NBC

Retired Teacher's Prescription Costs Skyrocket Under Altered Plan

A change to health-care coverage for retired teachers in Texas has left thousands of people unable to afford their new premiums, deductibles and prescription costs.

One Fort Worth man is now faced with going into debt for the first time, to keep taking the life-saving medication that's holding his cancer at bay.

"It was a big part of our lives," said David Hatcher, looking at baseball memorabilia in his Fort Worth home. "It still is a big part of our lives."

The memories are certainly alive and well for Hatcher, who spent 31 years coaching baseball and teaching history in three Tarrant County school districts.

"God blessed my career,” Hatcher said. “It was unbelievable."

In all that time, Hatcher says he only took about five or six sick days. But a year after retiring in 2013 he got news of the big one.

"The bad news is, you do have leukemia,” Hatcher recalled the doctor telling him. “But the good news is it's the kind we can treat with a pill."

That pill became Hatcher's lifeline and under his old state-subsidized insurance, it cost him about $35 to $65 a month.

"Obviously that's extremely reasonable," Hatcher said.

But the state's health-care fund for retirees, TRS-care, has been on life support for years. Faced with a billion dollar shortfall last session, state legislators pumped money into the system and increased retirees' premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs.

"I do feel like the state betrayed us," Hatcher said.

The results have made Hatcher's prescription drug costs sky-rocket.

"It really hurts," he said.

Through the first half of this year, Hatcher had co-pay assistance through the drug company Pfizer. But now it's run out and for the first time on Friday, he walked out of CVS with a receipt for the full cost: $1,103.

Next month, it levels off again to $640 dollars and that's what he'll owe every month until he turns 65 in a year and a half and qualifies for Medicare.

"That's a travesty," Hatcher said.

It's unsustainable. So Hatcher is ready to fight back. On Friday he went to his Representative Charlie Geren's office to put a face to the problem and ask for help.

“It’s a real bill,” Hatcher said outside Rep. Geren’s office. "I mean I'm a real human and it's a real story."

For himself, and all his fellow retirees this coach is back to playing hardball, and this time the stakes are for his life.

"My hope is that my story will be able to help other people," said Hatcher.

Representative Geren was not in his office Friday afternoon and did not return calls for comment. But NBC 5 did speak with the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Representative John Zerwas.

The state faces another $400 million shortfall in the fund by 2021. But Representative Zerwas (R-Richmond) said fixing it in the next legislative session would be a high priority.

Rep. Zerwas added, "It’s going to be a very important issue because it deals with one of our most important resources in the state, our educators… We want to do everything we can reasonably do to make sure our teachers are getting access to affordable, efficient, high-quality health-care."

Contact Us