Medicare Advantage Is How We Say “Thank You” to Our Kentucky Retired Teacher Heroes
By Jane Cheshire Gilbert, CPA
Ask any parent of school-aged children and they’ll be quick to tell you – the COVID-19 pandemic has instilled in them a newfound respect for the role of teachers.
I believe one of the ways we can show appreciation to our teachers today is to ensure their health and financial security in their retirement years. That’s what I seek to do daily at Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Kentucky (TRS), a proud Ally organization of the Better Medicare Alliance.
In my role as director of retiree health care, I serve our commonwealth’s 37,000 Medicare-eligible teacher retirees and am responsible for providing health care benefits that meet their individual needs while also making good use of medical trust dollars. Medicare Advantage allows us to do exactly that.
TRS was among the early adopters of Medicare Advantage, providing this coverage to our retiree educators for 15 years now.
In that time, we’ve had a front-row seat to Medicare Advantage’s growth and continued improvement. While much has changed in health care over the last decade and a half, this coverage has remained stable and dependable for our retired teachers.
Today, we are joined by many public and private employers alike, as well as a sizable contingency of employee unions, in providing Medicare Advantage through what is known as an Employer Group Waiver Plan (EGWP). More than four million Medicare Advantage beneficiaries receive their coverage through such an arrangement.
Kentucky taxpayers win with Medicare Advantage because it has trimmed $1.9 billion from the TRS other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liability and is significantly improving the long-term health and sustainability of our Health Insurance Trust.
Retired teachers in Kentucky tell us overwhelmingly that they like Medicare Advantage because, for starters, our premiums are lower today than they were 20 years ago, even as Medicare Advantage has provided them with more robust coverage through new and valuable supplemental benefits.
In fact, the Medicare Advantage plans that we provide our teacher retirees include a SilverSneakers membership, meal delivery after surgery for qualifying beneficiaries through Mom’s Meals, and telehealth visits through providers like Doctor on Demand, just to name a few.
Most importantly, we find that Medicare Advantage is delivering better outcomes for Kentucky teacher retirees.
For example, in 2019 a full 87% of eligible female retirees received a breast cancer screening, while 78% of eligible retirees had a colon cancer screening. These figures mirror broader nationwide studies showing higher rates of preventive care and screenings in Medicare Advantage than traditional Medicare.
What’s more, through our partnership with UnitedHealthcare, our teachers have received over 42,000 rewards for wellness initiatives from 2017 to 2019 (e.g., receiving a HouseCalls program visit, having a Medicare Annual Wellness Visit, losing weight, quitting smoking, getting timely preventive care).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicare Advantage came through for our retired teachers, with COVID-19 test kits, lowered cost-sharing, and outreach to vulnerable beneficiaries. In April 2020, at the height of the nationwide shelter-at-home orders, we saw upward of 55% of beneficiaries use telehealth to connect with a provider from the safety of their own home. Studies show traditional Medicare lagged in telehealth uptake.
Our teachers in Kentucky and around the country give their time, talents, and hearts to prepare our children for the future. I consider it an honor to give the same level of devotion to championing their needs in their retirement years.
That is why I’m passionate about working with Better Medicare Alliance to protect and strengthen Medicare Advantage. Thirty-seven thousand retired teachers in Kentucky – and more than 26 million beneficiaries nationwide, of which four million are EGWPs – are counting on our success.
Jane Cheshire Gilbert is the director of retiree health care at Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Kentucky.