The number of US employers offering travel benefits for abortion services is likely to double over the next few years in the wake of a recent US Supreme Court decision. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, according to a new survey by WTW.
Thirty-five percent of employers now offer travel and accommodation benefits for abortions. Another 16 percent of employers plan to offer abortion travel benefits in 2023, while 21 percent are considering it, the survey found.
Forty-four percent of employers that offer or plan to offer travel benefits for abortions or other medical procedures have increased those benefits because of the court’s decision. Another 46 percent are planning or considering increasing these benefits in the future, the WTW survey found.
“There are a number of reasons at play here that are both economic and moral,” said Lauren Winans, chief executive of Next Level Benefits, a human resources consulting firm in Pittsburgh. “Retention, social responsibility, staying ahead of competitors and greater diversity at the top are all playing a role in influencing employers to respond.”
Most employers limit travel benefits for abortion, with the most common approach being the annual cap. Among those who offer or plan to offer travel benefits for abortion services, 43 percent have an annual limit and 22 percent expect to impose a limit in the future. Likewise, 28 percent have a lifetime limit and 20 percent have an occurrence limit. Sixty-four percent said they would limit reimbursable expenses to IRS tax-free amounts, the survey found.
Some employers offer a travel benefit specifically for abortion, while others offer a travel benefit for a variety of medical procedures, such as organ transplants or bariatric surgery. Eighty-six percent of employers link their abortion travel benefit to their benefit for other procedures, the survey found.
“Some employers are expanding abortion travel benefits to include any type of medical care that is currently prohibited in a state,” said Bethany Corbin, an attorney with Nixon Gwilt Law in Charlotte, N.C. “This includes gender affirmation care along with abortion and reduces the risk that an employer’s benefit plan will be challenged for discrimination.”
“We can expect to see more coverage of travel benefits and alignment of those across a wider range of services,” predicted Courtney Stubblefield, senior director of health and benefits at WTW.
Still, “I think it’s OK to have a separate policy on abortion because it’s a discrete issue,” said Sharona Hoffman, a professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland. “Employers may worry that they will be accused of disability discrimination if they do not provide travel funds for all medical care. However, pregnancy is not a disability, so I would argue that they are not discriminating between disabilities. “
In general, employers should try to avoid inconvenience to the person using the benefit.
“It’s important to keep the process as quiet and private as possible,” Winans said. “The last thing an employee or their dependent needs is to have to fill out forms or struggle through a complex process. There’s no need to overcomplicate a benefit that’s meant to provide convenience to those who need it. Keep it simply, keep privacy a priority and ensure the employee experience is at the core of benefit administration.”
Among employers with fully insured health plans, 93 percent expect to offer coverage for elective abortions by 2023 in states where abortion is legal. Among employers that self-insure their health plans, 82 percent expect to cover elective abortions by 2023 in states where abortions are legal, the WTW survey found.
Another survey by the Integrated Benefits Institute, a benefits research organization based in Oakland, California, showed that 62 percent of employers cover paid leave for employees who need abortion services, including travel and recovery. Forty-six percent of employers said they were considering making adjustments to their abortion coverage.
State laws vary
of Dobbs the ruling allows states to decide whether to ban or allow abortions. Shortly after the ruling, US Attorney General Merrick Garland confirmed that states cannot prevent women from obtaining an abortion in another state. However, the law is unsettled and rapidly changing in this area.
“A ban on interstate travel would certainly be constitutionally questionable and would generate litigation,” Hoffman said. “But if a state legislature passes such a law, prosecutors are likely to pursue such cases until a court order precludes them from doing so. If a travel ban is imposed even temporarily, employers should not fund travel because they would assist individuals in committing a crime”.
“Some states make it illegal to aid and abet abortion, and in those states, it is possible for aggressive prosecutors to pursue employers for providing travel funds,” she added.
Sensitive information may be leaked. “Individuals who oppose abortion can report the company for offering these travel benefits in states with ‘aid and abet’ laws and can also submit property documents and records showing which women have had abortions under the travel benefits program. of the company,” Corbin said. “This means that employers must carefully evaluate how they will operationalize any abortion travel benefit program to minimize risk and protect employee privacy.
“Part of the difficulty is that the limits of these ‘aiding and abetting’ laws have not yet been established, so it is unclear exactly what conduct these statutes will encourage,” she added.
Remember that employees will have different health needs and face different life situations. “HR officials will need to formulate thoughtful policies that are tailored to their workforce and address a variety of applicable scenarios,” Hoffman said.
For example, remote workers who live in a state that bans abortion should have access to the travel benefit, but those who live in a state that allows abortion should not be eligible for it, Hoffman said.