Industries & Practices

Health Care Industry


    HIPAA Regulations: Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 - Relationship to Other Federal Laws

    As Contained in the HHS HIPAA  Rules


    HHS Description
    Relationship to Other Federal Laws - Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974


    ERISA was enacted in 1974 to regulate pension and welfare employee benefit plans established by private sector employers, unions, or both, to provide benefits to their workers and dependents. Under ERISA, plans that provide "through the purchase of insurance or otherwise ... medical, surgical, or hospital care or benefits, or benefits in the event of sickness, accident, disability, [or] death" are defined as employee welfare benefit plans. 29 U.S.C. 1002(1). In 1996, HIPAA amended ERISA to require portability, nondiscrimination, and renewability of health benefits provided by group health plans and group health insurance issuers. Numerous, although not all, ERISA plans are covered under the rules proposed below as “health plans.”

    Section 514(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1144(a), preempts all state laws that "relate to" any employee benefit plan. However, section 514(b) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1144(b)(2)(A), expressly saves from preemption state laws that regulate insurance. Section 514(b)(2)(B) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1144(b)(2)(B), provides that an ERISA plan is deemed not to be an insurer for the purpose of regulating the plan under the state insurance laws. Thus, under the deemer clause, states may not treat ERISA plans as insurers subject to direct regulation by state law. Finally, section 514(d) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1144(d), provides that ERISA does not “alter, amend, modify, invalidate, impair, or supersede any law of the United States.”

    We considered whether the preemption provision of section 264(c)(2) of HIPAA would give effect to state laws that would otherwise be preempted by section 514(a) of ERISA. As discussed above, our reading of the statutes together is that the effect of section 264(c)(2) is only to leave in place state privacy protections that would otherwise apply and that are more stringent than the federal privacy protections.

    Many health plans covered by the privacy regulation are also subject to ERISA requirements. Our discussions and consultations have not uncovered any particular ERISA requirements that would conflict with the rules.


    HHS Response to Comments Received
    Relationship to Other Federal Laws - Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974


    Comment: Several commenters objected to the fact that the NPRM did not clarify the scope of preemption of state laws under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). These commenters asserted that the final rule must state that ERISA preempts all state laws (including those relating to the privacy of individually identifiable health information) so that multistate employers could continue to administer their group health plans using a single set of rules. In contrast, other commenters criticized the Department for its analysis of the current principles governing ERISA preemption of state law, pointing out that the Department has no authority to interpret ERISA.

    Response: This Department has no authority to issue regulations under ERISA as requested by some of these commenters, so the rule below does not contain the statement requested. See the discussion of this point under "Preemption" above.

    Comment: One commenter requested that the final rule clarify that section 264(c)(2) of HIPAA does not save state laws that would otherwise be preempted by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. The commenter noted that in the NPRM this statement was made with respect to Medicare and ERISA, but not the law governing the FEHBP.

    Response: We agree with this comment. The preemption analysis set out above with respect to ERISA applies equally to the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.

    Comment: One commenter noted that the final rule should clarify the interplay between state law, the preemption standards in Subtitle A of Title I of HIPAA (Health Care Access, Portability and Renewability), and the preemption standards in the privacy requirements in Subtitle F of Title II of HIPAA (Administrative Simplification).

    Response: The NPRM described only the preemption standards that apply with respect to the statutory provisions of HIPAA that were implemented by the proposed rule. We agree that the preemption standards in Subtitle A of Title I of HIPAA are different. Congress expressly provided that the preemption provisions of Title I apply only to Part 7, which addresses portability, access, and renewability requirements for Group Health Plans. To the extent state laws contain provisions regarding portability, access, or renewability, as well as privacy requirements, a covered entity will need to evaluate the privacy provisions under the Title II preemption provisions, as explained in the preemption provisions of the rules, and the other provisions under the Title I preemption requirements.