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Medical Tourism Increases from Abortion Law | The Phia Group

By: Kaitlyn MacLeod, Esq.

Many employers have recently been exploring how to add “medical tourism” benefits as a way to guarantee that their employees have access to safe, comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

It’s been all over the news – for the first time ever, a first draft of a Supreme Court decision has been leaked, and it appears that the conservative-majority court is set to overrule the longstanding Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions. The draft opinion is for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which concerns the Mississippi abortion law that limits availability for abortion procedures to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy and was argued before the Supreme Court last winter.

Justice Alito, the author of the draft Dobbs opinion, states, “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”

Currently, Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett appear to join Justice Alito’s opinion; giving it the five votes necessary to become precedent and overturn Roe. If the draft opinion is finalized in the coming months, it’s highly likely that participants in health plans which offer abortion services as a covered benefit will be unable to obtain the service in many parts of the country.

Over 22 states already have laws on the books that will come into effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned, with 18 of those states having a nearly full ban on abortion procedures.  While some states are creating barriers to abortion access, others are looking to halt the most restrictive abortion limitations from spreading into their state. Texas’ abortion law allows people to bring civil lawsuits against those who perform or aid those in obtaining an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. A new Connecticut law would allow people or organizations to countersue for damages and other costs, while also restricting extradition from the state if an individual performs a legal abortion in Connecticut that is illegal in other states.

To skirt these restrictions on access, some plans have considered adding a travel benefit for members that would need to travel out-of-state to receive a covered abortion service under the plan. Yelp recently implemented this benefit, noting that it “allows our U.S. employees and their dependents to have equitable access to reproductive care, regardless of where they live.”

Amazon this week became the latest large US company to announce a travel benefit for seeking access to abortion care, offering up to $4,000 in travel expenses annually for non-threatening medical treatments. The Amazon policy not only provides a medical tourism benefit for reproductive care, but also applies to other services with physical access issues, such as gene therapies and substance use disorder services, in cases where the treatments are not available within 100 miles of an employee’s home. Amazon’s policy stems largely from having a remote and widespread workforce – ensuring that participants have equitable access to care, regardless of their location.

If the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade in June, the availability of abortion procedures will widely vary based on state law. There are currently over 27 abortion deserts in the country that persist in almost every region, where patients have to travel more than 100 miles to get to the nearest clinic, according to the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. A medical tourism benefit is one way for plans to provide access to these procedures for all participants.

Beyond medical tourism benefits, the FDA also is loosening federal restrictions on mail-order abortion medications, which would provide a cost-effective treatment for health plans looking to increase access for their participants. You can read more about this development here.

Interested in more on abortion access and state law? Our own Nick Bonds recently posted a blog on this topic, found here.

Stay tuned for future updates on the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court and how it could affect your participants.