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(11/19/14) - Today is Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day – a day to focus on the importance of our members and retirees, and all education support staff who help keep our children safe and give them the tools necessary to succeed in school.

Who are ESPs? They are the bus drivers, cooks, classroom aides, maintenance workers, security personnel, and countless others who ensure students are “healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged” each school day.

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According to the National Education Association (NEA), ESPs comprise 40% of the total K-12 education workforce. ESPs are committed to their careers and the safety of the students. Some key findings of a recent NEA survey of ESPs:

  • They average 11.5 years in the ESP workforce, and 67% plan to stay in their current position.
  • They have an average of 10.8 years with their current employer.
  • 59% have witnessed bullying behavior. Of those who have witnessed bullying, 89% have stepped in or tried to stop it.
  • 45% have witnessed school violence. Of those who have witnessed school violence, 85% have stepped in or tried to stop it.

ESPs are often the first and last faces students see each day. Could you imagine a day without the education support staff in schools? Take a look at this moving video from the NEA, which will give you a glimpse of what a day would be like without the people who help keep our schools running and our students safe.

To our members and  retirees, and all education support professionals – thank you for your service to our schools and all you do.

 

  
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(11/17/14) - On Nov. 13, 2014, U.S. Representatives from two non-Social Security states, Texas and Massachusetts, introduced legislation to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced H.R. 5697 which “provides equal treatment of Social Security benefits for teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public servants who earn two pensions – one in Social Security and another in a substitute program like a state teachers retirement program.”

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The WEP affects SERS retirees who are, or will be, receiving a Social Security benefit based on their own Social Security employment record. Under the current legislation, their Social Security benefit was reduced depending on the number of years paid into Social Security.

H.R. 5697 eliminates the WEP, and allows Social Security benefits earned by public employees in non-Social Security states to be calculated just as other workers, based on their real-life contributions and work history.

After reviewing the text of the bill, SERS was the first retirement system in the nation to issue a letter of support.

We urge all SERS members who have paid into Social Security, and retirees who are affected by the WEP, to contact their congressional representatives and ask them to co-sponsor the bill and support its passage. You can do this from the Legislative Action Center on the front page of the SERS website.

We’ll keep you posted on the bill’s progress.

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(11/17/14)  - This week is American Education Week (AEW), an opportunity to recognize the hard work and dedication of the individuals within our schools who help our children succeed.

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The annual observance honors education support professionals (ESPs), teachers, students, parents, and community members – any individual who helps ensure that each child receives a quality public education.

This year’s theme is “Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility.” The National Education Association (NEA) asks all Americans to “do their part in making public schools great for every child so that they can grow and achieve in the 21st century.”

On Wednesday, November 19, we will recognize our members, retirees, and all ESPs by celebrating Education Support Professionals Day. Throughout their careers, ESPs touch the lives of students, provide encouragement and support, and help ensure their safety.

Click here for a list of all special observances taking place each day this week, and for ways to promote AEW in your school.

You can also join in the celebration by following our Facebook page. We will post updates, videos, and more throughout the week to honor those who serve our schools.

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(11/14/14)  - Retirees who don't have Medicare coverage may be able to obtain more affordable coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Open enrollment for the Marketplace starts Nov. 15, 2014 and runs through Feb. 15, 2015.

You can search for health insurance plans during the open enrollment period. You need to apply by Dec. 15 to have coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2015.

The Marketplace does not affect your SERS health care coverage, and you are not required to change plans. You decide what is best for you.

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All plans cover essential health benefits, pre-existing conditions, and preventive care.

You may be able to find less expensive coverage when you qualify for a subsidy to help pay the premium.

The Marketplace is not for those who have Medicare. If you are a SERS retiree who is not yet eligible for Medicare or who purchased a Marketplace plan last year, click here to learn more.

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(11/12/14) - To better serve our members, we now offer extended counseling hours on Wednesdays.

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The counseling staff is available for four additional sessions on Wednesdays, with two sessions each from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and 5:15 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.

We also offer appointments at 8:15 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 2:45 p.m. during any weekday.

If you are approaching retirement and would like to schedule a session with one of our counselors, call 1-866-280-7377.

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(9/30/14) - The Social Security Administration (SSA) is cautioning the public against an identity theft scam that targets personal information. 

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If you receive an email from Social Security telling you that you may be eligible for a new benefit, delete it. The email instructs you to click on a link and complete an application with your personal information (e.g., contact and employment information, Social Security number, and driver’s license number).

Government agencies rarely communicate by email, phone, or text and if they do, they should already have your basic information. As a reminder, never provide personal information when receiving unsolicited calls, emails, or text messages, or click on links or download attachments contained in suspicious emails.

For more information and tips on how to recognize a scam, read Social Security’s fraud advisory or visit the Better Business Bureau’s website.

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(7/1/14) - SERS and State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio (STRS) recently issued guidance to employers on membership determination for positions of mutual interest between the two systems.

Such determinations became effective July 1, 2014. If you were holding a position of mutual interest and were not contributing to the correct retirement system, your membership was changed by your employer.

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As a result, your employer has notified you that you are now a member of SERS. As a member of both SERS and STRS, you may retire independently from each of the systems if you are eligible, or you may combine your service credit and accounts to receive one benefit. The system with the greatest service credit will be the system that will calculate and pay your benefit. While your salaries in one year will be added together, if you have service credit in each system for the same year, you cannot be credited with more than one year of service credit for each 12 months in a year. You also may combine service credit and accounts for a disability benefit.

You will receive an information packet from us in the next few months. In the meantime, click here for a link to the Member Handbook. Please contact us toll-free at 800-878-5853 or send a secure message if you have further questions about your SERS membership.

For more information about membership determination between the systems, click here to view the systems’ joint message to employers.
 

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All active members of SERS will soon receive the latests News & Views newsletter, in addition to their 2014 Member Annual Statement. For the second year, the statement will reflect changes resulting from SERS' pension reform.

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Members are grouped into four categories, according to the statement type they will receive. To determine your group, please refer to the front page of your News & Views or look at the lower left corner of your statement. It displays form number 25.90 and a letter (either a, b, c, or d).

Read below to determine which video you should watch:

You received Statement 25.90a. The story on the front page of your News & Views, titled "How to Read Your Annual Statement" is contained in a pink box.

 

You received Statement 25.90b. The story on the front page of your News & Views is contained in a yellow box.

 

You received Statement 25.90c. The story on the front page of your News & Views is contained in a blue box.

 

You received Statement 25.90d. The story on the front page of your News & Views is contained in a green box.

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(9/1/14) - Beginning this fall, SERS will be hosting a new informational series designed specifically for retirees.

The first one will be held on Thursday, October 23 from 1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m., in the O’Keefe Center of SERS' headquarters, located at 300 E. Broad St., in Columbus.

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Topics will include Social Security issues, emergency preparedness, and fraud prevention. Presentations will feature experts from Social Security, the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging, and SERS. It will end with a question-and answer session. Refreshments will be served.

If you are interested in attending, click here to register online, or call 614-222-5814. Although the series is free of charge, space is limited, so register now.

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(6/19/14)-  For the 29th consecutive year, SERS has received the Certificate of Achievement for Financial Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA).

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The GFOA awards the certificate to government entities whose annual financial reports are judged to adhere to program standards. It represents the highest award in government financial reporting.

SERS received the award for its FY2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

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(5/6/14) -  Farouki Majeed, Chief Investment Officer for SERS, received the inaugural Investor Intelligence Award in the category of Risk Culture.

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The Investor Intelligence Awards are sponsored by the Investor Intelligence Network, a 2,000-plus member organization of Chief/Senior Investment Officers who exchange investment ideas.

Click here to read more about this prestigious honor.

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(4/16/14) - You may have heard recent news reports about an internet security flaw called the Heartbleed bug, which could allow hackers to steal passwords to online accounts. SERS’ member and retiree accounts are not vulnerable to this bug; however, it is always a good practice to change your password every 60-90 days.

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As a reminder, the best passwords are at least eight characters in length and use a combination of numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and special characters (e.g. !, &, @, and $). The longer and more complex the password, the longer it will take a hacker to figure it out.

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(3/25/14) - After years of fine-tuning the operational efficiency at our building in downtown Columbus, SERS applied for and received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB®) award from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The SERS building became the 5th LEED-EB certified building in Columbus and the 32nd in Ohio.

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Click here to read about the improvements and energy efficiency efforts that helped SERS obtain LEED Silver certification.

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(2/27/14) - Members who are thinking about retiring in next five to ten years should consider attending a Pre-Retirement Educational Program (PREP) seminar.

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The half-day seminar will cover important aspects of retirement planning: pension payment information, health care, Social Security, and financial planning.

There is no cost to attend a PREP seminar, but registration is required. Dates and locations are available here. To download the registration form, click here.

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(1/30/14) - Some SERS members with Aetna health care coverage have received suspicious calls from an individual claiming to be an Aetna representative. The caller asked for confidential bank account information in order to send the member a new ID card.

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If you receive a similar call, do not give out any personal information and call us toll-free at 800-878-5853 to report the incident. Medical providers do not need your banking information or Social Security number. You also can call the phone number of your medical provider (usually listed on your ID card) to be sure you are talking with actual company representatives.

SERS does not place phone calls to members and retirees, or send staff door-to-door to ask for personal information. However, if you call us, we will ask you a series of questions to verify your personal information and identity.

When you call us, we need your name, Social Security number, date of birth, telephone number, and email address, if you have one. We ask for this information in order to protect your personal SERS information.

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SERS is good steward of retirement system and environment

(1/27/14) - While the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) may be serving the people who serve our schools, 300 E. Broad St., the building has been the focus of improvements that will save money and the environment.

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We recently completed several energy conservation measures that qualified for the American Electric Power (AEP) Ohio’s Retrocommissioning (RCx) Program. Implementing these measures enabled the building to receive a rebate of $26,781.90 from AEP.

RCx is an incentive program that rewards AEP Ohio commercial customers for improving the performance of their building by lowering operating costs, energy consumption, and environmental impacts. The building is involved with the program as a result of its efforts to obtain the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, a national benchmark for design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings.

By examining issues such as lighting and HVAC running times, six measures for reducing energy use and costs were proposed. Additionally, re-lamping the building with lower wattage bulbs, including changing about 5,000 bulbs, resulted in a reduction of more than 26,000 watts. These low-cost and practical measures allowed for immediate implementation. They were completed in June.

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(12/16/13) - Kaiser Permanente is now part of HealthSpan. Nothing has changed with the health care coverage offered to SERS retirees and their families.

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Plan participants may receive documents and information that says either Kaiser Permanente or HealthSpan.

New HealthSpan ID cards are being mailed. Plan participants should stop using the Kaiser card and start using the HealthSpan card after it arrives.

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(11/26/13) - The Health Insurance Marketplace is a new way to buy health insurance. It can help if you don’t have coverage now or if you have insurance but want to look at other options.

In the Marketplace, the cost for insurance is based on your household size and income.

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You can find out what you will pay by filling out the Marketplace application. You also can compare plans side-by-side. Filling out the application does not mean you are buying a plan; it just tells you what plans are available and what each plan will cost you.

You also can use the Kaiser Family Foundation calculator for a rough estimate of how much health insurance through the Marketplace may cost you in 2014. Your final premiums and costs may differ from the estimates.

Click here to visit the Kaiser Family Foundation website to use the health insurance costs and savings calculator.

Eligibility for Ohio Medicaid has recently been expanded. This change means more adults between the ages of 19 and 64 will be eligible for no cost or low cost health care coverage through Medicaid beginning Jan. 1, 2014. More information is available in the Medicaid Eligibility Expanded for Adults Ages 19 to 64 article below.

The Marketplace will not affect your SERS’ health care coverage. You are not required to switch plans. You decide what is best for you.

The Marketplace is not for those who have Medicare. If you are a SERS retiree who does not have Medicare, click here to learn more about how to look for insurance in the Marketplace.

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(11/26/13) - Eligibility for Ohio Medicaid has recently changed. This change means more adults between the ages of 19 and 64 will be eligible for no cost or low cost health care coverage through Medicaid beginning Jan 1, 2014.

Under the new eligibility rules, an individual with an income of $15,856 or less is now eligible for Medicaid. For a household size of two adults, the combined income could be up to $21,406.

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If you think you qualify because of the new Medicaid rules, there are three ways to apply:

  1. Starting Dec. 9, 2013, you can apply online at www.benefits.ohio.gov.
  2. You can go to your local Job and Family Services office and complete an application with a caseworker.
  3. You can call the Ohio Medicaid Consumer Hotline toll-free at 800-324-8680.

If you do not qualify for Medicaid, you may still qualify for help paying for other insurance you can buy on the federal Health Insurance Marketplace.

The Marketplace is not for those who have Medicare. To learn more about how to look for insurance in the Marketplace, click here.

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(9/26/13) - Many of you have called us expressing interest in the remote counseling program. Unfortunately, all appointments for our September through November sessions have been booked. Registration is now closed.

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We are currently working on scheduling more remote counseling sessions for 2014. If you are interested in meeting with a counselor and will be retiring within the next 12 months, there are other ways we can help you:

  • Call our toll-free number 800-878-5853 Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
  • Schedule a one-on-one counseling session in our Columbus office.
  • Schedule a phone conference.
  • Join us from the comfort of your own home by participating in an online webinar.
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(9/12/13) - All active SERS members soon will receive their Member Annual Statements. This year’s statements reflect changes resulting from pension reform and show how the changes may affect members. There are four different versions of the annual statement based on a member’s years of service.

Included with the annual statement is the latest News & Views newsletter, explaining the new format. Members also can watch a video that will guide them through reading their new statements. Smartphone users can scan the QR code on the front page of their newsletter to access the video that relates to their statement type.

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Members are grouped into four categories, according to the statement type they will receive. To determine your group, please refer to the front page of your News & Views or look at the lower left corner of your statement. It displays a form number 25.90 and a letter (either a, b, c, or d).

Read below to determine which video you should watch:

You received Statement 25.90a. The story on the front page of your News & Views and the QR code are contained in pink boxes.

 

You received Statement 25.90b. The story on the front page of your News & Views and the QR code are contained in yellow boxes.

 

You received Statement 25.90c. The story on the front page of your News & Views and the QR code are contained in blue boxes.

 

You received Statement 25.90d. The story on the front page of your News & Views and the QR code are contained in green boxes.

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(8/30/13) - SERS is adding vision coverage to the SERS’ health care program in 2014.

