By BARBARA ORTUTAY and DEE-ANN DURBIN – The Associated Press
After the US Supreme Court struck down the federal abortion right that has existed for half a century, companies like Amazon, Disney, Apple and JP Morgan promised to cover travel expenses for employees living in states where the procedure is now illegal so they can terminate their pregnancies.
But the companies gave few or no details about how they will do this, and it is unclear whether they will be able to do it, legally, while protecting the privacy of employees and keeping them safe from prosecution.
“Most employers weren’t prepared for Roe to be overturned, and even those that were didn’t realize the law would change literally the next minute,” said Brian Kropp, vice president at consultancy Gartner. “They are trying to catch up.”
Kropp said many companies have announced plans to offer travel benefits without the infrastructure to make them work. Some, he added, are creating add-on policies that employees can purchase to cover abortion travel, while others are reaching out to insurers to see if travel can be added to their current plans. Others are trying to figure out how to offer a benefit without violating employee privacy.
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“Will employees have to tell their manager that they will have to travel from Texas to California to have an abortion?” Cropp said.
The answer is no, but they would probably 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 your health insurer would then provide money up front or reimbursement after the fact.
Hoffman called the travel cost promises a “generous benefit” from companies, saying he wouldn’t be surprised “if this becomes a practice that more companies undertake, just without announcing it,” for fear of the backlash it can generate public statements on a divisive issue like abortion.
“It’s not necessarily altruistic,” he said. “It also makes sense that companies don’t have a bunch of employees who are very distressed because they have unwanted pregnancies and they have to carry the child to term.”
For now, most large companies that offer an abortion travel benefit will likely add it to existing health care plans, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a partner at the Morgan Lewis law firm who helps companies build and maintain their benefits. .
Big companies are usually 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 his behalf.
That’s the case for outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which updated its health coverage last fall to add travel costs for employees after a Texas law banning most abortions went into effect. . Patagonia said abortion and travel costs are managed in the same way as other medical services, ensuring employee confidentiality.
Restaurant review company Yelp said its health insurance provider also manages its abortion travel benefit. Yelp has told its employees that if they use the travel benefit, Yelp will not have access to the details of the service.
Meanwhile, Microsoft noted that it already covers abortion, as well as gender-affirming care, for its employees and has now expanded coverage to include travel expenses for “these and other legal medical services” if they are not available in the employee’s home. condition.
Smaller companies may have fewer options. They generally purchase health insurance for their employees from insurers that are subject to state regulations. Those businesses have less flexibility in designing benefits and can operate in states that ban abortion.
Dr. Ami Parekh, chief health officer at Included Health, which offers healthcare navigation and virtual care services for employers, said it’s “a big struggle” right now for large employers to navigate this fast-moving landscape. .
“They are moving as fast as they can,” Parekh said. “And I bet they will be agile and change as needed as things come up.”
For example, some companies are offering to pay a partner to travel with the person having the abortion.
With the legal landscape changing rapidly, even adding travel benefits to an existing medical plan carries some risk. In May, 14 state legislators in Texas sent a letter to Lyft warning the company to rescind its abortion ride benefit, saying they plan to introduce legislation that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for abortions or reimburse abortion-related expenses. the abortion.
That said, no such legislation has yet been enacted in Texas or anywhere else. It’s also not illegal to travel to states where abortion is legal, Hoffman noted. exist ongoing effortshowever, to change that.
And while the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects confidential patient information, it can be overridden in cases where a crime has been committed. That is the case now in states where abortion has become a crime.
“It’s a challenge for employers to navigate a rapidly evolving legal landscape,” said Sharon Masling, director of Morgan Lewis’ reproductive rights task force. “There is going to be a lot of litigation in the next few 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 be angry that their company is paying for other employees’ travel, for example. Even those who support abortion may question why the company doesn’t pay them to travel for fertility treatment or transgender health care, he said.
That’s why experts are likely to say that some companies offer travel benefits but don’t make public announcements about them.
“I think most employers are trying to quickly figure out what’s best for their employees and dependents,” Parekh said. “And not all employers want to expend the energy to be very public about it right now.”
Associated Press writers Halleluya Hadero and Anne D’Innocenzio in New York and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island contributed to this report.
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