In DOL Advisory Opinion 2017-01A, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) was asked for an advisory opinion, on behalf of the Health Transformation Alliance (the “HTA”), on whether a program of administrative services created by HTA (the “Program”) is an “employee welfare benefit plan” within the meaning of ERISA section 3(1) or a “multiple employer welfare arrangement” (a “MEWA”) within the meaning of section 3(40).
In the Advisory Opinion, the DOL concluded that the Program is not an employee welfare benefit plan. It said that such a plan does not include a program maintained by an employer (or group or association of employers) which -like the Program here- has no employee participants and does not provide covered benefits to employees or their dependents. Rather than being established or maintained for the purpose of providing welfare benefits to participants and beneficiaries, the Program operates so as to facilitate the efficient establishment and operation of employee benefit plans by employer-members.
The DOL concluded, further, that the Program is not a MEWA. This obtains because no component of the Program “offers or provides” any welfare benefit described in section 3(1) of ERISA to the employees of its member-employers. In addition, the Program does not operate as a MEWA under ERISA section 3(40) because no component of the Program: (1) underwrites or guarantees welfare benefits, (2) provides welfare benefits through group insurance contracts covering more than one employer, (3) pools welfare benefit risk among participating employers, or (4) provides similar insurance or risk spreading functions. Thus, although section 3(40), unlike section 3(1), does not condition MEWA status on the arrangement being established or maintained by any particular party, in the DOL’s view, offering employer-members the bundle of administrative services the ATA describes does not result in the Program constituting a MEWA, as defined by the statute.