DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Most public school teachers did not get into the profession to get rich but for their years of service, the Texas government promised teachers a small pension at retirement and affordable healthcare the rest of their life.
That was the deal.
Teachers say they have made good on their part but say Texas is no longer holding up its end of the bargain.
This year more than 270,000 retired teachers in Texas saw their health insurance costs skyrocket.
The dramatic increase has forced some retirees back into the work force and others to forgo filling their prescriptions.
After nearly 30 years working as a teacher and coach at Grand Prairie High School, Randy Heisig spends a lot of his time at the golf course.
Most days, however, Heisig is not playing golf instead; he is working as a course marshal.
Heisig said he enjoys his job but wishes he could work 20 hours a week not the nearly 40 hours he now needs to.
“When I left teaching, I was ready to give up the full time stuff,” Heisig said.
Without working the extra hours along with working two other part-time jobs, Heisig, who is diabetic, said he could not afford his two insulin shots.
For years with the insurance the state provided him as a retired teacher, his insulin shots cost him $50 a month.
This year he is paying $900 a month until he meets his $1500 deductible when his cost will go to $180 a month.
Heisig said, “It’s a huge difference when you are on the fixed income.”
Heisig said he is fortunate he is able to earn extra income. For other retired teachers their health limits their options.
Valerie Babbitt spent 23 years teaching high school in Bells ISD before having to retire early because of a debilitating autoimmune disease.
Babbitt said last year she spent roughly $30 a month on her prescriptions. This year those same drugs with insurance, she said, will cost her more than $1,300 until she reaches her deductible.
“I can’t afford that,” she said.
So Babbitt is now skipping doses and against her doctor’s advice said no to a pricey infusion therapy
“I’m going to lose my life because I have quit taking some medication that I need to stop the progression of the disease and I’m upset about that,” she said.
State Representative Dan Flynn is the Chairman of the House Pension Committee. He passed the legislation that changed the health care coverage for retired teachers.
He said he had to.
“It would have gone broke,” the Republican lawmaker from Van explained. “It was unsustainable.”
With an increase in health care costs and with retired teachers now living longer, state lawmakers last year added more than a half-billion dollars to the retired teacher health care system to keep the system afloat.
That was not enough, however, so the state raised deductibles and premiums on retired teachers.
Flynn said, “It may not be what a retired teacher likes or wants but we are doing what we can. We’ve even taken money out of the rainy day fund and we’ve never done anything like that before.”
The retired teachers’ health system faces a projected shortfall of $400 million by 2021. This means it is only going to get harder for those struggling to pay for their medicine.
“If I had known this from the very beginning at day one, when I retired, I also could have planned better for that kind of situation,” Heisig said. “I feel let down by a lot of people.”
Many retired teachers want lawmakers to combine the retired teacher’s health insurance with the health insurance plan that most other retired state employees are covered by, including retired state lawmakers.
Flynn said the state employee plan, known as the ERS, may look different but is not necessarily better.