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WRS News Online Vol.1, No. 3 - September 2015

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Health Insurance Program Changes for 2016

Family camping photoThe Group Insurance Board approved medical, pharmacy, and dental benefit changes to the state and local group health insurance programs for 2016. All changes apply to all participating state and local employees, retirees, and continuants.

In general, the 2016 program changes center on increased cost sharing for members in the forms of:

  • Added deductibles
  • New office visit copayments
  • Increased out-of-pocket limits
  • Coinsurance for certain prescription drugs

Here are 10 things to know for 2016:

  1. The It’s Your Choice open enrollment period for all participants is October 5-30, 2015. This is your annual opportunity to change from one health plan to another, switch from single to family coverage, or add/delete certain dependents. Changes become effective January 1, 2016.
  2. Our usual It’s Your Choice materials will be replaced with an expanded collection of specially-designed web pages and 12-to-16-page printed guides. We’ll have separate guides for active state employees, state retirees and continuants, and local government employees, retirees and continuants. On our website you’ll be able to:
    • Follow step-by-step guidelines to choose a health plan
    • Use an interactive map to find plans in your county
    • Get answers to frequently asked questions
    • Check detailed plan quality ratings
    • Review all covered benefits and services
    • Learn about options to supplement coverage
  3. The Uniform Dental Benefit will be available through Delta Dental and will no longer be offered through your health plan. You must have coverage under the group health insurance program in order to elect dental coverage. Delta Dental’s provider network directory will be available for review prior to open enrollment.
    • State employees: You will be automatically enrolled in the Uniform Dental Benefit for 2016. If you do not want this coverage, you must opt out of it during the It’s Your Choice open enrollment period.
    • Local government employees: Your employer will choose whether to offer the Uniform Dental Benefit and provide details to all employees.
    Note: Supplemental dental insurance (e.g., EPIC Benefits+, EPIC Dental Wisconsin) will remain separate optional plan offerings.
  4. Most members will now pay a medical deductible of $250 for individual or $500 for family coverage.
  5. Most members will pay office visit copayments of $15 for primary care and therapy office visits and $25 for specialty care and urgent care visits. The office visit copayments will not be subject to the deductible but will count toward meeting the out-of-pocket limit. In addition, the existing 10% coinsurance will still apply to additional services at the office visit. Note: There is no copayment or deductible for routine preventive health services, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
  6. Out-of-pocket limits will increase for medical and prescription drugs.
  7. There will be coinsurance for certain prescription drugs.
  8. State employees can receive a $2,000 payment to opt out of the group health insurance program. State employees not eligible for this incentive include those who (a) chose not to be covered in calendar year 2015; and (b) an employee whose spouse or domestic partner is also a state employee and is covered by the group health insurance program.
  9. We are renaming some familiar terms to simplify the complex and sometimes confusing world of health benefits communications. See the tables below:

State Employees, Retirees and Continuants

Current Name

New Name in 2016

Coinsurance Uniform Benefits (a.k.a., the HMO plans)

It’s Your Choice Health Plan

High Deductible Health Plan

It’s Your Choice High Deductible Health Plan

Standard Plan

It’s Your Choice Access Health Plan  

HDHP Standard Plan

It’s Your Choice Access High Deductible Health Plan


Local Employees, Retirees and Continuants

Program Option #

Current Name

New Name in 2016

PO2

Traditional HMO – Standard PPO

It’s Your Choice Local Traditional – w/ Dental Option

PO4

Deductible HMO – Standard PPO

It’s Your Choice Local Deductible – w/ Dental Option

PO6

Coinsurance HMO – Standard PPO

It’s Your Choice Local Health Plan – w/ Dental Option

PO7

High Deductible Health Plan HMO – Standard PPO

It’s Your Choice Local High Deductible Health Plan – w/ Dental Option

  1. Answers to frequently asked questions can be found here.

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EMPOWER: Take Charge of Your Retirement Financial Security

The EMPOWER campaign continues to inspire, motivate and educate women to take charge of their retirement financial security.

