OPERS answers questions from members

Topics include foreign addresses, health insurance premiums

Feb. 7, 2017 – Often we answer questions on the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System’s PERSpective blog that we believe could benefit many other members. Here are a few we’ve received recently.

I’m an OPERS retiree living outside the United States. Why can’t my pension check be electronically deposited into my U.S. bank account? It takes 2-5 extra days for me to receive payment.

– Robert B.

Robert,

We use our retirees’ addresses as our source of information about the destination of our benefit payments. If you have a foreign address, we have to consider the fact that a direct deposit anywhere might require an international wire transfer. Because OPERS is unable to comply with the security requirements needed for the direct deposit of funds in international accounts, we can offer only paper checks.

We can send the checks to you overseas, or directly to your U.S. bank. That’s why you see a delay of a few days each month to have your pension deposited if we’re sending the check to your bank.

By the way, we have a customer service number for members who are outside the United States, if you’d ever like to call us. It’s 614-222-5684, and it routes to our Member Services staff. They’re available from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. Long distance or international charges might apply.

* * * * *

Can I drive up and get my tax information instead of waiting for it in the mail?

– Steve R.

Steve,

That’s not an option at OPERS. If you ever want to receive your tax information before it arrives in the mail, use your online account. We typically post tax information online days or weeks in advance of it arriving in your mail.

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Regarding OPERS-sponsored health care plans, do you check with other insurance companies besides Medical Mutual for better rates and coverage?

— Lisa G.

Lisa,

That’s a good question. You’re referring to a fully insured plan that some insurance carriers offer. That’s not applicable to OPERS because we are self-insured, and we set our monthly premiums and plan designs. In other words, we don’t buy insurance from Medical Mutual; they administer the pre-Medicare retiree medical plan for OPERS.

Premiums are based on our plan’s health care claims experience, projected medical and prescription trends, and approved plan designs.

We set our own plan design (which includes things like out-of-pocket maximums, co-pays and services covered) for pre-Medicare medical and prescription drug plans. The OPERS Board of Trustees annually approves the plan design.

* * * * *

Setting the date of our January checks to after New Year’s Day annually creates difficulties in maintaining the household, medical and prescription needs. Is there any way we can receive these payments in December?

– Paula S.

Paula,

While we understand that it’s always better for our retirees to receive their pensions earlier rather than later, this is one instance in which we can’t.

We report to the Internal Revenue Service what we actually paid our retirees during the calendar year. You see this information each year on your Form 1099-R. The IRS requires the tax year to be 12 consecutive months beginning on Jan. 1 and ending on Dec. 31. If we would pay the January benefit in late December, we’d have to report that payment in 2016 rather than 2017, which would be contrary to IRS regulations.

Having said that, here is the schedule for payments in 2017. This schedule is always on our website. Please note now that the January 2018 payment is scheduled for Jan. 2, 2018.

 

 

Michael Pramik

Michael Pramik is communication strategist for the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and editor of the PERSpective blog. As an experienced business journalist, he clarifies complex pension policies and helps members make smart choices to secure their retirement.

Michael Pramik

Communication Strategist

55 thoughts on “OPERS answers questions from members

  • February 7, 2017 at 11:00 am
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    I think this is a great way to give members who may have the same questions a way to review to learn.
    thanks much.
    Jack Mellman.

    Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 11:33 am
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    Very interesting concept. Please continue.

    Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 11:47 am
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    Does anyone else have concerns about the annual increases in the medigap, rx and medicare premiums eating into the HRA monies which were reduced this year. Anyone else have this concern?

    Reply
    • February 8, 2017 at 10:24 am
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      Yes. It was more than expected. We’ve worked for many years, paid into this system during our work lives, and why the drastic increase for the retirees? I know folk who h as ve hardly worked who can get better medical treatment than retirees who are actually struggling, using valuable savings, etc , to make due. We’re tired of alwsys being the backup.

