Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest et al. , Respondents ,
Jonathan Bloedow , Appellant
Appeal from King County Superior Court. Cause No: 13-2-17768-4 SEA. Judge Signing: Hon. Dean Lum. Date filed: September 17, 2013.
Todd Nelson (of Nelson Law Group PLLC ) ( Michael J. Norton and Catherine G. Foster of Alliance Defending Freedom, of counsel), for appellant.
Laura F. Einstein (of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest ); Danielle E. Franco-Malone and Kathleen P. Barnard (of Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt LLP ), for respondent health care providers.
Robert W. Ferguson, Attorney General, Lilia Lopez, Managing Assistant, and Jack E. Bucknell, Assistant, for the Department of Health.
Written by: Judge Schindler. Concurred by: Acting Chief Judge Verellen, Chief Judge Spearman.
[187 Wn.App. 609] ¶ 1 By statute, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) collects, analyzes, and publishes [187 Wn.App. 610] health care data from state agencies and private health care providers. But the statute expressly provides that " data in any form where the patient or provider of health care can be identified" shall not be subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW. Jonathan Bloedow submitted seven separate PRA requests to DOH to obtain the induced termination of pregnancy data reports that health care providers Planned Parenthood Everett, Feminist Women's Health Center Renton, Aurora Medical Services, Planned Parenthood Kenmore, All Women's Health North, Seattle Medical and Wellness Clinic, and Planned Parenthood Bellingham were required to submit to DOH. On cross motions for summary judgment, the court ruled the reports of induced abortions submitted to DOH were exempt from disclosure under the PRA and issued an injunction. We hold that providing the records requested by Bloedow under the PRA would violate the plain and unambiguous language of the statute that prohibits disclosure of data in a format that identifies the health care provider. We also conclude the record establishes disclosure of induced abortion data that identifies the health care provider is not in the public interest and would substantially and irreparably damage the health care providers and a vital governmental function, and affirm.
Uniform Health Care Information Act
¶ 2 Washington's Uniform Health Care Information Act (UHCIA), chapter 70.02 RCW, requires health care providers to submit health care information to federal, state, or local public health authorities " to the extent the health care provider is required by law to report health care information ... [187 Wn.App. 611] to determine compliance with state or federal licensure, certification or registration rules or laws; or when needed to protect the public
health." Former RCW 70.02.050(2)(a) (2007).
¶ 3 UHCIA addresses access and disclosure of health care information. The legislature expressly finds health care information " is personal and sensitive information that if improperly used or released may do significant harm to a patient's interests in privacy, health care, or other interests." RCW 70.02.005(1). The legislature also finds that in order to " retain the full trust and confidence of patients, health care providers have an interest in assuring that health care information is not improperly disclosed and in having clear and certain rules for the disclosure of health care information." RCW 70.02.005(3). Former RCW 70.02.050(1)(b) allows a health care provider to disclose health care information without the patient's authorization if the provider reasonably believes that the recipient " (i) [w]ill not use or disclose the health care information for any other purpose; and (ii) [w]ill take appropriate steps to protect the health care information."
¶ 4 DOH has a duty to " assure a healthy environment and minimum standards of quality in health care facilities and among health care professionals." RCW 43.70.005. The legislature requires DOH to monitor health care costs, maintain " minimal standards for quality in health care delivery," and provide " general oversight and planning for all the state's activities as they relate to the health of its citizenry." RCW 43.70.005.
¶ 5 To " promote and assess the quality, cost, and accessibility of health care throughout the state," the legislature [187 Wn.App. 612] directs DOH to " create an ongoing program of data collection, storage, assessability, and review." RCW 43.70.050(1). RCW 43.70.050(1) states:
The legislature intends that the department [of health] and board [of health] promote and assess the quality, cost, and accessibility of health care throughout the state as their roles are specified in chapter 9, Laws of 1989 1st ex. sess. in accordance with the provisions of this chapter. In furtherance of this goal, the secretary [of health] shall create an ongoing program of data collection, storage, assessability, and review. The legislature does not intend that the department conduct or contract for the conduct of basic research activity. The secretary may request appropriations for studies according to this section from the legislature, the federal government, or private sources.
¶ 6 RCW 43.70.050(2) requires all state agencies " which collect or have access to population-based, health-related data" to provide " access to such data" and encourages private entities to provide DOH " access to such data in their possession." The legislature authorizes DOH to adopt rules necessary to carry out its responsibility for the collection and disclosure of health care data. RCW 43.70.040. All data provided to DOH as well as research and findings are " available to the general public." RCW 43.70.050(5). RCW 43.70.050(5) states:
Any data, research, or findings may also be made available to the general public, including health professions, health associations, the governor, professional boards and regulatory agencies and any person or group who has allowed the secretary access to data.
However, RCW 43.70.050(2) specifically states that " [s]uch data in any form where the patient or provider of health care can be identified" shall not be disclosed or subject to disclosure under the PRA.
[187 Wn.App. 613]Induced Abortion Heath Care Data
¶ 7 WAC 246-490-100 requires any hospital or facility performing induced abortions to collect data and submit a report to DOH with specific details about each procedure on forms prescribed by the secretary of health. In addition to the information required under WAC 246-490-100, the DOH forms require health care providers to provide the patient's
city and county of residence, the patient's race, whether the patient is of Hispanic ethnic origin, whether the patient has had previous spontaneous or induced abortions, and the date of the patient's last normal menses.
¶ 8 WAC 246-490-100 provides:
Each hospital and facility where lawful induced abortions are performed during the first, second, or third trimester of pregnancy shall, on forms prescribed and supplied by the secretary, report to the department during the following month the number and dates of induced abortions performed during the previous month, giving for each abortion the age of the patient, geographic location of patient's residence, patient's previous pregnancy history, the duration of the pregnancy, the method of abortion, any complications, such as perforations, infections, and incomplete evacuations, the name of the physician or physicians performing or participating in the abortion and such other relevant information as may be required by the secretary. All physicians performing abortions in nonapproved facilities when the physician has determined that termination of pregnancy was immediately necessary to the meet [sic] a medical emergency, shall also report in the same manner, and shall additionally provide a clear and detailed statement of the facts upon which he or she based his or her judgment of medical emergency.
¶ 9 WAC 246-490-110 states that the information the health care providers submit to DOH " shall not be disclosed publicly in such a manner as to identify" an individual or a health care provider facility. WAC 246-490-110 provides:
To assure accuracy and completeness in reporting, as required to fulfill the purposes for which abortion statistics are collected, [187 Wn.App. 614] information received by the board or the department through filed reports or as otherwise authorized, shall not be disclosed publicly in such a manner as to identify any individual without their consent, except by subpoena, nor in such a ...