This month, learn about counseling, the HRA and Social Security provisions
By Michael Pramik, Ohio Public Employees Retirement System
Jan. 18, 2024 – Members and retirees often ask us questions through our social media channels that others could benefit from. Periodically we post these questions and answers in our PERSpective blog.
This month we’re addressing questions about the COLA process, how to secure your OPERS ID and how to schedule a counseling session.
Q: I’m getting close to retirement, and I’ve already attended a Ready to Retire presentation. I still have some questions. What would you suggest?
A: We would suggest making use of the OPERS in-house counselors. Members at any stage of their career can choose to schedule a personal appointment with a counselor to review their questions and receive guidance with a form, application, or process. You also have the option to speak to a representative in our Member Service Center by calling 1-800-222-7377 or use the Message Center in your online account to send a question and receive a response within one business day.
We offer three types of counseling:
- Phone counseling. This 30-minute service is perfect for those who just have a few questions or need some clarification about their accounts.
- Virtual counseling, which we schedule via Zoom. It offers a face-to-face appointment without the need to travel. During this appointment, screen-sharing allows our counselors to navigate our website, assist with online forms, help with the retirement application and more. You’ll need a computer with Internet access and a working camera.
- In-house counseling, held at OPERS’ Columbus office. It’s for those who appreciate in-person support or are technologically limited.
Members can schedule any type of individual counseling appointment under the “Tools and Resources” section of their online accounts.
Q: When an HRA is on hold and the medical debt is growing, how does a person get this debt caught up and paid down?
A: First let’s clarify what “on hold” means. When you submit an expense for reimbursement that you have already paid, it can be paid only if you have the funds available in your HRA. If your HRA balance is not enough to pay the reimbursement request, that request is placed “on hold” until more funds are placed in the HRA.
Deposits are made to the HRA on a monthly basis in the amount of your monthly allowance. Just because you have an eligible expense for reimbursement does not mean that you will be paid the full amount when you request the reimbursement. Any eligible expenses that are not paid because HRA funds are not available are placed “on hold” and will be reimbursed once more funds are available.
To put it another way, unless you have a balance in your HRA from previous months you will never be reimbursed more than the amount of your monthly HRA allowance on a monthly basis.
Q: If Social Security gave a cost-of-living adjustment of 3.2 percent for 2024, why is OPERS’ raise only 2.3 percent?
A: OPERS retirees who have a benefit effective date prior to Jan. 7, 2013, automatically receive a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment. Those with an effective date after that date have their COLAs based on the Consumer Price Index-W, the government’s inflation index for urban wage earners and clerical workers.
According to state law, the annual COLA for those retirees is to be based on the change in the CPI-W over a 12-month period concluding at the end of June, with a maximum adjustment of 3 percent. For the 2024 COLA, that period was the end of June 2022 through the end of June 2023.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the CPI-W increased 2.3 percent over that period, so OPERS’ CPI-based COLA for 2024 is 2.3 percent. For reference, click on “CPI-W, June 2023” on this page of the Bureau of Labor Statistics website and refer to cell AD-7 in the spreadsheet.
OPERS’ inflation-based COLA uses the same index as Social Security. But the time period measured is different, so the adjustments might not always match up.
Q: We’ve misplaced our vision insurance ID cards. Do we have to replace them? If so, what do we need to do?
A: ID cards are not required for the OPERS vision and dental coverage. Providers can look up your MetLife vision and/or dental benefits with your information. Duplicate ID cards can be printed, however, by going to the “MyBenefits” section of the MetLife website.
Q: I understand that the Windfall Elimination Provision is a federal issue, but isn’t it adopted state by state? I have been told there are states that don’t adopt a WEP.
A: Individual states do not act to adopt or not adopt the Windfall Elimination Provision, or a similar provision called the Government Pension Offset. Social Security applies the provisions to those workers who have earned Social Security retirement credit yet worked a significant portion of their careers in public service not paying into Social Security retirement.
The WEP and the Government Pension Offset apply to certain workers no matter where they live – there are workers in every state who are subject to the provisions.