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Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan (MERP)

CONTACTS

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Current MERP Participants:

Contact the Trust Office at Vimly Benefit Solutions with any questions regarding your MERP account or monthly billing of contributions. Vimly is also your contact if you are a retiree looking to access MERP benefits

Vimly Benefit Solutions

425-367-0743


MERP Online Portal Access

View your benefits online through the MERP portal SIMON

Click “Register” and follow instructions.

Please contact the Trust Office at Vimly Benefit Solutions for assistance.


Inquiries:

DiMartino Associates is your Local’s contact for general information regarding Trust operations and benefits. They are also your contact for changes to your MERP language (i.e. increases in contribution levels, sick leave conversion, etc.), Representatives from DiMartino Associates are available to attend your Local Union meeting to educate prospective Locals on MERP or to provide a refresher course for those already participating.

DiMartino Associates

206-623-2430 or 800-488-8277

Save Now for Medical Costs After Retirement

How will you cover medical costs after you retire?

The Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan (MERP) of the WSCFF Employee Benefit Trust provides crucial benefits for you and your family in retirement.

The MERP is a completely tax-sheltered plan designed by fire fighters for fire fighters, to help IAFF members pay for health insurance premiums and other medical expenses in retirement.

The MERP is managed by a board of nine trustees, each representing a participating local.  Five are elected, four are appointed.  The five elected trustees are Craig Soucy, L864; Matt Martens, L1296; Judson McCauley, L4378; Jeff Wainwright, L3711; and Mike Westland, L3520.  The four appointed trustees are Ricky Walsh, L1052; Greg Markley, L1747; Dennis Lawson, L726; and Bill Dodd, L710.

The WSCFF started this plan in 1999, and today we have more than 7,200 members participating across 134 locals from the IAFF 7th District, including the states of Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. The Trust currently has more than $115 million in assets managed by your trustees with the help of investment professionals. 

The monthly tax-free, lifetime benefit you receive depends on the monthly contribution you make while you are active. For example, if you contribute $100 per month for 25 years, your monthly benefit will be $492 per month for life. With that benefit amount you would receive your principal back in just over five years after you retire.


Frequently Asked Questions

What will the benefit level be for my spouse and children in the event of my death?

The monthly benefit level for a surviving spouse is equal to 50% of the benefit level of the deceased eligible retiree. If there is no surviving spouse, the monthly benefit level for surviving children will be 50% of the benefit level for the deceased eligible retiree (to be divided equally among children). A surviving spouse or child is entitled to benefits beginning the month after the death of the eligible retiree.* Children include the natural and adopted children, stepchildren and foster children of the eligible retiree who are under age 26. Children who are over age 26 who are legally dependent upon the eligible retiree and determined to be totally disabled by the Social Security Administration are also eligible beneficiaries.

*If you are under age 53 at the time of your death, you are not considered an “eligible retiree”. In this instance, your surviving spouse or surviving child will be provided a two (2) year bridge benefit equal to the survivor benefit outlined above. After two (2) years, payments will be suspended until the deceased participant would have turned 53 years old, at which time survivor benefits will resume until surviving spouse reaches age 65 (or surviving child reaches age 26).

Note that the surviving spouse or surviving child of an eligible retiree who did not qualify for the lifetime stream of monthly benefits will not be entitled to a monthly benefit. Instead, such surviving spouse or surviving child will be entitled to reimbursement of covered expenses, limited generally to the amount of contributions made on behalf of the deceased eligible retiree.

Will my benefit level remain constant for my lifetime?

The trustees reserve the right and power to adjust the benefit levels and/or the unit multiplier up or down. Such adjustments may apply to some or all current, as well as future beneficiaries. This could occur, generally, after the trustees conduct a periodic review of investment and demographic experience of the Trust. That is, if the investment returns or the demographic experience (life span, retirement age, etc.) are significantly different than projected, then the unit multiplier may be adjusted up or down.

Accelerated benefit options: There is one adjustment to benefit levels that you may choose. Eligible retirees who become eligible on or after August 20, 2014 may select from four different benefit level options at the time they first apply for benefits. Option 1 provides a constant benefit level for your lifetime. Each of the next three options allows you to select a higher benefit level immediately after you first apply for MERP benefits until age sixty five (65) and a reduced benefit level after age sixty five (65).

You will be asked to select from these options when you commence your benefits. Once made, your selection is final and will apply to any survivor’s benefits as well.

Default option: If you do not make a choice within the time frame that the Trust Office gives you, then you will automatically be defaulted into Option 1, which is the constant benefit level for life.

Why are there differences in the monthly benefit level between participants?

Every eligible retiree’s monthly benefit level will be affected by the number of Active Service Units (ASUs) earned over his or her career. An employee earns one (1) ASU for each monthly contribution of $25 to the trust on his or her behalf. The monthly contribution rate is negotiated by the employee’s bargaining unit. For example, a monthly contribution rate of $75 will provide each employee in that bargaining unit three (3) ASUs per month, whereas a monthly contribution rate of $100 would earn four (4) ASUs per month. Thus, eligible retirees from different locals will have different monthly benefit levels, depending on the contribution rate their local selected and negotiated. Even within the same local, benefit levels may vary based on the period of active service in the plan.

How is my monthly benefit level calculated?

An eligible retiree’s monthly benefit level is determined by the number of Active Service Units (ASUs) accrued across his or her career and the unit multiplier in effect when he or she stops making contributions.