      Reply
    • February 8, 2017 at 7:36 pm
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      yes, I am concerned also

      Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 10:52 am
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      Hi,
      I am very concerned about the eating into my HRA monies! Besides the medigap, rx and medicare premiums don’t forget the administrative cost ( One Exchange) and next year’s decrease in the HRA amount. B Besuner

      Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 11:58 am
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    Is there any way I can obtain the totals of both my medical and drug amounts I paid for the year 2016 for tax purposes? Thank you for your assistance in this matter, it is greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • February 9, 2017 at 9:14 am
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      Laurette, sounds like you are on top of getting your taxes in order! Our recommendation is to contact your each of your carriers for an itemized list of expenses.

      Enjoy your day,
      OPERS

      Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 12:06 pm
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    This works, thanks.

    Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 12:15 pm
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    What was the xtra 300 for given in Jan of 17

    Reply
    • February 9, 2017 at 9:04 am
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      Beginning last year and again next year, retirees who enroll in a plan through the Connector and have an HRA receive an annual $300 lump sum deposited in January. This is in addition to the allowance amount deposited each month. The annual lump sum is meant to help off-set health care costs as retirees transition to open market plans.

      Thank you,
      OPERS

      Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 12:40 pm
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    Read your response to my query as being a foreign resident who can’t get electronic deposit to my account. Your response read like I was asking for it to be deposited to a bank in another country, which is misleading. I’m seeking to have my deposit to MY BANK OHIO done electronically, rather than being mailed to that bank.

    Yes, you have my foreign address, and it seems your system cannot disassociate my correspondence address from my direct deposit address, the former in Costa Rica and the latter in Ohio. Surely no big deal for a programmer to make the distinction. Why is it so difficult for there to be two addresses for me?

    Reply
    • February 7, 2017 at 2:24 pm
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      Robert,

      Sorry if the answer wasn’t clear. We knew you were asking for the pension to be deposited electronically into your U.S.-based bank. We have thoroughly researched this matter and determined that mailing the check to the bank is the most-reliable way of getting retirees their money at the same time each month, while ensuring we abide by extensive federal financial regulations.

      Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 12:44 pm
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    Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 12:53 pm
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    Since my spouse will no longer be covered under my PERS retirement plan in 2018 will he be able to receive a discount or any other benefit for health insurance coverage through my PERS plan? This is going to cause a hardship on us. Can you suggest anything?
    Joann F.

    Reply
    • February 9, 2017 at 9:00 am
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      Thank you for reaching out. To clarify, eligible spouses under age 65 are eligible to enroll in the OPERS Retiree Health Plan administered by Medical Mutual. (The amount that OPERS pays toward the cost of this coverage is being reduced through an annual allowance to $0 by 2018). As a result, some retirees may decide the premium to cover a spouse not yet eligible for Medicare in 2017 is more than they can comfortably afford. IF this fits into your situation, visit our website for spouse coverage information and suggestions.

      Eligible spouses over age 65 and enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B can enroll in an individual Medicare plan with the help of OneExchange. The amount that OPERS gives as an HRA allowance will be reduced through an annual allowance reduction. By 2018, spouses, including surviving spouses, can enroll in coverage through OneExchange, but will pay the full cost of the plan. However, many Medicare-eligible OPERS retirees will find they have sufficient allowance dollars remaining to pay for a spouse’s premium. Our website also includes some links to information that may help with the decision making process.

      Thank you,
      OPERS

      Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 2:06 pm
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    How Is it possible to get health care if one retires outside of US? I thought Medicare did not cover that?

    Reply
    • February 10, 2017 at 3:50 pm
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      Great question Becky.

      Medical Mutual recipients who need medical care while outside the United States must pay out of pocket, then have copies of bills translated into English (if needed) and submitted to their current health care administrator for reimbursement (less any portion for which participant is responsible (deductible, copay, co-insurance, etc.). Any medical services that require pre-certification or prior authorization may not be eligible for reimbursement.

      Vision/Dental – Recipients should contact the insurance carrier regarding vision/dental coverage when outside the U.S.

      For those in the Medicare population –
      • OPERS Coverage: Recipients with a foreign address are not eligible for the Connector, they are instead enrolled in Medical Mutual.
      • General Medicare eligibility if residing outside of the United States and otherwise eligible can contact any United States Consular office
      • Traveling: In general, health care you get while traveling outside the U.S. isn’t covered and foreign hospitals are not required to file Medicare claims.

