As employee benefit lawyers, we can certainly tell you that the months of October and November are among the busiest for our clients, the large majority of whom are human resources professionals.  Why so busy?  These are the months in which organizations with a January 1 plan year prepare for and execute the annual open enrollment period for health and welfare benefit plans.  

The open enrollment preparation process is an excellent time to ensure that your health and welfare plans legally comply with the many communications and notices required under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).  The following are just a few such items to keep on your radar.

  1. Summary Plan Description:  Are you providing an ERISA-compliant summary plan description ("SPD") for your plans when required – including within ninety (90) days of an employee becoming eligible for a plan?
  2. Summary of Material Modifications: Have there been amendments to your plans in 2012 which need to be communicated to participants?  You may have to provide a Summary of Material Modifications ("SMM") within two-hundred and ten (210) days following the end of the plan year in which the change was effective.  Why wait?  Open enrollment is the perfect time for a communication in the form of a Summary of Material Modifications or a revised Summary Plan Description.
  3. Notices, Notices, Notices:  In addition to the ERISA basics above, do you know what other notices you need to provide to your employees and plan participants?   A few notices which spring to our minds are the Notice of Premium Assistance Under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP); a HIPAA Notice of Privacy Practices; and the initial and annual notice under the Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act ("WHCRA") - just to name a few.