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Church hospitals might be required to provide ERISA benefits

The separation of church and state is a strong sentiment for many people in the United States. Although most people believe that separation of church and state is important, the issue becomes quite confusing when dealing with the particulars of individual cases.

One area in which this issue becomes especially confusing involves church-affiliated hospitals and the degree to which the government should regulate these facilities and their policies, especially when the actual establishment and oversight of a church over these facilities is a grey area.

According to an article in Society for Human Resource Management, the Supreme Court will hear a case involving whether church-affiliated hospitals should be required to provide hospital employees retirement benefits required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

About ERISA

One of the main purposes of ERISA is to require employers to provide retirement benefits to employees. However, ERISA provides an exemption for religious organizations.

Should Church-Affiliated Hospitals Be Bound by ERISA?

Whether the ERISA provisions should apply to church-affiliated hospitals is a complicated question revolving around whether hospitals fall under ERISA's exemption.

To fall under the exemption, an employer needs to be "established and maintained" by a church. However, the article states that "an amendment to ERISA added that exempt plans may be 'maintained' by organizations that are controlled by a church, but the amendment doesn't say that church plans can be 'established' by an affiliated organization."

So the main issue is whether the amendment covers hospitals that are maintained by a church but not established by a church. It is a fine distinction, but one that could have serious consequences for a large percentage of America's hospitals.

What This Means For Hospitals and Employees

Although there are compelling arguments on both side of this issue, anyone can agree that the outcome of this case will have a significant impact for church-affiliated hospitals and their employees.

If the Supreme Court does determine that ERISA's retirement provision requirements do apply to church-affiliated hospitals, it be a huge benefit for employees of these organizations. On the other hand, the costs of providing these benefits could put some hospitals out of business.

We will certainly keep our eyes out on the development of this case, as it is likely to impact many hospital workers.

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