Businesses are being forced to balance privacy and healthcare

Pro-Choice activists are seen outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 15, 2022.

Almond Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

The challenges that the end of Roe v. Wade entails are just beginning for American companies.

By overturning abortion precedent on Friday, the US Supreme Court unleashed a new set of difficulties for companies navigating a country divided between states that allow the procedure and others that prohibit it.

One of these problems for companies is deciding whether – and how – to have access to abortion for millions of employees living in states where the procedures are no longer legal.

“Every major organization has health insurance,” said Maurice Schweitzer, a professor in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. “The question will be what is covered? Is travel covered for an out-of-state abortion if you are operating in a state that prohibits abortions?”

Some of the country’s big employers, including Apple, CVS Health and Disney, reiterated that the companies cover travel to states that allow abortions. Others, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, rushed to update their medicinal benefits. Several Prominent business leaders went a step further and condemned the end of 50 years of federal abortion rights.

Many others declined to comment or said they are still reviewing the plans.

The Supreme Court decision will have ramifications for the corporate world that will go far beyond employer healthcare benefits, where companies locate headquarters and offices, which lawmakers and political action committees they donate to, and how they communicate with employees, customers and investors .

Over the years, certain companies have chosen to take a stand on divisive issues, including the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a police officer and Florida’s HB 1557 statute, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” statute referred to as.

The Supreme Court decision will likely force companies into action and make it difficult for business leaders to remain silent, Schweitzer said. With these decisions, he said, companies could risk a lawsuit, run afoul of politicians and provoke backlash from customers or employees.

“It will be an additional challenge for the executives,” he said.

For companies that choose to cover abortion treatment in other states, this will raise new questions, including how to reimburse travel expenses and protect employee privacy.

Expansion of employee benefits

Some companies like Netflix, Microsoft, and Google’s parent Alphabet already have health policies that include abortion and travel perks, but others are catching up.

JPMorgan Chase told employees in a memo that it would be adding travel insurance to its medical benefits starting in July. Under Armor said it will add a travel benefit to its medical plans. Dick CEO Lauren Hobart shared on LinkedIn that employees, their spouses and dependents can receive travel expenses of up to $4,000 if they live in an area where access is restricted.

Warner Bros. Discovery also reached out to its employees after announcing the verdict on Friday.

“We recognize that the issue of abortion can evoke a variety of emotions and responses that are different for each of us based on our experiences and beliefs,” wrote Adria Alpert Romm, Chief People and Culture Officer, in a memo to employees, which was made available to CNBC. “We are here to support you.”

Romm said the company is expanding its healthcare benefits to include expenses for employees and their covered family members who must travel to access a range of medical procedures, including abortion care, family planning and reproductive health.

Amazon and other companies added travel reimbursement earlier this year when Sunbelt state governments passed legislation that closed abortion clinics or otherwise restricted access.

However, companies’ response over time will vary and could include removing abortion coverage from health plans or offering indirect support such as paid time off or contributions to a health savings account that could be used for travel expenses to seek treatment in another state will.

According to a survey of more than 1,000 human resource professionals for the Society for Human Resource Management, nearly 30% of organizations said they would increase support under a staff support program for reproductive care in a post-Roge world. The survey was conducted from May 24th to June 7th.

About a third cited paid time off as the most important resource to support reproductive care, and 14% said they would include reproductive rights in their diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Nearly a quarter of organizations said offering a health savings account to cover out-of-state reproductive care travel will improve their ability to compete for talent.

Companies that take a stand

Even before the Supreme Court decision, companies were under pressure to get involved in the abortion debate — or at least to articulate how abortion restrictions and bans might affect their companies.

Companies have long used their economic power to influence political policies. When Georgia lawmakers tried to ban almost all abortions in 2019, Hollywood used threats of production boycotts in the state to get its stance on the policy clear.

Still, post-pandemic, studios have been slower to respond to new laws they would traditionally have resisted. Downtime is no longer a luxury Hollywood can afford as it tries to keep up with demand for new content.

Disney has been through a recent battle over a hot cultural issue. The company publicly defied Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law after its employees urged the company to take action. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Florida’s Republican-led legislature revoked the company’s special district in the state, which is home to Walt Disney World and other resorts, in a move it said was not retaliatory.

In a memo to employees Friday, Disney said it “remains committed to removing barriers and providing all employees with universal access to quality and affordable care.” Disney, which already has pre-existing travel benefits that allow its employees who do not have access to medical care at their current location, to obtain medical care for cancer treatment, transplants, rare disease treatment and family planning, including pregnancy-related decisions .

When individual states decide whether to uphold or block abortion rights, lawmakers can face backlash from corporations and influential business leaders. This could include boycotts, loss of political donations, or informed decisions about the location of headquarters, distribution centers, or new facilities.

“The overthrow of Roe v Wade is a devastating decision by the US Supreme Court,” billionaire business mogul Richard Branson wrote in a statement. “This will not reduce abortions, it will only make them unsafe. Reproductive rights are human rights. We all have to stand up for an election.”

Branson was among companies and business leaders who criticized the Supreme Court’s decision.

“This ruling puts women’s health at risk, denies them their human rights and threatens to undo the progress we’ve made on gender equality in the workplace since Roe,” said Jeremy Stoppelman, co-founder and CEO of Yelp. “Business leaders must stand up for the health and safety of their employees by speaking out against the wave of abortion bans unleashed as a result of this decision and by urging Congress to codify Roe into law.”

Investors in public companies could have a big impact on how people react to the new ruling.

At a Walmart shareholder meeting earlier this month, an investor called on the nation’s largest private employer to release a report on the potential risks and costs of government measures that limit reproductive health care and any plans the company has to mitigate those risks. The non-binding proposal was rejected by the retailer and unsupported by the majority of shareholders.

Similar proposals may appear at other companies’ shareholder meetings in the near future. Analysts could also scrutinize executives during upcoming conference calls.

Walmart is based in Arkansas, a state that already has a law on the books to trigger a ban. The company declined to comment on Friday when asked if it would cover travel expenses to abortion-allowing states. It already pays for trips to hospitals and medical centers for other types of medical procedures, such as spinal surgery and certain heart procedures.

Wharton’s Schweitzer said employees and customers are increasingly expecting, working with, and spending more from companies that reflect their values.

The corporate world has led the way in some cases, with companies turning Juneteeth into a company holiday before it became a federal holiday. Some companies like Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s and CEOs like Levi Strauss & Co.’s Chip Bergh have become known for speaking out.

“There is a growing trend for leaders to become more involved in social and political issues,” he said. “This will reinforce this trend where many leaders are speaking up, many leaders are leading on this issue, and it will normalize the idea that leaders are part of the political process.” Businesses are being forced to balance privacy and healthcare

Drew Weisholtz

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