Sponsors of qualified retirement plans and group health plans may receive tens, if not hundreds, of plan document requests every year. Responding to these requests in accordance with the rules set forth under the Employee Income Retirement Security Act (ERISA) can be fairly straight-forward, especially if the plan sponsor maintains updated copies of all requested plan documents. However, plan sponsors should consider going beyond ERISA’s bare-bones requirements and make it a practice to also provide a cover letter, containing certain specific information.
Under ERISA Section 104(b)(4), any participant or beneficiary (or their personal representative) may submit a written request for copies of the following plan materials:
Under ERISA Section 502(c)(1), plan sponsors have 30 days to provide the requested material, or face potential penalties of up to $110 per day.
As outlined above, under ERISA, plan sponsors are not required to provide any additional material when responding to a request for plan documents. However, it may pay off to include the following, additional information in a cover letter, when responding to participant requests:
For example, plan sponsors’ responses may include, “If you intend to file a claim or appeal on behalf of the participant/beneficiary, we will require a signed authorization from the participant/beneficiary specifically naming you as such participant’s/beneficiary’s authorized representative for this purpose.”
For a health plan request, a plan sponsor’s response may include, “As you are aware, the plan sponsor cannot disclose any protected health information about any individual without a signed HIPAA authorization form. We have included our HIPAA authorization form for your use, if needed.”
As simple as it may sound, including a detailed cover letter with the response may save plan sponsors time and stress in the long run.