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AOL’s CEO Proves Women And Children Make Easy Scapegoats In The Workplace

Memo Pad Politics

AOL’s CEO Proves Women And Children Make Easy Scapegoats In The Workplace


The law has put maternity care on an equal footing with other health benefits for decades — but some executives still haven’t caught up.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong recently ignited a firestorm of criticism when he announced the company would be restructuring its retirement benefits. Armstrong explained that the financial burden of Obamacare and the deliveries of two “distressed babies,” which cost the company $1 million each, had forced the company to reduce 401(k) matching contributions:

We had to decide, do we pass the $7.1 million of Obamacare costs to our employees? Or do we try to eat as much of that as possible and cut other benefits? …Two things that happened in 2012. We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general. And those are the things that add up into our benefits cost.

Sorry, AOL employees: You can either get your expensive babies or your retirement benefits, but you can’t get both.

Armstrong has since issued a public apology and, amidst uproar from his employees, reversed the benefits decision. But his remarks remain significant, illustrating the readiness of employers to use maternity costs and the new health law as scapegoats for other business decisions that affect company profits. His comments also reflect the extent to which pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare are considered lower priorities in the workplace than other health benefits.

In an era of ever-rising health costs, it is certainly reasonable for AOL to seek ways to reduce health spending. But why single out premature births instead of, say, cancer or diabetes cases? Apparently in American corporate culture maternity coverage is still considered a “bonus” benefit that employees should feel lucky to have. You’d think this wouldn’t be the case at AOL, whose decade-old Well Baby program provides education and support for employees throughout the pre-natal and post-partum stages. Armstrong’s comments run counter to AOL’s public persona of being a company truly invested in the health and wellness of its parents and their families.

Maternity coverage should be considered a routine component of employee benefits, especially since they have been mandated in employer health plans for more than three decades. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) – an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act – in an effort to end pregnancy-based discrimination in the workplace. Benefits required by the PDA are both ethically sound and financially prudent. Research has shown that every dollar spent on prenatal care saves employers $3.33 in postnatal care expenses and $4.63 in long-term morbidity costs.

Based on Armstrong’s comments one might assume $1 million births a commonplace occurrence, but they aren’t. It’s true that one in every eight infants in the United States is born pre-term, but the average cost of care for the majority of those babies doesn’t come close to seven figures. Approximately 70 percent of infants admitted to the NICU stay for longer than 20 days, which typically costs between $40,000 and $80,000. The high costs associated with the two pre-term births to which Anderson refers are not the norm.

Why should the economic security of employees be first on the chopping block? Armstrong might have been a bit more introspective before publicly pointing his finger at his employees’ pre-term babies. After all, shortly before his gaffe went viral, he was in the harsh glare of the media spotlight for the overwhelming failure of Patch, a media venture he championed that lost AOL $300 million (last month the company cut its losses and sold its majority stakes in the site).  Two million dollars in NICU expenses seems quite reasonable by comparison.



  1. daniel bostdorf February 14, 2014

    We have hundreds of examples of this multinational corporate male mindset that victimizes the victims. Women, minimum wage workers and it goes on an on….inclsuing billionaires that think criticising there obscene wealth at the expense of the 97% is somehow equated with being persectuted like the jews…

    And you think Donald Trump is bad?

    AOL CEO Tim Armstrong is cut from the same cloth…

  2. jmprint February 14, 2014

    If the employees had insurance, why would it cost the company additional funds, I’m confused. I had a a sick premature baby, my insurance covered the expenses and it didn’t cost my employer an additional cent.

    1. johninPCFL February 17, 2014

      AOL is self-insured. The costs of healthcare are borne by AOL, and they apparently didn’t also carry backstop insurance.
      The guy is doubly stupid. Losing $300MM on a bad bet (again)? Well, that’s just good business. Losing $2MM on employees’ health costs (once)? Got to make that money back up from the employees somehow.

      1. jmprint February 17, 2014

        Dummies for sure. Always trying to cut corners at employees expense, looks like it bit them in the assets.

  3. Daniel Jones February 14, 2014

    “Women and Children First” is not the priorities list for cutting benefits!!

  4. jointerjohn February 17, 2014

    CEO candidates are all sent for a physical exam before hiring. If a heart is detected they are disqualified.

  5. ThomasBonsell February 17, 2014

    I didn’t know that Obamacare was in effect in 2012 to have any impact on the cost of two premature babies.

    Perhaps if these fat cats (who take care of themselves first, everyone else last) would get on the bandwagon and support a single-payer system, (or dual-payer system, as I propose) such expenses wouldn’t hit their companies; but that might make them think further than the end of their noses.

    The rest of the civilized world handles things such as this without a peep of complaint; only in America is this even thought of as a problem.


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