Monday, July 28, 2014

TRS Care and the Future

Do You have a spare billion dollars? If you do the TRS Care program would like to borrow it.

You see, the state health care program for retirees is currently a billion dollars in debt. In other words the TRS Care program will soon be broke and unable to pay the medical bills for retired teachers.

The state of Texas has belatedly decided to do something about this deficit by directing the Teacher Retirement System( TRS)  to study options for making the system solvent. You can read in depth about these options on the website of out teacher retirement association. The purpose of this blog is to briefly summarize these options for those who don't have the time to read the TRTA report and to give an opportunity to discuss your views on how to solve this crisis.

Option 1 Pre-fund the TRS Care fund. This would create a permanent fund much like the TRS Care pension fund. Currently the TRS Care is funded every biennium by a combination of contributions from the state, the school districts and the active teachers. Retirees are required by law to pay 30 per cent of the cost through premiums. Currently the state contributes 1% of payroll, the districts .55% of payroll and active employees .65%. TRTA estimates that if the state decides to prefund , the cost to the state and districts would rise from 1.55 % to 6% of payroll and the premium costs for retirees would rise by single digits. This is because the state law requires that retirees pay 30% of the cost of TRS Care.  My comment: I agree with TRTA'S comment that this would solve the long range funding problem but would be very expensive and painful, particularly to most retirees. I would suppose under this option here would be a fund which would be invested?

Option 2 Continue the pay as you go option. In other words, maintain the current system which funds TRS Care every biennium.  Even with this option costs for the state, active teachers and retirees would go up. As TRTA points out on their website, this would merely put off the long range problem for two more years. My comment: Of course the legislature could just decide to not fund the program at all during some future biennium. 

Option 3 Prefund the program as in option one but only for ten years, rather than 30. TRTA'S take is that this option will be less costly than option one but will still not be a permanent solution as option one would be. My take: I think this option deserves serious consideration. There will be added costs to the state, active teachers, the districts, and maybe even to retirees but less than option one. Plus given the changing world of health care , the situation in ten years may require a complete reevaluation anyway.

Option 4 Retirees pay full cost of "optional coverage". Most TRS retirees are aware that there are three tiers in the TRS Care program. Tier one is considered "catastrophic coverage" The retiree actually pays no premiums  for tier one but has a very high deductible. Under option two and three the retiree pays premiums but the state subsidizes the cost. Tier two and three are considered "optional" coverage. Option 4 would require retirees to pay the full cost of tier two and three. TRTA'S take is that this option would require the retiree to bear the full load of the needed reform. TRTA gives an example that a retiree on option three would find their premiums increased from $ 295 to $ 616! My take. Holy Batman! Any legislator who voted for this plan is no friend of  retired teachers.

Option 5 Make the Aetna Medicare advantage plan the "mandated" plan for medicare eligible retirees. Currently about  60 per cent of medicare eligible retirees have chosen the medicare advantage plan. TRTA'S take. This option would not in itself solve the funding problem but would be used in concert with other options.  My take: I question if TRS can force all retirees onto the Aetna Medicare Advantage plan. I think under Federal law all those eligible for medicare have the right to original medicare.

Option 6: Move to a health retirement account. Under this option, employers give a certain amount of money to the employees to buy insurance. The contribution is tax free to both the employer and employee. TRTA'S take: Trta is not even sure this is possible under the law because health savings account are usually given by employers and TRS Care recipients are not employees since they are retired. TRTA also comments that this would be a complete move away from the state's commitment to provide an accessible health care for retirees.     My take: While I understand TRTA'S concerns I suspect that in the long run the entire U.S. health care system is going to move increasingly toward the idea that the consumer be given some amount of money and will buy their own health insurance on  exchanges like the Affordable care exchanges. I think as retirees we need to assure if such a change does take place, that the state gives enough money to TRS Care retirees to make the insurance truly affordable and accessible. 

A couple of final thoughts and questions. 

