Texas legislative budget committees consider bills to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds on TRS healthcare
Retirement | TRS | Social Security Texas Legislature COVID-19
Date Posted: 10/06/2021 | Author: Monty Exter
As the Texas Legislature’s third special session continues, the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees are considering bills this week that would use federal COVID-19 relief funds to help offset educators’ healthcare costs through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). A pair of ATPE-supported bills – Senate Bill (SB) 8 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and House Bill (HB) 145 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood) – seek to appropriate $286 million in federal relief funds to cover COVID-related health care expenses for TRS insurance plans.
Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, TRS committed to covering 100% of the cost of COVID-related claims of active and retired members enrolled in a TRS healthcare plan. Since then, around 30% of the more than 700,000 members enrolled in TRS-Care or TRS-ActiveCare have had either a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. Additionally, more than 200,000 members (199,000 in TRS-ActiveCare and 23,000 in TRS-Care Standard) have made an office visit that included a COVID-related issue. In keeping the agency’s commitment to provide coverage free of copays and deductibles, TRS has paid out $286 million in claims related to COVID-19 between March 2020 and August 2021.
To date the state has appropriated none of the federal COVID-19 relief funding provided to Texas to cover those costs. However, thanks to Sen. Nelson’s SB 8 and Rep. Bonnen’s HB 145, it appears that is about to change. The two companion bills each appropriate more than $16 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds provided by Congress through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Of that $16 billion, the bills would use $286 million to cover COVID-related expenses incurred by TRS health insurance plans.
Most members obtaining health benefits through TRS are enrolled in programs that are self-insured by TRS. For these plans, TRS directly bears the cost of member healthcare, and the premiums collected are used to pay directly for healthcare services, not to purchase insurance from a third-party provider. Because of this, any cost increase to the TRS plan, such as the additional coverage provided for COVID-related care, would normally be passed along to members through increased premiums. If passed, the appropriation provided in SB 8 or HB 145 would allow TRS to avoid approximately 5% in additional premiums for TRS-ActiveCare during the FY2023 plan year ($30 per month per person on average), and the legislation would allow for an approximate $400 waiver in premiums for TRS-Care members or for those funds to remain in the TRS-Care trust fund to offset any future shortfalls.
SB 8 was heard Monday, Oct. 4, by the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Nelson. HB 145 will be heard by the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Bonnen, Wednesday, Oct. 6. ATPE members can use the communication tools provided through Advocacy Central on the ATPE website to encourage their legislators to pass SB 8 and HB 145 and to maintain full funding for COVID-related TRS health insurance costs in the bills as they move forward.
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If my memory serves me right, billions of federal dollar was allocated to be spent in Texas for education and other Covid 19 related issues. For example, the free breakfast and lunch given to ALL public school students regardless of family income is politically motivated and a waste of thousands of dollars when you see how much food is thown out each day. Why not give all public education employees the same benefit of government paid for free meals? That would serve all involved in public education Makes as much sense is what is going on now. We should stay tuned find out where all the rest of that covid money is going. Maybe some of it is funding these three special session in Texas Legislature.i reckon a whole lot of State employees in Austin appreciate the extra pay and benefits. God bless the government!
This would be HUGE!