What is EMPOWER? In early 2015, ETF – through its Affirmative Action Committee – and the Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program launched a statewide campaign to raise awareness about the retirement savings gap affecting women. We designed EMPOWER: Guiding Women of All Cultures Toward a Strong Financial Future to engage and inspire female public employees to save more for their retirement. Why focus on women? For a variety of reasons, a woman’s road to retirement is different.

Our ultimate goals are straightforward:

  • Increase the number of women investing in their own retirement security; and
  • Increase the amount they are saving for their retirement

“The biggest risk for women is that they will outlive their savings and they will not know that until it’s too late,” Lara Hinz, program director of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, told the capacity crowd at one of the campaign’s kickoff events in May. View the recorded webcast.

More than 750 public employees have participated in EMPOWER educational events since this spring.

Six months in, word about EMPOWER continues to spread. EMPOWER offers free programming to public employees through their Wisconsin Retirement System employers, live and recorded webinars, and lunch and learn workshops.

To bring EMPOWER to your employer or workplace, please email Tarna Hunter or Shelly Schueller at ETF_Empower@etf.wi.gov

Visit ETF’s EMPOWER website now and throughout the year to learn about upcoming educational events. You’ll also find helpful resources – videos, brochures, calculators, checklists, worksheets and research articles from state and national organizations – to learn more about financial literacy, budgeting, investing, and the effect of caregiving on retirement planning.

EMPOWER Yourself: Upcoming Educational Events

September 10, 2015: “What Every Woman Should Know about Social Security. Attend this presentation in-person or view the live webcast. Presenters from the Social Security Administration will discuss the basics of Social Security, including when and how to apply, Social Security benefits available to survivors and ex-spouses, and information about Medicare.

September 23, 2015: “Investments 101” for Women. Attend this presentation in-person or view the live webcast. Presented by the Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program, you will learn and understand the basics of investing, including types of investments and assessing risk tolerance. If you would like to sign up for the WDC or make an appointment, please call 608-241-6604 or toll-free 1-877-457-9327.

October 19-25: National Save for Retirement Week. This is a great time to look at your retirement plan and make needed changes to ensure that you are preparing for a secure retirement. Check out the EMPOWER website for information and tools to help you obtain your retirement goals.

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What Does the Future Hold for Investment Returns?

Michael Williamson
Michael Williamson

by Michael Williamson, State of Wisconsin Investment Board Executive Director

One key to the success of a public pension system is, obviously, return on investments. Like many public pension funds, the Wisconsin Retirement System sees a majority of its income – about 76% – come from returns generated by the investments SWIB makes.

Since 1983 the Core Fund has been fortunate to experience just six years with single-digit returns, and one of those years, 1992, was a 9.7% return. Over the past 32 years, there have only been six years with negative returns, including two years with losses less than 1%; 1994 at a 0.6% loss ; and 2000, with a 0.8% loss. Throughout the 1980s and late 1990s, double-digit returns – sometimes more than 20% – were the norm for the WRS. Some of you may be fortunate enough to remember 1985, when the Core Fund return was 27.5%, its highest since 1983.

More recently, however, an ever-changing global financial environment has meant more volatility in investment returns. Since the market downturn in 2008, which produced a 26% loss for the Core Fund, returns have bounced between a high of 22.4% in 2009 and a low of 1.4% in 2011. Last year, the Core Fund returned 5.7%.

Many economists believe we are entering a financial period that will result in long-term investment returns similar to those we saw in 2014, rather than those we saw in the 1980s and late 1990s. It will be a period marked by the economic turmoil we are seeing in Greece, the rollercoaster ride the Chinese stock market is on and the potential for rising interest rates here at home.

No matter what the economic environment has been over the past 32 years, the WRS has remained one of the few public pension systems in the country that is fully funded, meaning it is able to meet its obligations to members. That is not the case in some states, where plans are severely underfunded. Those states are now forced to make drastic system design changes and make riskier investments in an attempt to improve the funding status of those plans.

