Message from the executive director

March 13, 2023

Porter WilsonAs retirees who’ve been around many decades, you’ve probably heard the saying, “The only constant is change” more times than you can count. I suppose people wouldn’t say it so often if it weren’t true. It’s also true that a lot of change is unwelcome or unexpected, and that some people cope with it better than others. Here at ERS, we try to focus on the positive and as with almost every year, 2023 will bring some changes. We expect most, if not all, of them to mean improvements for the benefits we administer and to have a positive impact on members.

Legislative activity

Of course, it’s a legislative session year and session can mean adjustments to retiree and employee benefits. You might have heard that the state has a historic budget surplus—good news for many state programs and agencies. As I’ve mentioned before, the legislature took a big step in 2021 to start bringing the ERS Retirement Plan to actuarial soundness. We are hopeful that the initial proposals in both the House and Senate budget bills, which include funding to eliminate the unfunded liabilities (debt) in the Law Enforcement and Custodial Officer Supplemental (LECOS) Plan and the Judicial Retirement System Plan 2 (JRS 2), are successful. Also included in the filed versions of the budget is funding for the annual “legacy” payment—about $510 million to the ERS Retirement Plan in both Fiscal Years 2024 and 2025. These legacy payments should bring the ERS Retirement Plan back to actuarial soundness as soon as September 2023. About 16 months after that—possibly in January 2025—we expect a statutory, one-time cost-of-living adjustment for retirees who’ve been retired 20 years or more. I’m sure that will be a welcome change.

The Legislature has indicated funding to maintain the status quo for health insurance. As in the past few sessions, we haven’t had to ask the state to increase funding for health insurance for the next biennium. This is due primarily to cost management efforts ERS takes to help ensure we can continue to offer competitive benefits for retirees and employees.

Trustee election

Odd-numbered years also bring ERS’ biennial trustee election. This election is the first in which retirees can run, due to a change in statute last session. You can read more about the nominating requirements and process, as well as how to vote, in the article “[title]” in this newsletter. Even if you don’t run in the election or even sign a nominating petition, I hope you’ll vote in the upcoming election. ERS trustees make important decisions about your benefits, and the election is a great way to ensure you have representation on the ERS Board.

Customer service

After the post-pandemic “Great Resignation,” one change we’re very pleased about is the results of our ongoing efforts to re-staff. The staffing issues that most affected members were in our Customer Benefits Division. I’m proud of the way ERS managed an unusually busy year with a limited workforce, but there’s no denying we had customer service challenges. I’m happy to report we’re now fully staffed in Customer Benefits and have vastly improved our telephone and email wait times. We’re still not where we want to be, but expect continued improvements as employees complete needed training. We appreciate your patience during a trying time.

Plan administrator changes

ERS is required to regularly put up for bid the contracts for administering or insuring our benefits plans. Although these contracting efforts are a great deal of work, we are happy to do them because they usually result in cost savings, improved service or both. Recently, the ERS Board of Trustees approved new administrators for three of our plans:

  • Starting Sept. 1, 2023, the administrator of the State of Texas VisionSM plan will change from Superior Vision to EyeMed.
  • Starting Jan. 1, 2024, the administrator of our two prescription drug plans will change to Express Scripts. The HealthSelectSM Medicare Rx plan is currently administered by UnitedHealthcare, and the HealthSelectSM Prescription Drug Program is currently administered by OptumRx.

The new contract(s) or the prescription drug plans will save almost $3 billion over six years. Those savings will go a long way toward helping ERS maintain high-quality drug coverage at reasonable costs.

We know these changes can be hard for some members, but as always, ERS will work to ensure that members experience the smallest possible negative impact. We’ll provide many more details about the changes this summer for State of Texas Vision, and in the fall for the prescription drug programs.

As ERS and our members work through changes in the coming months, I want to assure you we remain committed to our mission of offering competitive benefits to enhance the lives of our members. That includes providing good customer service and helping you adapt to new program administrators. Change might be inevitable, but none of us has to go through it alone. Stay connected and, above all, stay well.