March 26, 2018 Blog, Media

State budget could mean life or death for Kentucky teacher

Terrilyn Flemming, theatre director at the J. Graham Brown School. Photo submitted.

It could literally be a matter of life or death for Terrilyn Fleming if her health insurance premiums increase as a result of the state budget.

Fleming is a mid-career drama teacher at The Brown School in Jefferson County which has about 720 students in grades K through 12.

She was honored by the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) and National Education Association with the KEA’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2017.

Recently diagnosed with a rare disease that will cost her upwards of $20,000 per month, Fleming doesn’t know how she will make ends meet, but more importantly, receive the treatment she needs to live if her employee health insurance premiums increase.

“I bring home like $3,000 a month. There’s no way I can pay that,” Fleming said. “If the health insurance premiums go up… I don’t know what I would do.Similarly, if I end up having to retire early because of this disease — and not being able to draw my full pension and I can’t draw any Social Security — and they (the Legislature) don’t have health coverage for between age 55–65 (for retired teachers) I’m really looking at dying. I’m not being facetious. I would probably die because of that decision.”

Fleming has common variable immune deficiency, a rare disease impairing her immune system making her susceptible to infection.

“About 6,000 people in the United States have it,” Fleming said. “I’ve been sick almost all the time for the last 10 years. I recently was diagnosed with a rare lung condition. The treatment for that isn’t working because my antibodies aren’t helping it because I don’t have any.”

House Republicans have proposed taking $481 million out of the state employee health insurance fund for the state budget which could result in a 50 percent increase in premiums costs for state employees and teachers.

The Kentucky Employees’ Health Plan insures almost 146,000 teachers, state employees and their families. Twenty percent of the contributions to the plan come directly from their paychecks.

Additionally, the House budget proposal would only cover retired teachers’ health insurance costs — those not eligible for Medicare before age 65 — for one year. Gov. Bevin’s budget proposal cuts the funding that could cost retired teachers $6,000 or more annually. The Republican-controlled House has proposed the Teacher’s Retirement System pony up the money to cover it after 2019.

Despite her health challenges, Fleming said she comes to school every day nonetheless.

“Not because I’m hoarding my sick days. I have four sick days left,” Fleming said. “I’m having surgery a week from now and now I can be out four days after my surgery. After that, I just don’t get paid. I’m a single mom with two kids in college.”

At 51, Fleming has three part-time jobs, in addition to teaching, to pay off student loans, pay for her children’s college costs and her mortgage. At any time, an infection could put Fleming in the emergency room, and according to her doctor, it could kill her.

Despite her health and financial challenges, Fleming has used several hundreds of dollars of her own money to buy things needed for the student plays at school. The dialogue in Frankfort vilifying teachers and public employees doesn’t sit well with her.

“I think when our governor vilifies an entire profession who have been proven not to be ignorant, not to be selfish, not to throw temper tantrums — unlike our governor — it makes me angry. It makes me angry that he’s playing a political game with my life,” Fleming said. “And he cannot say he cares about kids in Kentucky when he says horrible things about teachers.”