Companies are taking a fresh look at their privacy policies in the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. According to this Law360 article, policymakers are putting more pressure on companies to tighten their restrictions on collecting and disclosing personal health and location data.
OCR Issues Proposed Rule to Modify HIPAA Privacy Rule to Include Explicit Protections for Reproductive Healthcare
On April 12, 2023, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking detailing its proposal to modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule (Proposed Rule). The Proposed Rule comes as a part of the Biden administration’s response to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
The Proposed Rule would provide special protections for protected health information (PHI) related to reproductive healthcare. Following the Dobbs decision, many healthcare providers expressed concerns that PHI related to reproductive healthcare may be sought by state and local governments for use in criminal, civil or administrative investigations or proceedings. OCR noted that such compelled uses and disclosures of PHI could have a chilling effect on lawfully obtained healthcare and erode trust in confidential communications between a patient and provider. Additionally, providers could elect to leave out critical details from a patient’s medical record if they fear the information could later be used by a state or local government actor against the patient.
Stakeholders may submit comments on the proposed rule on or before June 16, 2023.
The US Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury (the Departments) recently issued a proposed rule to eliminate a moral exemption to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraceptive mandate and establish an “individual contraceptive arrangement” to permit individuals to obtain contraceptive services at no cost in instances in which their employer does not offer coverage based on its religious beliefs. This is the latest development in the Biden administration’s efforts to increase reproductive health access after Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The Departments previously issued a reminder to health plans and insurers that the ACA requires contraceptive coverage at no additional cost to individuals.
The Respect for Marriage Act would preserve the company benefits of same-sex couples. The legislation, which passed the US Senate on November 29, was inspired by concerns that the US Supreme Court might reconsider its landmark same-sex marriage decision.
“Same-sex spouses must be extended spousal benefit coverage by employers” for fully insured health plans, Solomon said.
Employers Seek Clarity on Reproductive Healthcare Benefits Litigation Following EEOC Commissioner Filing
Following the US Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, many employers extended travel benefits to women residing in states where abortion or reproductive health procedures may now be unlawful. Recently, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Commissioner Andrea Lucas filed a Commissioner’s Charge against at least three companies alleging that doing so violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Although these charges are not public, it’s believed they mirror a letter that Sharon Fast Gustafson, the former EEOC General Counsel, recently sent en masse to employers around the country also alleging such travel programs violate federal anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC has since issued a statement that Gustafson’s views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the EEOC.
When Title VII was amended in 1978 by the Pregnancy Act amendments, language was added requiring pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions be treated equally with other medical conductions under an employer’s “fringe benefit programs.” Lucas asserts that providing travel benefits for those seeking abortions provides preferential treatment to women, thus constituting gender discrimination. Her contention is also that travel benefits further implicate religious discrimination by favoring those who terminate pregnancies over those who, for religious reasons, carry a child to term. Her final contention is that the provision of travel benefits violates the ADA, which she claims requires parity of benefits for those with physical disabilities.
Employers are now asking whether Lucas’ and Gustafson’s position may be the beginning of litigation by the EEOC or private plaintiffs and whether they can take measures to address the legal arguments being raised.
First, it is doubtful the EEOC will be suing. While Title VII and the ADA authorize a single commissioner to file a Commissioner’s Charge, that Charge will be investigated like any other Charge of Discrimination. If cause is found, EEOC procedure requires in cases garnering public attention (which this most certainly is) that litigation may only be commenced if a majority of the Commissioners (minus the Commissioner who brought the Charge) vote in favor of doing so. In the absence of a quorum, then only the General Counsel of the EEOC may initiate suit. At this time, Lucas would not appear to have such votes.
Second, employers can and should draft around these contentions to prepare for private suits. Specifically, such travel benefits should cover not only abortion and/or reproductive health, but also all covered services or procedures that are unavailable within a covered individual’s state of residence or area, regardless of the individual’s gender, pregnancy or childbirth status, or disability status. This would make the benefits “available” to everyone.
Finally, there is a suggestion that, even with such drafting, this travel benefit will still be utilized primarily by non-Christian women, thus supporting a disparate impact claim based on religious discrimination. This is an overreach. Title VII claims require an adverse employment action such as an employee who requests but is denied a travel benefit due [...]
US employers are taking steps to provide abortion access to workers despite threats from anti-abortion activists and conservative lawmakers. In this Law360 article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii said that “we’re certainly continuing to monitor” threats against employers.
“And we’re now in the position — really an unprecedented position for employers — of having to potentially look at 50 different states’ very specifically written laws regarding reproductive health care,” Raaii said. “Some states require some type of coverage, some states prohibit it. So it’s become a lot more burdensome for employers.”
The US Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade has created more complexity to the country’s patchwork of abortion laws. In this Managed Healthcare Executive article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii offers perspective about how insurers are navigating healthcare plans state-by-state.
The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has led to a flurry of confusion and questions from employers. In this Benefits Canada article, McDermott’s Sarah Raaii explains how some states are imposing criminal penalties for anyone who assists with abortion within their borders.
“If a court determines state abortion restrictions are generally applicable criminal laws, then potentially, ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) plans can be subject to criminal penalties if they provide abortion services, including travel benefits,” Raaii said.
Doctors across the country are encountering a minefield of legal risks as they navigate a post-Roe reality. In this Axios article, McDermott Partner Scott Weinstein offers perspective on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and health information disclosure.
It was a busy end of August for abortion-related litigation in Texas. Multiple pro-reproductive justice nonprofit groups sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other prosecutors to protect the ability of pregnant Texans to obtain abortions in outside states, and Texas’ new trigger ban law went into effect. In this MedCity News article, McDermott Partner Caroline Reignley notes how the US Supreme Court’s landmark Dobbs decision “did not end the debate over abortion or limit court intervention.”