Nearly two months after a draft revealing that the U.S. Supreme Court planned to strike down Roe v. Wade was leaked, that nation’s highest court officially overturned the case that legalized abortion in the country on Friday.
Abortion laws will now be left up to individual states, 26 of which are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. The Supreme Court’s ruling has various workplace implications, including health coverage considerations, travel reimbursement decisions, employee experience and culture concerns and legal complications.
Several large employers have already announced they will cover their employees’ expenses to travel to access abortions, including Amazon, Yelp, Uber, Citigroup and Match.
A recent WorldatWork pulse poll conducted ahead of Friday’s Supreme Court decision found that 77% of the 153 organizations responding planned to provide some form of travel reimbursement or benefit for their employees who live in states where access to abortions is restricted.
Employers interested in offering a travel benefit should also consider how far their employees may need to travel to access abortions. NBC News analyzed what the average travel time and distance would be for women who live in major cities in 21 states where access to abortions is restricted, finding that the average drive time would be four hours to receive care in bordering states where abortion remains legal.
In May, Randa Deaton, vice president of purchaser engagement at Purchaser Business Group on Health told Workspan Daily that many employers are viewing the travel reimbursement benefit as part of a bigger push to provide equal access to affordable care across the workplace, which includes abortions.
“The travel reimbursement benefit in accessing reproductive services really aligns to the journey that the business community has been on to identify any inequitable access to care and make corrections where possible to advance health equity,” Deaton said. “So, this is really about access to care, whether it’s cancer treatment, reproductive services, or action to preserve access to any medical and mental healthcare.”
The Business Dilemma
A disconnect could exist between employers and employees when it comes to perceived importance of Roe v. Wade. In the WorldatWork pulse poll, 40% of organizations responding indicated it wasn’t important for them to take action if Roe v. Wade was overturned, while 38% said it was extremely or very important to take action.
Workforce demographics certainly dictate how an employer might respond to the court decision. For instance, it’s possible a portion of the 40% responding to WorldatWork’s pulse poll could have very few people in the employee population that would be affected by the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Still, employee sentiment could necessitate an organizational response, especially amid a tight labor market where there are ample talent shortages and workforce experience is paramount. Employers must consider how their workforce culture is affected by remaining silent on the issue, especially if they have a large female employee population. A USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that 61% of respondents oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
Marta Turba, CCP, CSCP, vice president of content management at WorldatWork, noted the value of employers providing some form of communication in response to the Roe v. Wade decision.
“This topic is important to workers everywhere, regardless of gender or perceived need of access to health services,” Turba said. “Organizations play a crucial role in helping employees understand the potential impact the Roe v. Wade ruling has on decisions related to their health, work and families. Direct and simple communication — of organizational values (inclusivity and equality), health plan access changes and any ancillary services related to mental health support — is key.”
WorldatWork’s pulse poll found that 35% of organizations are currently evaluating potential changes to benefit plans but have not taken any action yet and 24% are evaluating potential changes to HR policies but have not taken any action yet. Just 5% said they have modified benefit plans and 2% said they have modified HR policies in response to Roe v. Wade.
Katy Johnson, senior counsel, health policy at the American Benefits Council, noted that organizations will have to think through the potential limitations of their own health plans in regard to providing a travel reimbursement benefit. Existing health plans might not have an in-network provider in the state in which an employee is traveling to seek an abortion procedure, which could require comprehensive changes to the health plan itself.
“I’ve spoken to employers that would like to consider providing a travel benefit, in particular within the group health plan, but then we’re getting down to brass tacks of how,” Johnson said. “Employers have to consider where people might go and how they will deal with the limits of their network. So I think there’s questions about how to design the benefit once you get past the hurdle of whether you want to provide it.”
Johnson added that employers might also need to consider an action plan for employees who aren’t covered under the group health plan. This could include contract and gig workers and part-time employees, which would require significant logistical work from a compliance standpoint, she said.