Big employers are offering abortion benefits. Will the information be safe?

In response to the Supreme Court overturning Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, large employers thought they had found a way to help workers living in states where abortion would be prohibited: provide travel assistance to other states for services. But this solution only triggers the question.

Experts warn that simply claiming benefits could pave the way for law enforcement officials in states criminalizing abortion.

“How will law enforcement respond to health-related travel and how will employers respond?” Lucia Savage, a former Obama administration official and current chief privacy officer at Omada Health, a California startup, says lawyers are asking themselves only two questions that help people manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and prediabetes.

Some regulations – such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which governs health privacy; And other insurance laws – protect parts of the patient’s personal life. HR departments need to keep some medical data closely, but a designated law enforcement agent with a search warrant or subpoena may eventually have access to patient data.

This will complicate life for the dozens of corporations that promise to protect or expand abortion benefits for employees and their dependents.

A KHN review of publicly available statements identified at least 114 companies that have pledged to maintain abortion benefits or to extend benefits by paying for off-time or travel and accommodation costs so that employees or dependents can have abortions. They include some of the largest, most prominent corporations in the United States, for example, Starbucks, Bank of America, and 54 companies in the Fortune 500 – including California-based Disney and Apple.

But some companies were uncomfortable describing what steps they are taking to protect employee privacy. Only 28 companies answered KHN inquiries about their privacy policy. Most declined to comment. “There’s nothing to share outside of our statement,” said Erin Rolfes, a spokeswoman for Kroger, which has supermarkets in 35 states. Amanda Devlin, a spokeswoman for Microsoft, declined to share information on how employees would demand compensation.

Others were a little more specific about how their facilities would be managed. Ulta Beauty spokeswoman Aileen Gisemar said the Illinois-based company’s abortion facilities will be governed by its “health care plan and internal system.”

Asked whether these internal arrangements would be risky for subpoena or search warrants, he said, “Every state will implement the decision of the Supreme Court to quash the verdict. Rowe vs. Wade And with state law being developed rapidly by state, we are unable to comment on the potential impact at this time. “

Observers agree that it is uncertain how companies will deal with the privacy implications of increasing abortion benefits.

“They’re all trying to build this bike while they’re riding it,” said Shelley Alparn, director of corporate engagement at Rhea Ventures, a nonprofit investor in reproductive and maternal health companies.

Employers are going to try to “do a punt on privacy,” predicts Wayne Tripp, CEO of San Francisco-based Included Health, a startup that provides navigation services and virtual care for employers. Many companies obviously want to expand the benefits. “But it’s less clear how you do it,” he said. “It’s getting more and more cloudy every minute.”

Some employers will probably hire companies like Tripp to handle the benefits for them. Matches, dating aggregates, planned parenting have been partnered with Los Angeles, and all arrangements and information will be routed through that group. Some startups are expanding their offerings: California-based Carat Fertility, a company that offers fertility care services, will help its employer clients who want to expand access to abortion, writes CEO Tammy Sun.

That should fix some privacy issues, Tripp says. His company arranges travel and pay for a variety of procedures, such as bariatric surgery and cancer treatment. A patient can claim those benefits through Tripp’s company, so the employer only sees aggregate information about the amount paid to care for patients. It helps protect information from colleagues.

Still, there are several open questions, Savage said. Among them: How will an employee plan respond to law enforcement requests? Will the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, which administers health privacy regulations, shrink in situations where law enforcement can request data?

Currently, investigators have access to warrants or subpoenas and some emergency situations.

In reality, uncertainty may discourage pregnant patients from claiming benefits, said Larry Levitt, executive vice president of health policy at KFF. “There is no doubt that people will limit how often this facility will be used because they are concerned about disclosing an abortion to their employers, even if it is available,” he said.

Even then it was so Rowe The law of the land was, when patients were often chosen to pay out of pocket without relying on their insurance. “Employers who provide these abortion benefits are supported by the definition of reproductive rights, but that doesn’t mean that employees still don’t want privacy when they or family members are having abortions,” Levitt said.

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