By BARBARA ORTUTAY and DEE-ANN DURBIN, The Associated Press
After the U.S. Supreme Court revoked the federal right to abortion that has been in place for half a century, companies including Amazon, Disney, Apple and JP Morgan have pledged to cover travel costs for employees who live in states where the procedure is now available. illegal. can terminate the pregnancy.
But the companies have given little or no details on how they will do this, and it’s unclear whether they will be able to do so – legally – while protecting employees’ privacy and protecting them from prosecution.
“Most employers weren’t prepared for Roe’s overthrow, and even those that were didn’t realize that the law would literally be changed 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 supplemental policies that employees can purchase to cover abortion trips, while others are contacting insurers to see if the trips can be added to their current plans. Others are trying to figure out how to offer a benefit without violating employee privacy.
“Will employees have to tell the manager that they will have to travel from Texas to California to have an abortion?” said Kropp.
The answer is no — but they would likely 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 provide cash upfront or an after-the-fact reimbursement.
Hoffman called travel cost promises a “generous benefit” for companies and said she wouldn’t be surprised “if this becomes a practice that more companies adopt — just quietly,” for fear of the backlash that could come with public statements about a divisive issue like abortion.
“It’s not necessarily altruistic,” she said. “It also makes sense for companies not to have a bunch of employees who are very distressed because they have unwanted pregnancies and need to bring the child to term.”
For now, most large companies that offer an abortion travel benefit are likely to add it to existing health plans, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a partner at the Morgan Lewis law firm that helps companies develop and maintain their benefits.
Large companies are generally self-insured, meaning they pay for all claims and have more flexibility in deciding what plans will cover. A third party processes claims on your behalf.
That’s the case with outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which upgraded its health coverage last fall to add travel costs for employees after the Texas law banning most abortions went into effect. Patagonia said abortion and travel costs are handled in the same way as other medical services, ensuring employee confidentiality.
Restaurant review company Yelp said its abortion travel benefit is also administered by your health insurance provider. 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 extended coverage to include travel expenses for “these and other legal medical services” if not available at home. an employee. State.
Smaller companies may have fewer options. They typically purchase health insurance for their employees from insurers that are subject to state regulations. These companies have less flexibility in designing benefits and may operate in states that prohibit abortion.
Dr. Ami Parekh, director of health at Included Health, which offers healthcare navigation and virtual care services to employers, said it’s “quite a struggle” right now for large employers to navigate this rapidly evolving landscape.
“They are moving as fast as they can,” Parekh said. “And I bet they will be nimble 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 rapidly changing, even adding travel benefits to a current medical plan carries some risks. In May, 14 Texas state lawmakers sent a letter to Lyft warning the company to terminate its abortion travel benefit, saying they plan to introduce legislation that would prohibit companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for abortions or reimburse abortion-related expenses. .
That said, no such legislation has been enacted so far in Texas or anywhere else. It’s also not against the law to travel to states where abortion is legal, Hoffman noted. There are efforts underway, however, to change that.
And while the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, protects confidential patient information, it can be overturned in cases where a crime has been committed. This 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, head of Morgan Lewis’ reproductive rights task force. “There will be a lot of litigation over the next few years.”
In addition to the legal issues, abortion travel benefits also present some thorny problems in the workplace, Kropp said. Employees who don’t support abortion may get angry that their company is paying for other employees’ travel, for example. Even those who support abortion may question why the company isn’t paying them to travel for fertility treatments or healthcare for transgender people, he said.
That’s why it’s likely, experts say, some companies are offering travel benefits but aren’t making public announcements about it.
“I think most employers are trying to quickly figure out what is best for their employees and their dependents,” Parekh said. “And not all employers want to expend energy to be very public about it at this point.”
Associated Press writers Haleluya Hadero and Anne D’Innocenzio in New York and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island contributed to this story.
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