Although no one can predict exactly what will happen in the years ahead, it does seem we may be facing significant investment challenges moving forward. Will we ever see the days of double-digit returns again? Well, maybe. But it does mean that moving forward, we have to continue to implement an investment strategy that is designed to weather a variety of economic environments to ensure the WRS is able to meet its obligations not only today, but also in the future. We have already begun to put in place initiatives designed to protect against drastic falls in the market. These initiatives will work to protect against dramatic swings in annuity adjustments and contribution rates. Most importantly, they are designed to keep the WRS among the top public pension funds in the country.

When I am out speaking to members and they ask me what I think is going to happen with regard to investments, I joke with them that if I could predict the future I wouldn’t be working for the State of Wisconsin! While I can’t predict the future, I can predict with certainty that we will continue to do everything we can to protect the WRS for the more than 590,000 members who are counting on us to generate respectable returns to help fund their retirements.

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SWIB Keeps Close Eye on Private Equity

Private Equity ImageInvestment Returns, Contributions, Shared Risk Keep System Healthy

One of the reasons the Wisconsin Retirement System is among the few fully-funded public pension plans in the country is the respectable returns generated by the State of Wisconsin Investment Board. Those returns, along with contributions from employees and employers and the unique shared risk and reward design of the WRS make it a model system.

An area that may not immediately come to mind when thinking about why the WRS is fully funded, but is equally as important, is cost management. Every dollar SWIB can save in cost for managing the assets of the WRS is just as good as a dollar earned through investment returns.

Managing more WRS funds in-house is the best way for SWIB to control costs. However, there are times when SWIB uses outside managers for certain investments.

“One of the reasons we are considered a low-cost pension fund manager is because we are able to internally manage almost 60% of the investments we are making,” SWIB Executive Director Michael Williamson said. “But, we are also a low-cost manager because when it is necessary to use outside managers, we negotiate lower fees when compared to our peers and scrutinize the agreements we make with those managers to know exactly what we are paying for and how much we are paying.”

The issue of fees and expenses charged by external managers has gained national attention recently because of accusations that some private equity managers are not being transparent in the information they are providing to investors.

Private equity investments are made in companies that are not publicly traded on the stock markets. SWIB, like many public pension funds, makes private equity investments through a general partner or external manager and pays fees for those services.

The lack of transparency by some private equity managers prompted the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate the fee and expense reporting practices of those firms.

SWIB, with the help of a consultant, has reviewed private equity general partners it works with and has found no fee or expense abuse.

“Since the SEC’s investigation, we have actually seen an increased level of transparency with respect to fees and expenses,” Scott Parrish, SWIB Private Markets Group portfolio manager, said.

In addition to monitoring the external managers it works with, SWIB has teamed with other organizations, such as the Institutional Limited Partners Association, which has more than 300 members and includes pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowments and foundations, to support standardized reporting in the industry. As an organization, SWIB works to identify best practices related to private equity accounting and reporting.

Parrish says how private equity fees and expenses are reported is an area that will remain under scrutiny since the investments, in addition to being an important part of SWIB’s diversification strategy for the Core Fund, have added value to the WRS returning 15.5% in 2014 and 14.6% over the last 10 years.

“We have and will continue to monitor this to make sure firms we are working with are transparent in the information they are providing us,” Parrish said. “Knowing the true cost of the private equity investments is important information that will help us make better informed decisions in the future.”

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Take ETF's Member Online Services Survey

Survey Photo The Department of Employee Trust Funds is pleased to report the early stages of a multi-year project to modernize its information technology systems are proceeding as planned. One of the biggest projects under this initiative is a new benefits administration system, called myETF. Members have been asking for the ability to access their ETF-administered Wisconsin Retirement System benefits online, similar to online services offered by financial institutions. With myETF you will be able to securely, easily and conveniently access your WRS benefits online.