      Thanks,
      OPERS

      Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 2:21 pm
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    I think this is a very good site to view questions and answers. But, there wasn’t any thing on medically retirees about insurance questions. Why?

    Reply
    • February 8, 2017 at 4:26 pm
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      Great idea, Jeri. We will be selecting more questions in a future blog, and hope to include health care information.

      Thanks,

      Julie, Ohio PERS

      Reply
      • February 9, 2017 at 7:45 am
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        What is the status of the feds’ plan to “tax” the so called Cadilac” health plans?

        Reply
        • February 13, 2017 at 1:48 pm
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          Barbara,

          No one is sure yet what changes will be made to the Affordable Care Act or when those changes will go into effect.

          Julie, Ohio PERS

          Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 2:35 pm
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    I guess I never realized that OPERS was self-insured and that medical mutual or Humana was just the administrator of your program. That was interesting to learn

    Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 4:23 pm
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    Are HRA accounts considered income for Income Tax filing. If so, where do you get documentation.

    Reply
    • February 10, 2017 at 4:06 pm
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      Thank you for your comment. This information is in the HRA Summary Plan Description document and states: The Plan is intended to be a health reimbursement arrangement as defined under IRS Notice 2002-45 and a medical reimbursement plan under Code sections 105 and 106. The Qualifying Medical Expenses reimbursed under the Plan are intended to be eligible for exclusion from a Participant’s gross income under Code section 105(b).

      – OPERS

      Reply
      • February 14, 2017 at 11:33 pm
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        So….I think this means (in answer to her question…) NO? exclusion means it isn’t counted…..gosh, I am probably reading too much into this, but why not just say no? Thanks.

        Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 7:17 pm
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    I have never used the OPERS web site. What information do I need to get access to my account, and how do I get this information?

    Reply
    • February 8, 2017 at 8:22 am
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      John,

      To get started with your online account, go to the OPERS website’s online account access page and click on “Need an Account?” You’ll need your Social Security number, date of birth and home ZIP code to get started. Then follow the prompts to set up your account.

      Reply
  • February 7, 2017 at 11:34 pm
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    Just curious, why is mailing a monthly check to the Bank for deposit more reliable (time wise) than direct deposit. To what specific extensive federal regulations are you referring?

    Also, is there a way to stop mailing annual 1099-R’s if we retrieve them online? It seems the information would be more secure and save OPERS the cost of mailing.

    Reply
    • February 8, 2017 at 10:01 am
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      Frank,

      There are extensive federal regulations regarding overseas wire transfers. Because we have no way of knowing where a member’s bank is domiciled by the routing number, we revert to the home address. If it’s outside the United States, our policy is to send the pension check to the bank.

      We don’t track when people use their online accounts to retrieve tax information.

      Reply
  • February 8, 2017 at 11:25 am
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    I noticed the monthly amount deposited into my HRA account becomes less ever year for three years.
    What happens at the end of the 3 years? Do retirees still have a HRA account and if so how much
    will be deposited a month.

    Reply
    • February 10, 2017 at 4:11 pm
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      2017 is the second year of the health care allowance transition until the ending allowance is realized by 2018. Retirees will continue to receive an allowance beyond 2018, while spouses’ allowance will become zero as of Jan 2018.

      Thanks,
      OPERS

      Reply
  • February 8, 2017 at 4:58 pm
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    Certainly none of us saw the current situation when we were planning our retirement. I for one would have delayed until they dragged me out kicking and screaming. Literally everything we had been led to believe has changed and there seems to be no end. I planned very carefully and felt quite comfortable when I retired. The changes to the entire health insurance system have me very much concerned about the future for most people who retire. What we had was taken away and what we thought we could depend on has changed for the worse.

    I don’t blame anyone for what happened, but like many other OPERS retirees, I feel somewhat betrayed and misled.

    Reply
  • February 8, 2017 at 5:18 pm
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    Will our HRA amounts deposited be continually reduced?

