06 Sep 2022 Walmart Expansion of Employee Reproductive Health Benefits Mirrors Voter Views
The largest private employer in the United States, Walmart, just announced new employee benefits designed to aid pregnant workers whose lives may be endangered by the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic June 24 decision to strip American women of their right to bodily autonomy. Walmart’s announcement, as well as a new plan to cover family-building services such as IVF and surrogacy for some employees, might be surprising for a company long criticized for shirking on wages and benefits for its immense, largely part-time workforce. But it signals a current reality that Walmart’s savvy retailers well understand: The majority of American workers want access to affordable family-building technologies and reproductive health care, and, in a tight labor market, offering that access is a powerful recruitment and retention tool.
In an internal memo August 19 from its Chief People Officer Donna Morris, Walmart announced its health care plans will now cover abortion services under specific circumstances for employees who are eligible for benefits, CNN reported. The coverage would be available only in cases of “health risk to the mother, rape or incest, ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or lack of fetal viability.” The company also announced it will expand its travel coverage to include travel for abortion services, in those limited circumstances, where they are unavailable within 100 miles, as reported by ABC7 Chicago.
Walmart Expands Employee Fertility Benefits
The Walmart announcement comes as the company launches expanded coverage for assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI) and egg cryopreservation, as well as surrogacy expenses and a four-fold increase in adoption support, ABC7 reported. Chief People Office Morris said the company acted to expand its reproductive health coverage after “listening to our associates about what’s important to them.”
“We strive to provide quality, competitive and accessible health coverage that supports you and your families,” Morris wrote in the internal memo. It is unclear how many of the company’s 1.6 million U.S. workers are eligible for employee health benefits.
Walmart’s apparent embrace of expanded reproductive health benefits for its employees at first glance is a bit surprising. The company has long been criticized for its low wages and its business model of employing a largely parttime workforce ineligible for health care benefits, often placing a burden on local government services. The company and its founding family also were known as supporters and funders of Republican and conservative candidates and causes.
Private Companies Use Fertility Benefits for Employee Recruitment, Retention
In recent years, though, the company has taken steps to rehabilitate its image. As noted in a Politico report late last year, Walmart has actively collaborated with the Biden administration on alleviating supply chain issues. The company also has shifted its political activities over the past several years, contributing equally to Democrats and Republicans in 2020.
While politics may play a part in Walmart’s expansion of reproductive healthcare benefits, a major motivation may be to sustain staffing levels in an exceedingly tight labor market. With the U.S. economy still adding hundreds of thousands of jobs each quarter, American workers have more choices than they once did. Walmart is following a trend we wrote about earlier: high-tech and major corporations are using reproductive healthcare benefits such as coverage for IVF and fertility preservation services as recruitment incentives and retention tools. Major companies offering fertility benefits include AT&T, IBM, Liberty Mutual, Lyft TD Bank, CVS Health Corp., Cigna Corp. and Gilead Sciences, to name a few. According to a 2021 survey by Mercer, 42 percent of companies with 20,000 or more employees offered IVF coverage in 2020; 19 percent covered egg freezing services.
‘We are definitely seeing the private sector lead the way in terms of adding fertility and family-building benefits,” Betsey Campbell, a spokesperson for Resolve, the National Infertility Association, told CBS News. “They are recognizing this is important to their employees, and it helps them with recruitment, retention, and diversity, equity and inclusion objectives. It is a way to be a family-friendly company. You cannot get more family friendly than helping employees build families.”
State laws, such as those in New York and California, require qualifying employers to include reproductive health coverage in their employee benefits programs, as we reported last year. For more on which states require reproductive health coverage, the National Conference of State Legislatures offers an informative state-by-state statutory roundup.
U.S. Workers, Voters Want Accessible Reproductive Health Services
In the aftermath of the devastating Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned 50 years of legal precedent to strip American women of their right to abortion services, many private companies, including Walmart, have responded by offering support, such as travel coverage, to employees placed in dire circumstances by onerous state bans on even life-saving abortion procedures. We at IFLG are thankful that some women, fortunate enough to have employee health benefits, will receive this lifeline to avoid the most tragic consequences.
The supportive corporate response to Dobbs as well as the growing number of companies offering fertility and family-building services as an employee benefit tell us two things: One, in a tight labor market within a still-growing economy, workers have a lot of pull. Employers, eager to meet consumer demand pent up from pandemic lockdowns, are doing whatever they can to attract and then retain employees.
Two, those employees—and the American electorate of which they compose a significant chunk—want these services. They want the flexibility to choose to start a family when and if they are ready. They want insurance coverage to alleviate the high costs of advanced reproductive and family-building technologies. They want reproductive health care to be legal and available when deemed necessary by employees and their physicians. As much as anything else, the private sector push to make reproductive health services available to employees, safely, is a reflection of the position of the American public. Let’s hope that reality translates at the ballot box in the midterm elections coming up and in the psyches of the candidates who are running.
For help with your questions about assisted reproductive technology legal issues, contact our expert team of fertility attorneys and paralegals at International Fertility Law Group.