We are carefully designing myETF with your needs in mind. That’s why we want your feedback now. Please complete our short Member Online Services Survey by September 30. It will take less than 10 minutes to complete. We will use your input to assist in the creation of new and improved online services that will meet your needs – both now and in the future.

What will I be able to do online using myETF? This is a multi-phase project. The first phase, set for completion in 2017, will replace the current myETF Benefits online application and allow you to enroll in and update health insurance, life insurance and income continuation benefits and related information.

myETF will eventually provide online services for all ETF-administered benefits. For instance, through myETF you will be able to view your retirement account balances, apply for benefits, update your address information and beneficiary designations, and much more.

Thank you in advance for taking our survey.

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Legislative Update

by Tarna Hunter, ETF Legislative Liaison

Tarna Hunter Photo
Tarna Hunter

The biennial budget bill (2015 Wisconsin Act 55) became law on July 12. The budget contains a number of provisions that relate to the Department of Employee Trust Funds and its administration of the Wisconsin Retirement System and other benefit programs. These include:

State Group Health Insurance Program: The Group Insurance Board was required to make appropriate changes to the state group health insurance program in order to realize $81 million in efficiencies and savings over the biennium. At its May meeting, the GIB approved benefit changes and increased member cost sharing in 2016 – these changes will provide a projected cost savings of $85 million over the next two years. See the resources listed below for links to much more detailed information about the changes for 2016 and how they affect employees – both state and local – participating in the group health insurance program.

Changes to Elected Official / Executive / Judge Category: Act 55 allows the ETF Board to move all current Elected Official/Executive/Judge Category members into the General Category for purposes of setting annual contribution rates. In addition, the law changed the normal retirement age for the Elected Official/Executive/Judge Category from age 62 to age 65 for new employees entering the category after December 31, 2016. The retirement age will not change for existing employees. The ETF Board’s actuary confirmed that moving the Elected Official/Executive/Judge Category into the General Category will not have a material effect on General employees.

Employee Incentive to Opt Out of Health Insurance Program. This provision provides a $2,000 annual incentive for active employees who opt out of the state group health insurance program. Employees not eligible for this incentive include state employees who (a) chose not to be covered in calendar year 2015; and (b) a state employee whose spouse or domestic partner is also a state employee and is covered by state group health insurance program.

The legislature is still in session. We will continue to monitor developments and provide updates as they occur. Watch ETF’s website for the latest information and see the resources listed below.

 

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Board Corner

Nominations Sought for Board Seats

The process to elect members to the Teachers Retirement Board has begun. Three seats are available. Any current teacher, excluding those employed by the Milwaukee Public School District may compete for the TR Board-Active Teacher Member seats. Details are as follows:

Retirement Board Seat
TR Board Public School Teacher (excluding those employed by the Milwaukee Public School District). Current seat holder: Robin Starck. Five-year term begins May 1, 2016.
TR Board Public School Teacher (excluding those employed by the Milwaukee Public School District). Current seat holder: Patrick Phair. Five-year term begins May 1, 2016.
TR Board Public School Teacher (excluding those employed by the Milwaukee Public School District). Current seat holder: Jeffrey Zore. Note: Mr. Zore resigned from the Board and ETF will conduct a special election to fill this seat for the remainder of the term, which will expire May 1, 2019.

Download a nomination packet now. You may also request a packet by writing to: ETF, Retirement Board Liaison, P.O. Box 7931, Madison, WI 53707-7931; or send an email to BoardElections@etf.wi.gov.

Completed nomination materials must be received by ETF by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, October 16, 2015. 

Board Elections: ETF will conduct future board elections electronically, via telephone and/or Internet. Watch for candidate information and voting instructions in January.

For information on the WRS governing boards, including current board rosters, board member responsibilities, meeting schedules and agendas, visit ETF's Board webpages.

