Businesses may face barriers to covering abortion-related travel costs

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal abortion law that had been in place for half a century, companies like Amazon, Disney, Apple and JP Morgan pledged to cover travel expenses for employees who live in states where the procedure is now illegal so they can terminate a pregnancy.

But the companies have given little or no details on how they will do this and it is unclear whether they will be able to – legally – while protecting employee privacy and protecting them from lawsuits.

“Most employers were unprepared for Roe to be overthrown, and even those who were unaware that the law would literally change the next minute,” said Brian Kropp, vice president at consultancy Gartner. “They’re trying to catch up.”

Kropp said many companies have announced plans to offer travel benefits without the infrastructure in place to make them work. Some, he added, are creating additional 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 provide a benefit without violating employee privacy.

“Are employees going to have to tell their manager that they’re going to have to travel from Texas to California to get an abortion?” Cropp said.

The answer is no, but they should probably tell human resources or a similar department that they are pregnant and want an abortion, said Sharona Hoffman, professor of health law at Case Western Reserve University. The company or its health insurer would then provide cash upfront or reimbursement after the fact.

READ MORE: New Jersey adds measures to protect out-of-state abortion seekers and providers who help them

Hoffman called promises of travel expenses a “generous perk” for companies and said she wouldn’t be surprised “if it became a practice that more and more companies were undertaking – just without trumpeting it”, out of fear backlash that can accompany public statements on a divisive issue like abortion.

“It’s not necessarily altruistic,” she said. “It also makes sense that companies don’t have a very distressed group of employees because they have unwanted pregnancies and have to carry the child to term.”

For now, most big companies offering an abortion travel allowance will likely add it to existing healthcare plans, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a partner at law firm Morgan Lewis, which helps companies develop and maintain their benefits.

Large companies are usually self-insured, which means they pay for all claims and have more flexibility in deciding what the plans will cover. A third party then handles complaints on their behalf.

Such is the case with outdoor apparel company Patagonia, which updated its health coverage last fall to add travel expenses for employees after Texas law banning most abortions. Patagonia said abortion and travel expenses are administered the same way as other medical services, ensuring employee confidentiality.

Restaurant review company Yelp said her abortion travel allowance is also administered by her health insurance provider. Yelp has told its employees that if they use the travel benefit, Yelp will not have access to service details.

Microsoft, meanwhile, noted that it already covers abortion, as well as gender-affirming care, for its employees and has now extended coverage to include travel costs for “those medical and other lawful” if they are not available at an employee’s home. State.

READ MORE: States should establish their own abortion laws. This is how a republic works.

Small businesses may have fewer options. They typically purchase health insurance for their employees from state-regulated insurers. These companies have less flexibility to design benefits and can operate in states that ban abortion.

Dr. Ami Parekh, director of health at Include Health, which offers healthcare navigation and virtual care to employers, said it’s “quite a hustle and bustle” right now for large employers to navigate this rapidly changing landscape.

“They move as fast as they can,” Parekh said. “And I bet you they’re going to be nimble and change as needed as things come up.”

For example, some companies offer 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 Texas state lawmakers sent a letter to Lyft warning the company to rescind its abortion travel allowance, saying they planned to introduce legislation that would ban companies from doing business in Texas. whether they paid for abortions or reimbursed abortion-related expenses.

READ MORE: Anti-abortion lawmakers want to keep patients from crossing state lines

That said, no such legislation has been enacted to date in Texas or anywhere else. Nor is it against the law to travel to states where abortion is legal, Hoffman noted. Efforts are underway to change this, however.

And while the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects sensitive patient information, it can be overridden in cases where a crime has been committed. This is the case now in states where abortion has become a crime.

“It’s difficult for employers to navigate a rapidly changing legal landscape,” said Sharon Masling, head of Morgan Lewis’ reproductive rights task force. “There’s going to be a lot of litigation over the next few years.”

Beyond the legal issues, abortion travel benefits also present thorny issues in the workplace, Kropp said. Employees who don’t support abortion may resent their company paying for other employees’ travel, for example. Even those who support abortion may wonder why the company isn’t paying them to travel for fertility treatments or transgender health care, he said.

That’s why experts are likely to say that some companies offer travel perks but don’t make public announcements about them.

“My feeling is that most employers try to figure out very quickly what’s best for their employees and their dependents,” Parekh said. “And not all employers want to expend the energy to be very public about it right now.”

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