  • An employee earns ASUs for each contribution to the plan. Each monthly contribution of $25 is equal to one (1) ASU. For example, if your Local’s monthly contribution rate is $100, you will earn four (4) ASUs per month.
  • The unit multiplier is a factor determined by the trustees, with actuarial advice, which allows the plan to pay benefits for the lifetime of all eligible retirees who qualify for the lifetime stream of benefits.

After retirement, the Trust Office will calculate your monthly benefit level using the following methodology:

  • Determine your total number of ASUs
  • Multiply your total ASUs by the unit multiplier

From time to time, the trustees will determine the unit multiplier with the assistance of professional actuarial advice. You may contact the Trust Office at 425-367-0743 to find out the current unit multiplier, which may change from time to time.

Conversion of leave into ASUs: If the Local has elected to have leave conversion into the MERP, an employee may also earn ASUs through tax-sheltered conversion of leave transfers into ASUs at actuarial cost, which is based on the actual age of the employee at the date of transfer. You may contact the Trust Office at 425-367-0743 to find out the cost of your leave conversion, which may be updated from time to time based on actuarial review.

The chart below shows what your estimated MERP benefit will be based on different contribution levels for various lengths of time. The chart is based on the current unit multiplier (0.41), which is subject to change.

conversion to ASUs chart

What types of medical expenses will be reimbursed by the MERP?

The following medical expenses are considered covered expenses and will be reimbursed by the MERP:

  • Premium or contribution payments for coverage under health, dental, or vision insurance plans, for types of medical expenses excludable from gross income under Internal Revenue Code Section 105(b).
  • Medical expenses as defined in Code Section 213(d), i.e. costs for diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease or injury. For a complete list, see IRS Publication 502, which you can find at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf.
  • Premium payment for long-term care insurance qualified under Code Section 7702B.

Please note that a payment to a healthcare-sharing ministry, such as Samaritan ministries, Christian Care Ministry’s Medi-Share program, or Christian Healthcare Ministries, does NOT qualify as a covered expense. This is because a payment, contribution, or gift to a healthcare-sharing ministry does not fit within the IRS rules for a permissible expense. The Trust must comply with these rules in order to preserve the tax benefits of the MERP for all participants.

If you have a question about whether an expense will qualify for reimbursement, you may contact the Trust Office at 425-367-0743.

What are the benefits from the Trust?

After meeting the eligibility requirements, eligible retirees are entitled to reimbursement toward the payment of covered expenses, which generally consist of insurance premium and medical expenses paid and incurred by the employee after the employee retires and becomes eligible for benefits under the MERP.

The amount of the reimbursement payment for a beneficiary who qualifies for the lifetime stream of benefit payments is limited to the beneficiary’s monthly benefit level.

What if I separate from service before I earn five (5) years of active service?

An employee who does not earn five (5) years of active service will not be eligible to receive the lifetime stream of monthly benefit payments. Instead, he or she will be eligible to receive benefits limited to the total amount of contributions made on his or her behalf, including the value of any leave transfers or self-payment contributions.

This type of employee may submit claims for reimbursement of covered expenses at any time after separation from employment. There is no monthly limit on the amount, as long as all claims are for reimbursement of covered expenses. Benefits cease when the employee has been reimbursed for covered expenses in an amount equal to the total amount available to them as described above.

How do I earn active service in the MERP?

An employee may earn active service in the following ways.

Contributions to the Trust: Generally, you will receive years of active service credit for all periods of full-time employment in which your employer makes contributions to the Trust on your behalf.

Conversion of leave: The Trust Office will convert the full amount of any mandatory transfers of sick and/or vacation leave to the Trust into years (or partial years) of active service, first by converting the leave into Active Service Units (ASUs), according to an actuarial formula set by the Trustees in consultation with the Plan’s actuary. Then, for each thirty-six (36) ASUs, the employee will earn one additional year of active service.

Contribution after termination of reduction of employment: If your employment is terminated (except for gross misconduct) or reduced to less than full time, you may continue to earn active service in the Trust for a maximum of eighteen (18) months by making periodic self-payments to the Trust as permitted by the federal law known as COBRA, and subject to rules set by the trustees.

Who is eligible for benefits?

An employee becomes an eligible retiree entitled to monthly benefits under the MERP generally after the following criteria have been met:

  • The employee earns five (5) years of active service in the Trust.
  • Contributions are made to the Trust on behalf of the employee for all years of active service in the Trust.
  • The employee reaches age 53.
  • The employee ceases employment with a participating employer.

An eligible retiree is generally entitled to a lifetime stream of monthly benefit payment at his or her benefit level, for reimbursement of covered expenses.

Who can participate in the MERP?

Eligibility in the MERP is generally open to all employees who are members of a bargaining unit represented by a member Local of WSCFF (or a Local of the IAFF 7th District), and for whom contributions are made to the Trust as required by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the Local and the employee’s employer.

If you promote out of a participating bargaining unit, you may be able to continue participation under limited circumstances, for example, a CBA between a management bargaining unit and the employer.

Contact the Trust Office at 425-367-0743 for more details.

What is the MERP?

The MERP is a Retiree Medicare Trust (RMT) started by the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters to help active fire fighters throughout Washington State and the IAFF 7th District save money as actives, tax-free, for medical costs they will incur in retirement.

The MERP is a completely tax-sheltered plan – contributions to the fund are made pre-tax, investment earnings accrue tax-free, and benefits come back out to eligible retirees in the form of reimbursable covered expenses.

For eligible retirees, the MERP provides a lifetime stream of benefit payments. Your benefit level is based on how much you contribute to the plan and for how long.