Ohio public pension fund votes to shift health care costs to retirees

Ohio Public Employees Retirement System represents most city, county and state workers.

Retirees and government workers in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System will shoulder higher costs for health care beginning Jan. 1, 2022.

OPERS trustees voted 9-2 on Wednesday to make changes to the health care offerings as a means of shoring up the health care fund into the future. Without the changes, OPERS projected that its $11.3 billion health care fund would run out of money by 2030.

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OPERS, which represents most of the city, county and state workers, has provided health care coverage to retirees since 1974.

The first priority is solvency of the pension fund to make sure benefits required by law are provided.

OPERS is still looking for a state lawmaker willing to sponsor a bill that would eliminate the cost of living allowance given to retirees in 2022 and 2023 and delay the COLA for two years for all new retirees. Those changes, which require a law change, would help bolster the pension side of the system.

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Under the health care changes approved Wednesday, nearly everyone in OPERS will be impacted.

For retirees who are Medicare-eligible — ages 65 and older — the monthly allowance provided by OPERS to offset health care costs will be reduced. The allowance currently ranges from $225 to $405, depending on age, years of service and retirement date. The lower allowances will range from $178 to $315.

Pre-65-year-old retirees are currently offered an OPERS group plan, where OPERS picks up between 51 percent to 90 percent of the cost. On average, retirees are paying $354 a month.

The OPERS group plan will be eliminated. Replacing it will be a monthly stipend for retirees to find coverage on the open market. Future retirees will have to work 10 to 12 years longer to be eligible for the new stipend.

Premiums for open market coverage are expected to vary largely based on location, whether the retiree is eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and whether the retiree is a tobacco user.

OPERS has $94 billion in assets for pension benefits and serves 1.14 million people.

OPERS Executive Director Karen Carraher said trustees want to explore the idea of asking lawmakers to increase the employer contribution rate to generate funds for health care coverage. She added that lawmakers and taxpayers are unlikely to embrace such a change.

Ohio’s five public employee pension systems are funded by a combination of employer and employee contributions and investment returns. Public workers in Ohio are not in the Social Security system.

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