Following the U.S. Supreme Court's June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which reversed the Roe v. Wade decision and will allow states to restrict or end abortion access, more large U.S. companies said they will cover the cost for employees who need to travel out of state for abortions.
However, it's unclear how widespread the expansion of abortion-related benefits will be. In an early June survey of more than 1,000 HR professionals by SHRM Research, only 5 percent of respondents said their organizations planned to provide travel expense benefits (gasoline, airfare, hotels) outside of a health savings account (HSA) for employees to access abortion and reproductive services that are not accessible in their state of residence.
Another survey question asked whether knowing that employees can use HSA funds for travel-related expenses to receive reproductive care, including abortions in another state, would affect employers' contributions to employees' HSAs. Among respondents at organizations that currently contribute to employees' HSAs:
- Most organizations (87 percent) would not change their HSA contributions.
- 10 percent would consider increasing their employer contributions.
- 3 percent would consider decreasing their employer contributions.
Yet many prominent companies are publicizing their support for abortion-travel benefits, and other organizations may be doing so with less fanfare to avoid controversy. Even before the Supreme Court's ruling, Amazon, one of the biggest private-sector employers in the U.S., said it would pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for employees to undergo abortions in states where the procedure is legal, and Microsoft said it will expand benefits to cover costs for employees seeking abortions and other procedures in different states.
In doing so, they joined the list of large U.S. companies that are enhancing abortion-related benefits.
SHRM Online gathered the following articles looking into employers' responses to the Dobbs decision and issues around abortion-travel benefits.
JPMorgan and Conde Nast Will Cover Abortion-Travel Costs
The Dobbs decision triggered internal memos to employees and statements from several companies pledging to ensure that their benefits plans cover abortion-travel costs. Among these, financial services firm JPMorgan told employees if they live in states where abortion is outlawed, the company will cover the cost of travel to a state where it's legal, beginning in July. Media company Condé Nast will also pay for travel and lodging costs if employees need to travel out of their state for an abortion, according to an internal memo to employees. They join other major U.S. companies that earlier pledged to cover such travel costs.
Benefits Include Travel for Spouse, Support Person
Dick's Sporting Goods will provide up to $4,000 in travel expenses reimbursement for employees to travel to the nearest location where abortion services are legally available. "This benefit will be provided to any teammate, spouse or dependent enrolled in our medical plan, along with one support person," tweeted Dick's President and CEO Lauren Hobart.
Entertainment Companies Highlight Abortion Benefits
The Dobbs decision, which is expected to lead to abortion restrictions or bans in roughly half of U.S. states, has sparked a response by Hollywood companies including Disney, Netflix, Comcast, Paramount, Warner Bros Discovery, Sony, WME, CAA and UTA.
Paramount, in an e-mail to employees, highlighted company health policies, including the coverage of travel-related expenses "if the covered health service, such as abortion, is prohibited in your area." At Warner Bros Discovery, the company's chief people and culture officer said, "We are immediately expanding our health care benefits options to include expenses for employees and their covered family members who need to travel to access a range of medical procedures, including care for abortions, family planning and reproductive health."
(The Hollywood Reporter)
Others Quietly Provide Travel Support
While many companies went public with abortion-support changes following the Dobbs ruling, others will quietly adapt their health care policies to accommodate abortion changes but remain mostly silent on the political questions raised by the court's decision, according to Davia Temin, founder of crisis consultancy Temin and Co.
Additionally, rather than speak out and risk a backlash, companies might let their in-house health care policies and perks do the talking as many corporate leaders are largely avoiding making statements on the issue so far, according to Brian Kropp, head of HR at advisory firm Gartner.
(Bloomberg News via The Financial Post)
Coverage Outside of Health Plans
While some employers are enhancing abortion coverage under their group health plans, others are providing benefits outside the health plan—for instance, by creating a relief fund to pay expenses for employees and dependents who need to travel to another state, or by offering a one-time bonus for the travel and procedure costs in a state permitting abortive care.
While the seeming simplicity of a this approach may appear attractive, it is not without its risks such as the need to respect the right of an employee to keep her health care decisions private against requiring proper documentation of the expenses incurred.
Different Approaches Taken
Companies that are self-insured have more flexibility than others in setting up health benefits, said Emily Dickens, head of government affairs at the Society for Human Resource Management.
In a survey taken in anticipation of the Dobbs decision, companies were most likely to say that they would permit paid time off as a way of providing better reproductive care, she said. However, about 30 percent of organizations said they would increase support for reproductive care within their employee assistance program and almost as many said they would offer benefits that cover travel for reproductive care in another state.
"But how these policies interact with state laws is unclear, and employers should be aware of the legal risks involved," Dickens said.
(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Comparison with Organ Transplants
For companies providing enhanced benefits, abortion is being treated like an organ transplant. It is specialized medical care that might not be available close by or within a state, and so insurance will help cover the cost of travel and paid sick leave.
"This is the mainstreaming of this kind of care," said Jen Stark, a director at management consulting firm BSR.
(The Washington Post)
Texas and Oklahoma Target 'Aiding and Abetting' Activities
Anti-abortion laws passed by Texas and Oklahoma explicitly classify employer coverage or reimbursement of abortion services banned in those states through insurance or benefit plans as "aiding and abetting" unlawful abortion, while other state laws do not explicitly forbid employers from covering abortion or abortion services through employer insurance coverage. It is unclear whether Texas and Oklahoma, in particular, will attempt to apply their laws when people who reside in one of those states seek abortion services outside the state's borders. Doing so could raise constitutional issues that would likely be the subject of continuing litigation.
Tax and Coverage Parity Issues
Certain travel and lodging expenses can be reimbursed as "medical care," and thus are excludable from income for an employee, but third-party administrators may not be willing or able to administer travel reimbursement programs immediately.
Employers considering reimbursing for certain medical travel—but not for travel related to mental health or substance-use-disorder benefits—may want to evaluate risks under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which requires employers that provide insurance coverage for mental health and addiction treatment to do so on an equal basis with their coverage of physical health care.