICTS 16, 26, 35, 38, 39, 43, 60, 67, 89, 108, 122  
Brownsville, Conroe, Dallas, Granbury, Kingsville, Mission, Parker, Plano, San Antonio, 
Sugar Land, Weslaco   


Sheet 10:  DISTRICTS 30, 36, 37, 53,74,77, 78, 107, 124, 130, 133 
Brownsville, Cypress, Dallas, Eagle Pass, El Paso,  Houston, Junction, Palmview,   
San Antonio,Victoria


Sheet 11:  DISTRICTS 9, 14, 21, 62, 63, 79, 87, 129, 144 
Amarillo, Beaumont, College Station, El Paso, Flower Mound, Houston, Marshall, Sherman  


Sheet 12:  DISTRICTS 6,  27, 42, 51, 70, 90, 110, 115, 125, 126   
Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Irving, Laredo, McKinney, Missouri City,  
San Antonio, Tyler


Sheet 13:  DISTRICTS  13, 55, 59, 65, 66, 68, 85, 86, 132
Amarillo,  Caldwell, Carrolton, Gatesville, Katy, Muenster, Plano, Temple, Wharton


Sheet 14:  DISTRICTS 29, 64, 92, 94, 121, 141, 146, 150
Arlington, Bedford, Denton, Houston, Pearland, San Antonio, Spring


Sheet 15:  DISTRICTS 1, 10,19, 20, 47, 101, 114, 118, 140, 149
Austin, Dallas, Grand Prairie, Hillister, Houston, Marble Falls, New Boston, San Antonio,  Waxahachie


Sheet 16:  DISTRICTS 137, 96, 28
Arlington, Houston, Richmond


TEXAS SENATE

Sheet 1:  DISTRICTS 7, 22, 24, 10, 25, 4, 30, 6, 2, 9, 20
Houston, Granbury, Lakeway, Colleyville, New Braunfels, Conroe, Wichita Falls, Houston, Edgewood, North Richland Hills, McAllen


Sheet 2:  DISTRICTS 16, 17, 1, 18, 27, 26, 13, 12, 3, 28, 29, 5
Dallas, Houston, Mineola, Brenham, Brownsville, San Antonio, 
Flower Mound, Jacksonville, Lubbock, El Paso, Georgetown


Sheet 3:  DISTRICTS 31, 11, 8, 19, 14, 23, 15, 21
Amarillo, Friendswood, Plano, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Laredo







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)

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)


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Miss Those Days…Before They Felt Like Prisons

I spent the last 14 years of my 29-year teaching career at McAllen High School.  I still remember pulling up to McHi one day last year, suddenly putting my foot on the brake, gripping the steering wheel, and staring.  What in the world?  Surrounding my beloved campus was a tall, wrought-iron fence.  My heart sank.
            First, full disclosure.  During my sixth-grade year, my school was taken hostage by a group that had robbed a local sporting goods store as they made a desperate attempt to evade arrest.  I can still close my eyes and see myself and my classmates sitting on the floor of our classroom.  I remember the fear, the sound of gunshots, the tears.  I remember the SWAT team lining the hallway and leading us outside to our terrified parents after police killed one of the gunmen and the others surrendered.  Last year when I took a concealed-carry class, the classroom portion was a breeze.  But when we walked into the shooting range, each time I heard a gunshot, my limps shook, and I wanted to cover my ears.  I didn’t realize until I got to my car that my body seemed to be remembering that day.
            I want to be clear.  I completely understand why McAllen ISD and school districts across the country have installed such fences. In fact, since I retired, I have visited a number of schools that have gates around their buildings that are completely locked. Visitors must pull up to a box with a keypad, like those you find outside a gated community, and push a button that rings the front office,.  Many schools have their front doors unlocked but then have a second set of doors that are locked and prevent people from entering the office area and school hallways without being buzzed in.
            So you might be wondering why I didn’t welcome the tall, wrought-iron fence surrounding McHi.  Because when I saw it, I wondered how I would flee the building if I were still teaching and a school shooting occurred.  To me, it was more about how I would escape than it was about keeping potential killers out.
            I contacted a couple of my friends who are still teaching at McHi to see how they felt about what felt like “prison walls” to me.  Both responded immediately, insisting the fence made them feel significantly safer.   Especially, they said, with a police officer on guard in the parking area once again.  (Budget cuts several years ago resulted in that position being cut.) 
            In the early 60s when the current McHi was built, district officials did not have to worry about school shootings.  Thus, having countless doors leading inside must have seemed like a convenience.  Today, those same doors scream danger.
            I can’t help but feel grateful that I retired because I know my need to plan an escape would be thwarted by those wrought-iron fences.  I am also grateful that McHi, schools across the Valley, and schools across the country have prioritized safety for our students and for school district employees. 