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Teachers: Consider Serving on Board

Patrick Phair photo
Patrick Phair

by Patrick Phair, Teachers Retirement Board member

Editor’s note: Mr. Phair has served on the Teachers Retirement Board since 2006. After his term expires in May 2016, he will no longer be eligible to serve as an active teacher member of the board. He encourages all eligible teachers to consider serving on this Wisconsin Retirement System governing board. Here is a link to the current TR Board roster.

Being a member of the Teachers Retirement Board is an honor and an enriching experience. Working with fellow teachers and trustees from throughout the state to keep the pension program strong and viable for future generations may seem daunting at first, but the reality is the Wisconsin Retirement System is in great shape.

Thanks to the vision of the WRS founding fathers and the courage of board members who followed in the last half century, the WRS ranks among the top five in America in terms of security and the ability to honor long-term commitments to its retired members and (this is where you and your colleagues come in) working members as well.

Many teachers in this country have real concerns about whether there will be money in the pension system for them when they retire – not in Wisconsin! As an elected board member you can learn as well as help disseminate the financial information about our pension system and in so doing become a strong advocate for the well-being of all public employees.

The elected term for Teachers Retirement Board members is generally five years and, quite honestly, it takes a year or so to learn the details of the system. But once the honeymoon is over, elected board members have every opportunity to discuss, question, defend, and offer new ideas to keep the WRS among the elite public pensions in America. Whether you have a degree in economics or English, teach gifted and talented or children with cognitive disabilities, any working teacher can apply and become a contributing member to the Teachers Retirement Board and I encourage each of you to consider doing so.

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ETF Ombudsperson Services: We Are Here to Help You

by Allen Angel, Vickie Baker, Liz Doss-Anderson, ETF Ombudsperson Services

Ombuds Team Photo
L to R: Liz Doss-Anderson, Allen Angel, Vickie Baker

For 25 years ETF Ombudsperson Services has been assisting Wisconsin Retirement System members with benefits-related problem resolution while providing overall education, guidance, and support. Benefits are getting more complicated, and with that comes your increasing responsibility to read, understand and ask questions.

Here is our best advice: Learn as much as possible about your benefits and always be a strong advocate for yourself and your family. For example:

  • Take time to review Department of Employee Trust Funds forms and publications, and other easily accessible online resources.
  • Watch an ETF webinar; offered at convenient times and on topics important to you.
  • Contact ETF’s Customer Service Call Center, where benefit specialists await your calls and emails.
  • If the issue is related to a health or pharmacy benefit claim or billing, first call your health plan or Navitus, the program’s pharmacy benefit manager.

Each year the It’s Your Choice open enrollment materials provide information on important health insurance changes for the coming year. These changes may affect your specific health plan or your health insurance benefits in general. Take time to review changes and use resources on ETF’s website, such as frequently asked questions . You may also want to attend a benefit fair in your area. But issues can arise and you may need our help resolving a complaint or making an inquiry on your behalf. An ETF Ombudsperson’s primary role is to act as an impartial and neutral party for equity, fairness and compliance with benefit program policies and insurance contracts.

In 2014 we received 1,018 complaints and inquiries, 61% of which stemmed from health plan decisions or other plan actions. Most of our member complaints and inquiries fall in the following categories: general program provisions and design, enrollment and eligibility, claims and billing issues, and non-covered services.

For example, we can assist or help educate when:

  • A prior authorization request for services has been denied.
  • You need clarification on what is covered or not covered under the health insurance contract.*
  • You don’t understand how the state’s sick leave conversion credit program works. (Note: Ask your employer if you have questions regarding the amount of sick leave/sick leave credits you have in your account).
  • Claims have not been processed correctly.
  • You have issues with enrolling a disabled dependent.
  • You would like to know how to file a grievance or request an independent review.
  • You are unsure about the transition to Medicare.

*Please remember that not every service you want or need is covered by your insurance.

There are many more topics and issues Ombudsperson Services can assist with – just as there is likely more that you can do to understand your benefits and advocate for yourself. Work with your health plan, Navitus and your employer – they have the important information that you need.

