House Representative

Blanco, CÚsar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 02/19/2015

Rep. Blanco Files Legislation to Provide Financial Relief for El Paso's Teachers

Austin, TX: State Representative César J. Blanco (HD-76) has filed legislation to provide financial relief for teachers facing rapidly increasing health insurance premium rates. The state contribution for the teachers' health insurance program, known as the Teacher Retirement System Active-Care (TRS-ActiveCare) has not increased since the program was created in 2003. As a result, school-teachers are paying significantly more each month for rising health premiums. Blanco's House Bill 1597 would increase the state contribution for TRS-ActiveCare from $75 a month to $150 a month.
"El Paso's teachers are getting financially hit and we have a responsibility to remove some of that burden," said Rep. Blanco. "Our teachers should be focused on educating our kids and not worried about their rapidly increasing health care premiums. Increasing the state contribution after more than a decade is not only the right thing to do - it will help us to retain quality teachers."
While the state minimum contributions have not changed since the inception of the program in 2003, an employee’s share of the total premium cost has significantly increased. Rapidly rising premiums are forcing some educators to select health care plans with less benefits.
Educators in El Paso have previously presented state legislators postcards signed by employees in support of increased state contributions.
For your reference, below please find a story from the El Paso Times on the topic.

El Paso educators ask state to contribute more to health plans

By: Lindsey Anderson
December 22, 2014

El Paso educators want Texas lawmakers to increase the state's contribution to their health plans and allow school districts to opt out of a statewide health insurance program.

The El Paso Teachers Association is giving state representatives postcards signed by El Paso Independent School District employees showing support for increasing state contributions and altering the terms of the Texas health insurance program for public school employees.

EPISD employees are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the program, called the Teacher Retirement System ActiveCare, as their health care costs rise while the state's monthly contribution to premiums remains the same, EPTA president Norma De La Rosa said.

The state's contribution has been $75 a month per employee since the Legislature first funded TRS ActiveCare in 2002. School districts must contribute at least $150 monthly per employee. EPISD contributes $435 per month, but even that's not enough, educators said.

Premiums and deductibles have risen more quickly than salaries, meaning health care costs eat up more and more of employees' paychecks, De La Rosa said.

"Our pocketbooks as employees have been hit really hard," she said.

EPISD employees are not alone in their frustration.

Texas State Teachers Association public affairs director Ed Martin said some employees' health care costs have risen more than 200 percent in recent years.

"Some pay more for health insurance than their mortgage," he said.

De La Rosa said she has heard of employees and their children forgoing medical care because of high costs.

Hourly employees, like custodians, are hit especially hard, she said.

About 90 percent of Texas school districts offer TRS ActiveCare, including EPISD and many smaller school districts in El Paso County.

Others, like Ysleta and Socorro, have self-funded plans.

School districts cannot leave TRS ActiveCare once they join the program, meaning districts can no longer shop around for health insurance.

"We call it the 'Hotel California' Provision because you can never leave," Martin said.

He said he understands TRS ActiveCare's funding could be in jeopardy if districts drop out en masse, but many districts, especially those in El Paso, want the chance to shop around.

"To be stuck, to be locked into an insurance and not have an opportunity to go and look for something else that is affordable and a benefit to employees is unacceptable," said De La Rosa, who works as a literacy coach at EPISD's Lincoln Middle School.

Representatives for TRS ActiveCare were not available for comment Monday as they were out of the office for the holidays.

EPISD Board of Managers president Dee Margo said he "is in complete support" of efforts to allow districts to leave TRS ActiveCare.

If that doesn't work, he said he would consider withdrawing EPISD from TRS ActiveCare regardless of potential lawsuits.

"The bottom line is it's bad — bad for taxpayers, bad for teachers — and it never should've been done," Margo said.

EPISD joined TRS ActiveCare in 2010 under former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia and the elected Board of Trustees, De La Rosa said.

During the last legislative session in 2010, El Paso advocates unsuccessfully tried get legislators to raise state contributions and allow districts to opt out of TRS ActiveCare, De La Rosa said.

"It was just us, and we didn't have the momentum that we needed," she said. "Now, everybody's feeling the pinch."

There may be enough momentum this year to get the state to increase its contribution, Martin said.

Allowing districts to opt out of TRS ActiveCare may be a harder sell, officials said.

The Legislature convenes Jan. 13.

Lindsey Anderson may be reached at 546-6345.