Mull v. Motion Picture Ind. Health Plan educates employers on the basics of the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) governing plan documents and summary plan descriptions. The lessons are sobering, particularly as they relate to group health plans. Although compliance with these requirements is neither difficult nor expensive, many employers nevertheless ignore them. The decision in this case might—and, in our view, should—encourage them to reconsider.
With its “employer mandate”—i.e., the requirement that applicable large employers make an offer of group health coverage to substantially all full-time employees or face the prospect of a penalty—the Affordable Care Act (ACA) opened a fault line in the previously monolithic market for group health insurance. There is large cohort of American workers who, before the ACA, were not offered major medical coverage under an employer-sponsored group health plan. These employees are sometimes referred to as the “contingent” workforce. They include part-time, seasonal and temporary employees, as well as employees whose work schedules are generally irregular or intermittent. Found predominantly though not exclusively in industries such as staffing, restaurants, media and advertising, transportation and hospitality, among others, these workers tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale. They also often have significant “deferred” health issues (a euphemism for undiagnosed conditions owing to lack of previous access to health care). The ACA provided “applicable large employers” (those with 50 or more full-time and full-time equivalent employees) with an incentive to cover these workers.