After being contacted by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Shriners Hospitals for Children agreed that it will extend health benefits to same-sex spouses of its employees nationwide in states recognizing marriage equality. This new health care policy is effective Jan. 1, 2015.
“This is great news for all Shriners Hospital employees and their families,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “I will protect the rights of all Washington residents and uphold our laws related to marriage equality. If an employer provides benefits to opposite-sex spouses, it must provide the same benefits to same-sex spouses.”
Overview of Ferguson’s work to ensure equality in health care coverage
On Sept. 12, 2014, the AGO received a complaint from an employee of the Spokane Shriners Hospital for Children stating that the hospital was not providing benefits to the employee’s same-sex spouse. The AGO contacted Shriners and provided a copy of the complaint. Within two weeks, Shriners agreed to make health benefits available to the same-sex employees of its Spokane hospital, as well as its 19 other hospitals across the United States.
Ferguson is working to ensure all Washington employers are aware of their responsibilities to provide equal health care benefits.
In March 2014, the AGO launched an investigation to determine if O’Reilly Auto Parts refused to provide healthcare benefits to same-sex spouses of Washington state employees. In response, the company announced it was changing its policy to cover all legal spouses, regardless of sexual orientation. The new policy applies nationwide, impacting all O’Reilly employees who are legally married.
In June 2014, Ferguson, Mike Kreidler, Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) and Sharon Ortiz , Human Rights Commission Executive Director (HRC) released a joint open letter to Washington state employers, insurance companies and benefit plan administrators regarding healthcare benefits.
Ferguson, Kreidler and Ortiz issued the joint letter to ensure clarity regarding the laws relating to marriage equality and health care coverage for same-sex spouses in Washington state. The AGO, OIC and HRC are charged with protecting Washington residents from unfair or discriminatory practices.
Background on anti-discrimination and same-sex marriage laws in Washington
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is unlawful in Washington. In addition to other protections, the Consumer Protection Act broadly prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in trade or commerce, including acts that would discriminate against consumers in a commercial setting.
In 2012, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 6239, legalizing same-sex marriage. Opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters. Voters approved Referendum 74 by nearly 54 percent.