If your particular issues are outside the scope of our services, we can direct you to where you can express your concerns, whether it’s to your health plan, program administrators or the Group Insurance Board.

And remember: The It’s Your Choice open enrollment Period is just around the corner – October 5-30, 2015. Take the time to read, understand and ask questions so that you make the best health insurance decisions for you and your family in 2016.

To learn more, review the following:
Ombudsperson Services Program Brochure (ET-8935)
Ombudsperson Services Fact Sheet (ET-8934)
ETF Insurance Complaint Form (ET-2405)

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Contribution Rates to Decrease in 2016

Wisconsin Retirement System required contribution rates for employers and employees will decrease slightly again next year, primarily due to trust fund investment gains. The table below shows contribution rates effective January 1, 2016, as reviewed and approved by the Department of Employee Trust Funds Board in June.

WRS Required Contribution Rates

Employee Category

Total Rate
2015

Total
Rate
2016

Employee
Contribution
for 2016

Employer
Contribution
for 2016

General

13.6%

13.2%

6.6%

6.6%

Elected Official/
Executive/Judge*

15.4%

13.2%*

6.6%*

6.6%*

Protective with Social Security

16.3%

16.0%

6.6%

9.4%

Protective without Social Security

19.9%

19.8%

6.6%

13.2%

*The state’s 2015-2017 biennial budget authorized the ETF Board to combine the General and the Elected Official/Executive/Judge Categories for purposes of establishing annual employer and employee contribution rates to the WRS. Read more.

Q: How do contribution rates affect me and why do the rates change every year?
A: The underlying financial principal of the WRS provides that funds generated from required employer contributions, required employee contributions and investment earnings together must be sufficient to meet the present and long-term retirement benefit commitments of the system. How much you and your employer pay – expressed as a percentage of salary in the table above – changes annually, based on the funding requirements of the WRS. Keep in mind these important points:

  • Your WRS retirement benefit is pre-funded. Contributions and investment earnings are deposited into your account during your working years.
  • The Board’s consulting actuary examines WRS funding requirements annually in order to ensure the system can meet its obligations.
  • In general, when investment earnings are greater than expected, the actuary may recommend lowering both employer and employee contribution rates the following year. When earnings are lower than expected, the same rates may have to be increased to make up for the shortfall.
  • Changes in employer and employee contribution rates have been very stable over the years because investment returns are smoothed over a five-year period. Smoothing works to control year-to-year volatility in the stock market.

Did you know?

  • For most public employee pension plans, investment earnings provide the most significant portion of the plan’s funding.
  • Nationwide, investment earnings contribute about 62% on average, according to the National Association of Retirement Administrators.
  • For the WRS, investment income on the trust funds contributes approximately 76% of the system’s funding requirements.
  • Due to its plan design, funding principles, and adherence to paying contributions when due (not deferred to the future), the WRS is one of the best funded public pension plans in the country.

For More Information

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Drummond Named Among the Best 40 Under 40

Derek Drummond Photo
Derek Drummond

In the financial world, hundreds of thousands of money managers and analysts oversee billions of dollars in investments. Many of those people go unnoticed. For a select few – like the State of Wisconsin Investment Board’s Derek Drummond – their work and accomplishments make others sit up and take notice. Drummond was recently named one of Chief Investment Officer magazine’s “40 Under 40”, a list that recognizes 40 influential individuals in the investment world under the age of 40.

“Being selected is a huge honor,” the 35-year-old Drummond said. “The selection process is peer-driven, so I am very fortunate to even be mentioned in the process.”

Drummond, an analyst for SWIB’s private markets and funds alpha team, is responsible for going into the market and trying to find the best investment managers in the world to partner with SWIB in order to generate the best return possible for the Wisconsin Retirement System.

Drummond, who is an avid triathlete and takes part in competitions across the country, knows that when he is competing he has to excel under different and sometimes difficult conditions. Succeeding in investing is no different. With the markets going up as much as they have over the last few years, Drummond says there are a lot of investment managers that are performing well right now. He says the key is finding partners that can excel no matter how different and sometimes difficult economic conditions may be affecting market performance.