The coverage is being offered through Vision Service Plan, VSP. In addition to vision benefits, the VSP plan includes hearing-related services through TruHearing MemberPlus. It offers participants savings of up to 50% on select hearing aids.

The dental provider is changing for 2014. Delta Dental of Ohio will provide coverage.

Eligibility for the vision and dental plans also is changing. Enrollment is no longer limited to those enrolled in SERS medical coverage.

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Benefit recipients who previously waived their SERS’ health care coverage can now enroll in dental and vision coverage. Benefit recipients only need to be eligible for SERS health care to enroll in the dental and/or vision coverage.

Dental and vision enrollment applications are being taken through Oct. 31, 2013. Plan coverage begins on Jan. 1, 2014.

For more information, click on the links below:

Dental Plan

Vision Plan

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(8/19/13) - SERS is beginning its mailing of health care open enrollment information. Packets will be mailed today through Aug. 28. Health care participants should expect to receive their open enrollment information no later than the first week of September.

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Inside the packet are premiums for 2014. It also has an overview of the changes taking place and the schedule of upcoming open enrollment meetings and webinars.

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(7/18/13) - A Special Election is being held to fill a vacant retiree-member Board seat due to the resignation of a Board member. For the Special Election, candidates will be nominated by the Board members, and the successor member will be chosen by a Board vote. All SERS retirees are eligible to apply for this open seat.

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Interested candidates should send a resume addressed to the SERS Board of Trustees, 300 E. Broad St., Suite 100, Columbus, OH, 43215-3746 or by email to SERSBoardofTrustees@ohsers.org by Aug. 30, 2013. Candidates also must submit a completed Certification Form, which can be downloaded from the SERS website. The completed form should be mailed to the above address.

The term for this Board seat runs from Nov. 21, 2013 to June 30, 2015. Click here to see the full Special Election timeline.

If you have questions about this Special Election, please contact Tim Barbour, Senior Communications Coordinator, by phone at 614-222-5901 or by email at tbarbour@ohsers.org.

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(7/01/13) - As of June 30, 2013, Prudential Insurance Company of America is no longer offering group long-term care insurance. 

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SERS benefit recipients and members who previously enrolled in this program will continue to have coverage.

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(5/29/13) - Catholic Health Partners announced today that it has reached tentative agreements to purchase the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Ohio, and Ohio Permanente Medical Group, Inc.

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Catholic Health Partners said in a press release that it would continue to provide health care for more than 80,000 current Kaiser Permanente Ohio members and operate existing offices in northeast Ohio.

Benefit recipients and dependents who are enrolled in the Kaiser Permanente HMO and Kaiser Permanente Medicare Plus plans should not expect to see any immediate changes due to this announcement.

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(5/24/13) - A SERS retiree recently received a phone call from a person pretending to be from one of SERS’ health care providers. The caller told the retiree that he needed her banking information before he could send her a new medical card. Sensing something was not right, the SERS retiree ended the call without giving out personal information.

If you receive a similar call, do not give out any personal information and call SERS toll-free at 800-878-5853 to report the incident. Medical providers do not need your banking information or Social Security number. You also can call the phone number of your medical provider (usually listed on your ID card) to be sure you are talking with actual company representatives.

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SERS does not place phone calls to members and retirees, or send staff door-to-door to ask for personal information. However, if you call us, we will ask you a series of questions to verify your personal information and identity.

When you call us, we need your name, Social Security number, date of birth, telephone number, and email address, if you have one. We ask for this information in order to protect your personal SERS information.

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(5/21/13) - SERS Health Care Services has learned that the Medicare “Extra Help” checks mailed on May 10 to more than 1,600 SERS retirees cannot be cashed due to a printing error. If you received one of these checks, do not try to cash it.

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Express Scripts will correct the printing problem and issue new checks. Checks mailed on May 10 will be voided. If you received one of these checks, please be sure to cut it up or shred it for security reasons.

If you have any questions, please contact SERS toll-free at 800-878-5853 or email healthcare@ohsers.org. Thank you for your patience.

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(4/30/13) - As of today, all travel expense reimbursement requests for the NCPERS Annual Conference scheduled in Hawaii have been withdrawn by the members who requested the travel. We have informed the legislature of this development.

While we still believe in the educational value of this conference, the travel issue has become a major distraction to the important work we do for members and retirees. The actions that legislators took yesterday would significantly impair the work SERS Board and staff does and we hope that by withdrawing the travel we can avoid these restrictions.

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As a Board, we have significant decisions to make regarding investments in the next few months and we will do our best to keep SERS well-funded for the future. We appreciate the comments we have received from members and retirees, and we ask for your continued support as we move forward in governing SERS.

Beverly A. Woolridge

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(4/16/13) - On April 11, Governor John Kasich appointed Daniel L. Wilson of Beachwood to the School Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees. Wilson replaces Richard Sensenbrenner whose term ended Sept. 28, 2012. Wilson will be sworn in at the April 18 Board meeting and his term runs through Sept. 27, 2016.

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Since 2004, Wilson has served as the chief financial officer for the Mentor Exempted Village Board of Education. From 2003-2004, he served as associate superintendent for the Center of School Finance and Accountability at the Ohio Department of Education. He has also served as chief financial officer/budget director at the Parma Board of Education in Cuyahoga County and worked as a treasurer at the Shaker Heights Board of Education, Canton City Board of Education, Stark County Board of Education, South-Western City Board of Education, and Woodridge Local Board of Education. In all, Wilson has more than 39 years of public service to school districts in Ohio.

Wilson is the Past-President of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials, the Past Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Foundation for School Business Management, and served two terms on the SERS Board as an elected member from July 1, 1992-June 30, 1996, and as a governor appointee from Sept. 28, 2004-Sept. 28, 2008.

Wilson earned his BS in business administration from the University of Akron.

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(1/10/13) SERS has received the 2013 federal tax withholding tables. The new tables will be effective for February benefit payments. Benefit recipients who had federal taxes withheld from their January payment will see a slight decrease in the tax withheld. However, recipients who receive their cost of living adjustment in February may see an increase in withholding as a result of the increased benefit amount.

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Recipients can change their withholding amount at any time by completing IRS form W-4P.  This form, Federal Withholding Certificate for Monthly Pension Payments, can be found on SERS’ website at www.ohsers.org/Document/Get/4582. If you need a form sent to you, please call SERS toll-free at 800-878-5853.

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(1/3/13) - SERS members who retire or begin receiving a pension benefit on or after Jan. 7, 2013, must be eligible for Medicare Part B and be enrolled in SERS’ health care coverage to receive a Medicare Part B reimbursement.

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SERS currently reimburses eligible benefit recipients $45.50 per month to help pay Medicare Part B premiums. If your Medicare Part B coverage is cancelled, or your Part B premium is paid by any other source, such as your state, union, employer, Medicaid or other entity, you are not eligible for the reimbursement. Reimbursement starts after SERS receives proof of Medicare Part B enrollment.

The Medicare Part B reimbursement will end if SERS’ health care coverage is cancelled or Medicare Part B enrollment ends. Spouses and dependents are not eligible for this reimbursement.

Benefit recipients who are eligible for Medicare Part B and already receiving a benefit before Jan. 7, 2013, are not affected by this change.

To be eligible to receive a Medicare Part B reimbursement you must either be:

(1)   a benefit recipient whose benefit began before Jan 7, 2013 and who was eligible for Medicare Part B before Jan. 7, 2013, or

(2)   a benefit recipient who is eligible for Medicare Part B and who is enrolled in SERS’ health care coverage.

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(12/27/12) - The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) usually issues new tax withholding tables in early December for the following year. However, because of the current negotiations between the President and Congress regarding tax reform, the IRS cannot produce the 2013 withholding tables. Although a compromise may be reached soon, SERS’ January 2013 benefit payments have already been processed using the 2012 tables.

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This means that recipients will not see a change in the amount withheld unless they received a Cost-of-Living Adjustment increase or recently submitted a new withholding form to SERS.

We will post an update on our website when the 2013 tables are issued. We also will provide information at that time about the general impact of the 2013 tables on individual withholding.

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(12/18/12) – A cost estimate calculator for the new “buy-up” option is now available to SERS members. To access the calculator, please log on to your Member Account. Once you have signed in, click on the “Buy-Up Cost Estimate” link.

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The “buy-up” option allows members who will have fewer than 25 years of service credit as of Aug. 1, 2017 to retire under current age and service requirements. 

For more information on the buy-up option, please see the Ohio Pension Reform page.

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(11/28/12) - Beginning today, SERS will join seven other institutional investors in an effort to encourage S&P 500 and Fortune 500 public companies to move to annual elections. A move to annual elections, which are widely viewed as corporate governance best practice, could make directors more accountable and thereby contribute to improving performance and increasing firm value.

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The other institutional investors joining the Shareholder Rights Project are the Florida State Board of Administration, the Illinois State Board of Investment, the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association, the Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Management Board, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the North Carolina State Treasurer, and the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System.

Click here to read the news release.
 

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The SERS Retirement Board recently approved changes that expanded the eligibility standard for a health care premium subsidy.

The changes affect benefit recipients whose benefit effective date is on or after Aug. 1, 2008.

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Under the expanded standard, a benefit recipient must have at least 20 years of qualified service credit, and at the time of retirement or separation of service be:

  • eligible to participate in the health care plan of his or her last school employer, or
  • eligible to participate in the health care plan of his or her school employer at least three of the last five years of service

Anyone with 20 or more years of qualified service who moved into a part-time position prior to retirement but who lost eligibility for the school’s health care coverage, may now be eligible for a premium subsidy.

We mailed letters to those benefit recipients who might qualify for a premium subsidy.

A special health care coverage reinstatement period runs through Dec. 14, 2012.

If you think you might be eligible but have not been contacted, please call us toll-free at 800-878-5853.

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(11/14/12) - Prudential Insurance Company of America has announced it will not accept new enrollments of SERS’ members and benefit recipients for group long-term care coverage after June 30, 2013.

Current plan participants will continue to have coverage after June 30.

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Long-term care insurance pays a specified amount per day for custodial care to assist with the activities of daily living. SERS does not administer or subsidize the cost of this insurance.

Enrollment is open to members who have contributed to the retirement system for the previous 18 months, as well as retirees and benefit recipients. Prudential will accept new enrollees if enrollment is completed by June 30, 2013. To learn more about the coverage or to enroll, contact Prudential toll-free at 800-732-0416 or visit www.prudential.com/gltcweb. To log onto the site, enter “school” into the Group Name field, “retirement” into the Access Code field, and choose “OH” from the State of Residence drop-down menu. Finally, click the “login” button to enter the site.

SERS is looking into other long-term care coverage options for members who may want to enroll after June 30, 2013.

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(11/5/12) - SERS received word on Friday of a postal delay in the delivery of an unknown number of November pension checks.

The U.S. Postal Service explained that Columbus is a hub for delivery to much of the eastern United States. Due to Hurricane Sandy and the inability to deliver this mail to multiple locations on the East Coast, there is a back-up of mail in the Columbus post office. This back-up along with the increased volume of political mailing has delayed the delivery of an unknown number of SERS’ pension checks.

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We apologize for this delay and are working diligently with the U.S. Postal Service to remedy the issue as quickly as possible. 

SERS strongly encourages all retirees to have their pension payments paid directly to a bank or credit union. You can request a direct deposit of your funds to assure that your payment will be available on the first of every month. Direct deposit eliminates any concerns about late, lost, or stolen checks.

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In celebration of our 75th anniversary this year, SERS held a contest asking students statewide to honor their favorite school employees through art.

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Some of the entries are already featured in our publications and on our Facebook page. The winning artwork will soon be showcased in our building.

The first, second, and third place winners can all be viewed here.

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(9/26/12) - Today, Gov. John Kasich signed Senate Bill 341, SERS’ pension reform bill, into law. While most provisions in the bill become effective Jan. 7, 2013, the age and service eligibility changes for retirement won’t take effect until Aug. 1, 2017.

Click here to watch a video statement about SERS’ pension reform changes from Executive Director Lisa Morris. 

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SERS’ pension reform bill did NOT include changes to employee or employer contributions, cost of living adjustments (COLAs), or the three-year final average salary.

However, the legislature did include several modifications that were awaiting legislative action, some for several years. In most cases, these modifications modernize SERS’ existing statutes on disability, survivor benefits, and health care.

SERS will be sending a special mailing to all members detailing the changes in SERS’ pension reform bill, including the modifications that affect member benefits. The next issue of News & Views also will include information about these changes.

To see how SERS’ pension reform changes compare with the other four Ohio pension systems’ pension reform changes, click here.

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(9/19/12) - Express Scripts members once again have prescription coverage at Walgreens pharmacies.

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Walgreens rejoined the Express Scripts pharmacy network on September 15. Just show your Express Scripts ID card to receive the same low co-pays on generic and preferred brand drugs.

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(9/12/12) - Today, Senate Bill 341, SERS’ pension reform bill, was passed unanimously by the House, and the Senate concurred with the House amendments. It will now go to the governor for his signature. Following the governor’s signature, the bill becomes effective January 7, 2013.

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All of the SERS Board-approved age and service changes were accepted without changes.

An amendment giving the SERS Board the authority to adjust future age and service changes based on the results of the required five-year actuarial experience study will be delayed for 180 days after January 7, 2013. This delay enables the Ohio Retirement Study Council time to review all five retirement systems’ board-authority provisions, and make recommendations.

SERS’ pension reform bill did NOT include changes to employee or employer contributions, cost of living adjustments (COLAs), or the three-year final average salary. However, the legislature did include several modifications that SERS requested that have been awaiting legislative action, some for several years. In most cases, these changes modernize SERS’ existing statutes on disability, survivor benefits, and health care.

SERS will be sending a mailing to all members detailing the changes in SERS’ pension reform bill, including the modifications, that affect member benefits. The next issue of News & Views also will include information about these changes.

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(8/31/12) - Since SERS provided House testimony in support of SB341 on July 25, the House Health and Aging Subcommittee on Retirement and Pensions has held seven hearings on SERS’ pension reform bill. The final subcommittee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday Sept. 5, at 1 p.m. SERS has received letters of support from the Ohio Education Association, Inter-University Council, School Employee Retirees of Ohio, Ohio School Boards Association, and Ohio Association of School Business Officials.

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Rep. Kirk Schuring, Chairman of the House Health and Aging Subcommittee on Retirement and Pensions, has indicated that he hopes to pass SERS’ bill out of the subcommittee on Sept. 5 and pass it through the full House Health and Aging Committee later the same day.

