‘Checkbook’ review to follow health care initiative

The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System is committed to evaluating the online checkbook initiative proposed by the Ohio Treasurer’s office, but that review will await more-pressing issues facing the retirement system.

The upcoming January launch of the OPERS Medicare Connector, which will impact health care coverage for more than 230,000 retirees and their dependents, is the most-important issue we currently face. It’s the future of affordable health care for all OPERS Medicare-eligible retirees, and we cannot afford to take our eye off the ball as we initiate the program.

The implementation of these health care changes has been in the works for three years and is currently in the most-critical stage. That means prioritizing other projects that will take some time to evaluate, including OhioCheckbook.com.

The OPERS Board of Trustees invited Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel to its June meeting to explain his plans for the checkbook, which would put public financial records online. Nine days later, on June 26, OPERS told Mandel in a letter that we commended his efforts and pledged to maintain an open dialogue on the topic. We also said that our thorough analysis of the proposal “will be similar to our evaluation of any system.”

However, at a Sept. 24 news conference, Mandel claimed that OPERS was intentionally delaying its review.

That is not the case.

“Like a number of other organizations contacted by Treasurer Mandel, we believe our members deserve a through and thoughtful review of the opportunities, if any, that participation in the online checkbook initiative would provide,” said OPERS Executive Director Karen Carraher.

At the June meeting Mandel asked the OPERS trustees to make a decision by the September board meeting, but as OPERS stated to the treasurer, that was not going to be enough time.

“What do they have to hide?” Mandel said at the Sept. 24 news conference.

The answer is “nothing.”

OPERS fully supports transparency, as evidenced by the extensive information available on the OPERS website and the financial reports that we annually submit to the Ohio legislature.

We do not need external software to define our system as transparent, but we are willing to examine the online checkbook proposal. It will take time. In addition to the volume of manpower we are dedicating to our health care launch, another reason is that OPERS is not on the same computer system as state government.

As a retirement system with $90 billion in assets, we do not enter into any major decision lightly. We need to be certain that all relevant information is completely accurate and useful should we decide to share it with another accounting system. We look forward to reviewing the checkbook proposal in 2016.

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

19 thoughts on “‘Checkbook’ review to follow health care initiative

  • September 25, 2015 at 12:22 pm
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    As a retired Ohio pension fund finance director and CPA I have mixed feelings about the idea of an open online checkbook. While transparency of financial operations is to be desired, I wonder at the potential “Pandora’s box” being opened for perusal by anyone with a computer. An itemized listing of raw expenditure transaction data with no detailed explanations of the purpose of the expenditures can raise questions that result in inquiries, the responses to which may require considerable OPERS staff time to answer. It would be wise to let another retirement system take the lead in implementing such a process and learn from their experience. None of the other systems is facing the launch of a new health care system and so should be in a much better position to immediately implement OhioCheckbook.com. “Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread” – I trust that OPERS is being led by the wise, who do not fear the “fool,” whose primary goal is election to higher office.

    Reply
    • September 25, 2015 at 3:09 pm
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      As a former newscaster, this online checkbook is a dream for taxpayers and reporters. I’ve been following it quite closely and it seems as if PERS is hiding something by proactively putting this release out. (And handing you talking points for the first reply)

      It’s actually inaccurate and/or misleading by saying “we’re not on the same accounting system as state government”…

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      • October 6, 2015 at 2:33 pm
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        Tom,

        We’re sorry if you think that we’re hiding anything here. We’re not, and we’re not being misleading. The treasurer’s office does indeed use a different accounting system than we do, and we need to perform due diligence before making a decision on transferring any type of account information.

        –Ohio PERS

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      • October 6, 2015 at 2:39 pm
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        It’s actually neither “inaccurate and/or misleading” Mr. Johnson! It’s factual: the OPERS system IS NOT on the same accounting system as state government.”

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  • September 25, 2015 at 12:55 pm
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    Has Jobs Ohio been asked to participate? If they have been asked, what is their response?

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    • September 25, 2015 at 2:18 pm
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      LOL – That will be the day!

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    • September 26, 2015 at 9:49 am
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      Actually, yes, Treasurer Mandel has asked JobsOhio to post their information online. Just as he has for all the pension funds.

