AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Thousands of retired Texas teachers are abandoning the health insurance program the state created for them, a concerning move for a health care system that faces a $700 million funding shortfall.
About 7,800 retirees have requested to leave the health insurance program housed under the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The number of requests to opt out of the program has been about 1,500 or less per year in the past, the Austin American-Statesman reported .
The wave of requests to leave the health plan threatens to worsen the program’s budget woes and could mean higher costs to retired teachers down the road.
“Before if somebody called and told me they were leaving TRS-Care, I would have said, ‘Why would you do that?’ and advise against it,” said Tim Lee, executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association. “But this plan has become far more expensive and there are real reasons that somebody may choose to leave … and most of it has been can they afford it.”
This year’s wave comes as officials with TRS replaced four plans for Medicare-eligible retirees with a new Medicare Advantage plan that goes into effect Jan. 1. The new plan is administered by a private insurer instead of the federal government, and has created higher premium costs and deductibles with limited networks of doctors and services for many retirees and their families.
Additionally, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services didn’t receive information last month from TRS about the thousands of teachers who are opting out of the health system. Because of that, many of those teachers couldn’t buy health insurance elsewhere by the program’s open enrollment deadline Thursday.
“These people have been put through the wringer, and some of them think that it’s just being done just to keep the (TRS) plan intact,” Lee said.
The health plan has since given the required information to the federal agency. Most of the retirees trying opting out of TRS will be offered a special enrollment period starting Friday to buy health insurance in the open market.