Abortion Accommodation: Many companies reimburse employees for out-of-state travel for health procedures

Kelly Bird. (File photo)

Well-known corporations, especially those in New Jersey’s life sciences sector, aren’t letting the Garden State’s status as a legal abortion state keep them out of the national conversation.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which changed the course of the half-century-old Roe v. Wade decision, companies with a presence in roughly half of the states expected to ban or restrict abortions announced they would pay for overseas travel for such services.

While abortions remain legal at all stages in New Jersey, local corporations have significant employee bases in states where this is not true—and perhaps a larger portion now, in an environment dominated by telecommuting.

After a draft of a recent Supreme Court decision was leaked earlier this year, several prominent companies, such as Microsoft and Tesla, announced they would cover the costs for employees seeking safe, legal abortions if they were not provided. more in one country.

After the decision became official, a slew of big brands — Disney, JPMorgan and others — announced they would reimburse travel for medical procedures, including abortion in states where it’s legal.

“Very large companies are either adding or expanding their reproductive health care programs and widely implementing travel reimbursement policies,” said Kelly Bird, principal in the Employment and Labor Law Group at Gibbons PC.

Bird added that many companies have existing medical travel benefits for employees as part of their health care plans that enable them to seek procedures that are not available in their state.

That’s typically more important for patients seeking cancer care in the tri-state region, she said. Most of these benefits have annual limits, sometimes spread over several reimbursed trips for medical procedures each year.

New Jersey-based corporations with workforces across the country, such as New Brunswick-based Johnson & Johnson and Bridgewater-based Sanofi, have issued media statements indicating that travel and lodging coverage benefits would also apply to women’s reproductive health services.

Other biopharma companies that are expanding their footprint in New Jersey, such as BeiGene and Gilead, have publicly announced that they would also cover travel expenses for employees who do not have access to legal reproductive services in their state.

As controversial as the issue may be, that’s often the stance Bird is seeing clients interested in taking — even if they’re not always publicizing it widely.

That’s true even though the legality can get “a little complicated,” Bird said, as more states move to ban the aiding and abetting of out-of-state abortions.

“What our customers really want to do is allow employees to get the health care that they think is best for them,” she said.

Information, please

If there’s one thing employers should know about health insurance benefits … it’s that employees will soon need to know more about them.

Employers must begin ensuring they are posting prices for medical services included in their health insurance plans as a result of new federal price transparency rules. The demands stem from the aptly named No Surprises Act, which was part of a larger act signed into law in late 2020.

Lisa Gingeleskie. (File photo)

Under the new regulations, employers will have to list prices online for common medical services — regular office visits, MRIs, some surgeries and exams — for insurance plans starting in 2023. For plans starting next year , employers must disclose to employees the price of each service covered by the plan.

The disclosure requirements were originally set to take effect in January, but were pushed back by regulatory agencies until July.

Lisa Gingeleskie of Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper said that while employers may not be in direct control of these details and work through vendors to provide them, it is the employer who is ultimately responsible for t ensure that relevant user information is available.

Gingeleskie, a partner in the Westfield-based firm’s Labor, Employment & Employee Benefits group, said the result of this new responsibility is that there is an opportunity to build trust in the employer-employee relationship.

“Employers want to show that they are taking those steps to arm employees with the information they need to make the best health decisions when they are undergoing medical care,” she said.

Gingeleskie said it will be interesting to see how the new transparency rules interact with today’s abundant telehealth services.

“Overall, this is something to keep an eye on,” she said. “It will change the health care benefits landscape.”

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