Understanding OPERS

Post by: Eric Jones | Posted Date: August 16th, 2016 | Categories: State Employee Disability (STRS, OPERS, PERS, OP&F)

The Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, usually shortened to OPERS (pronounced “OH-perz”), is a pension and disability program for state government workers. It replaces programs like Social Security and Medicare in some instances, and complements federal and private retirement and insurance plans in other circumstances. Fully detailing all the ins and outs of OPERS takes thousands, if not millions, of pages, but the legal team at Jones Law Group has been able to boil down several of the most important facts about the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System into the following summaries.

Who’s Eligible for OPERS?

The largest groups of workers who can participate in OPERS are

  • State of Ohio employees
  • Town, city, and employees (and some elected officials)
  • Ohio state and local law enforcement personnel
  • Emergency medical personnel and firefighters paid by local governments
  • Public adult education, community college, and university teaching and research faculty
  • Public hospital employees

Most people who take state or local public sector jobs, even on a part-time basis, can enroll in OPERS. Enrolling makes a worker subject to paycheck withholdings that represent contributions toward plan benefits. Fully vesting in many OPERS programs requires making five years of qualified contributions. Buying service credits is possible for workers who wish to vest early.

Who’s Not Eligible for OPERS?

OPERS is not the only retirement and disability plan for public sector employees in Ohio. Some workers may elect or be required to participate in one of the following:

  • Social Security and Medicare, with paycheck contributions being made in the form of F.I.C.A. withholdings
  • State Teachers Retirement System, or STRS, which is open to public preschool and K-12 faculty and administrators
  • School Employees Retirement System, or SERS, which is open to support personnel such as maintenance workers, bus drivers, and counselors at public preschools and K-12 schools

Participation in several retirement and disability plans is becoming more common as fewer people spend their entire working lives doing a single job for just one employer.

What Benefits Are Available Through OPERS?

Very broadly, OPERS contributions pay toward

  • Defined benefit retirement—This is a pension. A series of changes made through state budgets adopted since 2003 have reduced pension benefits for state and public employees.
  • Member-directed retirement—The equivalent of 401(k) and IRA plans for private sector workers. State agencies, local governments, and schools match a percentage of employees’ contributions.
  • Health insurance—Details vary from employee to employee, but nearly all people covered by an OPERS health plan pay premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. Carrying health insurance through OPERS does not automatically disqualify people from participating in Medicare, Medicaid, Ohio Workers’ Compensation, and private health plans.
  • Long-term disability—This is the equivalent of Social Security Disability Insurance. Having private sector and state jobs on your resume can greatly complicate eligibility for OPERS, STRS, or SERS disability.

Who Can I Contact for Help Securing OPERS Benefits?

Eric Jones of the Columbus-based Jones Law Group has spent the past decade helping people across Ohio solve OPERS problems. Whether you just need a clear answer to a technical question or find it necessary to appeal a disability benefits denial, you can request a free consultation with Eric by calling (614) 545-9998 orfilling out this online contact form.

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