The Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was signed into law by President Gerald Ford on Sept. 2, 1974. Although it's undergone many updates since then, it has much the same aim as it originally did. ERISA was enacted to make sure that those who manage health insurance, retirement accounts and other welfare programs are held to high standards and to make sure that they're properly managed.
Three federal agencies administer ERISA. There's the Internal Revenue Service which is run by the U.S. Treasury Department, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and the Employee Benefits Security Administration, a section of the U.S. Department of Labor.
These three entities collectively work to make sure that employee benefits program administrators provide adequate information to both members and their beneficiaries about their plans. They're also responsible for protecting any funds that members place into their retirement accounts. They're responsible for making sure that anyone who wishes to make a withdrawal from their account knows the process for doing so.
Federal regulators also set the standards of conduct that employee benefits managers and any other fiduciaries should follow in administering health, retirement and welfare plans.
There were 141 million workers and beneficiaries covered by ERISA as of 2013. These health, retirement and welfare plans had a total monetary value of $7.6 trillion at that time. Nearly 59% of the American workforce received health benefits in 2013. At least 54% earned retirement benefits that same year.
The federal agencies that manage ERISA focus much of their attention on accountability and transparency. One of their primary purposes is to remove any obstacles that may inhibit an employee from accessing information about their health, retirement or welfare plans.
One of the worst things that can happen to you is for you to want or need to receive health care benefits or to make a withdrawal from your retirement account only to find out that they're not available. An ERISA benefits attorney here in Washington, D.C. who has experience in holding employers accountable for violations in court is who you want on your side advocating for you if your benefits or funds have been withheld.