As more companies cover abortion travel in health insurance plans, will interstate travel bans follow?

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Even before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, 11 states limited whether employer insurance plans could cover abortions with exceptions for rape, incest, endangering life and harm to the fetus.

But those states, which include Texas, Indiana and Oklahoma, cannot block plans to cover out-of-state abortions, said Harvey Cotton, principal attorney at the consulting group Ropes & Gray.

Since the Court’s decision paved the way for some states to pass abortion bans, numerous companies, including Google, Kroger and Disney, have offered their employees out-of-state coverage and travel reimbursements.

But it’s too early to tell whether those benefits will carry over to the inevitable future legal challenges.

Does private health insurance cover abortions?

Before Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe, “employers who wanted to offer a broad range of reproductive health benefits could do so,” Cotton said, except for plans that were fully insured.

These plans are subject to state regulations because insurers, not employers, bear the financial risk of providing health coverage. People who are enrolled in a fully insured plan may not be able to get coverage for out-of-state abortions

Most employer-based plans are self-funded, according to a 2021 study published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, meaning employers bear the financial risk of employee insurance and insurance plans. These plans are subject to federal laws, such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which supersede state laws governing insurance.

Although there isn’t enough data, Michelle Banker, director of reproductive rights and health litigation at the National Women’s Law Center, said before Dobbs that low-wage workers are less likely to get abortion coverage “just because more -high-paying jobs offer health benefits.”

To find out how and if your job-based health insurance covers abortions, ask for a copy of your plan document and search for terms like “reproductive care,” Banker recommends.

You don’t need to indicate an interest in information about abortion coverage, she said.

Either contact an abortion provider and ask if they can process your insurance or contact your insurance provider and ask about out-of-pocket costs.

Will there be interstate abortion travel bans?

Cotton said he expects “a shift in states’ interest in regulating travel.” The uncertainty is causing some clients to hold off on reimbursing employees for abortion-related travel expenses, he said.

Some states that ban or restrict abortions will have “no interest in restricting travel,” Cotton added, but states like Texas “are signaling a very aggressive approach to employers who are going to try to do that.”

In his concurring opinion on the Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that states should not be allowed to prohibit people from traveling to obtain an abortion “based on the constitutional right of interstate travel.”

If there is a ruling on whether employers can cover travel expenses for someone to have an abortion, “it’s probably going to affect more than just abortions,” Cotton told US TODAY, since many companies cover travel expenses for various medical procedures, including cancer treatment and transplants.

Abortion costs hit low-income people hardest, judges say

Former Justice Stephen Breyer and Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote in their dissenting opinion that traveling to get an out-of-state abortion is less a legal issue than an accessibility issue.

“In states that ban abortions, women of means will still be able to travel to get the services they need. Women who cannot afford to do so will suffer the most.”

For example, in Texas, where abortions are prohibited after a fetal heartbeat is detected — about six weeks after conception — a person would have to travel 494 miles round trip, or seven hours by car on average, to have an abortion, according to research published last year year from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization of choice.

This can cause someone to miss out on earnings for a whole day. Additionally, with gas prices hovering around $4.4 a gallon in Texas, it will cost about $90 to complete the trip for a car that gets 24.2 miles per gallon, the average mileage for cars driven in the U.S.

More state abortion bans “will only exacerbate” the financial burden of having an abortion, and that will disproportionately affect people of color, Banker said.

But “there are strong [legal] arguments in support of employers’ ability to offer benefits and take steps to protect their employees,” which may help ease the burden for some Americans.

Companies have an easy and legal way to help their workers living in anti-abortion states — expanding paid leave

2022 USA Today. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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