On Wednesday, Sept. 12, SERS’ bill is tentatively scheduled for a House floor vote. Should it pass the floor vote, it will head to the Senate for concurrence, potentially the same day. Once it passes the Senate, it goes to the governor for his signature.

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(8/16/12) The sky-is-falling headline of Jon Cassidy’s Aug. 8 story, “School worker health care fund almost out of money” got our attention for all the wrong reasons.

The Watchdog story focuses on the “worst case” funding scenario presented by Pension Trustee Advisors/KMS Actuaries in their report to the Ohio Retirement Study Council in July, and the effect it would have on SERS’ health care funding.

This story perpetuates two myths about Ohio’s public pension systems that are completely untrue: retiree health care in Ohio is a guaranteed benefit, and unfunded pension liabilities in Ohio are ultimately the taxpayers’ responsibility. 

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Myth 1 – Health Care is a Guaranteed Benefit

Retiree health care in Ohio is a discretionary benefit – it is not guaranteed as indicated in the Watchdog story. SERS is required by law to fully fund pensions before diverting employer contributions to retiree health care. In years with low investment returns, less money goes to funding health care; in years with high investment returns, more money is available for health care.

To prevent the health care fund from being totally depleted in years with low investment returns, SERS implemented a pay-as-you-go health care funding model in 2011. Each year, SERS calculates how much money will be available for health care from these sources: employer contributions, health care surcharge, investment returns on the $325 million health care fund, rebates from health care and prescription drug providers, and federal funding. Based on these calculations, SERS adjusts premiums and coverage on its health care plans to ensure the annual health care budget is balanced and will not dip into the $325 million health care fund.

The PTA/KMS finding that SERS’ “health care funding would rapidly diminish and be eliminated by 2016” under the worst case funding scenario refers to the amount of employer contributions available for health care. The other sources of health care funding mentioned above would continue to be available. Under SERS’ current pay-as-you-go funding system, the health care fund has been designed to remain viable long into the future.

The following sentence in the Watchdog story is completely wrong: “Lawmakers would then have to choose between stiffing retirees on their promised health care, reducing pension benefits, raising the pension contribution rates paid by municipalities, transferring hundreds of millions of dollars from the already depleted SERS Pension fund, or some combination of the above.”

This sentence contains the following inaccuracies:

  1. In Ohio, health care is a discretionary benefit – there is no “promised health care”
  2. Because health care is a discretionary benefit, SERS is able to make health care changes without permission from lawmakers
  3. State law dictates that pension benefits be fully funded from employee and employer contributions before anything else is funded – reducing pension benefits to fund health care and transferring money from SERS’ pension fund to the health care fund is against the law
  4. Lawmakers have made it clear during the pension reform process that there will be no increase in employer contributions

At SERS, we know that to many of our retirees, a secure retirement means more than a pension alone. Since 1974, SERS has worked to help retirees gain access to better, more affordable health care coverage than what is available to individuals on the open market. SERS’ Board is committed to working within its means to provide retiree health care long into the future. The PTA/KMS report endorses SERS’ health care approach by saying “on balance, we find that the current level of health care benefits is a reasonable objective, and the proposed 30-year plan will maintain health care at these current levels if all assumptions are realized.”

Myth 2 – Public Pension Unfunded Liabilities are Taxpayer Obligations

Despite the conclusion in the PTA/KMS study that “unlike the vast majority of states throughout the country, the Ohio taxpayer has not issued a ‘blank check’ for increased employer pension costs to compensate for unfavorable investment returns and other results,” the author indicates that unfunded pension liabilities in Ohio could drive municipal bankruptcies. Unfunded pension liabilities in Ohio are not the responsibility of taxpayers; they are the responsibility of the pension systems.

As the author states, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) is implementing new accounting standards in 2015 that will require pension unfunded liabilities to be reported on government balance sheets. However, these new standards are accounting standards, not funding standards. Even though the pension liabilities will be shown on government balance sheets, the responsibility for paying them down will remain with the pension systems.

Finally, the author states that SERS’ pension fund is “already depleted” and has “$5.8 billion less than it should now have.” This statement shows a fundamental lack of understanding as to how public pension systems work.

Public pension systems in Ohio are required to be able to pay off their pension liabilities within a 30-year funding window. In essence, a pension liability can be compared to a mortgage. While SERS does have $5.8 billion in pension liabilities, that money is not due now, it is due over the next 28 years (SERS implemented a closed amortization period in 2009, meaning that its funding period will be reduced by one year, each year). At present, SERS has about 65% of the funding it needs to pay off its 28-year mortgage. All of the pension promises SERS has made to active members will not come due all at once, but over a period of the next 28 years. The pension reform changes SERS’ Board has requested from the legislature will allow the system to pay down its unfunded liabilities faster over the next 28 years.

Conclusion

The SERS pension fund is stable and the pay-as-you-go health care fund has been designed to last long into the future. SERS celebrates its 75thanniversary in September and it is on solid financial footing to begin the next 75 years.

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(8/13/12) - SERS experienced a significant technology outage Friday, August 10, from 10:06 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. It affected all our systems including access to our Member and Retiree System and our phones.

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SERS staff worked diligently to find the cause and remedy the situation as quickly as possible, and we are up and running again. No data was lost during the outage.

We apologize for the inconvenience, and thank you for your patience. 

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(8/1/2012) - Aetna is warning its members not to respond to a lottery letter that appears to be issued by Aetna through USA Direct Lottery and Sweepstakes.

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It is a scam. Do not attempt to cash the check.  Although it looks legitimate, the check is not issued by Aetna.  Aetna’s special investigations unit is working to uncover the source of the scam.

Click here to view the letter and check.

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(7/30/12) - Because it is critical for SERS’ retirees and benefit recipients to receive their payments in a timely and secure manner, SERS will no longer issue paper checks to new benefit recipients beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

All members whose first day of retirement begins on or after Jan. 1, 2013, will be required to receive their benefit payments through direct deposit to a bank or credit union account.

The SERS Board approved this change in business operations at the March 2012 Board meeting, and after its review by the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), adopted a mandatory direct deposit rule effective Jan. 1, 2013.

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Each year, significant staff time and resources are devoted to resolving issues with benefit checks that are lost, delayed in the mail, or stolen, and direct deposit eliminates these problems. This change will allow staff resources to be redirected to other member services operations.

Other benefits of using direct deposit include:

  • Dependability – a retiree’s money will be in his or her account on the first business day of the month
  • Peace of mind – a retiree’s money will be safely and securely deposited into a bank account on days when he or she is out of town or unable to get to the bank
  • Value – it is a free service that saves a retiree time and money and saves SERS money on printing and mailing costs

SERS also would like to encourage all current retirees who still receive a paper benefits check each month to consider switching to direct deposit. It’s safe, convenient, and easy to do. Just fill out the Direct Deposit form, which is found on our website, and mail the completed form with a voided check to the address at the top of the form.

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(7/26/12) - Deputy Director Helen Ninos testified before the House Health and Aging Subcommittee on Retirement and Pensions on Wednesday. SERS was asked to detail changes to its pension reform plan since H.B. 69 was introduced in February 2011 and comment on the recommendations from the recently released Pension Trustee Advisors/KMS Actuaries report released on July 11. Click here to read the full testimony from Wednesday’s meeting.

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With the exception of a few technical changes to an existing statutory provision, all of the pension reform changes SERS is seeking are contained in Senate Bill 341, which was passed unanimously in the Senate on May 16.

Rep. Kirk Schuring, Chairman of the House Health and Aging Subcommittee on Retirement and Pensions, has released an aggressive tentative hearing schedule for pension reform changes. He has indicated that he hopes to have pension bills ready for a House vote when the chamber returns in early September. The tentative hearing schedule is as follows: Wed. Aug. 1 at 1 p.m. (Highway Patrol and Ohio Police & Fire testimony); Wed., Aug. 8 at 1 p.m. (State Teachers testimony); Wed., Aug. 15 at 1 p.m. (Senate sponsor testimony); Tue., Aug. 21 at 6 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 22 at 1 p.m.; Tue., Sept. 4 at 6 p.m.; Wed. Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. (proponent, opponent, and interested party testimony); and Wed., Sept. 12 at 1 p.m., and Tue., Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. (if necessary).

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(7/17/12) - Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must spend between 80-85% of participant premiums on medical claims and health care improvement expenses. Those companies that do not comply must give rebates to their participants.

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Although AultCare PPO, Kaiser Permanente HMO, and Paramount HMO are subject to this requirement, they all have complied for 2011 and are not required to issue rebates. They will be mailing notices to their plan participants with this information.

No other SERS health care coverage plans are affected by this requirement. Medicare Advantage and self-insured plans are exempt.

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(7/14/12)Source: The Office of the Ohio Attorney General
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that he has filed a motion for Ohio state pension funds to join certain other funds in seeking to lead a class of investors in litigation against JPMorgan Chase & Co. The news comes as the bank announced that losses related to its "London Whale" trading scandal have already totaled at least $5.8 billion.

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"The filings allege that pension fund managers acting on behalf of Ohio retirees were given false and misleading information by JPMorgan Chase that hid the true nature of the bank's risky trades, causing Ohio teachers, school employees, and public employees to lose tens of millions of hard-earned retirement dollars," said Attorney General DeWine.

The motion alleges that JPMorgan Chase issued false and misleading statements regarding its trading activity, describing risky and speculative trading strategies merely as "hedges" and "risk management" devices. The trading losses by JPMorgan Chase caused losses in the bank's stock value to mount into the billions of dollars. Ohio pension funds lost over $27.5 million as a result of the alleged fraud.

Joining the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio, and the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio in filing for lead plaintiff status are public pension funds in the states of Oregon and Arkansas, as well as a Swedish national pension fund. The motion is made in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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(7/11/12) - Describing the current Ohio defined benefit pension system structure as “solid” and confirming that the pension reform plans recently passed by the Senate “are a major positive step … that will put each of the five retirement systems in a much more solid financial position than under current law,” the report delivered by Pension Trustee Advisors and KMS Actuaries to the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) clears the way for House debate on pension reform. Even though the legislature is on summer break until September, Speaker Bill Batchelder has indicated that House members could be called back into session this summer to discuss pension reform.

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The report, titled Analyzing Retirement Systems’ 30-Year Plans and Alternative Pension Reform Solutions, validates that SERS is in a relatively strong funding position despite the delay in enacting the system’s pension reform proposal. In addition, the report confirms that the Board’s proposed changes were appropriate to address the financial challenges brought on by the Great Recession in 2008, and maintaining the current level of health care benefits is a reasonable objective.

While the report indicated that some pension systems may have to make additional changes beyond those already included in the pension reform plans due to subpar investment returns, the SERS Board is not currently considering more changes. However, if SERS moves outside of the 30-year funding window, additional changes may be necessary. SERS’ FY2012 actuarial analysis will be completed in the December timeframe.
 

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(6/28/12) Today’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act does not affect health care coverage currently offered by SERS. Those enrolled in SERS’ health care plans also can expect similar health care coverage in 2013. 

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SERS’ Health Care Department is monitoring how today’s ruling influences the health care marketplace, and we will keep health care participants informed of any legislation that could affect their coverage. 

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(6/27/12) - The Aetna HMO non-Medicare plan will not be offered by SERS in 2013. SERS notified HMO plan participants of this change by mail in late May.

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This decision does not affect the Aetna Medicare Plan (PPO), Aetna Indemnity Plan, and Aetna Managed Care Plan. These Aetna plans will continue to be offered.

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(5/18/12) - Plavix is now available as a generic prescription drug following the expiration of the drug’s patent on May 17.

SERS’ health care participants can purchase a 30-day supply for the $5 co-payment at a retail pharmacy or a 90-day supply for the $12 co-payment through mail order.

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Using a lower-cost generic prescription drug does not mean that you are using a lower-quality drug.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires generics to contain the same active ingredients and meet the same manufacturing standards as their brand-name counterparts. Generics may have a different name, color, size, or shape, but they are safe and effective.

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(5/16/12) - SERS’ pension reform proposal cleared the first hurdle for legislative approval when the Senate voted 33-0 in favor of S.B. 341, which contained SERS’ Board-approved pension reform proposal.

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Introduced by Senate President Tom Niehaus and Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney on May 8, the bill quickly moved through the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee where it received hearings on May 8, May 9, and May 15. At those hearings, SERS received support from School Employee Retirees of Ohio (SERO), Ohio Association of School Business Officials (OASBO) and Ohio School Boards Association (OSBA), Ohio Education Association (OEA), and Inter-University Council of Ohio (IUC).

On the House side, it is unlikely that pension reform will be addressed until the independent actuary hired by the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) completes its review of the system plans in July. The Speaker has indicated that he may call the House back into session during the summer to discuss pension reform or wait until the lame duck session at the end of the year.

To read a summary of the legislative changes contained in S.B. 341, click here.

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(4/19/12) – Farouki A. Majeed has been named Director of Investments of the $10.5 billion School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS).

Majeed comes to SERS from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) where he was senior investment officer, asset allocation and risk management, for the last four years. Previously, Majeed served as chief investment officer of the Abu Dhabi Retirement Pensions and Benefits Fund of the United Arab Emirates, and held different investment positions at the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, Orange County Employees Retirement System, and Minneapolis Employees Retirement Fund.

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“As a mid-size U.S. public pension fund, we were looking for a director of investments with large public pension investment experience, and Farouki brings that expertise,” said SERS’ Executive Director Lisa J. Morris. “SERS has been proactive in building a highly diversified investment portfolio, and Farouki’s educational and professional background will be extremely beneficial as we continue the work of reducing risk in the portfolio and enhancing returns.”

SERS began the search for a new director of investments on July 1, 2011 when current Director of Investments Robert Cowman announced his intention to retire in 2012. Korn/Ferry International was retained in November 2011 to assist in the nationwide search.

Majeed begins his new duties at SERS on July 2, 2012. His educational background includes an MBA in finance from Rutgers University and a Bachelor of Science in engineering from the University of Sri Lanka.

After Mr. Cowman officially retires at the end of April, Steve Price, SERS’ senior investment officer in global private equity, will act as interim director until Majeed joins SERS in July. Price has been with SERS for six years, and was instrumental in building the private equity portfolio from the previous real estate and alternative assets portfolio.

SERS is a defined benefit public pension fund that provides pensions and access to health care coverage for the people who serve Ohio schools. SERS’ members are bus drivers, custodians, administrators, administrative assistants, food service providers, and educational aides – anyone who works for a school or school system in a nonteaching position.

