This is National Consumer Protection Week – a coordinated campaign among federal and state government agencies and non-profit groups that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions.
When most people think of the Department of Labor, they don’t think consumer protection. But it’s the Employee Benefits Security Administration’s job to ensure that workers, as consumers of investment products and health insurance coverage provided by their employers, know their rights and receive the benefits they pay for.
If you’re enrolled in your employer’s group health plan, there are certain rights that you as a consumer may be entitled to. EBSA enforces federal health care laws that protect your rights such as COBRA, HIPAA, and the Affordable Care Act. Information on these federal laws and your rights is available on our website along with general assistance about how life events, such as the birth of a child or a job loss, can impact your benefits. http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/consumer_info_health.html
EBSA also investigates and takes legal action against unscrupulous employers and insurers. For example, an employer that does not forward the bi-weekly health care deductions from your paycheck to your insurance provider is violating the law, and it’s our job to hold them accountable. There are also fraudulent health insurance arrangements whereby an insurance provider may fail to pay claims to your doctor, even though you – through your employer – have been paying your monthly premium. This too can lead to an investigation and legal action by the department.
EBSA also protects consumers participating in private employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, such as 401(k) accounts. EBSA takes legal action against employers who use employee retirement savings for unrelated purposes, or fail to forward worker contributions to individual accounts.
While we are out there enforcing the law, it is critical that you learn as much as you can to protect yourself. These days, most workers are responsible for directing their own money into investments such as 401(k) accounts and Individual Retirement Accounts. You need the right tools to make the most of your investments. You can learn more by visiting my agency’s website: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/consumer_info_pension.html
In addition to learning all that you can on your own, you’ll likely need some outside guidance as well as you develop your savings plan. Your employer might provide a financial professional who can provide you with guidance or you may seek one out on your own. In selecting an advisor, it is very important that you choose someone who is acting solely in your best interest and is legally bound to this standard of care. Check out this guide for selecting an investment advisor, http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/fsfiduciaryoutreachconsumers.html
Finally, your employer-sponsored retirement plan isn’t free – you’re paying for it – and as a consumer you’re entitled to know what you’re being charged for the services you’re getting. Later this year, companies that service your employer sponsored retirement plan will have to disclose the fees for your investments and the administrative costs associated with managing your savings plan. Your employer will then have to show those costs to you. You may encourage your employer to shop around for a service provider with lower fees. Trust me, your account balance will thank you for it. Visit this fact sheet to learn more, http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/newsroom/fs408b2finalreg.html.
If you have any questions about your health care rights, or retirement savings plan, please go online to: www.askebsa.dol.gov or call 1-866-444-EBSA (3272). EBSA is here to help.
Lastly, http://www.ncpw.gov/ offers consumers a wealth of tips and information from federal and state government and non-profit partner organizations. You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or use the NCPW Toolkit to plan a larger NCPW community event.
The writer is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefits Security Administration.