“The hardest thing for our team is trying to find the partners we want to team up with that will do well not only in the ‘good’ times but also in the ‘bad’ times,” he said. That strategy, like SWIB’s overall investment strategy, is designed to help protect the WRS from extreme market swings. Finding those partners is not easy, but Drummond says being part of the 40 Under 40 helps him tap into valuable resources to help him succeed.

“The other winners are the ‘best of the best’ in the business and it has been a pleasure to connect with them on how they do things,” Drummond said. “Our staff at SWIB is always questioning our process and learning from others.”

This is not the first time Drummond, who joined SWIB in 2010, has been recognized for his work. In 2012, he was presented with a Rising Star of Public Fund Management Award by the Investment Management Network, and in 2014 he was named a Rising Star by Institutional Investor magazine. Drummond, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that while it is nice to be recognized for the work he is doing, he is focused on doing the best he can for WRS members.

“We take our responsibility for maintaining a well-funded WRS for more than 590,000 members seriously,” Drummond said. “Our goal is to be successful in ensuring the WRS is among the best public pension funds in the country.”

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ETF Webinars and Other Learning Opportunities

Want to know more about your Wisconsin Retirement System benefits? Whether you are planning to retire within the year or in the distant future (or somewhere in between), the Department of Employee Trust Funds has a live, interactive webinar or a public presentation right for you. Perhaps you would rather attend a group retirement appointment – we have those, too.

Webinars
Webinars are conducted online by an ETF benefits specialist and focus on a single topic of interest. Our webinars over the next several months will cover these important topics:

  • Group health insurance changes for 2016
  • How to use our online calculator to request a retirement benefit estimate
  • How to enhance your benefit by making additional contributions
  • WRS annuity payment options
  • Choosing a retirement date (for example: December vs. January)
  • Five important steps for you to take to retire
  • The Variable Fund and how it affects your benefits
  • WRS employer and employee contribution rates
  • WRS effective rates and annuity adjustments

Public Presentations
ETF’s evening presentations, held in public buildings all across the state, are designed for all WRS members, especially those who are within five years of retirement. Topics covered include WRS annuity options, return-to-work rules, post-retirement annuity adjustments, the Core and Variable Trust Funds, the importance of keeping a beneficiary form up to date, purchasing service before retirement, the difference between a joint survivor and a beneficiary, and how “life event” changes affect WRS retirement benefits. All presentations run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; no registration is required. Review the fall 2015 schedule to find a presentation near you or use our interactive map.

New this year: Live Webinar for Members Within Five Years of Retirement
Did you know we’re offering a public presentation via live, interactive webinar on September 22, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.? Join us from the comfort of your home! Find the link on our interactive map.

Group Retirement Appointments
Do you already have your official WRS benefit estimate and want to talk to someone at ETF to more fully understand it? Consider attending one of our group retirement appointments. We design these sessions specifically for members who have their official estimate and are within a year of retirement. An ETF benefits specialist provides an explanation of the estimate, WRS annuity options, the application process and answers questions. We just updated the fall 2015 schedule – use our interactive map to find a group appointment scheduled in your area.

How to stay on top of our offerings?

  • To find out about scheduled educational events and to register, go to the Member Education web page.
  • Sign up for ETF E-mail Updates to receive immediate notification of upcoming educational events. Registration is free and fast – sign up with an email address.
  • Follow us on Twitter!

What participants are saying about ETF webinars:

“This was the best webinar I've been to related to the WRS. Very easy to follow, excellent presenter...good pace and easy to understand. Excellent job!”

“Excellent job of presenting clear/understandable information to anyone with a 'beginner's knowledge' of retirement information. The material that was presented was easy to understand and gave a good idea as to where to start if thinking of retirement.”

