“Everyone wants to comply with laws, but you can react in different ways to what’s happening around you in the macro environment,” said Samantha Wellington, executive vice president of business affairs and chief legal officer of TriNet. “Every step you take speaks volumes about you as an employer.”
Disney, Target, Netflix, JPMorgan Chase and other big companies were quick to announce that their healthcare plans would cover abortion travel after the court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
With operations across the country, large companies were used to juggling jurisdictions, and the nature of self-insured health plans, favored by many large employers, means they are not regulated by states. Many of these companies already covered medical travel, including abortion travel, as part of their plans.
But for small employers, the calculations are more complicated. They have fewer resources and tend to have fully insured healthcare plans, in which insurance companies take financial responsibility for claims. These plans are subject to state insurance laws, which could limit their ability to cover travel costs for an abortion in states that have restrictions or bans.
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And while more than 100 major companies have taken public action in response to abortion bans — from covering abortion trips to donating to organizations fighting for reproductive rights — only half of companies under 500 employees took similar action, according to a tracker by Rhia Ventures, an investment fund focused on reproductive rights.
And yet, they make up a large share of U.S. employers: of the roughly 32.6 million businesses in the U.S., fewer than 21,000 have 500 or more employees, according to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.
TriNet was able to respond quickly to the challenges posed by the Dobbs decision because of its “deep expertise” in designing benefits and “the types of products and offerings that small and medium-sized businesses need to be relevant as an employer in today’s marketplace”, Wellington said. And the company-wide service model allows TriNet to rapidly deploy new products.
In addition to reimbursement of travel costs for medical care, TriNet offers its 23,000 customers the option of helping employees pay for adoption travel costs. TriNet will act as the plan administrator, processing claims and reimbursement payments, allowing employees who seek help to remain anonymous to their employers.
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The element of anonymity is key because companies that help employees seek out-of-state abortion care could put themselves at risk of criminal liability in Texas, Missouri and several other states. seeking to target those who “aid and abet” abortion.
“From a customer perspective, they’re able to say, ‘We don’t have that data,'” Wellington said.
Derek Steer, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Fashiona data analysis software company, was one of the first customers to contact TriNet after the Dobbs decision. With 58 of Mode’s 250 employees in states that have already enacted or are about to ban abortion, Steer knew employees would want solutions.
“We’re in a time now where people expect their companies to do a lot for them,” Steer said. “Sometimes when they feel like the government has let them down, they turn to business.”
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Ensuring anonymity had to be a top priority if the company was looking for a travel benefit, he said. But as a small business, “that’s something that’s pretty much logistically impossible for us to do,” Steer said. “Without the help of someone like TriNet, I don’t think we would be able to do the kind of program people are looking for.
Steer said he views the benefit as a way to protect the health and safety of his employees by ensuring equal access to medical care. Offering attractive perks also helps smaller companies like Mode face stiff competition for talent, he noted.
“Part of getting top talent is being a top employer in terms of the benefits we provide, but increasingly it’s about being an employer who is willing to take a stand on the issues keys that people are concerned about,” Steer said. “It’s an example of where we can do the right thing with our team and in doing so be an attractive place to work for these people, especially when their alternatives are some of these big, well-resourced companies. “