OPERS answers member questions

Unused sick time, vacation days have limited use in determining pension

By Michael Pramik, Ohio Public Employees Retirement System

Nov. 7, 2019 – We receive many questions through our social media sites, but we can’t always post responses to them.

So periodically we’ll use our PERSpective blog to answer some of those questions that we believe will have widespread interest.

Q: I’m planning to retire next year, and I’ve got a lot of unused sick time and vacation days. Can I cash them in and have that money applied to my final-year salary for pension purposes?

A: Ohio law allows the payment of unpaid leave to be considered earnable salary for the purposes of pension calculation if your employer has an approved conversion plan on file and the payout meets the criteria outlined in the plan. However, Ohio Revised Code Section 145.01 and Ohio Administrative Code 145-1-26 limit these conversions to sick leave, personal leave and vacation leave accrued but not used during the calendar year as part of a conversion plan. (Holidays are not included.)

Unpaid leave earned in previous calendar years does not qualify as earnable salary. So OPERS members could not, for example, carry over hundreds of hours of unpaid leave for decades, be paid for them at retirement and have those payments count toward their pension benefits.

This is one way OPERS limits pension spiking – artificially inflating one’s final average salary for the purposes of boosting the pension benefit. The ability of some members to include limited amounts of unpaid leave in their earnable salary for one year does not have a burdensome effect on the pension system.

Q: I’m enrolled in the OPERS Member-Directed Plan. Will my mitigating rate be increasing in 2020?

A: The mitigating rate is increasing next year. However, it will not negatively impact current Member-Directed and Combined plan participants. Here’s why:

The mitigating rate has been in effect since 2003. It currently stands at 2.44 percent, and OPERS and its actuaries are recommending an increase to 3.5 percent beginning in January.

To fund the change in the mitigating rate for the Member-Directed Plan, OPERS will use plan forefeitures – money left unclaimed by former members. We’ll fund the change in the Combined Plan mitigating rate by reducing the portion of the employer contribution used to pay the plan’s unfunded actuarial accrued liability.

In both cases, plan participants will have the same percentages of their contributions credited to their individual defined contribution accounts.

Q: I’m a retiree in the OPERS Medicare Connector. When will I receive the health care premium receipt for 2020 to apply for reimbursement with Via Benefits?

A: Retirees enrolled in a plan through the Connector need to access a health care premium receipt from OPERS that reflects the amount deducted from their pension benefit for health care. This receipt is needed to file for a recurring reimbursement of those deductions from their Health Reimbursement Arrangement accounts.

We’ll begin mailing the premium receipts in mid-December to all Medicare retirees with an HRA. Eligible participants can use the receipts along with personalized recurring reimbursement forms from Via Benefits to reapply for reimbursements in 2020.

The receipts will be contained with our “Get Ready for 2020” mailing, which we will send out in December. Look for additional information in PERSpective next month.

 

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

47 thoughts on “OPERS answers member questions

  • November 7, 2019 at 2:06 pm
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    Been retired for several years and I had sick leave, vacation and personal leave “rolled-over” into my deferred comp. Would that be included in the FAS? If so, how can I determine if it was or not?

    Reply
    • November 13, 2019 at 11:23 am
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      Your Deferred Compensation account is not included in your Final Average Salary. If you have questions about how your FAS was determined when you retired, please call us at 1-800-222-7377 and we’ll be happy to walk you through it.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
      • November 13, 2019 at 6:49 pm
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        That was my question, so sick leave, vacation and personal leave that is directed to deferred comp when they retire does not count towards FAS. Correct?

        Reply
        • November 14, 2019 at 3:09 pm
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          You are correct.

          Julie, OPERS

          Reply
  • November 7, 2019 at 3:04 pm
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    Have you decided what the changes will be with insurance coverage and premiums for someone with 27 years as of Jan 2020 when we retire with 30 years in Jan 2023? Thank you!
    M

    Reply
    • November 13, 2019 at 11:22 am
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      The Board has not made any decisions about the future of health care beginning January 2022.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
    • November 13, 2019 at 11:21 am
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      If you have questions concerning the Government Pension Offset or Windfall Elimination Provision, contact your local Social Security office or access its website at ssa.gov. You can find their WEP fact sheet at https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf.

      Reply
  • November 9, 2019 at 9:43 am
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    I’m unclear on why OPERS has chosen to penalize retirees for taking part time jobs with OPERS agency’s. The monthly premium for health care is $1,000 more and when you’re Medicare eligible your stipend is suspended. I was told it was done to discourage “double-dipping”.

