More and more employers in the US are adding fertility benefits to their rewards packages in an effort to attract and retain employees who are interested in starting families. The latest organization to do so is State Street, which has added fertility and more generous adoption assistance to its benefits package in a deliberate effort to be more inclusive of LGBT employees in particular, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News:
The financial services firm consulted its employees in an effort to make a meaningful expansion to its benefits package, which now includes four weeks of fully paid leave for employees who are primary caregivers to a child born via surrogacy; $20,000 in reimbursement for fertility-related expenses beyond the firm’s medical plans, such as surrogacy; and $20,000 in reimbursement for adoption assistance (up from its previous reimbursement of $5,000). The company says the benefits can be used once per calendar year and employees are allowed up to $40,000 in lifetime financial support for these benefits combined.
State Street is by no means alone in embracing fertility benefits as a talent attractor: A Willis Towers Watson survey conducted in January found that 66 percent of US employers expect to offer these benefits by next year, compared to 55 percent in 2017. These programs are also becoming more inclusive of LGBT employees who are looking to start families: 65 percent of employers who offer fertility benefits currently provide coverage to same-sex couples, but 81 percent are expected to by 2019. Employers told Willis Towers Watson that their main motivations for providing fertility benefits were to support diversity and inclusion, to help attract and retain top talent, to be recognized as a “best place to work,” and to foster a more woman-friendly workplace.
The US Department of Health and Human Services is scaling back the Affordable Care Act’s controversial requirement that employer-sponsored health insurance include coverage for birth control, which some employers have argued violates their First Amendment rights by forcing them to pay for products or services that violate their religious beliefs. According to NPR, the new rule, which went into effect Friday, will allow any organization to exclude coverage for contraception if it has a religious or moral objection:
“This provides an exemption and it’s a limited one,” said Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office of Civil Rights. “We should have space for organizations to live out their religious identity and not face discrimination.” He said he expects most companies will continue to provide coverage for birth control and that the changes will only affect a tiny percentage of U.S. women. …
But some health policy analysts say the new rule creates a huge opening that lets any employer claim an exemption, leaving their female workers to pay the full cost of any birth control out of pocket. “It is a huge loophole for any employer that does not want to provide birth control coverage to their employees,” says Dania Palanker, a professor at Georgetown’s Center on Health Insurance Reform.
The Trump administration has hinted previously that it was planning to weaken the contraceptive mandate. This has become an issue of concern to women’s rights groups, especially as many women use birth control medications for purposes not strictly related to contraception. Opponents of expanding this exemption argue that millions of women could lose their access to contraceptives, but most employers are unlikely to claim this exemption, one expert tells the Associated Press:
While the Affordable Care Act does not mandate that most US employers provide health insurance for their employees, for those who do, the law requires that these health plans cover a specific set of health care products and procedures, including contraception. The contraception mandate has proven highly controversial among certain religious communities, and has been the subject of numerous lawsuits by employers who say the mandate forces them to violate their religious beliefs.
Unwinding the regulatory framework of the ACA has been a core goal of the Trump administration and the Republican majority in Congress, and this particular requirement is among their prime targets. In an executive order issued last month, President Donald Trump instructed federal agencies to “address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate” created by the ACA, and last week, the Office of Management and Budget said it was reviewing an interim final rule that would relax the mandate—though some advocacy groups are already preparing to challenge that rule in court, the New York Times reported. On Wednesday, Vox revealed a leaked draft of the new regulation, which would effectively grant employers a broad exemption from this mandate:
The draft proposal, if finalized, would significantly broaden the type of companies and organizations that can request an exemption. This could lead to many American women who currently receive no-cost contraception having to pay out of pocket for their medication. “It’s just a very, very, very broad exception for everybody,” Tim Jost, a health law professor at Washington and Lee University, told Vox. “If you don’t want to provide it, you don’t have to provide it.” …
It is unclear whether the Trump administration has made changes to the draft regulation over the past week, or what the final version of the regulation might look like. …
If implemented as written, Vox reports, the regulation would allow any employer to request an exemption from the contraceptive mandate based on moral or religious objections—a right currently granted only to certain religiously affiliated organizations and private businesses. The Atlantic’s Olga Khazan at the Atlantic asks the obvious question: How many companies will stop covering birth control, if the Trump administration gives them the option?