Protecting and growing the retirement contributions of SERS’ members and their employers is a priority. In fiscal year 2011, SERS served 125,337 active, contributing members and 67,221 benefit recipients. SERS paid out more than $1 billion in pensions and health care benefits, and $812 million in pension benefits alone were returned to Ohio’s local economies.

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(4/20/12) - Anne Jewel will join SERS on April 30, 2012 as the Director of Health Care Services. She has an extensive background in health care insurance and benefits administration.

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She has worked for the Ohio Department of Insurance as an Assistant Director, Life and Health, Managed Care and health actuarial sections and Assistant Director, Policy Section. Most recently she has provided independent consulting services to health care insurers, third party payers, employers, and others on all types of health and life insurance regulatory compliance issues.  

Anne earned an undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkley and a Juris Doctor from George Washington University, The National Law Center. She has made numerous presentations to professional and business groups as well as continuing education for attorneys focusing on Health Care Reform.  SERS is very pleased to welcome Anne to the organization.

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(4/5/12) - SERS has adopted a rule defining the effective date of membership. It expressly identifies the date membership begins.

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Under this rule, the first day of paid school service for which employee contributions are received by SERS is the date that membership in SERS begins.

This new rule takes effect April 6, 2012.

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(4/2/12) - Express Scripts has merged with Medco Heath Solutions. Those of you who are SERS’ health care plan participants with Express Scripts prescription drug coverage will see no changes as a result of the merger. 

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You will still have access to the same medications, pharmacies, and clinical experts. You also can continue using the Express Scripts website.

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(3/7/12) - Negotiations between Aetna and the Cincinnati Eye Institute have resulted in a new contract, according to Aetna. Plan participants should see no disruption in services.

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SERS turns 75 this year, and we want to celebrate our anniversary by celebrating you. Help us by submitting artwork from K-12 students in any public or charter school in the state of Ohio depicting a favorite bus driver, custodian, librarian aide, office staff member, cafeteria worker, or educational aide.

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Artwork can be done in any medium (e.g., pencil, pen, paint, crayon, or marker).

Parents and teachers are encouraged to submit artwork on behalf of a student. All artwork must be accompanied by the official entry form. There are no limits on the number of entries each student may submit. As artwork will not be returned, you may wish to make a photocopy before mailing the entry to SERS.

The winning entries will be featured in SERS’ publications, on our website and Facebook page, and in the SERS building, located at 300 E. Broad St.

Click here for the official entry form. Submissions must be postmarked by May 25, 2012.   

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SERS benefit recipients who are enrolled in Medicare will have some extra spending money in the new year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced that the standard Medicare Part B monthly premium for 2012 will be $99.90.

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This is a $15.50 decrease from the 2011 monthly premium of $115.40. All Medicare enrollees are required to pay a Part B premium directly to Social Security.

SERS will continue to provide eligible benefit recipients with a monthly $45.50 reimbursement to help cover the cost of the Part B premium. To qualify, you must be a benefit recipient who is eligible for SERS’ health care and must not be receiving a Medicare Part B reimbursement from another source.

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(12/1/11) - As the Medicare Open Enrollment Period ends this week, be aware of calls from representatives claiming to be from Medicare, especially if they ask for personal information.

Medicare will not call you and ask for your Social Security number or your bank account number.

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The Ohio Attorney General's Office has received several reports from consumers who have received these calls. 

“If you receive an unexpected call saying you need a new Medicare card and must provide your Social Security number, it’s a scam,” Attorney General DeWine said. The AG also says that “while many consumers recognize the scam and hang up on the caller, others do not realize the ploy until they have already provided their personal information.”

To report a scam to the AG’s office, visit http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/, or call 800-282-0515. For more information on these potential scams, visit http://1.usa.gov/rqA8gj ...... 

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(11/8/11) - A SERS disability recipient recently received a phone call from a person pretending to be from SERS. The call came in as “private” on her caller ID. The caller told the disability recipient that she needed to attend a disability hearing, and that he needed her Social Security number and date of birth to set up the hearing. Sensing something was not right, the SERS retiree ended the call without giving out personal information. 

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If you receive a similar call, do not give out any personal information and call SERS toll-free at 800-878-5853 to report the incident.

SERS does not place phone calls to members and retirees, or send staff door-to-door to ask for personal information. However, if you call us, we will ask you a series of questions to verify your personal information and identity.

When you call us, we need your name, Social Security number, date of birth, telephone number, and email address, if you have one. We ask for this information in order to protect your personal SERS information.

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As your retirement system, we are always seeking new ways to connect with you and help you navigate the retirement process. With this partnership in mind, SERS has begun using social media to reach more of our members and retirees. Through electronic communication channels such as Facebook and Twitter, SERS can now provide an opportunity for all of us to share, discuss, and to receive information instantly.

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For those of you who already use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends, we hope you’ll take a minute or two to visit our page and join our online community. Even if you’re not yet computer savvy or the Internet is still uncharted territory, you’ll still be kept informed through our quarterly newsletters, News & Views and Focus.

'Like' Us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/sersofohio

'Follow' Us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sersofohio

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SERS health care coverage provides 100% coverage for the flu vaccine as well as the pneumonia vaccine and shingles vaccine.  Click on your health plan below for important vaccination information

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SERS' members will soon begin receiving their Member Annual Statement for the year ending June 30, 2011.

The statement shows your total service credit, total employee contributions, and a yearly breakdown for the prior five fiscal years of service.

If you are a Tier 1 member with at least five years of credit, or a Tier 2 member with at least 10 years of credit, you will receive a statement with an estimated pension figure.

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Some members will have two estimates. One estimate assumes a termination of school/covered employment on June 30, 2011, and retiring at the earliest eligible retirement date, and the other estimate assumes you continue to work until the first date you are eligible to retire.

The total of your employee contribution is the amount you would receive, less withholding for federal taxes, should you end your school employment and withdraw your account.

Have more questions about your annual statement? Check out the following frequently asked questions about the annual statement:

  • What is the five digit number below the last four numbers of my Social Security number?  That is the district code for your employer and enables SERS to verify the school district for which you currently work.

  • What does Tier 1” or “Tier 2” mean? If you began employment in the schools prior to May 14, 2008, you are a Tier 1 member; if employed on or after May 14, 2008, you are a Tier 2 member. The Tiers signify two different sets of retirement eligibility requirements. (See Tier details under Retirement Planning – When to Retire).

  • In the center of the statement some of my years are listed, but I have many more years of service.  What happened to those years? We have only listed your last five years of earnings, contributions, and service credit history in the center of the statement. If you look in the text box above the breakdown, you will see your total contributions and total service credit as of June 30, 2011.

  • Why is the box marked “Pension Estimate” blank? You must have at least 5.000 years of service credit (if you are a Tier 1 member) or at least 10.000 years of service credit (if you are a Tier 2 member) in order to have estimate information included in this area.

  • I don’t understand the pension estimates.  The first estimate is for age 60, but the second one is more money and says I can begin receiving that pension five years earlier. Why would I work to age 60 and make less money per month? The first estimate reflects the monthly pension amount ifyou had terminated your employment as of June 30, 2011 and “froze” your retirement until your earliest eligibility date. The second estimate assumes you continue to work until your earliest eligibility date. This estimate will be higher because you will have more service credit as you continue to work.

  • I don’t agree with the total service credit listed on my statement.  What can I do? We will be happy to pull your file and complete a service credit audit on your retirement account. We will then inform you by mail of the results of that audit.  Please keep in mind that if any changes are needed to the number of days you worked, your employer must submit those changes. We will then make the necessary changes and send you a revised statement.

  • Is this the only estimate I need prior to retirement? The Annual Member Statement will only reflect the Plan B – Single Life Allowance amount. In order to receive a more detailed estimate, including payment plans for a specific beneficiary, please contact us and we will gladly send you this information.

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(9/9/11) - Express Scripts is negotiating with Walgreens on a new, more cost-competitive prescription drug contract that would take effect Jan. 1, 2012, when the current contract expires. SERS is not involved in the negotiations between Express Scripts and Walgreens. However, SERS looks to Express Scripts and Walgreens to negotiate a fair agreement that is in line with our goal to provide prescription coverage that is cost effective and high quality. We hope the parties will be able to come to an agreement. If an agreement is not reached before the end of the year, Walgreens will not be in the Express Scripts retail pharmacy network.

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If Walgreens is removed from the Express Scripts retail pharmacy network, plan participants will receive a letter from Express Scripts listing three other participating pharmacies close to where they reside. The letter also will provide information on how to easily transfer prescriptions to another pharmacy.

An online search tool for Express Scripts pharmacies is available at www.express-scripts.com. 

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(8/18/11) - The School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) posted a 20.9% investment return for its fiscal year ended June 30, 2011. This is the second consecutive double-digit return for SERS following the 2008-2009 market downturn. The fund returned 12.3% in FY2010.

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“While these returns have helped to further stabilize the fund, they don’t completely mitigate the losses sustained during the Great Recession,” said Executive Director Lisa J. Morris. “The fund is healthy and stable and positioned to pay benefits long into the future, but even with great investment returns like this, we cannot expect to keep the fund healthy and counter the effects of members’ longer life expectancies without legislative enactment of the pension reform changes recommended by the Board in 2009. These reforms include increasing the normal retirement age for SERS members.” 

In FY2011, the unaudited numbers indicate that all asset classes exceeded their benchmarks, with the exception of private equity. The solid investment performance was led by the 33.8% return from U.S. equity followed closely by a 25.7% return from Non-U.S. equity and 25.2% return from real estate. Over the last 27 years, SERS’ annualized returns average 9.2%, well above the current 7.75% assumed rate of return.

Net investment assets of the fund as of June 30, 2011 were $10.6 billion.

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(8/17/11) - Does SERS have your correct mailing address on file? Have you moved in the last 12 months or are you planning to move soon? If so, SERS needs your updated mailing address.

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In mid-September, all active SERS members will begin receiving their Member Annual Statement for the year ending June 30, 2011. To ensure that you receive your statement, as well as other vital SERS correspondence, please send us your address change by mail, or by clicking here. 

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(7/1/11) - The biennial budget signed by Governor John Kasich on June 30, 2011, did not include any changes to employee or employer contributions to Ohio’s pension funds. For SERS members, employees will continue to pay 10% of their salary toward their retirement while employers will continue to contribute 14%.

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While there was talk of reducing employer contributions from 14% to 12% and increasing employee contributions from 10% to 12% in the state budget, all changes to the state pension systems will be considered in ongoing pension reform discussions in both the House (H.B. 69) and Senate (S.B. 3).

We also would like to thank everyone who sent messages to their legislators to encourage them to keep the contribution shift out of the state budget.

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(7/1/11) - Insulin copayments for BioScrip and Express Scripts drug plan participants were reduced as of July 1, 2011.

The SERS Board is concerned that copayments for insulin may be making it unaffordable for diabetics. There are no generic or less-costly substitutes for insulin, and the Board recognizes that serious health complications may occur when insulin-dependent diabetics do not take their prescribed insulin.

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The Board voted to increase SERS’ share of the cost of insulin, which lowers insulin copayments for BioScrip and Express Scripts drug plan participants.

The new copayments took effect July 1, 2011, and are not retroactive. The new copayments are as follows:

  • Retail (30-day supply) – 25% co-pay or $30 maximum for “preferred” formulary brands.$45 maximum for “non-preferred” or non-formulary brands.
  • Home Delivery (90-day supply) – 25% co-pay or $60 maximum for “preferred” formulary brands. $115 maximum for “non-preferred” or non-formulary brands.

The new copayments represent the maximum amount plan participants will pay. However, if you pay a lesser amount because you receive Medicare’s Low-Income Subsidy or the Coverage Gap discount, or you are on a low-dose insulin prescription, you will continue to pay a lesser amount.

If you have any questions regarding this change, please call SERS’ Health Care Services Department toll-free at 800-878-5853 or email healthcare@ohsers.org. 

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(6/15/11) - SERS Executive Director Lisa Morris was interviewed by WOSU radio’s Mandie Trimble about the recent increase in retirements by school employees.

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The story can be found online at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wosu/news.newsmain/article/
0/1/1816101/WOSU.News/State.Retirement.Systems.
See.Sharp.Increases.Related.To.Looming.Legislative.Changes

This link provides access to the text and audio of the “State Retirement Systems See Sharp Increases Related to Looming Legislative Changes” story.

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(5/6/11) - The executive directors of all five Ohio pension funds submitted a letter to the Ohio Congressional delegation, including Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, detailing the reasons why H.R. 567 would negatively impact Ohio’s pension funds.

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Referred to as “The Public Employee Pension Transparency Act,” H.R. 567 would add disruptive and costly layers of reporting to the Secretary of the Treasury and require that all pension plans report their assets using an artificially low assumed rate of return. This would unfairly inflate pension plan liabilities. Click here to read the letter sent to Ohio’s U.S. House members.

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(4/22/11) - Ballots for the SERS Retirement Board’s employee member seat with a term beginning July 1, 2011 and ending June 30, 2015, were counted on March 8.

The official election results were: 8,411 votes for Madonna (Dee) Faragher; 4,109 votes for Tim Dettwiller; and 23 writein votes.

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The ballot counting process was observed by representatives from the Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State. Those representatives certified the results. The SERS Board certified the election results at its April board meeting.

Faragher, who has been a school bus driver for more than 14 years, currently works for Westlake City Schools in Cuyahoga County. In 2010, she was appointed as the Board vice-chair.

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(4/14/11) - For the second consecutive year, SERS earned the Energy Star distinction from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its building at 300 E. Broad St.

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To receive the Energy Star, the building had to meet certain performance standards set by the EPA. It had to use less energy, be less expensive to operate, and cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other buildings of its kind.

SERS was the only retirement system in Ohio to receive the 2010 Energy Star. The building was one of only a handful in Columbus to achieve the honor, signifying that SERS’ building performs in the top 25% nationwide.

“SERS remains committed to the conservation of natural resources and receiving the Energy Star award for the second consecutive year is confirmation that our efforts have been successful,” said Lisa J. Morris, Executive Director of SERS. “The willingness of our staff and tenants to adapt to environmental changes in the building has been exceptional as we’ve reduced our natural gas and electric consumption.”

As a result of receiving the Energy Star, the SERS building also was placed in the EPA’s online registry of Energy Star buildings, earning it world-wide recognition for being one of the nation’s leaders in energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, and increased savings for its organization.

