The Joint Committee on TRS Health Benefit Plans held its second meeting Wednesday, April 13, 2016, to discuss the benefits and costs associated with TRS-ActiveCare. Legislators also touched on overall funding, which affects all school employees whether enrolled in ActiveCare or a local health insurance plan.

TCTA’s Ann Fickel was an invited witness and spoke to legislators about the urgent need for additional funding from the state to help school employees afford their skyrocketing premiums. Committee members seemed focused primarily on how to curb costs, but TCTA emphasized how far below the average Texas is in its employer contributions toward employee health insurance.

Last year, the annual premium for family coverage for the average employee in the U.S. was a little more than $1,444 per month, according to the Kaiser Foundation Study. (The level of coverage, for comparative purposes, is similar to that of ActiveCare 2.) The average worker in the U.S. with employer-provided insurance pays only $406/month toward the family coverage premium, which is 28 percent of the cost, while Texas school employees in ActiveCare 2 – aside from any additional contributions from their districts – pay $1,098/month, or 83 percent.

To present that from the employer perspective: the average employer contributes over $1,000/month toward family premiums, while in Texas, the required contribution from the state and school district combined is only $225/month (some districts contribute more). The state of Texas has not increased its $75/month contribution since the program began nearly 15 years ago.

TCTA also noted that trying to control costs by cutting benefits is leaving employees with plans that aren’t particularly beneficial, with many members never getting past their high deductible levels. What was considered “catastrophic” coverage in 2002, when the ActiveCare program began, is now similar in coverage to the highest level of insurance available under ActiveCare.

Legislators seemed to understand the problem, but commented frequently that money was going to be tight next session, and that retiree health insurance is also going to require an infusion of state money in order to remain solvent. TCTA will continue to advocate for a significant increase in state funding for active employee insurance, and we encourage our members to contact their own legislators regularly on this issue.

Click here to read a Texas Tribune article on the hearing.