Retired Texas teachers see insurance premiums soar

For teachers who don’t make a lot of money, the health insurance program created for them has long been one of the top benefits

But now, retired teachers learned what they're having to pay now for health insurance, and it's making some of them sick.

Many of those who didn't opt out of the Texas retirement service health plan had a terrible shock when their pension checks hit last month. What was deducted for their insurance premiums was hundreds and hundreds of dollars more than usual.

Retired teacher Mike Senter was stunned after receiving his January retirement check from the Teacher Retirement System, or TRS.

“When I looked at the amount, I said ‘That’s off by $400. How could that be?’” he recalled.

Senter tried to call TRS and couldn't get through. He's not alone. The TRS website indicates they’ve had a flood of calls from others Senter who've learned insurance premiums skyrocketed.

“I was paying $28 a month, which was the basic coverage,” Senter explained. “Now, it’s $408 higher.”

“The reason for the increase in the health care premiums is because TRS Care just literally ran out of money,” explained Dallas Retired Teachers Association President Verna Mitchell.

Some people are seeing rates soar even higher.

“It depends on your category,” Mitchell said. “If you’re younger than 65 and retired early, you’re gonna pay more. If you include not only yourself but family members, it’s gonna be more.”

The health plan known as TRS Care has become more expensive as the system replaced four health plans with a new one that’s administered by a private insurer. It created higher premiums and deductibles in an effort to stabilize the teacher retirement health insurance program.

“We didn't just get there. I think this is a problem that’s been blossoming for a long period of time, and the legislature didn’t do anything about it,” Mitchell said. “I’m concerned because TRS is not only responsible for our health insurance, but they are also responsible or they oversee our pension plan.”

Senter’s faith in TRS is shaken.

“The confidence in that is more than undermined,” he admitted. “You have to regroup. You have to find out what are we gonna do now?”

Senter and others like him may be able to opt out and seek their own health insurance coverage, but they can’t do so until the next open enrollment period.