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(2/22/11) - SERS has received inquiries on the effect of S.B. 5 on SERS benefits.  The bill concerns public employee collective bargaining, and is not a pension reform bill.  The pension reform bill is House Bill 69.

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However, the bill does contain a provision related to pensions.  Under the bill, public employers would be prohibited from paying all or a portion of an employee’s contribution to the retirement system in lieu of other compensation.  Currently, the employee contribution is 10% of salary for SERS members. 

The bill does not affect an employer’s obligation to contribute the mandated employer contribution, which for SERS is 14% of salary.

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(1/14/11) - You may notice a change in the amount of your benefit check this month. The 2011 federal withholding tax tables will cause many retirees to have more taxes withheld from their benefit payments. This means that, in some cases, the net amount of your benefit will be significantly smaller than it was last month.

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contained the “Making Work Pay” credit of $400, which was incorporated into the withholding tables in 2009 and 2010. The credit was intended to help stimulate the economy by increasing take-home pay and reducing the amount of tax refunded at year-end. It was not part of the federal tax legislation enacted in December; therefore, the “Making Work Pay” credit expired at the end of 2010, and withholding amounts have returned to pre-2009 levels.

If you want to change the amount withheld from your benefit, you must complete a new withholding form, the W-4P Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments Form. Click here to open the W-4P Withholding form. You can also request a form by calling SERS toll-free at 800-878-5853. The completed and signed W-4P Form must be returned to SERS by the middle of the month in order to go into effect for the following month’s benefit payment. For example, if we receive your W-4P Form by February 15, the tax withholding change would be reflected in your March benefit.

Remember, SERS cannot advise retirees on tax issues, including the amount they should have withheld from their benefit. If you have questions, please consult your tax advisor or call the IRS toll-free at 800-829-1040.

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(1/14/11) - SERS and the Secretary of State have certified that Tim Dettwiller and Madonna (Dee) Faragher have met the qualifications to be included on the ballot for election to an employee-member seat with a term that runs from July 2011 through June 2015.

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Dettwiller is treasurer with Madison-Plains Local Schools in Madison County, and Faragher is a school bus driver and paraprofessional aide with Westlake City Schools in Cuyahoga County. Faragher is running for a second term.

All active SERS members will receive a ballot, candidate biographies, and a postage-paid return envelope with the January News & Views. All ballots must be returned to the SERS office by 4:30 p.m., March 7, 2011. Ballots will be counted on March 8. To see the candidate biographies, click here.   

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(1/7/11) - On December 23, State Treasurer Kevin Boyce appointed Nancy D. Edwards of Columbus to the School Employees Retirement System Board of Trustees. Edwards replaces Harry J. Lehman who resigned from the Board effective November 30.

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Since 1990, Edwards has been employed with State Auto Insurance Companies headquartered in Columbus. For the last five years, she has been Vice President – Chief Security & Continuity Planning Officer and is responsible for business continuity, information security, physical security and safety for all State Auto Insurance Companies. She is involved in setting policy, auditing compliance, accrediting web applications, setting recovery time objectives and developing a business resumption plan. During her tenure at State Auto, she also has served as Assistant Vice President in the areas of Chief Security & Continuity, Business Continuity, and Special Projects, and Resident Vice President of the Columbus regional office.

Previously, Edwards worked for JCPenney Insurance Company in several different capacities including Vice President of Corporate Claims, Vice President of Sales and Special Projects, Vice President of Underwriting, Assistant Vice President of Personal Lines, and Director of Research and Planning.

Edwards earned her MBA from the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University (OSU) and holds a BA in statistics from OSU.

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(1/5/11) - SERS retirees looking to get a jump on filing their 2010 tax return can find copies of their 1099-Rs on the SERS website. Retirees who have established an electronic account can log into their account and click on the most recent 1099-R option. 

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If you haven’t yet set up an online account, it’s fast and easy. Click on the orange “Retirees” and then click on the green “Member Account Login” button. Just follow the instructions to set up an online account. Once you’ve entered all the required information, you have instant access to your personal retirement information including monthly payment vouchers and 1099-Rs.

As usual, all retirees will receive their 2010 1099-Rs in the mail. Federal law requires that SERS have 1099-Rs in the mail before January 31. If you do not receive a 1099 by February 7, please call us toll-free at 800-878-5853, and we’ll send a replacement. 

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(12/20/10) - Many SERS health care enrollees will be receiving new ID cards for 2011.  With the various plan changes taking place in 2011, many of the health care plans will be issuing new ID cards to assure there is no confusion when health care services are provided.  This is a list of the plans and the status of new ID card being issued.

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Medicare Plans

 Aetna Medicare Plansm (PPO)  New ID card
 Aetna Indemnity*   No new card 
 Paramount Elite Medicare Advantage HMO  New ID card 
 Primetime Medicare Advantage HMO  New ID card
 Kaiser Medicare HMO  New ID card

* Not an elective plan option

Non-Medicare Plans

 Aetna Managed Care  No new card 
 Aetna HMO  New ID card 
 AultCare PPO   No new card 
 Kaiser HMO  New ID card
 Medical Multual of Ohio PPO                          No new card
 Paramount HMO  New ID card

Pharmacy Prescription Drug Plans

No new ID cards will be issued by any of the plans.

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(12/1/10) - Along with Aetna Medicare Plan PPO, SERS is partnering with Social Service Coordinators, Inc. (SSC), a provider of outreach and advocacy services, to offer eligible benefit recipients a range of government and community assistance programs.

Some individuals with Medicare coverage have low incomes, but not quite low enough to qualify for full Medicaid. However, there are several Medicare Savings Programs (MSP) available to help lower income older adults and disabled individuals pay for some of their out-of-pocket medical expenses.

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SSC helps identify those who may be eligible to apply for a MSP. SSC also assists people who qualify to apply for Medicare Part D Extra Help Program, a program run by the Social Security Administration. This program pays for, reduces, or eliminates Medicare Part D prescription drug premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.

A phone screening determines your eligibility to apply for state MSPs that can help pay your Medicare Part A and/or Part B premiums, coinsurance, and deductibles. The subsidy may also pay some of your Aetna Medicare PPO co-payments.

If you are eligible to apply, the SSC representatives will assist you with the application process. They will help you enroll in programs designed to enhance your quality of life, and ease the financial burden of monthly premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses.

SCC first reviews those SERS benefit recipients enrolled in the Aetna Medicare Plan PPO to see if they are eligible to apply for these programs.

Those eligible individuals will then receive a letter introducing them to SSC. This letter will be followed by a phone call from a SSC representative.

For questions, call SERS tollfree at 800-878-5853.
 

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(11/16/10) - Since August, SERS executive, legislative, and communications staff has been meeting with statewide newspaper editorial boards. As a result of a September meeting with the Toledo Blade editorial board, SERS was extended an offer to write the following Op-Ed piece. Click here to see a PDF of the actual article as it appeared in the print version of the newspaper.

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Op-Ed
State pension system adds to local economies
THE TOLEDO BLADE, November 16, 2010
By Lisa J. Morris


THE School Employees Retirement System of Ohio is at the forefront of public-pension systems around the country in ensuring long-term sustainability and providing modest retirement income to our members.

SERS provides retirement security for Ohio's nonteaching school employees, including administrative assistants, bus drivers, food service workers, librarians, maintenance personnel, teacher aides, and treasurers.

For their service, they receive reliable pensions that are spent locally on groceries, health care, and other goods and services.

SERS is a significant contributor to local economies across the state. Last year, Lucas County's economy got a $29.5 million boost from SERS retiree pensions.

Contrary to common perception, taxpayer contributions to Ohio's defined-benefit pension plans pay for only a small percentage of benefits.

By the time a worker retires from a SERS job, about 70 percent of his or her pension will be funded through investment income on employer and employee contributions made during a career.

School districts contribute 14 percent of employees' salaries to SERS pensions, while workers contribute an additional 10 percent. SERS allocates these funds to a diversified investment portfolio that includes U.S. and international equities, fixed income, real estate, and private equity.

Because of this investment income, Lucas County gets nearly $2 in pension payments for every $1 in employer contributions delivered to SERS.

SERS takes seriously its obligation to plan for the financial future of Ohio school employees. Even before the financial crisis, the SERS board requested and achieved landmark state legislation in 2008 that increased age and service-retirement eligibility for new hires.

People are living longer and should work longer. SERS has always believed in taking proactive steps to ensure that the problems experienced by some pension plans around the country don't happen in Ohio.

The SERS board is proposing additional benefit changes to keep the system financially sound for the next 30 years. SERS' proposed reform plan would raise minimum retirement ages for everyone.

Ohio's public employees do not get Social Security benefits. Even if they are eligible through a spouse or other nonpublic employment, their Social Security benefits may be greatly reduced or eliminated - a severe penalty for public service.

Thus, a final misconception: Ohio public pensions are overly generous.

Last year, the average benefit for SERS retirees was $879 a month. Compared with the average monthly Social Security payment of $1,098, SERS benefits are modest.

The pension benefits SERS provides to those who have taken an active role in the safety and education of our children are reasonable, well deserved, and important to Lucas County's economy.

Lisa J. Morris is executive director of the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio.

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(10/29/10) - This past summer, Saperstein Associates—an independent Columbus, Ohio research firm—conducted the final phase of a three-year customer satisfaction survey of SERS’ active members and retired members.  

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Saperstein Associates contacted 406 retired SERS members and 402 active SERS members, which were pulled from a random list of 8,000 SERS retired members and 8,000 active members.

The purposes of the surveys were to measure our members’ overall impressions of SERS and their service preferences and expectations. Saperstein Associates administered the staff-approved survey by phone to the active members and retired members.

SERS is using this information to take actionable, measured, and strategic steps to make improvements to our current service levels. For example, improvements have already been made to our publications and website based on our members’ responses.

Here are some of the most significant findings:

  • For the survey, the average age of retired member respondents was 71, while the average age of active member respondents was 51.
  • SERS provides, on average, 44% of a retired member’s annual household income. 
  • 96% of retirees and 86% of active members have positive impressions of SERS.  Retired members, more than active members, have very positive impressions. 
  • 3 out of 4 retired members consider their pension benefits an excellent or good value.  When active members anticipate their pension benefits, fewer are as positive.   
  • 75% of retired members and 68% of active members and believe that SERS is financially sound, down slightly from last year.
  • 94% of retired members and 86% of active members agree that SERS keeps them well-informed about pension related issues. 
  • 2 out of 3 retired members currently participate in a SERS-sponsored health plan. About 1 out of 2 active members expect to participate in a SERS-sponsored health plan when they retire. 
  • However, fewer than 2 out of 10 active members are very confident that SERS will offer health insurance when they retire. 
  • 97% of retired members and 91% of active members found SERS’ representatives to be very helpful.

To see more survey results, click here.

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(10/25/10) - Lisa J. Morris has been named as the Executive Director of the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS), effective October 22, 2010. Morris had fulfilled the duties of Interim Executive Director since the retirement of James R. Winfree in April.

“Over the last six months, Lisa worked hard to spread the message that SERS’ defined benefit pensions are modest, appropriate, and well-deserved.  We are confident she’s well prepared for the challenges of the coming months and years,” said Barbra Phillips, Chair of the SERS Retirement Board.

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With this appointment, Morris becomes just the sixth Executive Director since the System’s founding in 1937. Her duties include maintaining external relations with the legislature, the governor’s office, advocacy groups, member employers, active members, and retirees, as well as managing the plan’s day-to-day operations under the direction of the Retirement Board. In addition, she will oversee the administration of SERS’ Member Services, Health Care, Finance, Information Technology, Administrative Services, and Executive Services.

Morris joined SERS as Deputy Executive Director in 2004. She was instrumental in leading the staff in SERS’ Strategic Planning and Change-Ready Culture Initiatives over the past three years.

Before joining SERS, Morris spent more than 20 years in public sector management and leadership, including several years as Ohio’s chief mining regulator and also as director of Ohio’s clean water programs. This public service followed several years in the private practice of law in civil litigation. Throughout most of her career, Morris has also been active in animal welfare and community service.

Morris received an undergraduate degree in history from the College of Wooster and a juris doctor from Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

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The 2011 SERS Express Scripts prescription drug formularies have been finalized and are now available. 

The drugs listed on the formularies are covered at designated levels as listed in the 2011 open enrollment booklet.

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You can always contact the Express Scripts customer service center toll-free with questions about specific prescription drugs.  Call Express Scripts at 866-685-2791 if you are covered under a non-Medicare plan and call 866-258-5819 if you are covered under a Medicare plan. 

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The SERS Retirement Board is comprised of nine members who set the overall System policy, approve investments, hear disability retirement appeals, and oversee the administration of the fund. Think you might be a good addition? One employee member seat will be open in July 2011. Any member of SERS, other than a disability benefit recipient, is eligible to run for the position. The term of office for an employee member seat is four years, running from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2015.

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To be considered, a candidate must:

  • Obtain signatures of 500 SERS members on a nominating petition provided by SERS
  • Provide signatures from no fewer than 20 members from each of at least 10 counties where those members are employed 
  • Make sure that each signing member indicates his or her employer and county of employment
  • File petitions in the SERS office no later than 4:30 p.m., EST, December 3, 2010

Those interested in running should contact Tim Barbour by phone at 614-222-5901 or by e-mail at tbarbour@ohsers.org to have an election packet sent to them.

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(9/10/10) - SERS' members will soon begin receiving their Member Annual Statement for the year ending June 30, 2010.

The statement shows your total service credit, total employee contributions, and a yearly breakdown for the prior five years.

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If you have at least five years of credit, the statement shows two estimated pension figures. One assumes you quit working as of June 30, 2010, and the other assumes you continue to work until the first date you are eligible to retire.

The total of your employee contribution is the amount you would receive, less withholding for federal taxes, should you end your school employment and withdraw your account.

Have more questions about your annual statement?  Check out the following frequently asked questions about annual statements.

  • What is the five digit number below the last four numbers of my Social Security number?  That is the district code for your employer and enables SERS to verify the school district for which you currently work.
     
  • What does “Tier 1” or “Tier 2” mean? If you were employed by the schools prior to May 14, 2008, you are a Tier 1 member; if employed on or after May 14, 2008, you are a Tier 2 member. The Tiers signify two different sets of retirement eligibility requirements. (See Tier details under Retirement Planning – When to Retire).
     