    I always thought the OPERS “double-dipping” was retiring from a full time job and then taking another “OPERS full time” position. Not a $10, 000 a year job without benefits. Our part-time jobs will barely cover the cost of the frozen COLA.

    Reply
    • November 18, 2019 at 1:58 pm
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      Patrick,

      OPERS is not trying to discourage members from taking any type of employment after retirement. The current plan is structured to satisfy federal regulations. More information on re-employment can be found here: https://www.opers.org/retirees/re-employment/index.shtml

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
  • November 13, 2019 at 12:20 pm
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    Been trying to call OPERS to talk to an actual person for several days however I am always placed on hold. To use the callback function, it was always at least an hour wait. Waiting for a call backs is not possible for those of us still working. We are not allowed personal calls on govt. time.

    Reply
    • November 13, 2019 at 3:40 pm
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      If you’re not able to wait on the phone, and the Virtual Hold option doesn’t work for you, please send us a message through your online account. A Member Services representative will get back to you.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
      • January 23, 2020 at 3:25 pm
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        I don’t have access to the online system and am seeking help on this and one other topic. I’ve called quite a few times and it says that the call volume is high and to call back later. I’ve tried different times and different days. I’ve only got through once and I’ve been on hold now for 45 min and don’t know how much longer I should wait. What can I do?

        Reply
        • January 24, 2020 at 2:57 pm
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          With the announcement of our health care changes, the phones have been very busy. Try calling us first thing in the morning. Our staff is available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thank you for your patience.

          Reply
  • November 14, 2019 at 12:12 pm
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    How do i find out exactly how much time i have invested into OPERS .

    Reply
    • November 14, 2019 at 3:08 pm
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      You can find more information by accessing your online account (reached through the OPERS home page) or by calling us at 1-800-222-7377.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
  • November 14, 2019 at 9:36 pm
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    What do I have to do to buy back some of my time I had with Montgomery County

    Reply
  • November 18, 2019 at 10:48 am
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    would like to know when they will have a decision on Medical changes being made for PRE-Medicare retirees. I have read changes would not take effect until 2022-even if that is correct I am still wondering when a decision will be made and will the retiree members have any type of vote on the decision?

    Reply
    • November 18, 2019 at 4:33 pm
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      Cindy,

      The Board is expected to vote early next year with the changes to go into effect in January 2022. The changes will impact all members and retirees, including pre-Medicare retirees.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
    • November 23, 2019 at 9:55 am
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      Plan your retirement ? Not only the added year required to work to be eligible to retire at an unreduced pension, now you folks can’t even say what you are doing with health care. There was allegedly supposed to be information coming out this month, but now it is being pushed back to January 2020 ? How is anyone supposed to plan their retirement when OPERS can’t figure out what benefits will be for the individuals paying your salaries ?

      Reply
      • November 26, 2019 at 10:04 am
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        David,

        The implementation date of the proposed changes remains the same. We expect the Board to make decisions on the health care plan in early 2020 that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

        Julie, OPERS

        Reply
  • November 20, 2019 at 10:33 am
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    Why will OPERS not address comments in other articles about offering purchasing the extended service time to groups B & C like they are proposing for group D? – If OPERS is not planning on offering this benefit to groups B & C why not?

    Reply
    • November 26, 2019 at 10:03 am
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      Thank you for your suggestion. The details on the Group D proposal are still being worked out, and nothing has been finalized.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
  • December 2, 2019 at 10:09 pm
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    I have been retired since august of 2009 almost 32 years don’t have enough credits under social security ,my question is how can I be reliable for Medicare and do I have to pay a high premium because of not paying into social secuirity

    Reply
  • December 3, 2019 at 10:30 am
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    are you able to take a plop after you have retired? my spouse has been off work due to medical reasons and is currently waiting on an organ transplant. I would really like to pay off some bills before he has the transplant and is off work for a longer period of time.

    Reply
    • December 5, 2019 at 10:58 am
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      I’m sorry, Lori, you can’t obtain a PLOP after you have retired.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
  • December 6, 2019 at 9:58 am
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    Will any of the upcoming changes to healthcare affect OPERS covering the Medicare part A premium for those of us who never had an option to pay into it? I’m one of the few who fall into that category and can just tell you that if that coverage goes away along with everything else it will be devastating financially.

    Reply
    • December 13, 2019 at 11:51 am
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      The Board has not yet discussed how we will handle Medicare Part A premium coverage.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
  • December 6, 2019 at 4:17 pm
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    I retired Jan. 2011 and will reach age for Medicare in 1 year. Does PERS help supplement paying for it ?

