Department of Labor Announces April 1, 2018 as Final Date For ERISA Claims Procedures Related to New ERISA Disability Insurance Regulations

Long-term and Short-Term Disability insurance cases dominate ERISA benefits litigation. According to the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”), the administrative agency given the authority to regulate employee benefits under, and to enforce the statutory provisions of, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), disability insurance benefits claims account for almost two thirds of all benefits-related ERISA lawsuits and, based on rough estimates, these disability benefits claims are often denied. We wrote articles about these Regulations, which you can read here. Importantly, the Regulations give teeth to existing protections, enhancing requirements for independent claims administration, information disclosure and consequences for administrators who fail to comply.

The good news is that they are now finalized and will go into effect on April 1, 2018 without further delay. They will apply to disability benefits claims filed after April 1, 2018.  As previously advised, the DOL published “final” regulations on December 19, 2016 revising the existing claims and appeals procedures regulations under ERISA for employee benefit plans providing disability benefits (“Final Regulations”).  According to the DOL, the intent of the Final Regulations is to strengthen the current procedures by adopting some of the additional procedural safeguards and protections for disability plan claims that are already in place for group health plan benefits pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The DOL’s January 2018 news release confirms that the substantive provisions of the Final Regulations will be retained:

The Department received approximately 200 comment letters from the insurance industry, employer groups, consumer advocates, and lawyers representing disability benefit claimants, all of which are posted on the Department’s website. Only a few comments responded substantively to the Department’s request for quantitative data to support assertions that the final rule would drive up disability benefit plan costs by more than the Department had predicted, cause an increase in litigation, and consequently reduce workers’ access to disability insurance protections.  The information provided in the comments did not establish that the final rule imposes unnecessary regulatory burdens or significantly impairs workers’ access to disability insurance benefits.”  Accordingly, the substantive provisions of the Final Regulations will apply to disability benefits for claims filed “after April 1, 2018.

With these Regulations, the DOL has attempted to protect disability insurance claimants from wrongful denials of long-term and short-term disability claims by attempting to minimize conflicts of interest, promote an open and robust discussion of the claim and ensure that administrators strictly comply with procedural protections for disability insurance claimants.

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