  • In the center of the statement some of my years are listed, but I have many more years of service.  What happened to those years? We have only listed your last five years of earnings, contributions, and service credit history in the center of the statement. If you look in the text box above the breakdown, you will see your total contributions and total service credit as of June 30, 2010.
     
  • Why is the box marked “Pension Estimate” blank? You must have at least 5.000 years of service credit in order to have estimate information included in this area.
     
  • I don’t understand the pension estimates.  The first estimate is for age 60, but the second one is more money and says I can begin receiving that pension five years earlier. Why would I work to age 60 and make less money per month? The first estimate reflects the monthly pension amount if you had terminated your employment as of June 30, 2010 and “froze” your retirement until your earliest eligibility date. The second estimate assumes you continue to work until your earliest eligibility date. This estimate will be higher because you will have more service credit as you continue to work.
     
  • I don’t agree with the total service credit listed on my statement.  What can I do? We will be happy to pull your file and complete a service credit audit on your retirement account. We will then inform you by mail of the results of that audit.  Please keep in mind that if any changes are needed to the number of days you worked, your employer must submit those changes. We will then make the necessary changes and send you a revised statement.
     
  • Is this the only estimate I need prior to retirement? The Annual Member Statement will only reflect the Plan B – Single Life Allowance amount. In order to receive a more detailed estimate, including payment plans for a specific beneficiary, please contact us and we will gladly send you this information.
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(9/9/2010) - School Employees Retirement System staff was informed by a SERS retiree from the Cincinnati area that she recently received a phone call from a person pretending to be from SERS. The caller referenced the recent changes in SERS’ health care premiums and asked her for bank account information. Sensing something was not right, she ended the call without giving out her personal information.
 

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Please be aware that SERS will NOT place phone calls to members and retirees, or send staff door-to-door and ask for personal information. However, if you call us, we will ask you a series of questions to verify your personal information and identity.

When you call us, we need your name, Social Security Number, date of birth, telephone number, and electronic (e-mail) address, if you have one. We ask for this information in order to protect your personal SERS information. We will not ask for bank account information. SERS does not sell information to any third party.

If you receive a similar call, do not give out any personal information and call SERS toll-free at 800-878-5853 to report the incident. Thank you.

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(8/17/10) - An Open Enrollment packet containing important information about health care coverage for 2011 will be mailed to SERS benefit recipients currently enrolled in a SERS health care plan in late August.

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Click here for more information regarding Open Enrollment, including a schedule of the Open Enrollment Meetings.  "SERS' Health Care 2011 - Understanding the Changes," a new digital video explaining the changes to SERS’ health care coverage, can be viewed by clicking the video icon located at the far right of the Open Enrollment page.

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(8/13/2010) - On July 4, 2010, SERS and the other four Ohio retirement systems received a public records request from the Ohio News Organization, a coalition of Ohio’s eight largest newspapers, asking for access to the following information about all 65,757 SERS retirees, minus their names and addresses:

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  1. Name of county where last employed for each such member
  2. Age of each such member and retirant at the time of retirement
  3. Years of service of each member and retirant
  4. Total taxed and tax-deferred contributions by each such member
  5. Annual compensation paid to each such member for each of the five years immediately preceding retirement
  6. Total amount of the monthly benefit paid to each such member and retirant during 2009

The Ohio Revised Code prohibits SERS from releasing information in a member’s personal history record without the member’s written consent; contributions, service credit, and benefit amount are identified as information included in a member’s personal history record pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 3309.22(A) and Ohio Administrative Code Section 3309-1-45.  SERS determined that the prohibition against releasing information in a member’s personal history record applies even though the request does not ask for the names of individual members. However, just to make certain that interpretation was correct, SERS consulted with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office agreed with SERS’ interpretation. On July 14, SERS sent a letter  to the Ohio News Network explaining why the information it requested was not provided.

Being “unwilling” to provide information and being “prohibited by law” from providing information are two very different things. We find it disingenuous that Ohio’s newspapers made it look like SERS voluntarily withheld public records information, when in fact, we were following state law.
Over the last year, SERS has responded to more than 30 public records requests and general reporter questions on various topics from the state’s eight largest newspapers. However, not one request addressed existing external and internal operational oversight and controls SERS already has in place.

Oversight of Ohio’s public pension systems is rigorous, and there are numerous external and internal processes designed to ensure operational accuracy.

Externally, the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) acts as an oversight organization over all five retirement systems and is an arm of the Ohio General Assembly. It periodically reviews all laws governing the administration and financing of the retirement systems. Additionally, SERS is obligated to conduct a fiduciary performance audit by an independent auditor at least once every 10 years.

SERS’ own internal processes, directed by a nine-member Retirement Board, are in place to protect system assets and ensure that system operations comply with state and federal law. These include:

  1. Studies and reports by independent actuaries as to SERS’ funding status
  2. Reviews and reports by independent auditors appointed by the Auditor of State on the financial activities of the system
  3. Implementing internal controls in the handling of system assets and verifying the accuracy of contributions and reporting of compensation and benefit payments
  4. Audits by an internal auditor who reports to the Retirement Board on his findings on system operations
  5. Periodically hiring independent consultants to conduct fiduciary audits or review system operations

We agree that oversight is necessary when the system is responsible for funds contributed by members and their employers for retirement benefits. That’s why these checks and balances are already in place. Adaptability to changing demographics was designed into the operation of Ohio’s public pension funds. Ultimately, the state’s elected officials have the final say in what changes are made to state law regarding eligibility requirements and operations of Ohio’s public pension systems.

In September 2009, SERS proposed several eligibility changes that would strengthen the system without increasing the burden on taxpayers. We look forward to a public discussion of this pension reform proposal and other ideas that would make SERS even more financially secure.

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(7/1/10)

Dear SERS Members and Retirees:

Last week, Ohio’s eight largest newspapers (Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, Dayton Daily News, Toledo Blade, and Youngstown Vindicator) ran numerous stories and editorials questioning the business practices and sustainability of Ohio’s public pension systems.

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SERS took issue with two main inaccuracies: that our retirees receive pensions that are “gold-plated,” “lavish,” and “generous,” and that we have asked taxpayers for more money to fund pensions. We sent the attached response to all eight newspapers that participated in the stories.

LETTER TO THE EDITOR (click here)

Lisa Morris
Interim Executive Director, School Employees Retirement System of Ohio
 

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(6/25/10) - Multiple newspapers statewide recently printed a number of related stories about Ohio’s public pension systems. In regard to SERS, facts reported in several stories were inaccurate or misleading.

  [Read More...]

One story incorrectly stated that SERS is asking for a taxpayer bailout, and wants to increase contributions to the system by a combined 5% of payroll from employees and employers. This is not true. SERS has proposed no changes in contributions and is not asking for more money from taxpayers.

Another misleading assumption perpetuated in the recent newspaper stories is that re-employed retirees are “double-dippers.” The slang terminology of “double-dipping” is actually a misnomer. Re-employed retirees do not “double-dip” the system, as they have already paid into it and are merely receiving what is owed them upon their retirement. Moreover, many of SERS’ retirees who reenter the work force need to supplement their income so they can pay their bills, not so they can take advantage of the system. To date, the SERS Board does not have a position on re-employed retirees.

Additional articles forwarded yet another misleading stance in that pension systems are purposefully keeping public record information away from the general public so as to retain a “shroud of secrecy” and “lack of transparency.” By Ohio law, as approved by the state legislature, SERS is prohibited from releasing retiree pension amounts. Therefore, SERS obeys the law by releasing the names and addresses of retirees, but not their pension amounts. SERS will continue to administer whatever the legislature determines is correct for public policy.

Also troubling, Government Relations budgets between the systems were not compared by the same standards. While SERS’ “lobbying budget” included the full salaries of the Executive Director, the Deputy Executive Director, and one staff member since they are all registered lobbyists, the salary of the Executive Director of one of the other systems was altogether excluded from the calculations. Also of note, lobbying constitutes only a very small part of the duties of SERS’ Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director. Other aspects of the budget comparisons were misleading in terms of actual lobbying expense

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(6/1/2010) – The School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) recently earned the 2009 United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star designation for its building located at 300 E. Broad St., in downtown Columbus.   [Read More...]

The Energy Star is the national symbol for protecting the environment through the conservation of energy and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Energy Star signifies that the SERS building performs in the top 25% of comparable facilities nationwide and identifies the building as one of the most efficient in the country. It is also one of only two office buildings in Columbus to earn the Energy Star label in 2009.

“SERS is committed to using natural resources wisely,” said Lisa Morris, SERS’ Interim Executive Director. “By adjusting internal temperatures and the length of time the heating and cooling equipment runs, we’ve been able to reduce our energy consumption by 23% in a little over a year. Our staff and tenants deserve much of the credit because of their willingness to adapt to the changes we’ve made.”

Commercial buildings that earn the recognition use about 35% less energy than typical buildings and release 35% less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A building that scores a 75 or higher on EPA’s 1-100 scale is eligible for the Energy Star. SERS scored an 83 on the EPA scale.

SERS is the only retirement system in Ohio currently receiving the Energy Star distinction. To read about the SERS building and our efforts to conserve energy, click here to visit the Energy Star website.

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(5/21/2010) – Since SERS presented its pension reform plan to the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) for review on September 10, 2009, progress in getting SERS’ recommendations into a bill has taken longer than we anticipated.

  [Read More...]

Not only will the eventual bill contain pension reform changes from SERS, but also pension reform changes from the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund, and Ohio Highway Patrol Retirement System.

At the April ORSC meeting, the chairman indicated that the wording of the bill was still being finalized by the Council members. Although a date for introducing the bill has not been announced, we expect it to happen before the end of the calendar year.

To see SERS’ proposed pension reform changes and a comparison of SERS’ changes with the other Ohio retirement systems, click here.

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(4/30/10) - Lisa J. Morris, Deputy Executive Director at School Employees Retirement System (SERS) since 2004, has been chosen by the Board to serve as SERS’ Interim Executive Director following the retirement of James R. Winfree on April 30. Morris will handle the executive duties as the search for the next Executive Director continues.   [Read More...]

At the April Board meeting, SERS’ Trustees authorized the Board chair to execute a contract with Hudepohl & Associates, subject to legal negotiations, to begin a national search for SERS’ next executive director. Hudepohl & Associates is headquartered in Dublin, Ohio. The search is expected to last several months.

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(2/19/10) – James R. Winfree, Executive Director of the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS), announced his retirement effective April 30, 2010.

“While we’re extremely sad to lose such an experienced and knowledgeable leader, the entire Board wishes Jim all the best in retirement,” said James Rossler, Jr., Chair of the SERS Retirement Board.   [Read More...]

“Jim’s exceptional leadership during times of great change in our member demographics, the economy, and the investment world was a constant the Trustees all admired. He has been a tireless and passionate advocate for SERS’ members and retirees, and we will miss him both professionally and personally.”

Winfree has served as Executive Director of SERS since January 2004. As Executive Director, establishing and maintaining effective relationships with legislators was a top priority for Winfree. One of his major accomplishments was the 2008 passage of Senate Bill 148 in the Ohio General Assembly, which raised retirement eligibility for new SERS contributors and proactively addressed the demographic changes that threatened the long-term stability of the System. SERS was the first pension system in Ohio and one of the first nationally to address this issue with legislators.

Under the direction of the Retirement Board, Winfree has been instrumental in building strong relationships with numerous advocacy groups that represent SERS members and retirees. He has been a vocal proponent of strengthening the System’s health care fund and keeping access to quality, affordable health care for retirees. To this end, he championed the creation of a Health Care Preservation Task Force to get input on how SERS’ health care offerings should evolve in response to the increasing costs.

Winfree’s previous experience includes nine years as an Assistant Ohio Attorney General, with six years representing the Attorney General as the primary representative to the SERS Board; 20 years with Columbus law firm Schottenstein, Zox and Dunn; 27 years in the Naval Reserve; and, service as a Naval Officer.  While serving in the Navy, Winfree was the Underwater Demolition Team Officer-in-Charge of the primary recovery team for Apollo 7.

Winfree served eight years as an Upper Arlington city councilman and served also as vice-mayor.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three grown children. He is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, and Capital University Law School.

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Recently, Ohio’s public pension funds and their defined benefit plans have been under attack in the news media.

Help inform your fellow Ohioans of the far-reaching and positive effects that Ohio’s public pension systems provide this state by contacting your local legislators and by sending a “Letter to the Editor” to your local newspaper.   [Read More...]

Tell legislators that before they make any decisions regarding the fate of defined benefit plans, they need to acknowledge the favorable contributions that the School Employees Retirement System (SERS) makes to the economy of the state of Ohio as well as to the lives of its members and retirees.

In recent news stories, some important facts were glossed over or completely ignored. We have prepared a guide that addresses key points in the recent media articles. Click here to access the guide.

We also have prepared a message to legislators on our Legislative Action Alert website page. Click here and you’ll be directed to the Action Alert page. Type in your ZIP code at the top, and click the “GO” button to get to the Compose a Message page. We encourage everyone to send their messages by e-mail for a faster response.

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(12/04/09)
Dear SERS Members and Retirees:
In the next few days, you’ll likely see newspaper stories that question the sustainability of Ohio’s public pension funds. At the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS), we believe our 72-year track record of providing dependable retirement income should be strong evidence that our defined benefit plan has been, and will continue to be, sustainable over the long term.   [Read More...]

Since 1937, SERS has provided retirees, disability recipients, and beneficiaries with dependable income when they need it most. As times and economic realities have changed, SERS has worked responsibly with the state legislature to make sure the System remains stable and strong, and we will continue to work responsibly with the legislature to plan for the future. Click here to see our current pension reform recommendations.

As public employees for Ohio’s schools, SERS members are not eligible for Social Security benefits when they retire. Instead, our membership relies heavily on their SERS pension for retirement security. And, contrary to the perception that taxpayers are carrying the burden for the entire public employee pension tab, SERS members actually contribute 10% of their own salaries toward their retirement. This important fact is often ignored.

Recent reports from leading retirement research groups paint a bleak picture of the current state of retirement readiness in America. The 2009 National Retirement Risk Index prepared by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates that 51% of Americans are now at risk for not having enough income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living. In addition, a book titled Living Longer on Less: The New Economic Insecurity of Seniors estimates that 4 out of 5 senior households do not have enough economic security to sustain them through their lives.

The bright spot in these reports is that defined benefit plans, such as SERS’ pension plan, prevent more people from becoming part of these statistics. Retirees who have defined benefit pensions are six times less likely to fall into poverty, which saves taxpayers $7.3 billion nationally every year in public assistance expenditures.

