by Andrew J. Demetriou, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, Los Angeles, CA
When most of us hear the acronym “ERISA” our attention starts to drift to other topics. We may briefly pause to contemplate the Gordian knot of Supreme Court decisions on preemption of state provider liability laws or the tangle of regulations on health savings accounts, but soon we realize that we are glad that there are other people who do that work. The practice in employee benefits requires a mastery of both tax and labor laws with fiduciary trust issues thrown in for a little spice. Rather than living in a mythic place affording limited contact with regular people, lawyers who specialize in employee benefits stand at the forefront of the debate over healthcare reform in America and regularly address issues that directly impact average citizens, who have to deal with EOB forms, co-payments and pre-authorization issues on a regular basis.
As we consider any changes in private sector health programs, the means by which 75% of Americans receive their primary health coverage, employee benefits issues will take center stage. Whether it is the tax treatment to be afforded companies or individuals who sponsor or participate in health benefit plans, the degree to which benefit levels are mandated or the rights of plan participants to receive information about coverage, the lawyers who specialize in ERISA matters bring their substantial expertise to bear on these issues. Questions of whether to have individual coverage mandates or universal government-sponsored plans cannot be considered in the abstract, but rather will require careful consideration of the current patchwork of benefit programs and the best ways to transition to changes in benefit structure. Lawyers will play a crucial role in assessing the practical implications of reform proposals.
Our Section has an Interest Group that addresses Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation, led by Phyllis Borzoi, Eugene Holmes, Greg Needles and Chris Sears. They are an important link to the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, a co-venture of six Sections that provides important educational programs and publications for the profession. In addition, Phyllis has made important contributions to the educational efforts of Task Force on Breast Cancer Advocacy, which has, in conjunction with the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, now trained over 400 lawyers in the laws concerning access to health benefits for victims of cancer. The membership of this Interest Group includes government lawyers from the federal and state levels as well as a diverse group of practitioners.
This issue of eSource contains two important articles on recent developments in executive compensation arrangements and health savings accounts. I commend you to spend a little more time than usual thinking about these important topics and hope you will find these materials useful.
I had occasion last month to join over 300 ABA leaders at the annual ABA Day in Washington, including our past Chairs, Howard Wall and Tony Patterson. Over two and a half days we attended presentations on significant legislative issues of concern to lawyers across the nation, and paid calls on elected representatives and their senior staff members to advocate on behalf of ABA legislative priorities. Your Section, through the efforts of Vickie Yates Brown and Jeff Micklos, contributed a briefing paper on health access issues and telehealth that was part of the Congressional briefing package provided to members of Congress. It was an invaluable opportunity to gain some perspective on the conflicting demands placed on our legislators and to provide information that I believe they found valuable in addressing issues on which many of them have little authentic knowledge, given the wide range of issues before Congress each day.
I am very pleased to report that our Section Nominating Committee has concluded its deliberations and announced the slate of Officer and Council nominees for 2008-09. Under our Bylaws, Vickie Yates Brown will succeed me as Section Chair and David Hilgers will become Chair-Elect. The Committee has nominated Linda Baumann, our current Secretary, to become Vice-Chair, David Douglass to serve as Budget Officer and David Johnson to become the Section’s new Secretary. In addition, the Committee proposed that Tony Patterson be elected to serve as a Section Delegate to the ABA House of Delegates and that Alexandria Hien McCombs and Robert Nelson be elected to three year terms on the Council. I extend my sincere appreciation to the hard-working members of the Nominating Committee, Vickie Yates Brown, David Hilgers, Paul DeMuro, Patricia Meador, Bill Hopkins and Laura Gabrysch, for their diligence and patience in this challenging process of ensuring that the Section will be well led into the future.
Finally, I want to remind you that the Physician-Legal Issues Conference in Chicago is just a month away. Our Physician Issues Interest Group has done a splendid job of organizing this program and I look forward to seeing many of you at this outstanding meeting.