Washington Law Review

Comment

“A Nuanced Approach”: How Washington Courts Should Apply the Filed Rate Doctrine

March 21, 2017 | 92 Wash. L. Rev. 481

Abstract: As of 2015, the vast majority of the American public had some form of health insurance, mostly provided by private companies. While some customers might, at some point, contemplate suing their insurance provider—for breach of contract, consumer protection statute violation, or some other cause—these potential plaintiffs are not likely to get far in many cases. The reason is the little-known “filed rate doctrine,” a court-created rule that bars lawsuits against many agency-regulated entities. The filed rate doctrine is based on the fact that many states, including Washington, require health insurers to file their rates with a regulatory agency—and have those rates approved—before they can start charging customers. Because companies get their rates approved by these regulatory agencies, courts invoke the filed rate doctrine to prevent plaintiffs from bringing actions that seek to “challenge” these agency-approved rates. Some courts, however, have stretched the filed rate doctrine too far, relying on the doctrine to dismiss breach of contract and state consumer protection act claims that do not challenge the actual rate paid.

In a recent Washington case, the Washington State Supreme Court left open the question of whether it would broadly construe the filed rate doctrine and adopt a rule that applies the doctrine to cases that are only tangentially related to agency-approved rates. This Comment seeks to address this gap in the Washington case law and argues that Washington courts should not apply the filed rate doctrine to cases involving health insurers where the plaintiffs do not allege that their rates are too high. First, this Comment describes the current health insurance regulatory framework in Washington, Oregon, and California and the application of the filed rate doctrine in those states. It then argues why, in Washington in particular, courts should use—as the Washington Court of Appeals recently described it—a “nuanced approach” in their application of the filed rate doctrine, not using it to bar breach of contract or Washington Consumer Protection Act claims, but keeping it to its original purpose: to prevent lawsuits that seek to challenge the actual rate paid.

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