Ohio’s defined benefit plans also are important economically for the state. Last fiscal year, SERS paid out $939 million in benefits, almost all of which was returned to Ohio’s economy in the form of payments for groceries, health care, rents, mortgages, and other goods and services. For 72 years, SERS has been adequately funded, so we’ve never lacked funds to pay out benefits. Even after the current financial meltdown, we are still on course to be able to pay all of our pension promises many years into the future.

An area of concern for SERS is our health care program. Our latest actuarial report indicates that changes must be made or the health care fund will be depleted in FY2014. SERS’ Board and staff are committed to offering access to quality health care, and options will be presented to the Board in December. In January 2010, SERS will reconvene the Health Care Preservation Task Force and begin discussions with advocacy group representatives on ways to keep the health care fund solvent farther into the future.

Preserving and strengthening SERS’ defined benefit plan for the future is our top priority. Our members – administrative assistants, bus drivers, food service workers, librarians, maintenance personnel, teacher aides, treasurers, and other non-certified school employees who are vital to the operation of Ohio’s schools – as well as taxpayers, deserve nothing less.

Jim Winfree
Executive Director, School Employees Retirement System of Ohio

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(12/2/09) - This past summer, Saperstein Associates—an independent Columbus, Ohio research firm—conducted the second phase of a three-year customer satisfaction survey of SERS’ active members and retired members.   [Read More...]

Saperstein Associates contacted 411 retired SERS members and 404 active SERS members, which were pulled from a random list of 8,000 SERS retired members and 8,000 active members.

The purposes of the surveys were to measure our members’ overall impressions of SERS and their service preferences and expectations. Saperstein Associates administered the staff-approved survey by phone to the active members and retired members.

SERS is using this information to take actionable, measured, and strategic steps to make improvements to our current service levels. For example, improvements have already been made to our publications and website based on our members’ responses.

The surveys will be repeated again next summer and benchmarked to identify shifts and trends in the overall impressions, preferences, and expectations of SERS’ active members and retired members. 

Here are some of the most significant findings:

  • For the survey, the average age of retired member respondents was 70, while the average age of active member respondents was 50. 
  • SERS provides, on average, 39% of a retired member’s annual household income. 
  • 9 out of 10 active members have positive impressions of SERS.  Retired members, more than active members, have very positive impressions. 
  • 3 out of 4 retired members consider their pension benefits an excellent or good value.  When active members anticipate their pension benefits, fewer are as positive.   
  • 8 out of 10 active members and retired members believe that SERS is financially sound.
  • 96% of retired members and 83% of active members agree that SERS keeps them well-informed about pension related issues. 
  • 3 out of 5 retired members currently participate in a SERS-sponsored health plan. The same number—3 out of 5 active members—expect to participate in a SERS-sponsored health plan when they retire. 
  • However, fewer than 2 out of 10 active members are very confident that SERS will offer health insurance when they retire. 
  • 96% of retired members and 93% of active members found SERS’ representatives to be very helpful.

To see more survey results, click here.

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(11/20/2009) - Source: The Office of the Ohio Attorney General
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray today filed a lawsuit against Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch, three national agencies that are responsible for providing accurate credit ratings of investments. The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio on behalf of five Ohio public employee retirement and pension funds,   [Read More...]

charges the rating agencies with wreaking havoc on U.S. financial markets by providing unjustified and inflated ratings of mortgage-backed securities in exchange for lucrative fees from securities issuers.

Attorney General Cordray noted his reasons for bringing this lawsuit: “The rating agencies were central players in causing the worst economic crisis in Ohio since the Great Depression. The rating agencies assured our employee pension funds that many of these mortgage-backed securities had the highest credit ratings and the lowest risk. But they sold their professional objectivity and integrity to the highest bidder. The rating agencies’ total disregard for the life’s work of ordinary Ohioans caused the collapse of our housing and credit markets and is at the heart of what’s wrong with Wall Street today.”

The lawsuit alleges the rating agencies gave many of these exotic investments the highest investment-grade credit rating. This rating – often referred to as “AAA”– is consistent with the credit ratings given to the safest corporate bonds, and it assured institutional investors, including the Ohio funds, that the investments were extremely safe with a very low risk of default. According to preliminary estimates, the improper ratings cost the Ohio Funds losses in excess of $457 million.

“Contrary to the representations of the rating agencies, these mortgage-backed securities were, in fact, high-risk investments that lost tremendous value as the housing market collapsed and mortgage foreclosures accelerated,” said Cordray, a former state and county treasurer.

The lawsuit alleges that the rating agencies made spectacularly misleading evaluations of mortgage-backed securities due in part to the lucrative fees they received from the same issuers they were supposed to be objectively evaluating. Public statements and testimony indicate that rating agency executives and analysts knew their ratings of mortgage-backed securities were wrong. Indeed, one rating agency analyst admitted that the market for mortgage-backed securities was “little more than a house of cards” with a much higher risk of devaluation than indicated by the purported investment-grade “AAA” rating. Another rating agency analyst said that “we rate every deal. It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.”

Raymond McDaniel, CEO and Chairman of Moody’s, described the ratings frenzy: “What happened in ’04 and ’05 … is that our competition, Fitch and S&P, went nuts. Everything was investment-grade. It really didn’t matter… No one cared because the machine just kept going.” McDaniel added that Moody’s also “[drank] the Kool-Aid.”

“This misconduct has caused immense harm to Ohio police officers, firefighters, teachers, government workers, investors and retirees,” said Cordray. “Our lawsuit against these rating agencies is another step toward holding Wall Street accountable for its wrongs.”

The Ohio lawsuit is being brought on behalf of the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund, the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio and the Ohio Public Employees Deferred Compensation Program.

“The OPERS Board of Trustees authorized filing this litigation to ensure that we can rely upon the industry credit rating agencies to give us independent, objective information when making our investment decisions in the best interests of our members,” said Cinthia Sledz, chair of the OPERS Board’s Proxy Policy and Corporate Governance Committee. “This is a fiduciary responsibility that the board takes very seriously, and it is consistent with past actions the board has taken to encourage corporate governance reform and to seek compensation for unlawful behavior. It’s with that same commitment to Ohio’s public workers that we participate in this important litigation.”  

“On behalf of Ohio’s police officers and firefighters, our Board of Trustees agreed to join this suit in order to correct an abuse of public trust,” said William Estabrook, Executive Director of the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund. “We believe investors have a right to rely on the integrity of the ratings published by these companies.”

Attorney General Cordray’s fight to hold Wall Street accountable now includes eight major lawsuits, which have recovered more than $2 billion to date. Recent settlements include $284.5 million with secondary defendants in a case involving AIG; $400 million with Marsh & McLennan; $475 million with Merrill Lynch; and the cancelling of $922 million in improperly granted stock options to corporate executives at UnitedHealth. Attorney General Cordray continues to represent the Ohio Funds in several major securities cases, including class action securities lawsuits against AIG, Bank of America, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac.

Attorney General Cordray is drawing on the expertise of the law firms Entwistle & Cappucci LLP; Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP; and Schottenstein Zox & Dunn Co., LPA to assist with the litigation.

To read the filing, visit the Ohio Attorney General's website.

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(8/24/09) - In response to the Ohio Retirement Study Council’s (ORSC) June 30 request to consider funding and benefit changes that would keep SERS within the legislatively mandated 30-year funding window, the SERS Board recommended retirement eligibility changes and pledged to closely monitor the system’s funding ratio.

  [Read More...]

The Board will recommend to the ORSC at its September 9, 2009, meeting the following changes, effective for members retiring on or after August 1, 2015: 

  • to retire with no actuarial reduction to one’s retirement allowance, a member must be age 67 with 10 years of service or age 57 with 30 years of service; 
  • a member may retire early at age 62 with 10 years of service or age 60 with 25 years of service; 
  • if a member retires early, base early retirement reductions on actuarial reductions from the lesser of age 67 or possible attainment of 30 years of service.

To minimize the possibility of making unnecessary benefit changes and increasing member and employer contributions, SERS’ Board opted to periodically examine its 30-year funding responsibility and recommend benefit or contribution changes as needed. Should the recommended retirement eligibility changes for members retiring on or after August 1, 2015 fail to keep SERS within the 30-year funding window, the Board will consider other changes such as reducing cost of living adjustments and contribution increases for members and employers. The Board also understood that it could look at the costs of the Health Care program, if needed.  This tiered approach addressed concerns from SERS’ advocacy groups that overreacting to the present funding situation could adversely affect members and retirees for many years.

Even before the current financial crisis began, SERS’ Board took action to keep the pension fund stable. SERS was the only Ohio public pension system to address pension design changes necessary to offset increased life expectancy when it introduced S.B. 148 in 2007 and advocated for its passage.

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(10/06/2009) Due to a scheduling conflict at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Independence, Ohio, we will be moving the location of our November 7, 2009 PREP Seminar to:

Embassy Suites
3775 Park East Dr.
Beachwood, Ohio 44122
216-765-8066

  [Read More...]

Registration opens at 8:00 a.m., with a continental breakfast. The seminar begins promptly at 8:50 a.m.  We apologize for any inconvenience this change may cause. We are looking forward to meeting you and having the opportunity to assist you with information regarding your future retirement planning.

If you’ve already registered for this seminar, you will receive notification of the location change by mail. A map of the new location also will be included.

If you have any questions, please contact Jeri Dyer toll-free at 1-866-280-7377.  Click the link below to get driving directions to the Embassy Suites.

Map to Embassy Suites

Feeling sick? Please be considerate and don’t put others at risk.

Each year in the United States, about 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu complications. Flu symptoms can include high fever, headache, tiredness, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and sore throat. The flu is highly contagious, and with the recent spreading of the new H1N1, or swine flu, it is more important than ever to stay home if you are feeling under the weather.

If you are unable to attend the seminar, we will be happy to refund your registration fee and send you any information presented that day.  Just call us toll-free at 1-866-280-7377 and ask for Jeri Dyer.  Let’s all do our part to help stop the spread of this very contagious virus.  Thank you for your consideration.

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(7/29/09) - On June 30, 2009, the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) sent a memo to the directors of Ohio’s five public pension funds (see link below) asking the Boards of each fund to actuarially determine the effects that certain contribution/benefits changes would have on the long-term solvency of the funds. The reason for the memo is ORSC’s commitment to bring all of the funds within a 30-year funding period.

  [Read More...]

Since the Ohio legislature established the 30-year funding period for Ohio’s public pension funds in 1996, SERS has been in compliance every year. However, due to investment losses during the recent economic downturn, the ORSC wants each system to address funding deficiencies as soon as possible.  SERS’ current funding status will not be known until the final fiscal year 2009 actuarial report is received in November. However, SERS’ actuary, Cavanaugh Macdonald, was able to provide SERS with an estimate of how much employer contributions would be affected by ORSC’s proposed changes by using fiscal year 2008 actuarial data. Changes in the amount of employer contributions necessary to fund pensions also will affect how much of the employer contributions are available to fund health care.

SERS is not alone in this request – all of Ohio’s public pension funds will make recommendations to the ORSC at its September 9, 2009, meeting in regards to the contribution/benefits changes each system recommends to the legislature to improve the long-term solvency of their funds. Although the timetable to gather information is short, SERS is in the process of informing members and advocacy groups about the actuarial impact the ORSC’s proposals will have on current and future retirees. At the July 23 Board meeting, attendees heard Cavanaugh Macdonald’s report to the Board.

On August 13, SERS staff is conducting a meeting with representatives from 11 different advocacy groups (Ohio AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1184, School Employee Retirees of Ohio, Ohio Association of School Business Officials, Ohio Association of Public School Employees, AFSCME Ohio Council 8, Ohio Education Association, Ohio School Boards Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio Association of Community Colleges, Service Employees International Union, and Buckeye Association of School Administrators) to discuss the pros and cons of each of the ORSC scenarios Cavanaugh Macdonald analyzed and to listen to alternative suggestions. On August 21, SERS’ Board will hold a special meeting to evaluate the suggestions of the advocacy groups and finalize the recommendations SERS will present to the ORSC on September 9, 2009.

To see Cavanaugh Macdonald’s letter to SERS’ Board, the PowerPoint presentation delivered to the Board on July 23, the ORSC history of benefit changes, and an age and service benefits comparison of Ohio’s public pension funds, click on the links below.

June 30, 2009 ORSC Letter to the Board’s of Ohio’s Five Public Pension Funds

Supporting Documents

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(7/22/09) - Ohio’s 2010-2011 budget signed by Gov. Ted Strickland on July 17 does not contain a provision for lowering state employer contributions to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS). The governor proposed cutting state contributions to the OPERS pension fund from 14% to 8% over the next two years in an effort to save the state $256 million.   [Read More...]
The governor’s proposal met resistance from all of the state pension funds, including SERS, and three of the executive directors signed a joint letter opposing the governor’s proposal (see the 6/25/09 post to read the letter). The Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC), which is the state legislature’s oversight committee for Ohio’s five public pension plans, also recommended that the 128th Ohio General Assembly disapprove any reduction in the employer contribution rate. The House-Senate Conference Committee removed the provision from the budget during their negotiations.
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(6/4/09) - At SERS’ May 19 Retirement Board meeting, Jim Winfree, SERS’ Executive Director, reported to the Board that the Ohio Retirement Study Council (ORSC) has asked all five Ohio pension systems to gather actuarial information to consider potential pension changes.

  [Read More...]

SERS is requesting the studies by its actuary, Cavanaugh Macdonald Consulting, LLC, to determine how these changes would affect the System and its members.

The ORSC has proposed that the following pension changes be considered: increase employee and/or employer contribution rates; increase retirement age; change the benefit formula; increase Final Average Salary (FAS) to five years; eliminate lump sum death benefit; eliminate, delay, or reduce the COLA; and increase the number of days of employment per year needed to earn one year of service credit.

It has not been decided whether the changes would affect current members, those retiring on or after a five-year grandfathering period, or new hires only.

Some recent newspaper editorials in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Columbus Dispatch, and Dayton Daily News have called on Ohio’s legislators to take quick action on these pension changes in response to recent investment losses. Despite the market downturn, SERS’ pension fund is solvent. Be assured that SERS’ Board and staff are committed to working with the ORSC and you, our members and retirees, to find ways to further improve the solvency of the fund and to provide the best possible pension benefits.

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We’re listening to you again. It’s time for round 2 of SERS’ Member & Retiree Benchmarking Surveys. We conducted phone surveys of SERS retirees in July 2008 and of SERS active members in August 2008 to help us improve our service levels to you.   [Read More...]