               Why is TRS Care one billion dollars in debt. Someone obviously dropped the ball, whether, TRS, the Legislature, or the comptroller.

                the major cost of TRS Care is those retirees who are not yet eligible for medicare( that is the time period between the time a person retires and they reach 65). Changes to the law in the last legislature will basically require those who retire in the future to be 62 years of age, with those grandfathered out whose age and years of service add up to seventy at the time the law was passed. This should certainly strengthen TRS Care in the long run.

                 The law states that premiums from retirees must equal at least thirty per cent of the costs of TRS Care. Perhaps we should consider a two tier system such as medicare currently has and have retirees who have annuities greater than, say $90,000 pay a higher premium. Just a thought.

your turn I would be "pleased as punch" to have your comments. Which, if any of the six choices do you favor. Any other solutions would also be appreciated. Of course a correction to anything I have written above that is incorrect is also welcome. Just be nice, so as not to hurt my delicate self image. Just scroll down and click comments. Thanks for visiting my blog.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Retirement anxiety


What in the heck, you might ask is"retirement anxiety" Anxiety is the fear that something might happen in the future, as distinguished from a real fear, which is something actually happening right now. So, for example, if you wake up in the morning and fear a tornado could strike your house, thats an anxiety; if you if you look outside and there's a twister heading for your house. then that's the time to have some real fear .

So what are some of these anxieties retired teachers or those pondering retirement might have? Following are a few examples:

Financial anxiety ; The famed actress of the 1940's , May West said " I've been rich and I've been poor and believe me, rich is better". Well a retired teacher might not be rich but we sure don't want to be poor either. Here are a few suggestions for alleviating financial anxiety.

  •  Find out how much income you will have from your Trs annuity. The best route to find you answer to that question is to head down to Austin and visit TRS. I'm sure you will find them very nice folks and can give you the options on your annuity during retirement

  • Use your summer break to try out how comfortably you can live on the annuity you will receive from TRS. That is live during your Summer break on the income you will receive from TRS when you retire  rather than your regular teacher's salary.
  • Find the amount you have in your IRA OR 401k from your Human Resources Department. When you turn 59 and one half you can begin to withdraw from you IRA or 401K without penalty At 70 and one half you have  to begin taking out the money from your IRA/401k. If you haven't already started a 401 K, quit reading this blog immediately and talk to your Human Resources Department.
Find out more about investing. You could hire a financial adviser or just educate yourself. There are many superb books on investing. I'm no financial adviser, but I do have a tip. I am a strong believer in index investing and there is a wonderful website where followers of Vanguard founder Jack Bogle give wonderful, and free, advice on
          Health anxiety. Most Texas teachers, like most Americans, receive their health insurance through their employers. Obviously retirement will end that option. However retired Texas teachers become immediately eligible for TRS Care. TRS Care is a less expensive option than COBRA and most other options available for those who retire before they are eligible for medicare.. A word of caution though, TRS Care is facing a funding crisis and all retiring teachers should keep themselves aware of the options being considered to "solve" the problem. I plan on blogging about these options in the near future. Of course anyone who retires at 65 or beyond will be eligible for Medicare if they have paid in for 40 quarters. The good news is that after retirement you will have more time to develop an exercise routine to keep yourself in good health.

  • Time Anxiety . "You've got the money honey, I've got the time." Well your Honey may or may not have the money, but you'll definitely have the time when you retire. Some retirees have a really difficult time with all that spare time. So if that's one of your anxieties, here are some not so original suggestions, but I think ,sound suggestions.
  •  If you don't already have some hobbies and passions, develop some. Learn a foreign language, take a class( cooking dancing etc.,) Take up golf, tennis or some other sport
  • Strengthen your relationships. Now you actually have all that time you always said you wanted to spend with your family. Enjoy your new found time with your spouse( but not too much time) and you children and grandchildren . Also don't forget friendships. Set aside time for a weekly breakfast or lunch with your friends.
  • Volunteer. There are a plethora of organizations out there seeking someone to volunteer to help their undermanned ship. They will welcome you aboard. Call up one of your local nonprofits or visit these websites: 
  • Work part time. Working part time will not only help relieve that financial anxiety but also help build new social bonds. I myself do some substitution, but if you find that thought about as appealing as a root canal, there are many other possibilities in the world of work. For further suggestions visit:
Do absolutely nothing but get up each day and look upon it as a day to enjoy your free time. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this use of your time. You've earned all that time.

Your turn. If you have any of these anxieties or other anxieties about retiring, let us know. If you are already retired and have found a way to overcome these anxieties, we definitely want to hear from you. Your readership and comments are the key to this blog, so just scroll to the bottom of this page, click on comments and write to your heart's delight. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

D Day and My Dad's worst birthday

June 5th 1944 was my Dad's worst birthday. I know this because he spent that birthday with 160,000 other seasick, anxious and probably scared soldiers off the beach at Normandy. They were awaiting the order to land on the beaches and begin liberating Normandy from the iron grip of Adolph Hitler.

My Dad , Hersell T. Wilson, (who I will often refer to as Hersell: just remember Hersell is my Dad)was born in Corsicana Texas on June 5th 1915. Like many of his generation, he had to drop out of school and was working as sharecropper on a farm when he met and married my Mother, Aileen, in 1936. 

The winds of war blew into Texas in the early 1940's and Hersell was drafted into the army in October 1942, leaving alone his pregnant wife Aileen . This writer was the not yet born child.

 Hersell was assigned to the 90TH Infantry Division. The division was called the TO Division because they were primarily from Texas and Oklahoma, but later the TO was said to stand for Tough Hombre . Allegedly the tough hombre tag was given to them by General George Patton himself, as they were assigned to his Third Army. 

My Dad and others in his division spent 1942 training in Death Valley California because they were ostensibly going to fight in North Africa.  This being the Army though, after training for North Africa, they were sent to England to take part in the Normandy invasion. After training in England my Dad's unit was assigned to take part in the D Day assault and that was how he would up off the coast of Normandy on his birthday of June 5th.

Actually  General Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of Allied forces for D DAY , had planned for the attack  to take place on June 5th, my dad's birthday; however  a storm front with heavy rains and winds struck the English channel and the province of Normandy on June 5TH and the assault had to be cancelled. Most weather forecasters were predicting the storm would last for  several days  which meant the invasion would have had to be postponed indefinitely because the tides would have prevented the invasion after June 8th. 

The meteorologist  assigned to the allied forces told General Eisenhower that he believed there would be a break in the storm on June 6th. General Eisenhower trusted his weather forecaster enough to give the order to attack on June 6th. Had the German weather forecasters been right and General Eisenhower's forecaster been wrong the invasion would probably have failed, thousands of Allied soldiers including my Dad would have died, and Western Europe would have remained under Hitler's control. That Allied forecaster may have made the most important weather forecaster in history.

My Dad , like most of those who were there never talked much about the horrors of that June 6th on Omaha Beach. Those of us who saw the opening scene of the movies. Saving Private Ryan  or The Longest Day probably have some small idea of what those men went through. My Dad only mentioned that he nearly drowned climbing from the troop ship to the landing craft( lSI landing ship infantry), that was to take them to the beach. Apparently to save himself, he dumped the tripods for the machine gun in the channel. When they reached the beach and an officer asked about the tripod my Dad informed him the tripod was back in the water and he was welcome to go get it if he wished. The tripod stayed in the ocean. 

Hersell and the other survivors of that Longest Day( ten thousand died) moved inland after securing the beach. General Patton's third Army led the Allied forces in the  liberation of France and became the first Allied unit to cross into Germany. Hersell's war, however, ended in October 1944, when he was seriously wounded at St' Lo France, losing a finger and suffering other wounds from a mortar shell. After several months in a hospital in London he returned to the United States In 1945.

My Mother has told me that Hersell would often wake up at night during the middle of the night, shouting, as the memories of the carnage and cruelty he had seemed invaded his sleep. One memory that stands out to me is a conversation between Hersell and an acquaintance when I was a teenager. 

Acquaintance: How much disability payments do you draw from your World War II wounds

Hersell: About $ 50

Acquaintance: Why that's a shame :only $50!

Hersell: Fingers were going very cheaply in those days.

Hersell lived to celebrate many more birthdays after that terrible 1944 birthday. He spent most of his working life with Seven Up company in Waco Texas and even managed to survive the youth and teenage years of my brother and I which hopefully weren't quits as traumatic as that day in Normandy. I know he particularly enjoyed his retirement years with my Mother and the time he was able to spend with his two lovely granddaughters. 

My Dad has been gone for seventeen years now  and it has been 70 years since his worst birthday, but not a June 5th or 6th goes by that I don't think of him and those other wonderful World War 11  veterans I had the privilege of knowing. They were my heroes when I was seven and they are still my heroes at the age of 70. 

Your turn: I would be most pleased to have you comment on the article or tell about your own relatives or friends who may have been veterans.
Just scroll down and click on comments  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Elvis is 79

                                                    Elvis Is Alive

             Elvis may have left the building but he is still alive in our minds and heart. January 8TH would have been Elvis' 79th birthday.. So why am I writing about Elvis on this site; after all Elvis didn't live long enough to retire, was not from Texas, and was not a professional teacher.All true but I think most of us who are currently retired   teachers do have vivid memories of Elvis from our youth so I'll share my memories and hope you'll share your memories or thoughts.

                                                       Elvis and we Who Were Once Young

              Elvis was born in Tupelo Mississippi in 1935. After public schooling and a brief stint as truck driver Elvis began singing at various places near his native Mississippi. The first time I heard of Elvis was when I was about 14 and an uncle of mine who was stationed in the air force in Louisiana came to visit us and said he had seen this young singer on a local country and western show in Louisiana. "Mark my words this Elvis Presley is going to be a big star.". I can't remember if I marked his words but I have obviously remembered them. Elvis first hit public fame when he checked into Heartbreak Hotel, warned us not to "Step On His Blue Suede Shoes"   and scolded us for being "Nothing But a Hound Dog"

              These hits led to Elvis being featured  on the biggest variety show of the time the Ed Sullivan Show and the second biggest show The Steve Allen Show. Elvis reputation was made when NBC  ordered the cameras to not show Elvis from the waist down because Elvis made some moves while singing that were quite suggestive for the 1950's. Elvis may not have given birth to Rock and Roll but he soon became it's king. This of course insured his popularity with all of us who were then in our teens and were looking for a rebel with a cause. The fact our parents disapproved of him was of course even more in his favor. I've always thought Elvis came along at just the right time . After all there were 74 million Baby Boomers ( born between 1946-64) and they had money to spend because the USA  was the richest country in history in 1954 and teenagers, a new concept in the 50's, had disposable income which they spent mostly on records. Yes, there was once a thing called records. I myself talked my parents into buying me a guitar, which I'm sure they couldn't afford. Other than my striking resemblance to Elvis it soon became evident that my guitar playing left much to be desired . OK OK  so I don't have a striking resemblance to Elvis either.            Elvis went on to make one hit song after another in the 1950's . My personal favorite was  I Can't Help Falling In Love with you". All of this ,of course,  further consolidated Elvis as  the King of rock and roll.

                                                              Elvis Went to Germany and the British invaded.

    In 1958 Elvis was drafted into the army and served two years in Germany. In my mind this has always stood out more than any other fact about Elvis character because he could have found a way to avoid service but chose to interrupt his career and served honorably for two years Elvis met a the young daughter of his commanding officer there, a stunning fifteen year old named Priscilla who would become his wife and a star in her own right. Elvis left Germany in 1960 and I joined the army arrived in Germany myself in 1962. I always joked that the army sent me there because they didn't want the German  Frauleins to be to disappointed over Elvis leaving. The Frauleins did not seem to impressed by my arrival but I know many never forgot Elvis.

        Elvis career took a downturn after he returned to the states at least partly because the new trend from Britain of bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had come to dominate rock. The King was not yet dead but he would never again sit on the throne of rock a she had in the 50's . Elvis also had a movie career in the 60's( I always thought his movies were terrible) and then recreated his career as a Las Vegas entertainer. Elvis personal life went downhill though in the 1970's with his divorce from Priscilla and his descent into drugs and over indulging his appreciation of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Elvis died in 1977


My own personal thoughts are that Elvis is one of the more important entertainers of the Twentieth century given his role in the birth of Rock and Roll . I also think he had one of the great voices and could sing in many genres including not just rock but country and gospel. I could go on but this is after all a  blog and not an essay. Besides it's your turn.

                                                     Your Turn

 OK enough of my musings. Time for your thoughts.

              WHAT are your memories of Elvis

              What were your favorite songs

                If you're one of the young readers( below 60 is now young to me) what are your thoughts

                 Any other thoughts you might have

                  Just scroll down to the bottom of this page , click on comments and write away.

                   Thanks for reading       



Thursday, July 18, 2013

Former Republican party presidential candidate Governor Rick Perry speaks during a pro-life event called "Treasure Life" at the Tampa Aquarium in Tampa, Florida on August 28, 2012. The Republican National Coalition for Life and FRC Action's event, "Treasure Life," honored the pro-life contributions of the former Republican party presidential candidates Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Gov. Rick Perry for their advocacy for every stage of life, from conception to natural death. AFP PHOTO/MLADEN ANTONOVMLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/GettyImages

Was Rick Perry a good governor of Texas? More narrowly, but more important from the viewpoint of this blog, was Rick Perry a good governor for the retired teachers of Texas?

                                       The negatives

Rick Perry was the governor of Texas from 2000 to 2013. (Actually his term will continue until 2014) During his terms of office Texas' retired teachers have received only one cost of living adjustment and that was in the last session. The result is that Texas retired teachers have lost one third of their buying power since 2001.

During a large part of the governor's term he allowed the state contributions to fall to the minimum of  six per cent. A  plethora of studies have shown that the single biggest factor in the proper funding of retirement funds is the state contribution. Had the state contributed more than the minimum the fund might actually been fully funded now.

A third negative for Governor Perry is the lack of leadership shown by Governor Perry on issues important to retired teachers. I realize there are many issues that compete for the governor's attention but the governor chooses which issues to concentrate on and for whatever reason Governor Perry showed little leadership or even interest in retired teachers.

                                      The Positives

The positives of Governor Perry's terms mainly are related to the powerful performance of the Texas economy. This, at least in my opinion, has to count in the Governor's favor since, in addition to our  being retired educators, we are citizens of the Lone Star state. 

First is the unemployment rate. The unemployment rate in Texas is only 6.5 percent while the unemployment rate nationwide is 7.6 percent. The more people employed the more consumed and the more revenue for the state. Not only is this good for the people who now have a job but also for the TRS fund as the state will now have more funds to pay into the fund.

A second positive for the governor's record is the low cost of living. This means that our cost of living at least remained reasonable, even if we didn't get a cost of living adjustment. 

A final positive for the Governor is that the pay for teachers actually went up faster than inflation during his term. Since contributions to the TRS  fund are based on total teacher payroll, the more pay for teachers, the better for the TRS fund.

                                            The Conclusion

Since this blogger was in the education business I'll give my conclusions about Governor Perry in the form of a grade. In terms of what he did for the Texas retired teachers I would give him a D, In terms of his overall grade as a governor of Texas I would give him a B . 

                                              Your Turn.

So what do you think?

Was Rick Perry a good governor for Texas Retired teachers?

Was he a good governor of Texas?

If he ran again, would you have voted for him?

To leave your comments just scroll to the bottom of this page and click on "comments" and leave your opinion. Thanks in advance 


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Getting Better Not Older


              Are you getting better or just older. Well if you're like me it depends on the day. Eric Pfeiffer in his book Winning Strategies for Successful  Aging says we can get better as we get older but we must have goals and strategies to get better as we age.

                     Author's thesis: Pfeiffer says that " in this book you will learn that you probably have years and years to live after you reach 65, in which to enjoy yourself and to accomplish things you have had to postpone until now". The question is will you use those years wisely. Pfeiffer carries out his thesis  in a way that will be familiar to those of us retired teachers who have ever written a curriculum guide, he has a goal in each chapter that will help us to age gracefully and then he lists strategies to reach that goal. Pfeiffer divides this into pragmatic goals, health goals and what he refers to as spiritual goals.

          Pragmatic goals. The author writes that one important goal is to choose your ideal place to live . Pfeiffer's strategies include determining whether we want to age in place( stay in our present home), move to another state or  country, or move to a retirement community. The author suggests that if we choose to age in place we should start now think about how to make the house "age proof" by ,for example, putting grab bars in the bathroom.  The choice to move somewhere else may come from a sense of adventure , a desire to escape the climate where one now lives, or to be near children ( or away from them). This blogger's views are that the author is correct that anyone planning to move to a new state or country should first spend some time in that state or country. I have spent the large part of the last three years in a foreign country ( the Philippines) and while there is much to be said for the experience of living abroad, there is also a need to  learn to be very adaptable. As for a retirement community, I would have to grab a gun and mask and rob a couple of stores  to afford them.

           A second pragmatic goal covered by the author is "do you have the money to allow you to age gracefully"? The author suggests the retiree should divide his money into lifetime money and non-lifetime money. Examples of  lifetime income include social security and pensions. Of course in the case of retired Texas teachers most of us have either little or no social security , and so our guaranteed lifetime income is our TRS pension. Examples of non-lifetime income are defined contributions plans such as 403B. Pfeiffer suggests turning the non-guaranteed income into lifetime income by putting at least some of the 403B type of  investment into an immediate annuity that guarantees a lifetime income. Further strategies recommended include keeping taxes low and finding a financial adviser. My only disappointment with Mr. Pfieffer 's recommendations was his failure to mention index funds which cover the entire market, such as Vanguards Total Stock Market Index . I would also suggest visiting a website called Bogleheads This site provides a forum where a bunch of very intelligent guys and gals answer your questions about investment for free. Why pay for advice? No I have no financial connection to Vanguard except I wish that site would have been around when I was young and I might actually have some money myself.

 Health. Good health is a prerequisite for successful aging. That's how Pfeiffer begins the first of three chapters on health. He writes that our first strategy must be to take charge of our own health by knowing our vital numbers such as cholesterol , blood pressure and blood sugar and keeping them under control. A second strategy is to learn about a healthy diet and follow that diet. In addition he gives the advice we have all heard that we need to get up off the couch and get on the move. He suggests we need to get some exercise every day and recommends walking and a pedometer so we will know the number of steps. Though I am a committed jogger, I think he is right that walking may be the best exercise as we age .

The chapter on brain health is particularly interesting and useful. Pfeiffer is a genuine pioneer  in the field of the brain and aging. His strategies for maintaining brain age as we age is to exercise our brains. His examples of exercising our brains include learning a new language, learning a new dance step( I think I'll skip that as I have always been a threat to the health of the feet of any lady kind enough to dance with me), learn the art of tai chi and read, read, read. He also discusses Alzheimer's and has in the book The Seven Warning Signs of Alzheimer's  which he himself created. The warning signs are listed on page 121 of  Successful Aging.

Relationships.  Dr.Pfeiffer instructs us to make our relationships a high priority. Numerous studies have shown our relationships play an essential role in successful aging. The author writes that if we are married that is the most important relationship and we need to work on that relationship. His strategies for successful relationships include belonging to a church , volunteer work or joining a group. 

sex: OK now that I have your attention, Dr Pfeiffer assures us that we can engage in sex into our 70's 80's or even 90's. I guess this is indeed  good news about aging but I still think the news that coffee and chocolate is good for us is even better news. He also has a section on sex in nursing homes which put images in my mind I could have done without. 

Maintaining our independence: I suspect one of the greatest fears we have of aging is we will become dependent on others and lose our sense of  independence. Dr. Pfeiffer's strategies for keeping out independence is don't take unnecessary chances such as climbing on the roof or ladders. I felt some degree of trepidation after reading this as I had just got off the roof . Another strategy is to foolproof your home.

I hope I have given you some idea of the flavor of this book so you will want to take a bigger taste. I do believe the strategies mentioned in this book  will help us age successfully. 

                   Your Turn

 Thanks for reading. I would love to have your opinions. What are your goal and strategies for successful aging.? What are your thoughts on living to 100? Just scroll down to the bottom and click on comments.