New ERISA Translation Requirements and What They Mean for You

ERISA stands for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. This is a law that sets minimum standards for pensions and health plans in private industries to help protect individuals enrolled in these plans.

At the end of 2016, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) announced the Final Rule of ERISA Section 503. (See this fact sheet for more detailed information.) In short, Section 503 provides written notice to all disability claimants as to why their claims have been denied, and also guarantees them a full and fair review process of their claims.

The new ERISA translation requirements for notices written in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner adopt the same standards as the Affordable Care Act. (See our previous post “Affordable Care Act Section 1557: What You Need To Know.”) If a claimant lives in a county where there is greater than 10 percent of a particular non-English speaking population, then a notice must be presented about the availability of language services. The plan must provide verbal assistance and be able to provide written assistance upon request.

Here in the US the Spanish language is spoken by more than 10% of the entire nation. But Chinese and French are both spoken by over 2 million people. Additionally, there are about a dozen other languages spoken by more than half a million US residents including Korean, Arabic, German and Italian. The particular translations you need may vary based on your specific client base, but a truly proactive approach should involve creating translations for multiple languages.

This rule is applicable to all disability claims made on or after January 1, 2018. As a plan administrator, what does this mean for you?

How can you help remain compliant with ERISA law? Here are a few steps:

  • ERISA requires you to provide a summary plan description (SPD) within 90 days for new participants and 120 days for new plans. A summary of benefits coverage (SBC) is required to give individuals all of the information that they need to compare health plans and choose the right one.
  • ERISA does not require you to translate your SPDs ahead of time, but ERISA does require language assistance. Our advice? Have a plan. Make sure you vet a proper language translation partner ahead of time. Be proactive, not reactive. (Here are 10 interview questions that we put together to help you choose the right partner.)
  • Have an interpretation system in place that is available 24/7/365. An on-demand over the phone interpretation (OPI) service is easy to set up, is cost-effective, and ensures that you are always able to communicate with claimants who are non-English speaking.
  • While having documents translated, it may also ,make sense to translate your digital or multi-media assets including website content, client portals and audio visual materials.

If you haven’t begin preparing for new ERISA mandate, it’s not too late. The right partner can help you get all of the materials your customers need prepared in time. If you have any questions or concerns about the process of translating these documents, LinguaLinx has experience with translating hundreds (thousands?) of healthcare documents and we’ll be happy to help.


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