            But I sure do miss those days….

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)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I Give Thanks






             One of the things I miss most about my childhood is Thanksgiving.  Growing up, we were fortunate enough to live two or three blocks from my Grandma and Grandpa Ardis.  Every day, we would ride our bikes, roller-skate, or walk to their house at least once.  We would go through the alley and then down the short, narrow walkway leading to the driveway, often finding Grandma and Grandpa swinging on the back porch.
            On Thanksgiving, after driving over to my other Grandma and Grandpa’s house to visit, we would go to Grandma and Grandpa Ardis’ for Thanksgiving dinner.  My eight brothers and sisters and I were their only grandchildren, and they loved our laughter and our chatter filling their home.  I still remember the kids’ card table and how we couldn’t wait until we reached grown-up status and could join the adults at the leaves-added-table that stretched through the living and dining rooms.  Perfectly browned turkey, the dark meat on one plate and the white on another, homemade macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, my grandma’s delicious applesauce Jello, melt-in-your-mouth dinner rolls, and more filled the table , leaving just enough room for our plates, glasses, and silverware. 
            My grandpa would normally say the prayer, often becoming emotional as he gave thanks for our blessings—a healthy family, food on the table, and so much love.  Throughout dinner, we talked and laughed as we savored the flavorful feast.  After dinner, my brothers, my dad, and my grandpa would make their way to the couch and chairs to watch football games while my sisters, my mom, and my grandma headed to the kitchen to wash, dry, and put away the dishes.  (My sisters often joke that I could never be found when it was time to do dishes, though my recollection is quite different.)  When the dinner dishes were done, we would serve the pie and wash and dry those dishes, and then we would join the boys to watch the games, head outside to play, or sit in the kitchen talking. 
            Oh what I would do to have all of my grandparents, my dad, my sister (Ann), and my brother (Tim) here again.  I don’t think I would ever want to leave.

            Thanksgiving is entirely different now that they are gone and I live so far away.  Although it isn’t the same at all for me these days, Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday.  I love the idea of a day set aside to give thanks for all of the blessings in my life.  I try to give thanks on a regular basis, but I don’t always succeed.  Thanksgiving grounds me and allows me to reflect on every one of God’s blessings in my life.
I am thankful for being raised in a family where love and faith--rather than money--were the foundation.
I am thankful for all of my brothers and sisters, their spouses, my nieces and nephews, and my great nieces and nephews.
I am thankful for the blessing of so many incredible friends—in Peoria, in Texas, in North Carolina, and in other cities and states.
I am thankful to have a home, a car, a warm, cozy bed, food in the fridge, plants in my garden, neighbors who look out for me, and the fuzzy slippers on my feet as I write this post.
I am thankful for the students I taught during my 29-year career, for my co-workers, and for the privilege of teaching.
I am thankful for the opportunity to work in fields outside of teaching now, for those who have given me these opportunities, and for the ability to expand my mind on a daily basis.
I am more thankful than I could ever express for my mom’s amazing brother, Dick, and her friends who all love her so much.
I am thankful for my health, for every breath I take, and for all of the other blessings, both simple and significant, in my life.
And, of course, I am eternally grateful to still have my mom.  As many of you know, my mom lives with Parkinson’s, and that isn’t easy.  Over the past few months, she has taken a number of bad falls and has reluctantly started using a walker.  Through it all, she continues to display her incredible sense of humor.  Through it all, she teaches us what true strength looks like.  Through it all, she keeps getting back up and stubbornly demanding her independence.  And through it all, she remains steadfast in her faith and in her devotion to God.
            For all of this, and for so much more, I give thanks.
            HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  I pray that each of you be as abundantly blessed!

