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Effect of Referendum 71 on Washington Life and Health Insurance

I've gotten a couple questions from people wondering about how the new Washington “everything but marriage” law that passed earlier this month will affect their insurance.

First, you won't need to get a new insurance policy. The law says how to interpret policies, not how policies have to be written. Insurance companies and the government must interpret the term “spouse” as applying equally to same sex domestic partners, even if the actual policy document says it means married opposite sex couples.

What if you're from another state? Fortunately, the law will cover domestic partners registered in other states. But probably not marriages. So domestic partners registered in Nevada, for example, will receive full benefits of the law, but couples married in Massachusetts will not. Just another reason why, when it comes to gay relationships, names are important.

People with their own insurance will benefit just as much as people who get their insurance from employers. For example, take two partners that are both self-employed, each with their own health insurance plans. Now, one person's insurance will extend benefits to his partner, saving thousands in premiums annually.

Finally, couples can feel safe that, if one person dies unexpectedly, her partner, and not her immediate family, will be recognized as the beneficiary of life insurance proceeds. Still, federal benefits such as social security are unaffected because the new law only concerns state rights.

To read more about the effect of the new law, take a look at the FAQ published by the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog, which discusses same sex family law, estate planning, and taxes.]

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Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper