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In bid for powerful chairmanship of House Insurance Committee, Rep. Muñoz wants “Texas Rainy Day Fund” to help improve benefits, reduce costs of TRS-Care for 270,000 retired educators

Featured, from left: Danny Díaz, Financial Aid Specialist, La Joya Independent School District; Myriam Téllez, Director, Guidance and Counseling Program, La Joya Independent School District; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission; and Steve Chapa, Director, Student Outreach, the University of Texas at Austin. The House 36 state legislator was participating in Decision Day on Friday, May 4, 2018 at Palmview High School, where seniors were committing to attend colleges or universities of their choice. 

Photograph By PETER SALINAS

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In bid for powerful chairmanship of House Insurance Committee, Rep. Muñoz wants “Texas Rainy Day Fund” to help improve benefits, reduce costs of TRS-Care for 270,000 retired educators

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

In his bid for the powerful chairmanship of the House Committee on Insurance, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, wants to conduct public hearings on using the “Texas Rainy Day Fund” to help increase benefits and reduce costs of health insurance to more than 270,000 retired teachers and retired public school employees and their dependents.

To achieve that goal, Muñoz is asking Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to appoint Muñoz, who currently serves as Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Insurance, to the top leadership position of the legislative group, which has power over health, vehicle, life, home and business insurance policies.

On Monday, April 30, 2018, the chairmanship of the House Committee on Insurance became available when Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, officially resigned from the Texas Legislature after Gov. Greg Abbott appointed him to fill an unexpired term for district judge in Grayson County.

Muñoz said he is ready, willing, and able to succeed Phillips immediately, noting that the role of every vice chairman of the House’s 42 permanent legislative committees is to become chairman in situations such as the resignation of the chairman.

“I have the legislative experiences, not only in the House Committee on Insurance, but also in the House Committee on Appropriations, and other major House committees, to continue with the important work of the House Committee on Insurance, which will be making major recommendations for new laws to be considered when the 85th Texas Legislature returns to work in January 2019,” Muñoz said.

The House Committee on Insurance has been holding public hearings and will be proposing legislation at the end of this year on nine major issues, ranging from examining possible gaps and vulnerabilities in insurance coverage brought to light by Hurricane Harvey, to assessing the status of the health insurance market in Texas and opportunities to improve this market through waivers of federal law or other mechanisms.

“As chairman, I would work closely with my outstanding colleagues on the House Committee on Insurance to propose legislation that would help all Texans who depend on insurance to protect their lives, families, health, finances, properties, homes and businesses,” Muñoz said. “We still have a lot of work to do this year.”

Muñoz said the House Committee on Insurance can help rally legislative support for using a portion of the Texas Economic Stabilization Fund, better known as the “Texas Rainy Day Fund”, to improve the state health insurance program for more than a quarter-million retired Texas teachers.

“We as a state have made a promise to our teachers, who literarily are the foundation of our civilization because they educate our young, that we would take care of them, both with their pensions and with their health insurance, when they retire,” he said. “The Texas ‘Rainy Day Fund’, a state savings account with more than $11 billion, should be counted upon to help protect retired educators who made it possible for us to have an economy in the first place.”

The “Texas Rainy Day Fund” is estimated to reach $12 billion by 2019 if left untouched, according to the Texas Tribune. “The Texas Rainy Day Fund”, which is largely fed by taxes on oil and gas production, has been at the center of debates this legislative session over whether to tap it to help stave off budget cuts, the Texas Tribune noted.

Several other House and Senate committees have held or will hold public hearings in Austin and elsewhere in the state in 2018 on the matters important to retired teachers, he said, but more attention is needed to generate the legislative support needed to make any recommendations into state law.

“The Texas Legislature deals with so many issues that it is easy for something as important as the state keeping its word to retired teachers to be forgotten,” Muñoz said. “In holding these hearings that I am proposing, we will educate our retired teachers about the power of their collective vote, and they will learn how to make the Texas Legislature work for them.”

The following legislative committees are currently working on other measures to help retired educators:

House Committee on Appropriations 

Muñoz serves on this legislative panel.

The House Committee on Appropriations will study the long-term sustainability of the TRS-Care program. The committee will also consider options for funding this health care program, especially as it pertains to contributions being based on active employee payroll rather than the cost of health care. The committee will monitor how the bills passed by the Texas Legislature relating to TRS-Care are implemented during the interim.

Two bills were passed relating to TRS-Care, H.B. 3976 and H.B. 30, and TRS has already used these bills as the blueprint for how it funds TRS-Care and organizes its participants’ benefits.

House Committee on Pensions 

The House Committee on Pensions is of the utmost importance in determining the future health and funding for the TRS pension fund. The committee has been charged with reviewing the state’s oversight of pension systems. Additionally, the committee will be responsible for making recommendations to enhance the state’s oversight of local pension systems. The committee will evaluate the investment oversight of a number of state-run retirement systems, including TRS. It will identify the best practices made by the agency and make recommendations to strengthen the state’s oversight of the system. The health incentive programs within the group benefit programs at TRS will be reviewed and evaluated by the committee as well. The committee will be responsible for making recommendations on how to reduce expenditures through TRS-Care. Similar to the House Committee on Appropriations, the Pensions Committee will review the implementation of bills passed relating to TRS.

House Public Education Committee 

The House Public Education Committee will review the charter school system in Texas. It will consider the differences in charter and district contributions to TRS on behalf of their employees and make appropriate recommendations to support the retirement benefits of all public school teachers.

Senate Finance 

The Senate Finance committee will monitor health care costs throughout the state agencies, including TRS. The committee will attempt to improve and reduce health costs within TRS-Care.

Senate Health and Human Services 

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee will compare alternative payment models with providers in Medicare managed care, which includes TRS. The goal of these models will be to identify ways in which TRS and the Employee Retirement System (ERS) can work together.

Senate State Affairs 

The Senate State Affairs Committee will examine and assess the TRS pension fund. It will review the different types of retirement plans, the actuarial assumptions used by TRS, TRS’s investment practices and performance and the adequacy of financial disclosures. The committee will make recommendations to ensure public pension system retirees’ benefits are preserved and protected. The committee is also charged with monitoring the implementation of legislative action on TRS from the past session.
Specifically, the Senate will monitor the following: the implementation of House Bill 3976, relating to the administration of and benefits payable under the Texas Public School Retired Employees Group Benefits Act.

HOUSE COMMITTEE ON INSURANCE

The House Committee on Insurance, of which Muñoz is Vice-Chairman, is working on the following duties, known as “Interim Charges”:

1. Examine the effect of Hurricane Harvey on the insurance market in Texas. Include an evaluation of the status of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and Texas FAIR Plan Association, and of the impact of Harvey on the ability of these residual markets to achieve their statutory goals and meet the needs of their policyholders. Examine possible gaps and vulnerabilities in insurance coverage brought to light by Harvey and recommend ways to address these issues.

2. Study the coverage provided by the most common homeowners’ insurance policy forms in Texas, and methods to provide more clarity to Texas consumers about this coverage and the possible need for endorsements or other types of insurance.

3. Study the use of appraisal processes under property insurance policies in Texas, including the effects of court decisions on the use of these processes and the impact of their use on insurers and policyholders.

4. Assess the status of the health insurance market in Texas and opportunities to improve this market through waivers of federal law or other mechanisms. Monitor any changes in federal law that may affect these options.

5. Evaluate recent efforts by the Legislature and the Texas Department of Insurance to minimize instances of surprise medical billing and to ensure the adequacy of health insurance networks. Identify instances in which surprise billing most often occurs and ways to decrease its frequency through enhanced transparency or other methods.

6. Examine the impacts of changes in prescription drug coverage and drug formularies on patients, particularly those with chronic conditions.

7. Evaluate recent efforts in Texas and in other states to enhance transparency regarding the practices of pharmacy benefit managers.

8. Review Texas’ financial responsibility laws for automobile insurance, including the minimum liability limits required by state law.

9. Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction and oversee the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 85th Legislature.

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Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, has served in the Texas Legislature since 2011 and represents all or parts of the cities of Hidalgo, Granjeño, McAllen, Mission, Palmview and Pharr. His Capitol office is located at CAP 4S.4 in the Texas Capitol, and may be reached at (512) 463-0704. His District Office is located at 121 E. Tom Landry, Mission, and may be reached at (956) 584-8999

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