    Reply
    • February 10, 2017 at 4:11 pm
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      2017 is the second year of the health care allowance transition until the ending allowance is realized by 2018. Retirees will continue to receive an allowance beyond 2018, while spouses’ allowance will become zero as of Jan 2018.

      Thanks,
      OPERS

      Reply
  • February 9, 2017 at 8:53 am
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    OPERS continues to work with OneExchange as issues such as customer service are brought to our attention. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Reply
  • February 9, 2017 at 11:10 am
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    This past month I’ve been besieged by phone calls from companies trying to sell me Medicare Plans. I’m 10 years away from Medicare, why would so many companies spontaneously assume I was about to enroll in Medicare? The most likely explanation is they got my contact information from OPERS, have you been selling our names?

    Reply
    • February 10, 2017 at 4:48 pm
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      David,

      Sorry you are receiving so many phone calls!

      First, you should know that OPERS absolutely does not sell member information. That said, your name and address are public records under Ohio law, and OPERS must provide a list of members and retirees to any person who requests it. Your phone number and age are NOT public records, and OPERS would not release them without your written permission.

      In addition to the pure annoyance of solicitation calls, there have been a number of fraud alerts regarding telephone solicitations. The most recent advice from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office is to not answer calls when you do not know the identity of the caller, even if the caller’s number appears to be local. Also, report unwanted calls and register your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.

      Good luck,

      Julie, Ohio PERS

      Reply
      • February 17, 2017 at 11:35 am
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        Try a site called “nomorobo”. It stops unwanted calls.

        Reply
  • February 9, 2017 at 8:24 pm
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    When the Affordable Care Act was passed, it included the implementation of a Cadillac tax that was to go into effect in 2018. When attending OPERS seminars after the passage, we were told that one of the reasons that OPERS had to raise the cost of spouse’s health insurance was that this new tax would cost OPERS millions of dollars unless the cost that OPERS paid was reduced below the threshold that was established for this Cadillac tax. That is also why 2018 was set as the date when OPERS would no longer subsidize the spouse’s health insurance.

    As of now, I do believe that the implementation of the Cadillac tax has been delayed two years until 2020. If this is the case, why has OPERS not made an adjustment to spouse’s health insurance cost to reflect this change?

    Reply
    • February 17, 2017 at 3:50 pm
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      Dale,

      It is important to understand how the Cadillac Tax does – and does not – impact our health care plans. For those over 65 and on Medicare, changes to federal law would generally not impact our Connector model, assuming that no major changes are made to the competitive Medicare marketplace.

      Our offerings for those under 65 are impacted by the Cadillac Tax. No one is sure yet what changes will be made to the Affordable Care Act or when those changes will go into effect. Right now, there is not a robust open market for this segment of our population, although we would hope that one develops.

      Julie, Ohio PERS

      Reply
  • February 9, 2017 at 9:23 pm
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    I’d like to understand why premiums deducted for medical premiums are not pre-taxed? I.E. If my premium is $100 and my benefit is $1,000 that should make $900 net taxable.

    Reply
    • February 10, 2017 at 4:51 pm
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      Most OPERS pensions are accumulated on a pre-tax basis for the member and then taxed when they are distributed in pensions by OPERS. Allowing an additional tax exemption for a retiree’s health care premium would result in that income never being taxed – and we know that the IRS won’t permit or condone that.

      Julie, Ohio PERS

      Reply
  • February 13, 2017 at 4:01 pm
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    Hello, This is the third time I have asked this question and have been told that the information will be available later — Please let us know the following about 2017 health care coverage selections:
    Top 5 Medigap carriers
    Top 5 Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans
    Top 3 Medigap plan types
    and Top prescription carriers
    You voluntarily gave this information to us last year; I would very much appreciate the stats again this year.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • February 14, 2017 at 9:46 am
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      We’ve been collecting the information and will publish a blog addressing enrollment statistics by the end of the month.

