What’s Next for VEBAs? The Impact of Declining Employer-Provided Health Care Coverage and the Affordable Care Act

Erin Leighty

Abstract — A voluntary employee beneficiary association or VEBA, is a U.S. tax-exempt organization set up to pay for employee health and welfare benefits. The 2007 establishment of a stand-alone VEBA trust funded by the Big Three US automakers and managed by the UAW seemed to mark a defining moment for employer-provided retiree health care benefits. After years of declining employer-provided medical benefits, the VEBA trust seemed to offer an innovative structure to maintain these promises while moving the liability off of the employer’s balance sheet. Nevertheless, the 2008 financial crisis and government-assisted bailouts of GM and Chrysler immediately tested the stand-alone VEBA structure. Additionally, the passage of the Affordable Care Act is expected to accelerate the decline of employer-provided retiree health care benefits. With retirees able to receive medical coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s health care exchanges, the number of VEBA plans has already begun to decline. VEBAs will still serve a purpose as a tax-advantaged benefit funding mechanism and will be important for companies in financial distress looking to reduce the level and uncertainty of their significant benefit liabilities.