Saperstein Associates, a Columbus research firm, will be making calls to randomly selected retirees (July) and members (August). So, if you get a call from Saperstein Associates, they are calling on behalf of SERS. Please take the time to respond to the short phone survey and help SERS improve on what we do for you. Thank you!

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(6/25/09) - On June 19, 2009, Governor Strickland proposed that state employer contributions to the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) be reduced from 14 percent to 8 percent over two years to help balance the state’s biennial budget.   [Read More...]
 Click here to read the public pension fund directors’ response to the governor’s proposal. 
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(6/15/09) - Beginning August 1, 2009, SERS will be offering access to long-term care through The Prudential Insurance Company of America (Prudential). Previously, SERS’ members were offered the option to purchase long-term care coverage through Aetna, but beginning August 1, Aetna will no longer allow new members into its plan.   [Read More...]

SERS members already enrolled in Aetna’s plan can stay with their existing Aetna plan or change to Prudential coverage without proof of good health. Members who change to Prudential will get comparable or better benefits and competitive premium rates based on your age(s) when you purchased Aetna coverage. You will stay with Aetna unless you request a change. The switch from Aetna to Prudential will not take place without your consent.

To ensure you’re eligible to change to the new Prudential Long-Term Care Insurance plan:

  • Make your required premium payment to Aetna until the effective date of the new Prudential coverage.
  • Review the information sent from Prudential about the new plan and how to replace your current coverage.
  • Contact Aetna if you have any questions about your current Aetna plan at 1-800-537-8521.

After receiving your information package in the mail during the week of May 25, 2009, call Prudential with any questions you have about benefits and rates at 1-800-732-0416.

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(5/18/09) - The School Employees Retirement System (SERS) is changing the way it works with Medicare to help pay your prescription drug costs. This change means that you will get a new member ID card before July 1, 2009.   [Read More...]

Express Scripts will continue to manage your drug plan, but starting July 1, 2009, Express Scripts also will manage the link between SERS and Medicare.

Your copayment structure will stay the same for 2009. There are a few formulary (drug list) changes at this time but as always, Express Scripts will tell you if a change affects you. Your dependents who do not get Medicare must keep the same ID cards. SERS will continue to offer a drug plan - you do not have to join a separate Medicare Part D plan.

In addition to the new member ID card, you might qualify for extra help from Medicare. Express Scripts will contact everyone who qualifies for the Low Income Subsidy. We also encourage members with Medicare questions to call Express Scripts’ new toll-free Medicare hotline at 1-866-258-5819.

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(4/24/09) – For the 24th consecutive year, the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) has earned the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association of the U.S. and Canada.   [Read More...]

The award is the highest form of recognition in the area of public employee retirement system accounting and financial reporting, and was presented for the System's FY2008 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

In order to be awarded the Certificate of Achievement, a government unit must publish an easily readable and efficiently organized comprehensive annual financial report whose contents meet or exceed program standards.

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(3/20/09) – Social Security Government Pension Offset (GPO)/Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) repeal bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate of the 111th Congress. The House bil   [Read More...]

(3/20/09) – Social Security Government Pension Offset (GPO)/Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) repeal bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate of the 111th Congress. The House bill, HR 235 introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), already has more than 230 cosponsors, including Ohio Reps. Steve Driehaus, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Bob Latta, Steven LaTourette, Tim Ryan, Jean Schmidt, Zack Space, Betty Sutton, Pat Tiberi, Michael Turner, and Charles Wilson. In the Senate, S 484 was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) with Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown as a cosponsor. We encourage SERS members and retirees to contact their members of Congress to ask them to support these bills.

Contacting your legislators is easy using SERS’ Legislative Action Alert on the SERS website. By entering your ZIP code, you’ll have access to the contact information (e-mail address, phone number, and mailing address) of your federal legislators.

To learn more about how GPO/WEP affects SERS’ members and retirees, click here.

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(11/3/08) - Saperstein Associates—an independent Columbus, Ohio research firm—conducted surveys of 403 retired SERS members and 402 active SERS members. The samples were pulled from random lists o   [Read More...]

(11/3/08) - Saperstein Associates—an independent Columbus, Ohio research firm—conducted surveys of 403 retired SERS members and 402 active SERS members. The samples were pulled from random lists of 8,000 SERS retirees and 8,000 active members.

The purposes of the surveys were to measure SERS active and retired members’ overall impressions of SERS and their service preferences and expectations. Saperstein Associates administered the phone surveys in July and August.

SERS’ staff will use this information to take measured and strategic steps to improve our current service levels. For example, improvements have already been made to our publications based on our members’ responses.

Here are some of the most significant findings:

  • 73% of SERS retirees are women; 72% of active members are women.
  • SERS provides, on average, 38% of a retiree’s annual household income.
  • Roughly 5 out of 10 retired members have Internet access.  Among active members, 9 out of 10 are accessing the Internet.  
  • 9 out of 10 active members have positive impressions of SERS.  Retirees, more than active members, have very positive impressions.
  • 3 out of 4 retirees consider their pension benefits an excellent or good value.  When active members anticipate their pension benefits, fewer are as positive.  
  • 94% of retirees and 84% of active members agree that SERS keeps them well-informed about pension related issues.
  • 3 out of 5 retirees currently participate in a SERS-sponsored health plan when they retire. The same number—3 out of 5 active members expect to participate in a SERS-sponsored health plan when they retire.
  • However, fewer than 1 out of 5 active members is very confident that SERS will offer health insurance when they retire.
  • 6 out of 10 retirees consider their SERS health plan an excellent or good value.  38% of active members consider it a good value. 
  • 80% of retirees and 84% of active members found SERS’ representatives very helpful.
  • More than 8 out of 10 retirees use direct deposit for their benefit payments.  

To see more survey results, click here.

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(5/23/08) – Recently enacted Senate Bill 3 provides for the forfeiture of public retirement benefits upon conviction of certain felonies. It applies to convictions or guilty pleas occurring on or after May 13, 2008. The law may affect some contributors at all five state public retirement systems, any alternative retirement plan, or a municipal retirement system.   [Read More...]

Individuals covered by the bill include SERS’ members who are school treasurers, business managers, and school board members.

The criminal violations covered by the bill are bribery, a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office that is a third degree felony, a violation of an existing or former municipal ordinance or law in any state that is substantially equivalent to a violation above, or conspiracy to commit, attempt to commit, or complicity in committing, any of those violations.

A member who is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, one of the above offenses will be ineligible to receive any retirement benefit except a return of one’s own accumulated contributions.

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(4/25/08)  - National accounting standards require SERS, and all other public pension plans, to disclose their long-term health care liabilities. Based on these standards, actuarial repor   [Read More...]

(4/25/08)  - National accounting standards require SERS, and all other public pension plans, to disclose their long-term health care liabilities. Based on these standards, actuarial reports indicate that 9% of SERS’ long-term health care liabilities are funded.

GASB (Governmental Accounting Standards Board) establishes standards for state and local government accounting and financial reporting. GASB 43 is an accounting requirement—not a funding requirement—and does not change or reduce SERS’ Health Care Fund in any way. It is just one way to measure health care benefits. SERS prefers to measure its health care fund in terms of years of solvency, which is currently FY 2021.

GASB 43 requires financial reporting of OPEB, or other post-employment benefits. These are benefits such as medical, prescription drugs, and dental, and does not include pension benefits. SERS’ retiree health care and pension benefits are accounted for separately. SERS’ pension benefits, which are required by law, are soundly funded at 80% over 29 years. So, SERS’ pensions are safe.

Ensuring affordable, accessible, and high quality health care for retirees is an enormous challenge for all public and private pension funds.

SERS continues to aggressively pursue structural changes to the health care program to strengthen and extend the longevity of the fund through the Health Care Preservation Task Force, new Medicare Advantage plans, the Rx Ohio Collaborative (RxOC) prescription program, and the LifeMasters innovative disease management program.

All of these will strengthen and extend the longevity of SERS’ Health Care Fund. To learn more, read SERS’ GASB/OPEB Fact Sheet.

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(4/1/08) – School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) has hired Georgia-based consulting firm Cavanaugh MacDonald Consulting as its independent actuary and health care consultant. SERS c   [Read More...]

(4/1/08) – School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) has hired Georgia-based consulting firm Cavanaugh MacDonald Consulting as its independent actuary and health care consultant.

SERS chose Cavanaugh MacDonald after an extensive request-for-proposal and interview process.

“We were impressed by Cavanaugh MacDonald’s enthusiasm, experience, strong communication skills and knowledge of public pensions and benefit plans, and look forward to applying their expertise,” said SERS’ executive director James R. Winfree.

Cavanaugh MacDonald works only for state and local government pension and benefit plans, and their staff average more than 25 years of experience consulting with public entities. Other clients include the retirement systems of Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia. The SERS team will be led by Tom Cavanaugh.

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(3/4/08) – The School Employees Retirement System of Ohio announced that the System’s assets stood at $11.72 billion as of December 31, 2007. This represents an $820 million increase over the same   [Read More...]

(3/4/08) – The School Employees Retirement System of Ohio announced that the System’s assets stood at $11.72 billion as of December 31, 2007. This represents an $820 million increase over the same period last year.

SERS maintains a diversified investment portfolio that has a target asset allocation of 29% in U.S. stocks, 29% in international stocks, 24% in bonds, 10% in real estate, 7% in private equity, and 1% in short-term securities.

For the year-ending 12/31/07, the strongest performing asset classes were private equity (26.9%), non-U.S. equity (16.6%), and real estate (13.9%).

Established in 1937, SERS is the statewide public pension fund providing pension benefits and access to retiree health care for Ohio’s more than 186,500 active and retired non-teaching public school employees. 

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Ohio Members of Congress Receive District Breakdown of SERS’ Contributions (3/4/08) – In early February, SERS met with several members of Ohio’s congressional delegation on the need to eliminate the Social Security GPO and WEP penalties, oppose mandatory Social Security coverage for Ohio public employees, and enact legislation to provide efficiencies in the health care delivery system.   [Read More...]

These efficiencies could save the Ohio retirement systems money and extend the solvency periods of their health care funds.

Also while in Washington, SERS’ staff provided all members of the Ohio delegation with a new statistical breakdown of the number of current SERS contributors, inactive members, and benefit recipients residing in each of the congressional districts. This informative spreadsheet included an approximation of the value of SERS’ pension and health care benefits provided in each of those districts.

In total, for fiscal year 2007, SERS provided $634 million in pensions and $219 million in health care benefits to all of its benefit recipients.

To oppose Social Security Offset and Windfall penalties, contact Congress.

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(1/31/08) – According to a 50-state study conducted by the Pew Center on the States, “Ohio has done a very good job keeping up with required contributions for its public employee pension system.”   [Read More...]

(1/31/08) – According to a 50-state study conducted by the Pew Center on the States, “Ohio has done a very good job keeping up with required contributions for its public employee pension system.” Pew is part of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts that studies issues such as the environment and government best practices.

Currently, SERS’ pension fund stands at $11.6 billion and is 80% funded over 29 years. Most experts consider a pension fund healthy if it is at least 80% funded.

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(3/4/08) – Legislation that changes pension eligibility standards for the School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) becomes effective May 14.   [Read More...]

Introduced on 4/19/07 by State Senator Keith Faber (R-Celina), SB 148 revises the retirement eligibility requirements for new members of SERS. The bill applies to new employees only; all current school employees are grandfathered. SERS’ statutes have not been changed in these areas in 50 years.

For new members, the bill:

  • Sets a minimum retirement age of 55
  • Sets new combinations of age and credit necessary to retire
  • Revises the pension calculation for those who retire before normal retirement age of 65.

The Ohio House passed SB 148 88-2 on 1/29/08 after introduction by Representative James Zehringer (R-Fort Recovery). The Ohio Senate passed the bill 31-2 on 10/24/07. It was unanimously recommended for approval by the Ohio Retirement Study Council.

"We are all living longer and this demographic trend places stress on traditional defined benefit pension funds,” said James R. Winfree, SERS executive director.  “Our actuary and our board believe strongly that we must pay attention to this important demographic shift and make adjustments, just as Social Security has done.” 

The federal government has extended the age at which a person can receive an unreduced benefit from 65 to 67.

The first year after implementation, SERS expects to see a $3 million decrease in its unfunded actuarial accrued liability. Eventually, after all active participants have been replaced with new hires under the new benefit tier, SERS expects to see an overall $513 million decrease in its unfunded actuarial accrued liability.

“Adjusting for the demographic changes of the past 50 years is the right thing to do and will strengthen our pension fund for the future,” Winfree added.

With $11.6 billion in assets, SERS is the 57th largest public pension fund in the country. Established in 1937, SERS provides pension benefits and access to retiree health care for Ohio’s 186,500 active and retired non-teaching public school employees. Members include school bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers, teacher’s aides, administrative and support staff, treasurers, business managers, and school board members.

Testimony

Letters

Articles

Analysis

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(1/28/08) – In response to an article in the Columbus Dispatch, SERS Executive Director James Winfree wrote the following letter to the editor. In his letter, Winfree pointed out that SERS retirees are an important part of Ohio’s economic engine.   [Read More...]

Dear Editor:

The recent Dispatch article (“Retirees a Threat to Ohio,” Jan. 11) correctly identifies some of the problems confronting the state as its citizens grower older; however, fears may be overstated.

The School Employees Retirement System of Ohio (SERS) is the defined benefit pension plan for non-teaching school employees across Ohio.

With $11.6 billion in assets, we are the 58th largest public pension fund in the country and serve more than 186,500 active and retired members. SERS retirees, along with other Ohio public sector retirees, are an important part of the state’s economic engine: approximately 91 percent of SERS’ 63,500 benefit recipients live in Ohio and put their $853.4 million pension and health care benefits right back into the state’s economy.

A defined benefit plan provides guaranteed lifetime pension income to retirees. They cannot outlive their benefits. This secure pension motivates employees to continue in service, helps them remain financially independent when they retire, and helps minimize the likelihood that they will become financially dependent on government programs.

State pensions contribute meaningfully to the welfare of Ohio and its citizens. Public pensions such as ours help attract and retain quality workers so that vital public services like driving school buses, cleaning schools, and feeding Ohio’s school children are delivered effectively. We serve those who serve our schools.

Sincerely,

James R. Winfree, Executive Director
School Employees Retirement System of Ohio, Columbus

Link:   Retirees a Threat to Ohio

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