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2. What is ERISA?

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") is federal legislation enacted by Congress in 1974. The public policy concern underlying ERISA was a concern that too many employers were abusing their responsibilities for administering benefit plans for their employees. It was also believed that the passage of exclusive federal legislation regulating employee benefits would simplify and expand employee benefit offerings since employers would be accountable to the federal government  as opposed to 50 different state insurance departments.

ERISA reserves to the federal government the exclusive right to regulate the vast majority of employee benefit plans, which typically include either pension, life, health, or disability insurance or a combination of the four.

ERISA is a complicated statute that details when an employee benefit plan is or is not subject to ERISA, claim processes, claim review standards, claim administration timelines, and exclusive and limited litigation remedies available only in Federal Court.

Unfortunately when ERISA was enacted into law there were a number of substantive areas of the legislation where Congress provided little or no guidance. Consequently the Federal Courts, including the Supreme Court, had to weigh in to "fill in the blanks." Not surprisingly, there is a lack of uniformity among the various federal circuits on the significance of certain issues, many of which have yet to be addressed by the Supreme Court.

Given the legal and technical nature of ERISA and the variance of its application from federal circuit to federal circuit, it is critical that you give serious thought to consulting an attorney who has significant disability and ERISA significance.