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

Kelly Bird. (File photo)

Prominent corporations, especially those in New Jersey’s life science sector, aren’t letting the Garden State’s status as a state with legal abortions keep them out of national conversations.

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

While abortions remain legal at all stages in New Jersey, local corporations have significant employee bases in states where that’s not true — and perhaps a larger share now, in a remote-work-dominant environment.

Following a draft of the recent Supreme Court ruling leaking earlier this year, several notable companies, such as Microsoft and Tesla, announced they would cover costs for employees seeking safe, legal abortions if they were no longer provided in a state.

Once the ruling was official, a host of big brands — Disney, JPMorgan and others — announced they would be reimbursing travel for medical procedures, including abortion in states where it’s legal.

“Very big companies are either adding or expanding their programs for reproductive health care and broadly implementing policies for travel expense reimbursements,” said Kelly Bird, director in the Employment & Labor Law Group at Gibbons P.C.

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 not available in their home state.

That’s usually most relevant for patients seeking cancer care in the tri-state region, she said. Most of those benefits have annual caps, sometimes spread across several compensated 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 released statements to media that indicate those travel and lodging coverage benefits would apply to women’s reproductive health services, as well.

Other biopharma companies that are expanding their New Jersey footprint, such as BeiGene and Gilead, have made it known publicly that they would also be covering travel expenses for employees who lack access to legal reproductive services in their home state.

Contentious as the issue might be, that’s often the stance Bird is seeing clients interested in taking — even if they aren’t always widely publicizing it.

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

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

Information, please

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

Employers have to start ensuring they’re posting prices for medical services included in their health insurance plans as a result of new federal price transparency rules. The requirements stem from the aptly named No Surprises Act, which was part of a larger act signed into law at the end of 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 screenings — for insurance plans starting in 2023. For plans starting the following year, employers have to let employees know the price of any and all services covered by the plan.

The disclosure requirements were originally set to be implemented in January but were deferred 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’s the employer that’s ultimately responsible for making sure user-friendly information is made readily available.

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

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

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

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