In April 2022, Yelp expanded its insurance coverage for travel expenses for out-of-state medical procedures to include abortion.
The increased coverage arrived three weeks before the leak of a first draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion poised to strike down the historic Roe v. Wade ruling, which guaranteed all American women the right to an abortion. As expected, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade just weeks after the leak and abortion is now banned in 10 states with more than 20 others introducing restrictions on the procedure.
Since then, many more U.S.-based employers are also expanding their insurance coverage for travel expenses for out-of-state medical procedures to include abortion.
“Our insurance plan has always covered abortion and other reproductive services,” said Miriam Warren, the technology company’s chief diversity officer, in an email to Benefits Canada. “In April, we announced that our plan will also cover travel expenses for employees and covered dependants who need to go out of state to obtain these services if they’re locally prohibited. This benefit is intentionally designed to solve for current or future action that restricts access to covered reproductive health care.”
The coverage is part of Yelp’s insurance provider’s family planning and infertility benefits, which are available to all employees and their covered dependants. “In order for Yelp to uphold its values and provide an equitable environment where everyone has the same opportunities, we could not stand idly by in the face of legislation that would limit our employees’ abilities to determine how and when to expand their families,” said Warren.
Equitable benefits for all
In the 1970s, U.S. federal legislators introduced the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which allows large, multi-state corporations to provide the same benefits to all of their employees without having to adhere to different state laws.
Employers with self-funded plans, which fall under the ERISA, are now waiting with bated breath to see whether the legislation will shield them from litigation if they continue offering abortion services or products through different means, such as the travel benefit.
The issue of equitable health care has become even more of an imperative for Yelp now that it has employees in every U.S. state — many of which stand to lose access to reproductive health care, said Warren. “This travel benefit allows us to safeguard our employees and provide them with equal access to needed health services regardless of their location.”
In Canada, insurance companies are responsible for ensuring plan sponsors are educated on what’s covered under the different provincial plans, says Pam Martin, vice-president and senior consultant at Baynes & White Inc. “Even so, plan sponsors should put their benefits offerings in place across the board.”
If employees in different jurisdictions have access to different benefits, it can open up inequity among the workforce, so it’s important for organizations to provide consistent offerings across the board, notes Martin. For example, some Canadian provinces offer gender affirmation coverage via the public health-care system, but employers with a distributed workforce opting to provide this benefit should make it available for all employees across the country.
Due to Yelp’s distributed workforce, it will continue to implement forward-looking and sustainable policies that allow employees and their dependants to have equal access to health-care benefits, regardless of their chosen residence, said Warren.
An eye to DEI benefits
Benefits became more of a focus during the coronavirus pandemic, with many employees staying with their employers because they valued their benefits plans, says Martin.
“While [employers] are conscious of cost, it’s not as central as it was before because they know they have to attract talent with these tools.”
Yelp’s focus on equitable benefits, particularly when it comes to women’s reproductive rights, has also helped attract new talent. “Over the past few months, we’ve continually heard prospective employees say that our stance on this issue is one of the aspects that drew them to Yelp,” said Warren. “The pandemic dramatically reshaped the relationship that individuals have with the companies they work for and I expect individuals will continue to place an emphasis on corporate values when they’re searching for their next role.”
To ensure Yelp is supporting employees in all facets of life, the organization provides paid maternity leave, family planning and infertility treatment benefits. In addition to its backup childcare and elder-care benefits, it has also recently implemented a caregiver reimbursement that can be used toward the cost of a babysitter or nanny.
And to address the rising mental-health epidemic, it also introduced a virtual therapy platform for employees and their dependants aged 13 and older. One of the company’s employee resource groups, Yelp Parents, is also a valuable way for employees to support each other and share ideas on maintaining balance, while juggling work and childcare, noted Warren.
Yelp also offers a comprehensive list of LGBTQ2S+ benefits that includes counselling, hormone therapy, gender affirmation surgery and reconstructive services. Two other employee resource groups — OutBurst and TransMission — highlight the achievements of its LGBTQ2S+ employees and provide diverse programming featuring members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. “Our employees care about equal health coverage and they care about Yelp caring about this.”
Inclusive offerings, such as gender affirmation coverage, family planning benefits or coverage of travel for abortion, are all well-being tools, says Martin, because not having access to these types of benefits can be harmful to employees’ overall health and wellness.
Employers, including Yelp, are adding these benefits with a focus toward improving employee wellness. “The health and well-being of employees is Yelp’s top priority and we will continue to focus on providing our employees with access to the care they need regardless of where they live,” said Warren. “By continuing to engage in this conversation, we hope we can inspire other businesses to do more to support the health and safety of their employees and ensure their employees have access to the care they need.”
Lauren Bailey is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.