After the United States Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion in force for half a century, companies such as Amazon, Disney, Apple and JP Morgan promised to cover the travel expenses of employees who live in states where the procedure is now illegal so they can terminate the pregnancy.
However, the companies have given little detail on how they will do so, and it is unclear whether they will be able to do so legally while protecting the privacy of female employees and keeping them safe from prosecution.
“Most employers weren’t prepared for the Roe v. Wade ruling to be overturned, and even those that were didn’t realize the law would change literally the next minute,” said Brian Kropp, vice president of consulting firm Gartner. “They’re trying to catch up,” he added.
Kropp explained that many companies announced plans to offer travel benefits without the necessary infrastructure to make them work.
Some, she added, are creating add-on policies employees can buy to cover abortion travel, while others are contacting insurers to see if travel can be added to their current plans.
Disney is one of the companies that would pay for their employees’ trips. Photo: AP
The privacy dilemma
Others are trying to find out how to offer a benefit without violating privacy of the employees.
“Will employees have to tell their boss that they will have to travel from Texas to California to have an abortion?” Kropp wondered.
The answer is no, but they may have to tell human resources or a similar department that they are pregnant and want an abortion, said Sharona Hoffman, a professor of health law at Case Western Reserve University.
The company or health insurance would then provide money up front or reimbursement after the procedure was completed.
Hoffman called the commitment to cover travel expenses a “generous benefit” for companies and said he would not be surprised “if this becomes a practice that more companies adopt, just without announcing it with great fanfare,” for fear of reactions public declarations on an issue as controversial as abortion could provoke.
The US Supreme Court ruling against abortion sparked protests last Friday. Photo: AP
“It’s not necessarily an altruistic thing,” he said. “It also makes some sense that companies don’t have a group of female employees who are very distressed about having unwanted pregnancies and having to carry the child to term.”
For now, most of the big companies that offer an abortion travel benefit likely to add to existing health care planssaid Jonathan Zimmerman, a partner at the Morgan Lewis law firm that helps companies build and maintain profits.
Big companies are often self-insured, which means they pay all claims and have more flexibility in deciding what the plans will cover. A third party then processes the claims on your behalf.
Such is the case for outdoor sportswear company Patagonia, which updated its health coverage last fall to add travel expenses for its female employees after a Texas law that bans most abortions.
A reproductive health clinic in Fort Worth, Texas, where abortions have been suspended for now. Photo: BLOOMBERG
Patagonia said that abortion and travel expenses are administered in the same way as other medical services, guaranteeing confidentiality to employees.
Restaurant review company Yelp said its abortion travel benefit is also managed by her health insurance provider. Yelp has already communicated to its employees that if they use the travel benefit, the company will not have access to the details of the service.
Microsoft, for its part, reported that it already covers abortion – as well as gender-affirming treatment – for its female employees and has now expanded coverage to include travel expenses for “these and other legal medical services” if they are not available in the US. the home state of an employee.
Small companies, more complicated
Smaller companies may have fewer options. They often buy their employees’ health insurance from insurers that are subject to state regulations. Those companies have less flexibility to design benefits and they can operate in states that ban abortion.
Dr. Ami Parekh, chief health officer at Included Health, which offers virtual care and healthcare guidance services for employers, said it’s “quite a struggle” right now for large employers to be able to navigate such a challenging landscape. changeable.
The Walmart chain would also pay for the trips of its employees. Photo: AP
“They are moving as fast as they can,” Parekh said. “And I bet they’re going to be agile and change as needed as things come along.”
For example, some companies offer to pay a companion to travel with the person having an abortion.
Doubts and possible changes
With a rapidly changing legal landscape, even adding travel benefits to an existing medical plan carries some risk.
In May, fourteen Texas state legislators sent a letter to Lyft warning the company to end its abortion ride benefit and saying they planned to enact a law that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they paid for abortions or reimbursed abortion-related expenses. an abortion.
That said, so far no such law has been passed in Texas or anywhere else. It’s also not illegal to travel to states where abortion is legal, Hoffman noted. However, there are attempts to change this situation.
And while the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects sensitive patient information, the rule can be overridden in cases where a crime has been committed. This is what is happening now in states where abortion has become a crime.
“It’s challenging for employers to navigate a rapidly evolving legal landscape,” said Sharon Masling, director of Morgan Lewis’ reproductive rights task force. “There will be a lot of litigation in the coming years.”.
Beyond the legal issues, abortion travel benefits also present some thorny issues in the workplace, Kropp said.
Employees who don’t support abortion may get angry if the company pays for other employees’ travel, for example. Even those who do support abortion may wonder why the company doesn’t pay transgender travel for fertility treatment or health care, she said.
That’s why, experts say, some companies may offer travel benefits but don’t advertise them publicly.
“My feeling is that most employers are trying to figure out very quickly what’s best for their employees and the people they report to,” Parekh said. “And not all employers want to expend energy being very public about that right now,” she concluded.
Fuente: The Associated Press
Translation: Elisa Carnelli