Is Your ERISA Plan Up-to-Date?

May 29th, 2008

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act was enacted in 1974.  Since then, more than 75 laws have been passed that affect employee benefit plans and the protections afforded them by ERISA.  Many of these subsequent laws have mandated extensive changes to benefit plans.

The following are some of the major laws passed along with a very brief description of a few of the provisions contained within the statute:

  • National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – amends the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to create 2 new FMLA leave entitlements and modifies some Department of Defense contracting requirements.
  • Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) –  makes several modifications to retirement plans including funding requirements for defined benefit plans, authorizing the use of cash balance and hybrid pension plans and requiring more disclosure to plan participants.
  • American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 (AJCA) – provides significant new rules for non-qualified deferred compensation plans, including the enactment of Internal Revenue Code Section 409A.
  • Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) – expands the Medicare program including prescription drug coverage for post-65 and disabled Medicare beneficiaries and provides for a Medicare subsidy, which is excludable from income, payable to employers who provide retiree health coverage that is at least actuarially equivalent to the Medicare drug benefit.
  • Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) – provides significant changes to retirement plans including increasing the allowable participant elective deferrals, allowing “catch-up” contributions, increasing compensation limits for some pension plans and changing the definition of compensation for deduction purposes.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) –  limits restrictions that a health plan can place on benefits for preexisting conditions, defines numerous offenses relating to health care and sets civil and criminal penalties for them and establishes regulations for the use and disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI).
  • Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (OWBPA) – allows retirement plans to continue to have minimum age for eligibility and to have subsidized early retirement benefits provided it is voluntary.
  • Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (COBRA) –  requires specified employers to offer continuation of group health plan coverage to beneficiaries who no longer qualify for coverage due to certain events.
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) – requires employers to cover costs of pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions under the same terms as other medical conditions.

The above information is just a small portion of what is required by these laws as applied to benefit plans.  Additionally, there are many more laws that impact employee benefits plans then those few described above.  For example, the PPA, in addition to the brief overview already provided, requires additional extensive compliance for retirement plans and makes some of the other changes under previous laws mandatory.

Benefit plans and operational policies and procedures that have not remained current with new requirements are at risk for being non-compliant and subject to fines and penalties.  All employers should review their ERISA plans, including retirement and heath and welfare plans, as well as their operational policies and procedures, to verify that their plans, policies and procedures have been updated and amended for all applicable changes in the law.

Once plans, policies and procedures are current, employers need to remain vigilant to ensure continued compliance with changing laws.  Employment and benefits counsel can assist employers in reviewing and updating their existing plans to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, as well as assisting employers to proactively update their policies, plans and procedures as required for future changes.

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