The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC) today filed a reply brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of its petition for certiorari, which seeks review of its challenge to the City of Seattle’s 2019 “play-or-pay” health coverage mandate – Municipal Code (SMC) 14.28 – on ERISA preemption grounds. The filing also serves to rebut arguments made in Seattle’s recent opposition brief, which attempts to portray the costly City health care ordinance as a one-off wage law without broader legal implication.
Ultimately, the Seattle ordinance forces certain employers to “play” by specific local employee health care benefit rules or make a cash payment for employees to use for separate coverage. This “or-pay” option, however, does not change the fact that it impacts the administration of federally governed health benefit plans and amounts to state overreach that threatens ERISA primacy.
“States and localities continue to chip away at the standards and protections that ERISA provides, and it is becoming clear that this area of federal law and the valuable benefits it fosters for millions of Americans is under siege. The City of Seattle’s arguments attempt to isolate the health care ordinance as a decided Ninth Circuit issue but cannot avoid or resolve the conflicting decisions made in this space by the First and Fourth Circuits” said Annette Guarisco Fildes, President and CEO, ERIC. “Furthermore, the fact that numerous states and localities have telegraphed their intention to enact similar laws across the country demonstrates the urgency for a Supreme Court ruling and makes the need for national clarity all the more desperate.”
ERIC’s reply brief rebuts key arguments made in Seattle’s opposition brief, and focuses on bolstering its positions that:
- The Seattle ordinance is a benefit law and not a simple wage law
- A Circuit split on this legal issue does exist
- The Seattle ordinance is preempted by federal ERISA law
- U.S. Supreme Court review is urgently needed
The national business community also recognizes the urgent need for legal clarity in this space. In fact, six amicus briefs were filed on behalf of 48 groups representing employers in every major industry across the country supporting ERIC’s cert petition and the push for U.S. Supreme Court review of this pressing issue.
ERIC, a national nonprofit organization advocating exclusively for large plan sponsors that provide health, retirement, paid leave, and other benefits to millions of nationwide employees, supports our member companies’ ability to continue designing and administering these benefits according to the federal ERISA standards that are at their foundation.
“The Court must uphold ERISA preemption on a national scale and make clear that no state or local government can override or ignore federal law in this space, to ensure that employers continue to offer vital benefits to their employees,” said Guarisco Fildes.
Click here to read more about ERIC’s legal challenge and the importance of ERISA preemption.