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ERISA eSolutions Video

HR eSolutions Video

How to Pass an ERISA Audit:


ERISA, which stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, is a federal law regulating employer-sponsored group benefits. Nearly every employer, regardless of their size, is subject to ERISA if they offer even one employer-provided group benefit such as health, dental, vision, accidental death & dismemberment, disability, or group term life insurance; medical flexible spending account or health reimbursement account; wellness and employee assistance program; or any other benefit for which the employer contributes to the cost. The only exempt employers are churches and government entities. Besides requiring certain plan features, the law also mandates detailed reporting requirements, both to the Department of Labor and other government agencies and to employees and covered members under your policies. While ERISA was first enacted in 1974, recent changes under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) have added additional requirements and changed reporting deadlines.


If you offer any of the above-mentioned health and welfare benefits, you must meet specific requirements, specifications, and deadlines for plan documents under ERISA as well as under PPACA. The key ERISA and PPACA provisions are listed here and details of each follow:

  • distribute a written plan document and Summary Plan Description (SPD) for every health and welfare benefit and any voluntary benefit pre-taxed under a 125 plan to all plan participants including spouses and COBRA enrollees
  • distribute ERISA benefit notices to all eligible employees on enrollment and re-enrollment of your health plan,
    notify participants of any change to a plan that materially affects the design or pricing,
  • file Form 5500 and all applicable schedules within 7 months after the plan year ends for each plan that has more than 100 participants (not just employees) on the first day of the plan year,
  • meet all fiduciary standards and plan terms,
  • establish a trust fund that holds the plan’s assets, if applicable,
  • establish a recordkeeping system to track contributions, benefit payments, maintain participant and beneficiary information, and to prepare reporting documents,
  •  provide a summary of benefits and a coverage explanation (SBC) and documentation of how and when it was distributed each year,
  • verify fiduciary bonding needs for individuals handling funds and other property of employee benefit plans like a 401(k) plan, if applicable.

The deadline for each requirement varies, depending on when your plan was enacted, whether it is grandfathered under PPACA, whether material changes have been made, and other exceptions. Copies of certain plan documents must be also available to participants and beneficiaries on written request. SPD and Wrap Requirements An employer must have a written Summary Plan Description (SPD) for each separate welfare benefit plan, informing participants of eligibility requirements, benefits, claims and appeals procedures, and rights under ERISA. Your insurers may provide some but not all information required for SPD compliance. It is a common mistake by employers to think the summary insurance information they receive from their insurance provider meets the SPD requirements.

A common approach is to combine all SPDs into one overall SPD Wrap notice, tying in the required ERISA language and simplifying the SPD notice process. A customized SPD Wrap must include the name of the plan, plan sponsor, plan administrator, plan year, employer tax identification number, type of welfare plan, type of administration, summary of the benefits, detailed description of plan benefits for group health plans, provider network availability for group health plans, procedures for Qualified Medical Child Support Orders (QMCCOS), COBRA rights, plan contributions, and claims procedures. A Statement of ERISA Rights is also required.

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