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AGLO 1975 No. 13 - February 07, 1975
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

INSURANCE ‑- HEALTH ‑- ANIMALS

An organization may not be registered as a "health care service contractor" under chapter 48.44 RCW for the purpose of providing veterinary services for family pets or other animals.

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                                                                 February 7, 1975

Honorable Karl Herrmann
Insurance Commissioner
Insurance Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1975 No. 13

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May an organization be registered as a "health care service contractor" under chapter 48.44 RCW for the purpose of providing veterinary services for family pets or other animals?

            We answer this question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Chapter 48.44 RCW provides for the registration and regulation of "health care service contractors," a term defined by RCW 48.44.010(3) as meaning:

            ". . . any corporation, cooperative group, or association, which corporation, cooperative group, or association is sponsored by or otherwise intimately connected with a group of doctors licensed by the state of Washington or by a group of hospitals licensed by the state of Washington; or doctor licensed by the state of Washington; or group of doctors licensed by the state of Washington, who or which not otherwise being engaged in the insurance business,accepts prepayment for health care services from or for the benefit of persons or groups of persons as consideration for providing such persons with any health care services.se The term also includes any corporation, cooperative group, or association, sponsored by or otherwise intimately connected with a group of pharmacists registered by the state of Washington; or any pharmacist, or group  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of pharmacists, registered by the state of Washington; who or which not otherwise being engaged in the insurance business,accepts prepayment for health care services from or for the benefit of persons or groups of persons as consideration for providing such persons with any health care services."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            "Health care services" are defined by subsection (1) of this same section to mean and include:

            ". . . medical, surgical, dental, hospital and other therapeutic services.  The services of an optometrist licensed by the state of Washington and the services of a pharmacist registered by the state of Washington are also declared to be health care services for the purposes of this chapter."

            RCW 48.44.015(1) provides that:

            "(1) No person shall in this state, by mail or otherwise, act as or hold himself out to be a health care service contractor, as defined in RCW 48.44.010 without being duly registered therefor with the commissioner."

            Similarly, RCW 48.44.040 reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "Every health care service contractor who or which enters into agreements which require prepayment for health care services shall register with the insurance commissioner on forms to be prescribed and provided by him.  Such registrants shall state their name, address, type of organization, area of operation, type or types of health care services provided, and such other information as may reasonably be required by the insurance commissioner and shall file with such registration a copy of all contracts being offered and a schedule of all rates charged. . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]   The basic significance of all of this is to be seen from a reading of RCW 48.44.020(1), which provides that:

            "(1) Any health care service contractor may enter into agreements with or for the benefit of persons or groups of persons which require prepayment for health care services by or for such persons in consideration of such health care service contractor providing one or more health care services to such personsand such activity shall not be subject to the laws relating to insurance if the health care services are rendered by the health care service contractor or by a participant."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Thus, if an organization falls properly within the type or scheme of health service groups anticipated under chapter 48.44 RCW, it is unnecesary for it to be organized and maintained as would a regular insurance company offering coverage for similar medical services to the public.

            The underlying purpose in the interpretation of statutory enactments is to give effect to the intent of the legislature, and such intent is to be derived from the statutory text as a whole, interpreted in terms of the general object and purpose of the act.  Amburn v. Daly, 81 Wn.2d 241, 501 P.2d 178 (1972).  In this case, it seems clear that the purpose of the legislation is to provide for the special registration and regulation of one type of organization offering prepaid medical or other health care services to persons.  The word "persons" appears first in the definition of "health care service contractor" (RCW 48.44.010(3)) and then, again, in the key substantive section of the law, RCW 48.44.020(1),supra.  It is, then, anticipated that to fall within the definition of "health care service contractor" and thus initially qualify for registration under the act, the scheme or plan of the organization must be to provide the appropriate services to "persons."

            Words in statutes are to be given their ordinary and usual meaning, and dictionary definitions are used to discern such meaning.  See,Jeanneret v. Rees, 82 Wn.2d 404, 511 P.2d 60 (1973).  In Webster's Third New  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] International Dictionary (1969), at page 1686, the word "person" is defined as:

            "la. an individual human being . . . c:  a human being as distinguished from an animal or thing . . ."

            Accordingly, giving effect to this definition, it thus appears to us that the legislature intended that the services allowably to be offered by organizations seeking to qualify as "health care service contractors" under chapter 48.44 RCW are exclusively those related to the health care of the individual human beings themselves and not to such animals as they may own.  For this reason, we must answer your question in the negative.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

ERNEST M. FURNIA
Assistant Attorney General

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