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Six employee benefits that demonstrate support for your LGBTQI+ community

Walk the talk 

Supporting your LGBTQI+ community fosters a culture of belonging and empowers your employees to bring their full selves to their jobs every day. As June’s Pride celebrations come to a close, your support doesn’t have to. Offering benefits that clearly meet LGBTQI+ needs sends a meaningful message demonstrating your year-round support of the community. After all, benefits are the part of your employee value proposition that connect with your people on the most human level. When they’re in need, benefits are what provide the services and coverage that ensure your employees’ and their families’ physical, emotional, and financial well-being. 

When considering the family-planning services you cover and how you provide medical and mental health care, you may be surprised at the components or details of your benefits portfolio that currently fall short of meeting LGBTQI+ needs. 

Being attuned and committed to providing coverage that is relevant to your LGBTQI+ employees – in terms of what you cover and how you cover it – allows you to progress from being an employer that acknowledges the community to being a best-in-class employer that truly supports the lives of all your employees and their families. 

Below are six ways to show your support through your benefits.

1. Adoption coverage

Regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, many employees share the dream of building a family. If you are like most employers, you probably have worked with your benefits brokers or consultants to design a set of family-planning benefits to support employees who might need help in achieving that dream. Most commonly, employer-sponsored plans cover services, such as IVF and fertility medications, that are designed specifically to help certain couples – typically male-female partners – with fertility needs. Unfortunately, that approach tends to miss the importance of other services that could be needed to meet different family-building paths.    

For many LGBTQI+ employees, the path to building a family is through adoption. Providing comprehensive adoption coverage is a way to demonstrate that you understand the needs of those employees. And when we say “comprehensive,” we mean in what you cover and how you cover it. 

The obvious first step is to cover adoption matching and placement fees. But perhaps less obvious is also to cover the range of other fees and expenses that can be costly barriers to successful adoption. These include legal and filing fees, home study fees, and travel expenses (including lodging and meals). 

Yet even when those additional fees are covered, most traditional plans can take months to reimburse employees. The need to have considerable resources available upfront can all-too-often be an insurmountable hurdle to starting a family. In order to be truly comprehensive and inclusive, an adoption benefit should cover all associated fees and ensure funds are made immediately accessible.

2. Surrogacy coverage

Another path to building a family for many LGBTQI+ employees is through surrogacy. While being an important and meaningful option for many individuals and couples, surrogacy is a complex and multifaceted process that involves legal, medical, and financial considerations and costs. 

A logical place to start is to cover agency fees and matching services. However, a comprehensive benefit, one that demonstrates that you understand the scale of the need, should also cover legal services, medical expenses, and surrogate compensation, along with counseling, education, and support services.

3. Family-planning fertility services beyond infertility treatment

While many medical plans cover fertility treatments such as IVF, intrauterine insemination, and fertility medications, plans often do not cover other non-medically necessary fertility services that are essential to LGBTQI+ employees trying to build families. 

Elective fertility preservation is particularly relevant to employees undergoing gender-affirming care who also want the option of being able to build a family with their own genetics. Covering this would include covering the costs of procedures for egg retrieval or sperm collection, laboratory processing, long-term storage, and transportation costs. 

As an added upside, all employees looking to delay family building for medical or personal reasons may find value in this benefit.

4. Medical travel

Increasingly, covering medical travel is becoming an essential form of support for LGBTQI+ employees. This will enable your employees to:

  • Access LGBTQI+ “friendly” health care. Unfortunately, not all health care locations or providers are open to, knowledgeable about or attuned to the community’s specific health care needs.
  • Access specialized LGBTQI+ health care services. Some procedures or treatments require specialized expertise or facilities that may not be available locally. Medical travel coverage can enable employees to access gender-affirming surgeries, hormone therapy, fertility treatments, and more.

While some medical insurance plans do include a medical travel benefit, many fall short of meeting basic needs because of IRS restrictions on travel expenses, administrative paperwork and prior authorization requirements, lengthy reimbursement processes, limitations, and exclusions.

A comprehensive and inclusive medical travel benefit is one that will look to cover a broad range of expenses to ensure the upfront coverage of travel-related items such as gas, hotel rooms, and airline tickets.

5. Gender-affirming care

For transgender and gender-diverse employees, gender-affirming care can be a critical component of health care and well-being. Gender-affirming care includes the medical interventions and support services that help to align a person's physical appearance and/or body with their gender identity.

Employees’ needs may vary and can include hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries. Under typical medical coverage plans, this type of care can amount to an additional and unwanted burden for the employee in need, in terms of process requirements and timeline. 

Gender-affirming care goes beyond medical interventions, and can include electrolysis or laser hair removal, voice and speech therapy, mental health support, legal fees associated with name change, and wardrobe support. Because of this broad range of needs, best-in-class employers use different methods, including different tax-status vehicles and upfront fund availability.

6. Mental health care

Whether it’s discussing gender or sexuality issues, discrimination or prejudice, stigma, self-esteem, social isolation, transitioning, or the challenges of navigating their identities in both personal and professional contexts, LGBTQI+ employees need access to friendly, safe, knowledgeable, and experienced mental health care professionals. Often, this requires employees to pay “out-of-network” rates to see providers who specialize in LGBTQI+ care. 

In order to be comprehensive and fully inclusive, coverage should encompass a full range of mental health care costs, including individual therapy co-pays beyond a traditional network. Best-in-class employers often consider not just EAPs but also HRAs as funding vehicles. The main objective is to enable access to providers specializing in LGBTQI+ needs.

A seat at the table for all people, always

Inclusivity is about recognizing the individuality and the difference of people, and making sure everyone is treated not identically, but equally. 

This can apply to age, ethnicity, and disability, and LGBTQI+ status should figure on that list, too. The physical, emotional, and financial well-being needs of your LGBTQI+ employees often include unique and important considerations not typically covered by employer-sponsored plans. 

June will give way to July, and rainbows will give way to fireworks and BBQs. Pride Month is a time of celebration, and a happy and colorful reminder that all people should be treated with dignity and respect. As an employer, demonstrating your year-round support for the LGBTQI+ community means finding or creating benefits that cover their unique, important needs.

At Level, we’ve worked with employers – from start-ups to large multinationals – to ensure what they cover and how they cover it meets the vital needs of the LGBTQI+ community. We can help you weigh different approaches, including whether or not to include tax benefits in your plan design. This may help you define and cover medical expenses more broadly than a traditional health plan without compromising ACA, ERISA, HIPAA, and COBRA requirements.

We can work with you to design a plan – whether it’s an HRA, EAP, or LSA – that supports your company goals. And all your people. All year round.

Reach out to our team to learn more.