Mass. insurers will cover abortion travel costs for members
The state’s biggest health insurers are promising to pay for members to cross state lines for abortion care if they live in places where abortion is restricted.
Tufts Health Plan and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care said they will cover airfare, rental cars, and hotel stays for people who can’t get abortions where they live. This follows a similar move from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Their expansion of travel benefits follows the Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn federal abortion protections. The ruling has resulted in a patchwork of abortion policies across the country. Some states are banning abortion, while others like Massachusetts have reaffirmed or expanded abortion rights, and are welcoming patients from other parts of the country.
Doctors in Massachusetts and other states that allow abortions are bracing for a potential flood of new patients seeking care.
Dr. Claire Levesque, chief medical officer for commercial products at Point32Health, the parent company of Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim, said the health plans want to provide equal coverage to members across the country.
“It's a very important health equity issue,” she said. “Vulnerable individuals are caught in this trap right now and have more difficulty finding a way to travel to get the services.”
And as a doctor, Levesque added, “I just feel that this is getting in the middle of physician-patient privacy. The physician and the patient should be able to make a private decision about treatment.”
The health plans may be taking a legal risk by staking out this position, since some states have laws that allow for lawsuits against anyone helping to provide an abortion.
Still, Levesque said, the health plans want to do “the right thing” by providing abortion access.
Tufts and Harvard Pilgrim — which are based in Massachusetts but have members across the country — also will pay travel costs for members who need gender-affirming surgeries and live in states where those services are banned.
Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, has about 800,000 members who live outside Massachusetts, a number that's likely to grow as remote work becomes more popular.
Dr. Sandhya Rao, chief medical officer at Blue Cross, said the company’s customers — employers who provide insurance to their workers — started raising concerns about abortion access when a draft Supreme Court decision leaked in May.
“We started hearing from our accounts very early. And so we started working on this program the day we heard the leak,” Rao said. “Like many health care organizations, we wanted to be prepared for the day that the announcement was made.”
Blue Cross will pay the costs for members who need to travel 100 miles or more to obtain a medication-assisted or surgical abortion.
Several other insurers around the country are taking similar steps.