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Wash. AG Puts Health Plans On Notice To Cover Same-Sex Spouses

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Terry Gilbert, left, kisses his husband Paul Beppler after wedding at Seattle City Hall, becoming among the first gay couples to legally wed in the state, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Seattle.

Washington’s Attorney General is reminding employers they may not discriminate against same-sex spouses when it comes to health coverage.

Thursday’s warning follows a discrimination complaint earlier this year against O’Reilly Auto Parts.

O’Reilly is a national chain with stores in Washington. The company announced it would cover same-sex spouses after the state of Washington launched an investigation. That followed a similar move by Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad last December.

There are the only two examples Attorney General Bob Ferguson says he’s aware of where same-sex spouses were allegedly denied benefits.

“I do not believe that we’ve received other complaints so far on this issue in our office,” Ferguson said.

Nonetheless, Ferguson, along with the state’s insurance commissioner and Human Rights Commission, have written an open letter to health plan administrators, insurance companies and employers. It reminds them that it would be a violation of Washington’s anti-discrimination law to cover opposite-sex spouses, but refuse coverage to same-sex spouses.

The warning comes as health care coverage expands under the Affordable Care Act and more health plans are certified in Washington. 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.