NEW YORK -- Walmart is teaming up with a fertility startup to offer benefits under its insurance plan that will help its workers expand their families.
The nation's largest retailer and private employer said Tuesday it's partnering with New York-based Kindbody to offer benefits such as in vitro fertilization as well as fertility testing regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
Walmart's employees will get access to more than 30 fertility clinics and in vitro fertilization labs across the U.S. Kindbody's clinics will be available to help eligible workers access Walmart's surrogacy and adoption benefits, as well.
The expanded offerings, which start Nov. 1, builds on Walmart's so-called Center of Excellence model, which provides benefits and coverage for certain heart, spine and joint surgeries and cancer treatments, in partnership with healthcare providers and facilities including the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.
Financial terms weren't disclosed.
"Providing access to high-quality health care is very important to us, and we've heard from our associates that improved access to fertility, surrogacy and adoption support is a priority for them and their families," said Kim Lupo, senior vice president, Walmart Global Total Rewards
Walmart joins other major employers like Amazon in helping employees with adoptions or covering things like fertility treatments. More companies are adding these benefits in part to attract and retain workers in a tight labor market.
But given its clout, the expanded benefits from Walmart should help further democratize fertility treatments, which can cost thousands of dollars.
It "signals that fertility benefits have joined medical, dental and vision as a standard workplace benefit for leading employers," according to Gina Bartasi, founder and chairwoman of Kindbody.
The announcement of expanded fertility offerings comes after Walmart in August announced it was expanding its abortion coverage following the Supreme Court ruling that scrapped a nationwide right to abortion.
Competition has grown especially tough for hourly or lower-wage workers in retail, hospitality or health care sectors, according to researchers with the benefits consultant Mercer. In those areas, a small increase in pay or benefits can prompt people to leave for another job.
"These benefits are a way to sort of add value without necessarily increasing pay by a significant amount," said Julie Campbell, a principal consultant in Mercer's health and benefits practice.
Adding benefits that help with family planning also can make a company more attractive to LGBTQ employees.
"The path to parenthood can be complex and expensive, and the journey is not the same for all families," said Lisa Woods, Walmart's vice president of benefits.
Mercer's annual employer survey has tracked a big jump in companies offering a core fertility benefit, help with in vitro fertilization, which involves creating embryos by mixing eggs and sperm in a lab dish.
The consultant found that 36% of companies with 500 or more employees covered IVF treatments in 2021. That's up from 27% in 2020.
For years before that, the percentage of companies offering that benefit usually hovered between 20% and 22%, said Beth Umland, the director of health and benefits research at Mercer.
Relatively few employees may end up using a company's help with adoption or coverage of fertility treatments, but those benefits mean a lot to the people who use them, Umland noted.
"That makes you an employer of choice if you are providing that benefit," she said.
Walmart workers, their spouse or partner, and any adult dependent children who are enrolled in a Walmart-sponsored medical plan will each receive up to $20,000 in medical benefits towards fertility treatments in a lifetime.
In the U.S., one round of IVF can cost about $23,000 on average, according to FertilityIQ, which provides research on fertility treatments, doctors and clinics.
Walmart Inc. employs about 1.6 million people in the U.S. The company based in Betonville, Arkansas, could not immediately provide a number for those eligible for the new fertility benefit.
Walmart workers -- salaried, full-time hourly and full-time managers in stores' eye-glass departments -- also will receive up to $20,000 lifetime reimbursement towards eligible expenses for surrogacy and adoption services.
About 38% of companies with 500 or more employers offer or plan to provide financial assistance with adoptions next year, according to Mercer research.