About Health and Welfare Plans

Health and welfare benefit plans include plans that provide (a) medical, dental, visual, psychiatric, or long-term health care; severance benefits; life insurance; accidental death or dismemberment benefits; (b) unemployment, disability, vacations or holiday benefits; (c) apprenticeships, tuition assistance, day-care, housing subsidies, or legal services benefits; and (d) postemployement benefits such as salary continuation, supplemental unemployment benefits, disability-related job training and counseling. Health and welfare benefit plans may be either defined-benefit or defined-contribution plans as explained in the following:

  • Defined-benefit health and welfare plans specify a determinable benefit, which may be in the form of reimbursement to the covered plan participant or a direct payment to providers or third party insurers for the cost of specified services. Such plans may also include benefits that are payable as a lump sum, such as death benefits. The level of benefits may be defined or limited based on factors such as age, years of service, and salary. Contributions may be determined by the plan's actuary or be based on actual claims paid, hours worked or other factors determined by the plan sponsor. Even when a plan is funded pursuant to agreements that specify a fixed rate of employer contributions (for example, a collectively bargained multiemployer plan), such a plan may nevertheless be a defined-benefit health and welfare plan if its substance is to provide a defined benefit.
  • Defined-contribution health and welfare plans maintain an individual account for each plan participant. Such plans have provisions that specify the means of determining the contributions to participants' accounts, rather than the amount of benefits the participants are to receive. The benefits a plan participant will receive are limited to the amount contributed to the participant's account, investment experience, expenses, and any forfeitures allocated to the participant's account. These plans also include flexible spending arrangements.

Plan participants may be active or terminated employees (including retirees), as well as covered dependents and beneficiaries, of a single employer or group of employers. Employer contributions may be voluntary or required under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated with one or more labor organizations. Plans may require contributions from employers and participants (contributory plans) or from employers only (noncontributory plans). During periods of unemployment, a noncontributory plan may require contributions by participants to maintain their eligibility for benefits. Benefits may be provided through insurance contracts paid for by the plan (an insured plan), from net assets accumulated in a trust established by the plan (a self-funded plan), or both.

A health and welfare plan may process benefit payments directly or it may retain a third-party administrator. In either case, a plan that is fully or partially self-funded is obligated for the related benefits.

Health and welfare benefit plans generally are subject to certain fiduciary, reporting, and other requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Plans that are unfunded (that is, those whose benefits are paid solely and directly out of the general assets of the employer), are fully insured (through the direct payment of premiums to the insurance company by the employer; or are certain combinations thereof (for example, self-funded plans with stop-loss coverage may not be required to include financial statements in their ERISA filings.  An understanding of the health and welfare benefit plan is needed to determine its accounting and reporting requirements. The AICPA Audit and Accounting Guide Employee Benefit Plans addresses accounting and reporting requirements for health and welfare plans.