Agreed to change its practice after entering into a settlement with AG Coakley’s office
United Services Automobile Association, or better known as USAA, will now provide equal benefits to same-sex spouses in Massachusetts. In an announcement issued this week, Attorney General Martha Coakley says that USAA has agreed to reverse its practice of denying insurance coverage to same-sex spouses pursuant to an assurance of discontinuance filed in Suffolk Superior Court this week.
“We have marriage equality in Massachusetts, and same-sex couples should have the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples,” AG Coakley said. “USAA will now offer equal insurance benefits to all of those who are eligible, including to same-sex widows of service members.”
According to the document filed with the Court, USAA will now provide equal insurance benefits as well as membership “…to any same-sex currently unmarried widow, widower, or divorced spouse of a USAA member whom it improperly denied membership in the past.” In addition to this change in practice, USAA has also agreed to pay the Commonwealth of Massachusetts $50,000 as part of the resolution of this issue.
USAA had been referencing DOMA instead of Mass. law with regards to same-sex spouses
Unlike other insurers in the Commonwealth, USAA membership is limited to current or former service members from any branch of the United States military. Children of services members as well as unmarried widows, widowers and divorced spouses can also be eligible for membership with USAA. Under USAA membership rules, when a spouse is a USAA member, the other spouse becomes a beneficiary. A death or divorce of a member spouse will result in a beneficiary’s eligibility for his or her own membership with the insurer.
The issue with USAA arose from its decision to reference Federal law instead of Massachusetts law with respect to its members in the Commonwealth. While same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004, according to the AG’s office, USAA chose not to recognize this fact with respect to the status of its Massachusetts members. As such, the insurer did not begin to recognize nor offer benefits to same-sex spouses in Massachusetts until 2012, some eight years after these members were officially accorded legal status in Massachusetts. Rather, USAA chose to rely on the Federal definition of marriage as outlined in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in order to make eligibility determinations for its Massachusetts insureds.
After receiving a filed complaint in which a Massachusetts widower lost his insurance coverage after the death of his spouse, the Attorney General launched an investigation into USAA’s practices within the state resulting in this latest settlement.