Privacy issues can be faced by companies offering abortion travel benefits

The U.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
05 July 2022 Tuesday 10:24
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Privacy issues can be faced by companies offering abortion travel benefits

The U.S. Supreme Court has revoked the federal right of abortion that had been in place for over 50 years. Companies like Amazon, Apple, JP Morgan and Disney have pledged to pay travel expenses for employees who reside in states where this procedure is currently illegal in order to terminate pregnancies.

However, the companies didn't give any details about how they would do it and it's unclear if they'll be legally able to.

"Most employers weren't prepared for Roe being overturned. And even those that were, they didn't realize the law could literally be changed the next moment," Brian Kropp, vice president at Gartner. They're playing catch-up.

Kropp stated that many companies have announced plans to offer travel benefits, but they don't have the infrastructure to support them. He said that some companies are offering supplementary policies to cover abortion travel. Others are reaching out to insurers to find out if they can add travel to their existing plans. Others are working out ways to provide a benefit to employees without revealing their identities.

Are employees going to be required to inform their managers that they will have to travel from Texas and California for an abortion? Kropp stated.

They can't, but they will likely need to inform human resources or another department that they are pregnant. Sharona Hoffman, a Case Western Reserve University health law professor, stated that the answer is yes. The company or its insurer would then pay the money either upfront or reimburse them after the fact.

Hoffman described travel cost promises as a "generous benefit" and stated that she wouldn't be surprised if more companies adopt this practice, "just without trumpeting it," to avoid the backlash that can result from public statements about a divisive topic like abortion.

She said, "It's certainly not always altruistic." It makes sense for companies not to have employees who are extremely distressed due to unwanted pregnancies or having to have the child.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a Morgan Lewis partner who assists companies in developing and maintaining their benefits, stated that for the moment, most large companies that offer an abortion travel benefit will likely include it in existing health plans.

Large companies are usually self-insured. This means that they cover all claims and have greater flexibility in deciding what plans to cover. The claims are then processed by a third party.

Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, has the same policy. It updated its health insurance last fall to include travel costs for employees following Texas's ban on most abortions. Patagonia stated that travel costs and abortion are handled in the same way as other medical services to ensure confidentiality for employees.

Yelp, a restaurant review site, stated that its abortion travel benefit is also managed by its insurance provider. Yelp informed its employees that Yelp won't have access to details of any travel benefits if they use them.

Microsoft, however, stated that it covers abortion and gender-affirming care for employees. It has also expanded the coverage to cover travel expenses for "these or other legal medical services" if these are not available in an employee’s home state.

There may be fewer options for smaller companies. They often purchase health insurance for their employees from state-regulated insurers. These companies may not be able to offer benefits and could operate in states that prohibit abortion.

Dr. Ami Parekh is the chief health officer of Included Health. The company offers virtual care and health navigation services for employers. He said that it is "quite a scramble right now" for large employers to navigate this fast-moving environment.

Parekh stated that they are moving at the speed of light, "parekh added. "And I'm betting they're going be agile and adapt as new situations arise."

Some companies offer to pay for the travel of a spouse to the woman who is having an abortion.

The legal landscape is changing rapidly, so even adding travel benefits for current medical plans carries some risk. Lyft was notified by 14 Texas state legislators in May that they would be introducing legislation to ban them from doing business in Texas if the bill includes reimbursements for abortion-related expenses.

However, such legislation has not been passed in Texas as yet. Hoffman pointed out that it is not illegal to travel to states with abortion legal. However, there are steps being taken to rectify this situation.

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (or HIPAA) protects patient information. However, HIPAA can be overruled in cases of crime. This is the case in states where abortion is a crime.

Sharon Masling, head of Morgan Lewis's reproductive rights taskforce, stated that it is difficult for employers to navigate the rapidly changing legal landscape. "There will be a lot more litigation in the coming years."

Kropp stated that abortion travel benefits are not only a legal issue, but also pose some tricky workplace issues. Employees who do not support abortion might be upset that their company pays for the travel of other employees. He said that even those who support abortion might question why their company doesn't pay them to travel for transgender health care or fertility treatments.

Experts believe that companies may be offering travel benefits, but not making public announcements.

Parekh stated that "My impression is that most employers are trying very quickly to figure out what's best in their employees and dependents." "And not all employers are willing to spend the energy to make this public at this time."

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