Large employers offer abortion benefits. Will the information remain secure?

In response to the Supreme Court’s repeal of Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, large employers believed they had found a way to help workers who live in states where abortion is prohibited: offering benefits to support travel to other states for services. But this solution only raises questions.

Experts warn that simply claiming benefits could create paper trails for law enforcement officials in states that criminalize abortion.

“How will law enforcement react to health-related travel, and how will employers respond to it?” They are just two of the questions lawyers ask themselves Lucia Savagea former Obama administration official and current Privacy Officer at Umada Healtha California startup that helps people manage chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

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

That will complicate life for the dozens of companies that promise to protect, or even expand, abortion benefits for employees and their families.

A KHN review of publicly available data identified at least 114 companies that have pledged to maintain abortion benefits or to expand benefits by offering paid time off or reimbursement for travel and accommodation expenses until employees or dependents can obtain an abortion. They include some of the largest and most prominent companies in the US For example, 54 companies – including California-based Starbucks, Bank of America, Disney and Apple – are in the Fortune 500.

But some companies were reluctant to describe the steps they are taking to protect employee privacy. Only 28 companies responded to KHN’s inquiries about their confidentiality policies. Most declined to comment. Erin Rolfes, a spokeswoman for Kroger, who has supermarkets in 35 states. Microsoft spokeswoman Amanda Devlin also declined to share information about how employees are claiming compensation.

Others have been a little more specific about how their benefits are managed. Ulta Beauty spokeswoman Elaine Ziesmer said the Illinois-based company’s abortion benefits will be managed through its “in-house systems and health care plan.”

When asked whether these bylaws would be subject to a subpoena or search warrant, she said, “Given that each state will implement the Supreme Court’s decision to rescind Raw vs. Wade State-by-state laws are rapidly evolving, and we cannot comment on potential impacts at this time.”

Observers agreed that how companies would handle the privacy implications of expanding abortion benefits is uncertain.

“They are all trying to make this bike while riding,” he said. Shelley AlbernDirector of Corporate Engagement at Ria Venturesa non-profit investor in reproductive and maternal health companies.

He predicted employers would “try to take a gamble on privacy.” Owen TripCEO of a San Francisco-based company Included health, a startup that provides navigation and virtual care services to employers. It is clear that many companies intend to expand the benefits. “But how you do it is not clear,” he said. “It’s getting blurry every minute.”

Some employers will likely retain companies like Tripp’s to administer benefits for them. Match, the dating group, has partnered with Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, and all arrangements and information will be directed through that group. In a statement, Match also pledged to take steps to protect employee privacy, saying it will “fight all legal requests or subpoenas for any employee data or user data related to abortion or LGBTQIA+ rights.”

Some startups are expanding their offerings: California-based carrot fertilitya company that provides fertility care services, and will help clients of employers who want to expand access to abortion, CEO Tammy Sun wrote.

That should solve some privacy issues, Tripp said. His company runs travel and paid leave for a range of procedures such as bariatric surgery and cancer treatment. A patient can claim these benefits through Tripp, so the employer only sees aggregate information about payments made to patients seeking care. This helps protect information from co-workers.

However, there are many open questions, Savage said. Among them: How will the employee plan respond to law enforcement requests? Will the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, which administers health privacy regulations, narrow the circumstances in which law enforcement can request data?

Currently, investigators Can be accessed by court order or subpoena and in certain emergency situations.

In practice, the uncertainty may discourage pregnant patients from claiming benefits, said Larry Levitt, KFF’s executive vice president of health policy. “There is no doubt that concern about disclosing abortion to employers will limit the number of times this feature will be used, even when it is available,” he said.

This was the case even while Ro It was the law of the land, when patients often chose to pay out of their own pockets, rather than relying on their own insurance. “Employers that offer these abortion benefits by definition support reproductive rights, but that doesn’t mean employees still want privacy when they or a loved one is having an abortion,” Levitt said.

[Update: This article was revised at 10 a.m. ET on July 1, 2022, to include a statement from Match, delivered after deadline, that detailed its policy on protecting employees’ privacy.]

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