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Health Benefits for Dependents

This page provides information on what health benefits local governments in Washington must provide for dependents, including the impact of the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage.

What Are Local Governments Required to Provide?

Effective January 1, 2015, many local governments are now required to offer health insurance to their full-time employees and dependents under the Affordable Care Act. This federal law requires that large employers - those with 50 or more full-time employees working 30 hours or more per week - provide certain minimum coverages or pay a penalty to the IRS.

The Affordable Care Act does not require employers to provide separate dental or vision insurance to employees or dependents. However, health plans must include dental and vision coverage for dependent children.

Large employers are not required to provide health insurance to part-time employees who work less than 30 hours per week, or their dependents. Employers with less than 50 full-time employees are not required to provide health insurance to any employees or dependents.

For more information on the Affordable Care Act, see the IRS Q&A on employer shared responsibility provisions.

Same-Sex Spouses

Same-sex spouses are entitled to the same benefits as opposite-sex spouses, since the Marriage Equality Act of 2012 recognized same-sex marriage in Washington.

Domestic Partnerships

Prior to the Marriage Equality Act, many employers recognized "domestic partnerships" in providing benefits. Effective June 30, 2014, most domestic partnerships registered with the State of Washington were automatically converted into marriages.

However, there are still some circumstances where domestic partnership issues may arise. Domestic partnerships registered with the State in which at least one partner is age 62 or older were not automatically converted to marriages and are allowed to remain in effect. These state-registered domestic partnerships must be granted the same rights to benefits as those granted to married couples.

In addition, domestic partnerships that were not registered with the state - for example, those created outside of Washington or via local procedures established by cities or counties - were not converted to marriage and also continue to exist. The decision to cover unregistered domestic partners as dependents is a policy choice for each individual jurisdiction.

For an overview of how the changes to same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships affect employee benefits see Davis Wright Tremaine's 2012 article on the Marriage Equality Act and its impact on employee benefits.

Last Modified: July 05, 2019