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48.43.540  <<  48.43.545 >>   48.43.550

RCW 48.43.545

Standard of care — Liability — Causes of action — Defense — Exception.

(1)(a) A health carrier shall adhere to the accepted standard of care for health care providers under chapter 7.70 RCW when arranging for the provision of medically necessary health care services to its enrollees. A health carrier shall be liable for any and all harm proximately caused by its failure to follow that standard of care when the failure resulted in the denial, delay, or modification of the health care service recommended for, or furnished to, an enrollee.

     (b) A health carrier is also liable for damages under (a) of this subsection for harm to an enrollee proximately caused by health care treatment decisions that result from a failure to follow the accepted standard of care made by its:

     (i) Employees;

     (ii) Agents; or

     (iii) Ostensible agents who are acting on its behalf and over whom it has the right to exercise influence or control or has actually exercised influence or control.

     (2) The provisions of this section may not be waived, shifted, or modified by contract or agreement and responsibility for the provisions shall be a duty that cannot be delegated. Any effort to waive, modify, delegate, or shift liability for a breach of the duty established by this section, through a contract for indemnification or otherwise, is invalid.

     (3) This section does not create any new cause of action, or eliminate any presently existing cause of action, with respect to health care providers and health care facilities that are included in and subject to the provisions of chapter 7.70 RCW.

     (4) It is a defense to any action or liability asserted under this section against a health carrier that:

     (a) The health care service in question is not a benefit provided under the plan or the service is subject to limitations under the plan that have been exhausted;

     (b) Neither the health carrier, nor any employee, agent, or ostensible agent for whose conduct the health carrier is liable under subsection (1)(b) of this section, controlled, influenced, or participated in the health care decision; or

     (c) The health carrier did not deny or unreasonably delay payment for treatment prescribed or recommended by a participating health care provider for the enrollee.

     (5) This section does not create any liability on the part of an employer, an employer group purchasing organization that purchases coverage or assumes risk on behalf of its employers, or a governmental agency that purchases coverage on behalf of individuals and families. The governmental entity established to offer and provide health insurance to public employees, public retirees, and their covered dependents under RCW 41.05.140 is subject to liability under this section.

     (6) Nothing in any law of this state prohibiting a health carrier from practicing medicine or being licensed to practice medicine may be asserted as a defense by the health carrier in an action brought against it under this section.

     (7)(a) A person may not maintain a cause of action under this section against a health carrier unless:

     (i) The affected enrollee has suffered substantial harm. As used in this subsection, "substantial harm" means loss of life, loss or significant impairment of limb, bodily or cognitive function, significant disfigurement, or severe or chronic physical pain; and

     (ii) The affected enrollee or the enrollee's representative has exercised the opportunity established in RCW 48.43.535 to seek independent review of the health care treatment decision.

     (b) This subsection (7) does not prohibit an enrollee from pursuing other appropriate remedies, including injunctive relief, a declaratory judgment, or other relief available under law, if its requirements place the enrollee's health in serious jeopardy.

     (8) In an action against a health carrier, a finding that a health care provider is an employee, agent, or ostensible agent of such a health carrier shall not be based solely on proof that the person's name appears in a listing of approved physicians or health care providers made available to enrollees under a health plan.

     (9) Any action under this section shall be commenced within three years of the completion of the independent review process.

     (10) This section does not apply to workers' compensation insurance under Title 51 RCW.

[2000 c 5 § 17.]

Notes:

     Application -- Short title -- Captions not law -- Construction -- Severability -- Application to contracts -- Effective dates -- 2000 c 5: See notes following RCW 48.43.500.