Companies may face hurdles in covering abortion transportation costs – Press Telegram

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By Barbara Ortutay and Dee-Anne Durbin | Associated Press

After the US Supreme Court struck down a half-century-old federal abortion right, companies including Amazon, Disney, Apple and JP Morgan pledged to cover travel expenses for employees who live in states where the procedure is illegal , so they can terminate the pregnancy.

But the companies have provided little or no detail about how they will do it, and it’s unclear whether they can — legally — protect employees’ privacy and protect them from lawsuits while doing so.

“Most employers were not prepared for Roe to be overturned, and even those who were weren’t aware that the law would be changed literally in the next minute,” said Brian Kropp, vice president of consulting firm Gartner. “They’re trying to play catch-up.”

Kropp said many companies have announced plans to offer toll concessions without the infrastructure to make them work. Some, he added, are creating additional policies that employees can purchase to cover abortion travel, while others are contacting insurers to see if travel can be added to their current plans. Others are trying to figure out how to offer the benefit without compromising employee privacy.

“Will employees have to tell their supervisor that they have to travel from Texas to California to get an abortion?” – said Kropp.

The answer is no, but they will likely have to tell human resources or a similar department that they are pregnant and want an abortion, said Sharon Hoffman, a public health professor at Western Reserve University. The company or its health insurance company then provides the money up front or reimburses them after the fact.

Hoffman called the travel expense liability a “generous benefit” from companies, and said she wouldn’t be surprised “if it becomes a practice that more and more companies do — just without trumpeting it,” for fear of the backlash that can come with public statements. on a divisive issue such as abortion.

Ann Marie McKay, center, of Laguna Beach joins hundreds of other protesters during a rally in support of abortion rights on Main Beach in Laguna Beach, Friday, June 24, 2022, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade . (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

“It’s not necessarily altruism,” she said. “It also makes a certain amount of sense for companies not to have a bunch of employees going through a lot because they have an unwanted pregnancy and have to carry the baby to term.”

For now, most large companies that offer abortion benefits are likely to add them to existing health plans, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a partner at the law firm Morgan Lewis, who helps companies develop and maintain their benefits.

Larger companies tend to be self-insured, meaning they pay all claims and have more flexibility in deciding what the plans will cover. A third party then processes the claims on their behalf.

That’s the case with the outerwear company Patagonia, which last fall upgraded its health insurance to include travel expenses for employees after a law that bans most abortions went into effect in Texas. Patagonia said it manages abortions and travel expenses in the same way as other medical services, ensuring privacy for employees.

Restaurant review company Yelp said its abortion benefits are also used by its health insurance provider. Yelp told its employees that if they did take advantage of the ride, Yelp would not have access to the details of the service.

Meanwhile, Microsoft noted that it already covers abortion and gender-affirming care for its employees and has now expanded coverage to include travel expenses for “these and other legitimate medical services” if they are not available at the employee’s home. state

Smaller companies may have fewer options. They usually buy 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 where abortion is illegal.

Dr. Ami Parekh, chief health officer at Included Health, which offers health navigation services and virtual assistance for employers, said it’s “quite difficult” for large employers to navigate this rapidly changing landscape.

“They are moving as fast as possible,” Parekh said. “And I bet they’ll be nimble and change as needed.”

For example, some companies offer to pay the partner to travel with the person having an abortion.

Because the law changes so quickly, even adding travel benefits to your current health plan carries some risk. In May, 14 Texas lawmakers sent a letter to Lyft warning the company to end benefits for abortion rides, saying they planned to introduce legislation that would bar the companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for abortions or reimburse abortion-related expenses.

However, no similar legislation has been passed in Texas or anywhere else. Hoffman also noted that traveling to states where abortion is legal is not against the law. However, efforts are being made to change this.

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

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