Is Telemedicine an ERISA Plan? And why this matters….

Noteworthy Definitions (boring industry jargon):

  • ERISA: The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974: It is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntary pension and health plans to protect the individual.

ERISA is designed to protect individual consumers, this much we know. There is a responsibility on the side of the firm offering each product to publish certain information made available to plan participants, and to the government.

So – the question on the mind is “does a telemedicine service need an ERISA plan?” The short answer… there is no short answer. But I will tell you a few things to make this whole process easier.

Firstly, employees can go and look for telemedicine companies on their own, and do so as much as they like. ERISA will only come into effect if this is a plan that is sponsored by the employer. Secondly, each group involved in answering this question has a different opinion. This includes telemedicine companies, health insurance brokers, and lawyers.  Each of these groups has a different horse in the race, so keep that in mind.

The most prominent opinion is this: “if a program offers or delivers medical services, then it is subject to ERISA”. If going off this advice, a written plan needs to be created. This can be a plan document and a summary plan description (known as an SPD to those in the “know”).

Reporting can be accomplished by one of 2 ways.  A separate ERISA plan can be created or it can be wrapped into the firm’s medical plan with a “wrapper document”. A wrapper document is the simplest method, but can be made more irritating if your group is fully insured.

Lastly – it is important to consider this – if you have wrapped your telemedicine plan under your health plan, then only plan members have access to the telemedicine program. If it has its own separate ERISA plan, then you can decide who will have access and let your employees run wild.

While I’d love to claim to be infallible in benefits speak, I am not. You should talk with your attorney and benefits advisor for proper adjudication. This is not a legal opinion!