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Serious Concerns Remain Regarding Regressive Healthcare for Retired Public School Employees in Texas

Since the Teacher Retirement System of Texas held informational meetings two weeks ago regarding the dramatic healthcare changes that will take effect in January for all retired public school employees, I have received a number of emails and calls from people with countless questions and serious concerns about what is about to hit us.  I have written extensively about the bottom line, especially for those of us who are under the age of 65.  That bottom line about what the Texas Legislature has done to us includes:
·         The deductible for the individual retiree is increasing from $400 to $1500 in-network.
·         There will be no copay for healthcare or prescriptions until that deductible is met, meaning the retired employee will pay 100 percent (see only exception below—fifth bullet ) out of pocket.
·         The deductible for retirees who have a spouse/child on their insurance increasing to $3000, and not a penny will be paid (see only exception below—fifth bullet) until that is reached.  It will not be based on the individual but rather on the family unit.
·         The Maximum Out of Pocket will be $5,650 for the retiree and $11,300 for the family for in-network expenses.  For out-of-network expenses it will be $11,300 and $22,600, respectively.
·         This list of standard, generic drugs will be covered at 100 percent.
·         Some retired teachers under 65 still don’t know there are no longer three tiers of healthcare plans from which we can choose.  Now we have only one option—the high-deductible plan.

            I have also written extensively about how hard the Texas Retired Teachers Association fought for us. Their calls to action—and the overwhelming response from public school retirees across the state—played a significant role in making the changes a bit less devastating.  (Take, for example, that the Texas Legislature originally voted to increase the deductible for an individual retiree from $400 to $3000!)  Because “the sleeping giant” (aka retired educators who have a tendency to remain silent) awakened and bombarded Texas legislators with phone calls, emails, and visits to their offices, changes were made during the special session.  The $35 annual fee it costs to be a TRTA member is definitely money well spent.  And remember, the Texas Legislature meets again in 2019!  There is no time for silence! 
            It was TRTA that provided legislators and members with some startling facts, including…
·         During almost half of the 30-year history of TRS-Care, the State funded only 0.5% and the school districts contributed nothing.
·         TRS has more than 375,000 retirees with an average annuity of $1995 per month, while 105,000 retirees receive $1000 or LESS per month.
·         95% of public school employees do not pay into Social Security and the vast majority of retirees do not receive ANY SS benefits due to the GPO and WEP. TRS is their sole form of retirement security!
           
            There are a few things I learned at the TRS session that at least provide a glimmer of light in this healthcare darkness.  Here is one of them:
·         We will have a service available to us called “Teladoc.”  This service will allow us to speak to a licensed doctor 24/7/365 via telephone, website, or mobile app in fewer than 10 minutes to treat such conditions as bronchitis, pink eye, skin infections, depression, and anxiety.  Their network includes over 3,100 licensed healthcare professionals, including physicians, dermatologists, and mental health therapists who average 20 years of experience.  They are able to provide us with short-term prescriptions.  Rather than paying the cost of a doctor’s visit or an urgent care facility (with no copay, remember), there will be a $40 consult fee if our deductible has not been met--and that fee goes toward the deductible--or an $8 fee if our deductible has been met. 

            More next week on other programs we should all know about as the clock keeps ticking to our new, regressive healthcare plan.


NOTE:  To wake up and get engaged, we should all be members of our local unit of TRTA, too!  Next Monday is the meeting for the McAllen/Mission-area chapter. Although lunch is available for purchase, it is not required.  Annual membership dues are just $10.
To find the unit nearest you, click here

SECOND NOTE:  Have you visited FamilyWize yet?  If you ever have prescriptions, please do!

THIRD NOTE:  If you were unable to attend the TRS sessions on our healthcare changes but want to know what they had to say, visit this page to watch the webinar.

FOURTH NOTE:  If you aren’t familiar with Texans for Public Education, I urge you to go to their website and/or to follow their threads on Facebook.  It’s about non-partisan block voting for candidates with a record of supporting public education. 

STAY AWAKE, FORMERLY SLEEPING GIANT!!


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)