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Continuing to Improve SWIB’s Transparency

In order to make more information easily accessible to Wisconsin Retirement System members, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board is now posting open meeting materials for Board of Trustee meetings – including meeting minutes – online.

Beginning with January 2015, materials for each of the board meetings are listed on the “Board Meetings” page. The page also includes agendas posted prior to each meeting and the meeting schedule.

“During the 2014 Board self-evaluation discussion held last January, trustees identified a goal to make additional information with respect to Board meetings available via the SWIB website so that stakeholders could be better informed,” SWIB Executive Director Michael Williamson said.

In addition to board meeting materials, members also have access to several SWIB publications online, including the 2014 Retirement Fund Annual Report, the Schedule of Investments and statutory reports including the Goals for Investing in Wisconsin Report and 2015 Goals, Strategies and Performance Report. Current reports, along with an archive of past reports, can be found on our “Publications” page.

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It’s Your Choice E-Alerts: Health & Wellness

We're offering a new way to stay informed about health insurance and other relevant topics: It’s Your Choice E-Alerts: Health & Wellness. Sign up for this free notification via ETF E-mail Updates. We’ll periodically send you brief emails with helpful information. It’s Your Choice E-Alerts replaces our It’s Your Benefit newsletter, which ceased publication in September 2014.

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Category Change for Some Employees

The 2015-2017 state budget (2015 Act 55) provides that effective January 1, 2016, the employer and employee contribution rates for the Elected Official/Executive/Judge employment category will be the same as the General Category. This change will reduce costs for both the employees in this category and their employers. Here are the 2016 contribution rates for all Wisconsin Retirement System employee categories:

WRS Required Contribution Rates

Employee Category

Total Rate
2015

Total
Rate
2016

Employee
Contribution
for 2016

Employer
Contribution
for 2016

General

13.6%

13.2%

6.6%

6.6%

Elected Official/
Executive/Judge

15.4%

13.2%

6.6%

6.6%

Protective with Social Security

16.3%

16.0%

6.6%

9.4%

Protective without Social Security

19.9%

19.8%

6.6%

13.2%

Act 55 authorized the Department of Employee Trust Funds Board to combine the General and the Elected Official/Executive/Judge Categories for purposes of establishing the annual employer and employee contribution rates to the WRS. The contribution rate for the Elected Official/Executive/Judge Category will be the same as the General Category, which is lower and more stable from year to year, primarily due to its large population.

In addition, Act 55 changed the normal retirement age for the Elected Official/Executive/Judge Category from age 62 to age 65 for new employees entering the category after December 31, 2016. The retirement age will not change for existing employees. Currently, the only difference between the benefits for the employees in the General Category and Elected Official/Executive/Judge is the normal retirement age, the age at which the employee can retire and receive his/her full benefit. Currently, it is 65 years of age for Generals and 62 for Elected Official/Executive/Judge.

The ETF Board’s actuary confirmed that bringing the Elected Official/Executive/Judge Category into the General Category will not have a material effect on General Category employees.

For More Information

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Workshop: What Every Woman Should Know About Social Security

Join ETF and the EMPOWER campaign for a free educational workshop developed to help women understand the basics of Social Security. Topics include:

  • When and how to apply for Social Security
  • Social Security benefits available to survivors and ex-spouses
  • Information about Medicare

One session will be offered in downtown Madison. No registration required. You can also attend this presentation via webcast. It will be recorded and available for viewing on demand via the EMPOWER website as well.

Thursday, September 10
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Department of Health Services
1 West Wilson St.
Madison, Wis.
Conference Room 751

Social Security workshop presenters:

  • Tara Ress and Toni Bender, Social Security Administration
  • Tarna Hunter, Department of Employee Trust Funds

About EMPOWER:
EMPOWER is a statewide educational campaign to inspire and encourage women to save for their retirement. Sponsored by the ETF, the Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program, and Affirmative Action Committees at Wisconsin state agencies.

Last Revised: September 1, 2015
supporting excellence in Wisconsin public service