    Reply
  • December 10, 2019 at 3:37 pm
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    Where can I obtain a list of the approved Medicare supplement insurance plans that are eligible for the money that is deposited into the health plan for at least 20 years of service and at least 65. Going to retire at the end of May 2020. I will also be applying for Medicare part B to take effect on June 1, 2020. Our Human Resources person said we would get a form of some type to take to the social security office to verify we had insurance up to that point so not to be penalized and to be eligible for a special enrollment event at that time. Also what can I show that I will be getting Medicare part B beginning June 1. 2020 in order to satisfy the requirement of providing proof of part A and B for the retirement application

    Reply
  • December 11, 2019 at 10:42 pm
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    I am a retiree and am receiving benefits. I am Medicare eligible and have an HRA account with VIA Benefits. My question is in regards to surplus funds still in the account after one is deceased and all remaining bills for the deceased have been submitted. Should there be any funds remaining in the account will it go back to the retirees account and be paid to his estate or does it return to OPERS and become part of the retirement fund?

    Reply
    • December 13, 2019 at 11:42 am
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      Any outstanding, qualified medical expenses in the retiree’s name can be submitted to the retiree’s Health Reimbursement Arrangement for reimbursement up to 24 months following the retiree’s death.

      Eligible spouses and dependents can also submit qualified medical expenses to the HRA for reimbursement until the funds in the HRA are exhausted. The balance of the HRA will be forfeited into the OPERS health care fund after 24 months of inactivity on the account.

      Julie, OPERS

      Reply
  • December 27, 2019 at 2:26 pm
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    how much will social security penalize me on my monthly payment

    Reply
    • January 6, 2020 at 11:15 am
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      If you have questions concerning the Government Pension Offset (GPO) or Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), contact your local Social Security office or access its website at ssa.gov. GPO may affect you if you are eligible for Social Security benefits through your spouse. WEP may affect you if you qualify for Social Security benefits due to your own work history.

      Julie

      Reply
  • December 29, 2019 at 5:18 pm
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    When the pre Medicare retirees have make a choice in health ins in 2022 what happens when those retirees hit Medicare age do you put us back in the system for Medicare and offer us a Medicare supplement or are we still on our own

    Reply
    • January 6, 2020 at 11:11 am
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      After enrollment in the OPERS Connector, Medicare-eligible retirees receive a monthly Health Reimbursement Arrangement, or HRA, that can be used to reimburse the cost of premiums and other qualified medical expenses.

      In addition, retirees enrolled in Medicare Parts A and B select a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plans through the OPERS Connector with the assistance from OPERS’ vendor Via Benefits. For more information go to https://www.opers.org/healthcare/plan-options/ViaBenefits/index.shtml.

      Reply
  • January 6, 2020 at 8:10 am
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    I am thinking about rolling over unused sick leave into deferred comp. next year when I retire, at what percentage would it roll over at, 100% or 50%?

    Reply
    • January 7, 2020 at 4:30 pm
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      A representative at Ohio Deferred Compensation should be able to answer your questions. You can call them at 1-877-844-6457.

      Julie

      Reply
  • January 23, 2020 at 10:22 am
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    I will be 62 and plan to retire soon. I did not start working for the state until I was 46 so I have 15 years in. I am in the Combined Plan with OPERS I have paid into the health insurance fund for 15 years, yet won’t see a dime of it. I understand if I was in the Member-Directed plan, I would have received Health Savings Account dollars. (Wish I would have known that at the time.) Yet I will get nothing since I am in the Combined Plan. Because I started later but still worked into my 60s, there should at least be a reduced amount available, but there isn’t.

    Reply
    • January 27, 2020 at 4:25 pm
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      You could work another five years to reach the minimum age 65/20 years of service threshold. Please call us at 1-800-222-7377 or schedule an appointment with a Counselor to discuss your options.

      Reply
  • February 1, 2020 at 6:02 pm
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    I have been receiving reimbursement of my Medicare Part A premium included in my monthly retirement check ever since I signed up in 2018 when I turned 65. I received my January check and it included the new amount of the Medicare Part A premium, (it goes up every year of course) like always. But I just got my February check and it was much less. I checked online and saw they were sending me a benefit change notice that said they were paying me $0 for Medicare Part A reimbursement, and what my new monthly check amount will be. What happened? Why did they stop paying me back for Part A?

    Reply
    • February 6, 2020 at 11:17 am
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      Please call us at 1-800-222-7377 and a member of our staff can look into your situation.

      Reply

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