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Benefits & Healthcare Update: Church Plan Exemption from ERISA Does Not Apply to Religiously-Affiliated Hospital

31 March 2016

On March 17th, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals published the second appellate opinion concluding that plans established by religiously affiliated employers, including hospitals, do not enjoy the church plan exemption from ERISA because the plan was not established by a church. Since the church plan exemption does not apply to these plans, the plans must meet ERISA's requirements regarding plan documentation, filing, legal protections, and appeal procedures. This Seventh Circuit opinion follows much the same reasoning as the first decision on this subject that was handed down by the Third Circuit in December 2015: by the terms of the statute, the exemption from ERISA only applies to plans established by churches themselves, not to plans established by church-affiliated organizations.

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