      Thank you for your continued patience,
      OPERS

      Reply
  • February 22, 2017 at 4:03 pm
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    I am a user of the OPERS member website. A wealth of information and tools! I also ask a lot of questions there because I will be retiring April 1, 2018 with 30+ years of service. I will be 55 2018 but AFTER my retirement date. I am thinking about taking the minimum Partial Lump Sum (PLOP). I asked OPERS if I would qualify for the age 55 exemption to avoid the extra 10% tax penalty. The answer was to contact the IRS. I understand OPERS would not want to give tax advise but I believe that this should be a straight forward question and answer. Please tell me if I will be taxed the additional 10% if I take the PLOP, keeping in mind that I will turn 55 after separating from service during my retirement year.

    Reply
    • February 24, 2017 at 3:56 pm
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      Deb,

      You really have to talk to your tax advisor or the IRS. If it turns out that the 10% penalty does apply, you can adjust your OPERS benefit and withhold more to compensate for the penalty.

      Good luck,

      Julie, Ohio PERS

      Reply
  • March 2, 2017 at 9:13 am
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    When will you know the cost to retirees for health care coverage for spouses under age 65
    beginning in 2018 when premiums are no longer subsidized?

    Reply
    • March 3, 2017 at 10:07 am
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      Kim,

      You’ll be able to use the health care estimator in your online account this summer to plan for 2018 costs.

      Reply
  • March 28, 2017 at 2:21 pm
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    Julie,

    You made the following statement to Dale:…..Our offerings for those under 65 are impacted by the Cadillac Tax. No one is sure yet what changes will be made to the Affordable Care Act or when those changes will go into effect. Right now, there is not a robust open market for this segment of our population, although we would hope that one develops.

    Julie, Ohio PERS

    You used the word “changes” twice when answering Dale’s question, does this mean that if there is no change with the Cadillac Tax when the year 2020 arrives and it stays the same as it’s worded now, retiree’s under the age of 65 will not lose their healthcare coverage all together, but see more increases in out-of-pocket expenses, higher deductibles, and less coverage medical coverage..?

    Reply
    • March 29, 2017 at 10:47 am
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      Bob,

      Like you, we are watching closely what is happening in Washington on the health care front. No one is sure yet what changes will be made to the Affordable Care Act or when those changes will go into effect. We’ll keep you posted once we know more.

      Julie, Ohio PERS

      Reply
  • August 4, 2017 at 11:53 pm
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    So let me be one if the first to comment on the possible realignment of my fixed COLA. Promises made should be kept …PERIOD. I would understand if OPERS was struggling but it is admittedly financially healthy by most all measures. I retired based on this fixed COLA and any change will significantly alter my retirement plans. I would not have retired when I did had I known this change would even be considered during times of financial prosperity. A 7.5% rate if return expectation when the DOW has increased 2000 points in the last six months …really? Should not retirees who invested in lower pay public service not benefit in the good times instead of being told COLAs may be reduced if not frozen? I rely on my COLA since my pension no longer allows me to invest more in this growing financial market. I would fully understand a COLA realignment if there was financial uncertainty within OPERS. Yes we are living longer but what is the the point if you have to reduce your lifestyle or struggle to make ends meet. Sure, inflation rates are lower but then many are relying on increased pension income (COLAs) to offset significantly rising medical costs not to mention cell phone, computer, internet or other technology expenses expenses now considered necessary rather than luxury items.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2017 at 8:07 pm
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    Health care costs have been increasing faster than other COLA components. The Consumer Price Index is based on the average consumer. It does not reflect the fact that older folks are not average consumers. We spend a higher percentage of our income on health care than the average consumer. Ohio Public Employee Retirees will experience a lower standard of living under any COLA which does not acknowledge the difference in spending patterns.

    Reply
  • October 30, 2017 at 3:21 pm
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    What is the monthly reimbursement through One Exchange for the retirees medical coverage in 2018?

    Reply
    • October 31, 2017 at 8:29 am
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      Ms. Cesa,

      On average, the amount is $337 per month and is based on a retirees age and years of service. Each retiree received a personal allowance statement in their open enrollment materials that included their HRA amount in addition to other monthly premium costs. In addition, OPERS will provide the third installment of the annual lump sum HRA deposit of $300 in January. If you misplaced your personal allowance statement, please email Member Services from your secure online account or call OPERS at 1-800-222-7377 and a member of our staff will be able to assist you.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply

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