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Monday, January 24, 2011

As Union Ranks Drop, More Employers are Providing Disability and Health benefits, So You Better Know What ERISA Is.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report that that union membership in the United States continues to decline. It is more important than ever to understand ERISA - the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, because the vast majority of employee benefits are being provided by employers. ERISA was passed in 1974 after 10 years of study to reform the nation's pension system. When the law was finalized, ALL employee benefits - not just pensions - were incorporated into ERISA's framework. Even when employers make you share in the cost of coverage, it is covered by ERISA. Today, that means that workers (and many small business owners that join their employees in company sponsored disability, health, and life insurance plans) must live with the harsh aspects of ERISA.

Why is ERISA so harsh? If you submit a claim under your group disability, health, or life plan (or your pension), there are very short and strict time deadlines that apply to many aspects of your claim. Depending on the type of claim, you may have as short as 2 days and no more than 180 days to file an appeal. What many people do not know is that any appeal under most ERISA plans must include all (yes, ALL) of the evidence you ever would want a court to consider. That's right, if you have to file suit, the court will only look at the evidence in the insurance company's claim file in most cases.

You don't even get a jury in court. You get a federal judge looking at a pile of paper. The method the judge has to use is so convoluted that even most lawyers don't understand it. If you win, you might (yes, MIGHT) get your attorney's fees paid, but in many cases you won't. Often, the claimant is left holding the bag for the cost of proving you were right to begin with. To say that ERISA is slanted towards insurance companies, employers, and yes - unions, would be an understatement.

The government's report revealed that union membership fell to 11.9 percent of U.S. workers in 2010. That means that 612,000 left union ranks last year, now down to 14.7 million members.When ERISA was passed, many unions provided health and disability coverage, in addition to retirement pensions. Unions used to sponsor and pay for their own benefit plans. Most employers just buy insurance and pay an insurance company to run their plans. Today, at least one major union has sold off its health plan to an employer, and others are not offering these types of benefits at all. As unions become less and less of a factor, employees are more dependent than ever on employers getting good coverage and finding administrators that will fairly enforce the benefit plan's rules. Unfortunately, many insurance companies do not treat claims fairly, and claimants have to know when to appeal.

If you have a group benefit claim denied, call an attorney that handles ERISA claims. Ask how many ERISA cases that lawyer has handled. Make sure they know ERISA. If they don't, it could cost you a lot of money.

Copyright (c) 2010 by John V. Tucker and Tucker & Ludin, P.A. All rights reserved. For assistance with your Long Term Disability claim, ERISA Disability benefit claim, Social Security Disability claim, or Veterans Disability compensation or pension claim, call Disability Lawyer John Tucker at (866) 282-5260.

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