The Employee Retirement Income Security Act

In 1974, the federal government passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA. ERISA sets basic standards for voluntarily created health and pension plans in the private sector to provide protection to people participating in the plans. ERISA requires private sector employers to outline plan features, funding and grievance and appeals processes and to detail who manages and controls plan assets. In addition, ERISA gives persons participating in the plans the ability to sue for benefits and breach of fiduciary duty.


Since the creation of ERISA, several amendments have been added to the law in order to provide additional protection to participants and their beneficiaries. Two of these amendments, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), have expanded the responsibility the private sector has to its participants and their beneficiaries. COBRA allows participants to continue medical insurance on themselves and their beneficiaries after a covered event, such as loss of employment, occurs. HIPAA provides protection from discrimination to participants and their dependents who have preexisting medical conditions. These amendments provide options for workers in the private sector who may need expanded coverage options to help meet their family needs.

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