In a recent news release, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed that its final rule amending the disability claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans (the “Final Rule”) will go into effect on April 1, 2018.
The Final Rule initially had been scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2018. However, in late November 2017, EBSA delayed the effective date by 90 days in order to provide EBSA with time to consider the Final Rule’s impact on the group disability insurance market and to give stakeholders the opportunity to submit data and information on the costs and benefits of the Final Rule. This left open the possibility that the Final Rule might be modified and/or that its effective date might be delayed even further. See our prior post regarding the delay, here.
During the comment period on the Final Rule, which ended on December 11, 2017, EBSA received approximately 200 comment letters from the insurance industry, employer groups, consumer advocates, and lawyers representing disability benefit claimants, all of which are posted on EBSA’s website. According to the news release, only a few comments responded substantively to its request for quantitative data to support assertions that the Final Rule would drive up disability benefit plan costs by more than EBSA had predicted, cause an increase in litigation, and consequently reduce workers’ access to disability insurance protections. EBSA concluded that the information provided did not establish that the Final Rule imposes unnecessary regulatory burdens or significantly impairs workers’ access to disability insurance benefits.
Note that the new claims regulations will apply only to claims filed after the effective date of April 1, 2018. Claims filed before that date (and which may still be pending, or even in litigation, as of April 1, 2018) are not subject to the new procedures. Therefore, there will be a transition period where claims administrators and defense counsel will need to be familiar with two sets of procedural rules, and know which rules apply to a particular claim.