Getting ready for the Tsunami


As much as I hate to admit it, I am old enough to remember the implementation of ERISA.  In fact, I was working in employee benefits for thirteen years before ERISA was enacted.

That's how you are going to feel in a few months, I think they call that one the Obama
That's how you are going to feel in a few months, I think they call that one the Obama

Back in the prehistoric times, we did not have access to online updates or even reports and files and I remember spending endless hours wading through pages of the Federal Register, attending scores of meetings on various aspects of ERISA and then years of doing the same as regulations were issued, and reissued.  I worked for months creating SPDs, amending plans and communicating to employees as the world of employee benefits was turned upside down.  I remember most listening to government wiz kids explaining their rationale for one decision or another and thinking, “Do they have a clue?”  One meeting I remember in particular, I even remember it was held at the Washington Hilton.  I do not recall the exact context of the discussion but I do recall an IRS staffer in his twenties standing and declaring, “We don’t consider paying for college a financial hardship.”  I stood up (I just could not resist) and said, “Have you asked your parents about that?”  That was the last time I was called on during the Q&A.  There were a number of meetings during those years where I was only allowed to ask one question.

So, why should you care about ERISA? Because the ERISA of health benefits is on the way.  Forget what “reform” may do to control the cost of health care, you better be thinking what it will do to your administrative costs.  The good news is that under any scenario you will have time to prepare (and convince your management you are going to need lots of help (and money for outside counsel and consultants).

I can just see it all now, “We do not consider access to a specialist as medically necessary.” Or, “the minimum requirement for inpatient maternity care will be triplets.”  How about, “We know employers offer overly generous health plans simply because their employees are not taxed on the value so the new regulations will eliminate coverage for ED medication,” again a twenty-something knows it all.

If you look through the various drafts of proposed legislation, you will find the making of new government filings, testing for plan qualification, transferring employer contributions to state connectors, new options for employees to select, extended COBRA administration for years, administration of new taxes on either the employee, employer or both, perhaps retiree mandates and much more.

The point is now is the time to start looking beyond the effective date of the new law whenever that comes.  Those of us who remember ERISA know that you are looking at years of dealing with regulations, sore butts from attending meetings and conferences and scores of rubber chicken dinners to go with it.

Have fun and make sure you put some meeting travel in your budgets for the next several years. In addition, you may want to mention to your members in Congress that these costs are not calculated by the CBO. 

Does all this meet the requirement for economic stimulus?  I bet your boss doesn’t think you are too big to fail.

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