Legal

Labor Department Seeks Comment on Electronic Benefit Transmission Rules

By Staff Report

Apr. 7, 2011

The Labor Department is asking for public comment on possible changes to its rules involving electronic transmission of benefit plan information.


Under those 2002 rules, electronic transmission of benefit plan information, such as COBRA notifications, summary plan descriptions and individual benefit statements, is permitted for employees who have access to electronic information at their employer’s work site as part of their duties.


In addition, employers can transmit benefit plan information electronically to employees, such as traveling sales staff or telecommuters, who also have access to electronic information.


The rule also permits employers to communicate electronically with employees who do not have computer access at work and with plan participants, such as retirees, provided they have prior consent from the individuals.


In a notice published in the April 7 Federal Register, the Labor Department said there have been substantial changes in technology since 2002, including expansion of wireless networks, improvements in computing power, and introduction of smartphones and other personal computing devices.


Through other rulemaking initiatives, the Labor Department said it has received comments that communicating benefit information electronically would be more efficient and less costly than paper for health care plans.


But some plan participants still prefer hard copies over electronic copies even when they have computer access, the Labor Department said.


Among other things, the agency wants to know if the 2002 rules should be changed. It also wants comments on whether disclosure rules should vary based on the types of benefit documents, such as annual funding notices and COBRA election notices.


Comments, which are due June 7, can be emailed to e-ORI@dol.gov. The subject line should include RIN 1210-AB50.


Comments also can be mailed to Office of Regulations and Interpretations, Employee Benefits Security Administration, Room N-6555, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, Attention E-Disclosure RFI.  


Filed by Jerry Geisel of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.


 


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