State requires insurance parity for gay spouses

OLYMPIA — Washington state officials penned a joint letter Thursday to insurance and business companies in the state saying that health benefits must be provided to same-sex spouses if they are provided to heterosexual spouses.

The joint letter, written by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler and Human Rights Commission Executive Director Sharon Ortiz, said they are concerned about “legally married Washington residents who are negatively affected” when same-sex spouses aren’t provided with equal health coverage.

“This practice violates Washington State law,” the letter reads.

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

Kreidler said later in a conference call that the letter was sent to 48 insurance companies. Ferguson said that other outreach was being used to notify the state’s business community.

Officials said they released the letter to provide clarity on state laws following a recent investigation by Ferguson’s office of O’Reilly Automotive Inc. that resulted in the company’s agreement to extend health benefits to same-sex spouses as of April 1.

“The purpose of this letter is to do everything we can to make sure businesses are aware of changes in state law,” Ferguson said.

Washington state voters approved same-sex marriage in the fall of 2012, and the law took effect that year. Protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation were codified by the Legislature in 2006.

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