Editor's Note: This article has been updated.
Amazon, one of the biggest private-sector employers in the U.S., told its staff on May 2 it will pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for employees to undergo abortions and other "non-life-threatening" medical treatments, Reuters reported. The company already pays $10,000 in annual travel reimbursements for urgent, life-threatening medical issues.
Amazon's new benefit, retroactively effective to Jan. 1, applies if abortion procedures or other operations are not available within 100 miles of an employee's home. It is open to U.S. employees or covered dependents, whether they work in a corporate office or a warehouse. Amazon employs 1.1 million full- and part-time workers throughout the U.S.
In March, Citigroup disclosed that it would cover out-of-state travel costs for employees seeking an abortion if they are located in Texas and other states where access to abortion has been restricted. After the investment banking firm's announcement, other big companies—including Apple, Levi Strauss, Yelp, Match, Lyft and Uber—said that they, too, would pay for out-of-state abortion travel under their health plans.
On May 3, Politico reported that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling that legalized abortion throughout the U.S.
SHRM Online has gathered the following articles that look at abortion access and company health benefits.
States Enact Abortion Restrictions as Supreme Court Ruling Looms
Amazon's announcement comes at a time when several state governments have passed laws restricting abortion access in their jurisdictions. If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, each U.S. state could be permitted to determine its own abortion rules, with more than 20 states expected to limit abortion access.
In Texas, which has one of the strictest abortion laws in the country and bans the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, a recent study found that some 1,400 Texans were traveling out of state for abortions monthly.
Ruling Likely to Fuel More State Actions
If the U.S. Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, conservative states will have more confidence that their new limits on abortion will stand, while liberal states will feel more urgency to protect and expand abortion rights.
About two dozen states, including Oklahoma and Alabama, have laws in place that would limit abortion access should Roe be overturned.
Types of Medical-Travel Coverage
Most health plans don’t cover travel expenses. If they do it’s usually to medical centers of excellence that provide high-value services, Roberta Casper Watson, a partner in the Tampa, Fla., office of The Wagner Group, said in an interview.
Employers with self-funded plans could change their coverage allowances in the middle of a plan year to allow for travel costs and coverage of non-network abortion providers as long as employee premiums don’t change, Watson said. Employers must give workers notice of benefit changes and wait until a new plan year to tinker with premiums.
Funding for travel could be part of a group health plan, but it’s more likely employers would look to medical expense accounts, such as flexible spending accounts or health reimbursement accounts, to cover travel expenses, Dannae Delano, a partner in The Wagner Group’s St. Louis office.
Employers Expected to Face Pressure to Respond
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which researches sexual and reproductive health and rights globally, 26 states are "certain or likely" to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, which will force many people across the country to travel lengthy distances for treatment. That may put further pressure on companies to find ways for their employees to receive abortion services.
Yelp Offering Help with Abortions
In April, Yelp joined those companies supporting abortion access for their employees in the face of restrictive state laws. A representative for the San Francisco-based company said its employee health insurance already covered abortion care, but starting in May, Yelp will cover travel expenses for any U.S. employees and their dependents who need to travel out of state to access abortion care.
The benefit extends to staff and dependents affected by any current or future abortion restrictions.
Companies Face Shareholder Votes on Abortion-Related Proposals
Shareholders in Walmart and The TJX Cos., parent of T.J. Maxx, are set to vote on proposals asking them to look at how they may be impacted by legislative efforts to curb access to abortion in the U.S.
In their supporting statements, proponents of these shareholder measures wrote that the requested reports might include the boards' analysis of any effects on employee hiring, retention and productivity, and decisions regarding the closure or expansion of operations in states proposing or enacting restrictive laws and strategies, such as any public-policy advocacy by the company, related political contribution policies, and human resource or educational strategies.