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  • September 25, 2015 at 2:09 pm
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    IF JOSH MANDEL IS ASKING TO DO THIS IS HIS OFFICE DOING THE SAME THING. THIS GUY IS A LOSER I SAY NO. WE DO NOT RECEIVE ANY EXTRA FUNDS FROM THE STATE OF OHIO LIKE OTHER STATES WHO FUND THEIR PENSIONS THROUGH THE CURRENT STATE BUDGETS.

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  • September 25, 2015 at 8:01 pm
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    I do not understand what this checkbook is all about. Sorry. Please explain. Thank you.

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    • September 28, 2015 at 7:20 am
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      Gail,

      Please refer to the online checkbook website for more information.

      –Ohio PERS

      Reply
  • September 25, 2015 at 8:44 pm
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    OPERS retirement and health plans are the most efficient and solvent of all such plans in the United States. This is regularly verified by independent auditors and member scrutiny. All of the information that this guy wants to put online is probably in the public domain through either the treasurer, state auditor, or other agency. Let him have his employees mine the information he wants. His criticism of OPERS wise decision to prioritize its fiduciary duty to members over a stunt designed to beat up on public employees is correct. I am glad that the OPERS board members are thoughtful and wise stewards of my contributions made over a long career serving the citizens of Ohio.

    Reply
  • September 26, 2015 at 9:39 am
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    It is really a weak excuse to punt this issue by claiming that PERS is working on something else. Every organization in the world works on more than one project simultaneously. And although no one disputes that retiree health care is important, the reality as stated by PERS in this blog post, is that PERS has been working on this for three years already! Thus, it seems like this project is just about to cross the finish line. It is really hard to believe that at this stage PERS is so busy with this that it can’t assign even one staff member to work on the checkbook project and get the proverbial ball rolling.

    Instead, it seems like this flimsy excuse is being offered to kick the can down the road, until such time as another “important project” arises which will prevent PERS from participating. If PERS is truly serious about transparency, it would commit now to participating in the checkbook project. Again its hard to believe that PERS is so busy that it can’t even spare a little bit of time of one staff member to work on this now, so that once January rolls around and the health care initiative takes effect that PERS will be three months closer to having their data on the checkbook website.

    Reply
    • September 30, 2015 at 11:15 am
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      Public Employee,

      We’re not making “excuses.” The truth, as we have explained, is that we are about to launch the biggest health care project that we’ve ever done. In a few days, more than 230,000 members and their dependents will begin choosing health care coverage on the open market. It’s not a project we’re taking lightly.

      Because you are interested in our transparency, I will direct you to a blog that we published four years ago that illustrated the lengths we go to in order to to be up front with our business operations. The same holds true today:

      OPERS spends millions to support transparency

      –Ohio PERS

      Reply
  • October 1, 2015 at 9:53 pm
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    If the proposal is to publish the amount of my pension and health care benefits, I am against this proposal. Yes, I was a oublic employee, but I am entitled to the basic privacy that the private sector enjoys with their SSI benefit.

    Reply
  • October 2, 2015 at 6:23 am
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    I do commend the Treasure’s initiatives of public transparency when it comes to spending public funds. The truth is though that once a public employee earns his/her paycheck, and the public employer and employee contribute to the system…the funds are no longer public dollars, they are funds of our retirement system that are not subject to the same scrutiny as public funds. I hope the board will point this out to our ambitious Treasurer.

    Reply
  • October 4, 2015 at 4:12 pm
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    Treasurer Mandel is just doing his job and promoting disclosure in Ohio government. We should be complimenting him instead of picking on him.

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    • October 6, 2015 at 1:11 pm
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      David,

      Nobody here is picking on anyone. We’re reviewing the proposal, as we repeatedly have stated.

      –Ohio PERS

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    • October 6, 2015 at 1:28 pm
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      “However, at a Sept. 24 news conference, Mandel claimed that OPERS was intentionally delaying its review. ‘What do they have to hide?’ Mandel said at the Sept. 24 news conference,” implying that the only possible reason for a delay was some sort of cover up.

      That’s hardly “just doing his job and promoting disclosure in Ohio government.” That’s politicking pure and simple by a man with higher ambitions than being State Treasurer! Don’t forget that less than two years into his first term Mandel was running for senator (and fortunately was defeated).

      Reply
  • October 30, 2015 at 1:11 pm
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    I personally think that Mandel should stay out of OPERS business. They are simply looking for a way to get their hands on our funds.

    Reply

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