September 28, 2022

After the US Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion that had been in place for half a century, companies like Amazon, Disney, Apple And JP Morgan has pledged to cover travel costs for employees who live in states where the procedure is now illegal until they can terminate a pregnancy.

But the companies have provided scant or no details on how to do this, and it is not clear whether they will be able – legally – while protecting employee privacy and keeping them safe from prosecution.

“Most employers weren’t ready to scrap Rowe, and even those who didn’t realize the law would be changed literally in the next minute,” said Brian Krupp, vice president of consulting firm Gartner. “They’re trying to play catch-up.”

Krupp said many companies announced Planning to offer travel benefits Without the infrastructure in place to make it work. He added that some are setting up supplemental policies that employees can purchase to cover abortion travel, while others are contacting insurance companies to see if travel can be added to their existing plans. Others are trying to figure out how to provide an advantage without violating employees’ privacy.

“Will employees have to tell their manager that they will have to fly from Texas to California to have an abortion?” Krupp said.


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Sharona Hoffman, professor of health law at Case Western Reserve University, said the answer is no — but they will likely have to tell Human Resources or a similar department that they are pregnant and want to have an abortion. The company or its health insurer then advances the money or pays after the fact.

Hoffman described the travel cost pledges as a “generous benefit” from companies, and said she wouldn’t be surprised “if this becomes a practice that more companies are doing – just without authorizing it,” fearing the backlash that could come with public statements on a contentious issue such as Abortion.

“It doesn’t have to be altruistic,” she said. “It also makes sense that companies shouldn’t have a group of employees who are in dire straits because they have unwanted pregnancies and have to carry the baby until the end of their tenure.”

Currently, most major companies offering abortion travel benefits are likely to add them to their existing health care plans, said Jonathan Zimmerman, partner at law firm Morgan Lewis who helps companies develop and maintain their benefits.

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

Such is the case at the Patagonian outerwear company, 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 confidentiality for employees.

Restaurant review company Yelp said abortion travel benefits are also managed by the health insurance company. Yelp told its employees that if they used the travel feature, Yelp would not be able to access the service details.

Meanwhile, Microsoft indicated that it already covers abortion, as well as gender confirmation care for its employees, and has now expanded coverage to include travel expenses for “such and other legal medical services” if they are not available at the employee’s home. condition.

Small businesses may have fewer options. They usually buy health insurance for their employees from insurance companies that are subject to state regulations. These companies have less flexibility in designing benefits, and may operate in states that ban abortion.

Dr. Amy Parikh, chief health officer of Included Health, which provides healthcare mobility and virtual care services to employers, said it was “absolutely a scramble” right now for large employers to navigate this fast-moving landscape.

“They’re moving as fast as they can,” Parekh said. “And I bet they’ll be smart and change as needed as things unfold.”

For example, some companies offer to pay a partner to travel with the person performing the abortion.

With the rapid transformation of the legal landscape, adding travel benefits to your existing medical plan has some risks. In May, 14 Texas lawmakers sent a letter to Lyft warning the company against eliminating abortion travel benefits, saying they plan to introduce legislation that would prohibit companies from doing business in Texas if they paid for abortions or reimbursed abortion-related expenses.

However, such legislation has not yet been enacted in Texas or elsewhere. Hoffman noted that it is also not against the law to travel to countries where abortion is legal. However, efforts are underway to change that.

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

“It is difficult for employers to navigate a rapidly evolving legal landscape,” said Sharon Masling, chair of the reproductive rights task force at Morgan Lewis. “There will be a lot of lawsuits over the next few years.”

In addition to legal questions, the benefits of traveling for an abortion also present some thorny issues in the workplace, Krupp said. Employees who don’t support abortion might get angry because their company pays for other employees’ travel, for example. He said that even those who support abortion might wonder why the company didn’t pay them to travel for fertility treatments or transgender healthcare.

That’s why it’s possible, experts say, that some companies offer travel benefits but don’t make general announcements about it.

“I feel most employers are trying very quickly to figure out what’s best for their employees and their families,” Parekh said. “And not all employers want to go out of their way to be public about it at this point in time.”

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