Friday, June 6, 2014

Kreidler, state officials stand up for same-sex married couples' benefits

Yesterday, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz today released a joint letter to Washington state employers, insurance companies and benefit plan administrators regarding employee health care benefits for same-sex married couples.

The agencies learned that some health plans have provided dependent coverage for opposite-sex spouses of employees or other insureds, but failed to provide the same coverage to same-sex spouses. This practice violates Washington state law, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 2006.

“The Attorney General’s Office will work to protect the legal rights of all Washington residents and enforce state laws prohibiting discrimination,” said Ferguson. “If an employer provides benefits to opposite-sex spouses, it must provide the same benefits to same-sex spouses.”

Washington was one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2012.

Kreidler, Ferguson and Ortiz and their agencies are charged with protecting Washington residents from unfair or discriminatory practices. Earlier this year, Ferguson investigated O’Reilly Automotive Inc. for denying benefits to same-sex spouses; the company’s ultimately extended health benefits to same-sex spouses.

“Most health insurers doing business in our state understand they cannot discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation,” said Kreidler. “But we’re taking this extra step today to ensure they understand their responsibility to do due diligence when selling insurance policies in Washington.”

“The Washington State Human Rights Commission works to prevent and eliminate discrimination,” said Ortiz. “Discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under the law.The Commission has jurisdiction over insurance discrimination and is prepared to receive complaints for investigation.We will work in partnership with the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Insurance Commission to resolve these issues.”

The letter is accompanied by frequently asked questions about health care benefits for same-sex spouses.