How some companies plan to help employees travel: NPR

How some companies plan to help employees travel: NPR gettyimages 1241524451 103056ab4d4c6badd3106712fc4f6feeb98d59dd s1100 c50

A medical assistant reviews a patient’s pregnancy test at the Women’s Reproductive Clinic, which provides legal medical abortion services, in Santa Teresa, NM, in a photo taken last month.

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Immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, Several big-name companies like Microsoft, Nike and Tesla have announced that they plan to help employees who live in places where abortion is restricted to travel out of state to have the procedure.

But how that might actually work and what pitfalls employers and employees might find remains to be seen.

“I think many employers in reaction to the dobbs decision are making these very public statements that they are going to offer travel benefits for abortions,” says Bethany Corbin, senior counsel at Nixon Gwilt Law, a firm that specializes in health care law.

“A lot of them haven’t gotten it up and running yet,” says Corbin. “They’re still working out how this actually works in practice.”

Some employees may go through a company’s insurer

While it’s still early days, experts say some potential options may soon take shape. If the company has an employer-sponsored health plan, for example, abortion-related travel benefits could simply be included in the coverage and managed through an existing plan.

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“You go to your employer or the insurance company they hired and say, ‘I want an abortion.’ And part of that involves traveling to another state,” says Robert Field, a professor of health management and policy at Drexel University.

The main benefit of that approach is that it “really protects employee privacy,” says Corbin, adding that patient data under such a health plan is generally covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Actor HIPAA, a federal law intended to prevent the disclosure of confidential patient health information.

Others may be reimbursed directly by an employer

Another option is to provide supplemental reimbursement for abortion-related travel through the employer rather than the company’s insurer.

“If it’s a low-paying job, employers are likely to have to give the money first because the patient can’t afford it on their own and then seek reimbursement and then wait six weeks for the reimbursement to arrive,” says Sharona Hoffman. . , professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University.

“It could be cash advances of some kind. It could be transportation,” she says.

However, under this scenario, the employer would be collecting medical data from the employee. And that raises concerns.

“That data would not be covered by HIPAA,” says Corbin. HIPAA provides individual penalties of up to $50,000 for each unauthorized disclosure of private health information. For example, then, an employee in a company’s human resources department who intentionally or negligently discloses that an employee is seeking an abortion would not be subject to legal sanctions.

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Then there’s the potential chilling effect: If an employee admits she’s seeking an abortion, the company’s knowledge of that could serve as “an underlying bias” when making personnel decisions, such as pay raises, promotions or who to fire, says Corbin. .

Or they can go through an external provider

Yet another model that could be used is for companies to contract with an outside vendor, such as Planned Parenthood. That outside provider would then send an anonymous bill to employers for the abortion services.

“It kind of adds a little bit of separation between the employer and the medical services being provided,” says Corbin.

One way to view employers that offer a travel benefit for abortion services is to view it in the context of other medical procedures, says Field.

“Some plans will take people to the best medical provider, say the Mayo Clinic, for specialized surgery,” he says. “You can compare this to a regular medical procedure that requires traveling to get to the right provider.”

Offering such services could be a recruiting advantage

Hoffman of Case Western Reserve University says that despite the initial cost of offering abortion trips, it could save employers money in the long run.

“It’s certainly cheaper than having to pay for pregnancy and delivery care and then supporting the child for 26 years,” says Hoffman. “Then employers could do a cost-benefit analysis and say that if the woman really doesn’t want to have a child, it’s also cheaper for us.”

Offering out-of-state abortion trips could also be a recruiting advantage in a tight job market, says Field.

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“It will apply to younger workers,” he says, noting that they are “the kind of people that a lot of companies want to have, and in particular the kind of people that high-tech companies want to have.”

But companies could also face a backlash.

Still, there are political sensitivities to wading into the abortion debate, experts agree.

“Not everyone who is a member of that workforce is going to have the same political beliefs,” says Corbin.

In a state like Texas, where the law empowers citizens to file a lawsuit to prevent “aiding and abetting” an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, any company that provides such services to employees who work there could be legally exposed, he said. He says.

An employee who opposes abortion could become a whistleblower who could then provide law enforcement with information related to a company’s policy on travel services for the procedure.

“That’s going to be very difficult for employers,” says Field. We have already seen the avalanche of litigation from the dobbs the decision starts to flow, and that’s one of the main problems that will come up.”

“It’s a legal risk for companies,” he says.

“A larger company has the advantage of having the resources for legal costs. A smaller company will find it more difficult.”