Dr. Todd Irwin is among dentists suing the state’s largest provider of dental benefits, Delta Dental of Washington, in an effort to improve transparency and to make the insurance provider more patient-focused. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Dr. Todd Irwin is among dentists suing the state’s largest provider of dental benefits, Delta Dental of Washington, in an effort to improve transparency and to make the insurance provider more patient-focused. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Dentists sue Delta Dental for more transparency, focus on patients

Lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court

PORT ANGELES — Dr. Todd Irwin of Port Angeles, two other dentists and the Washington State Dental Association are suing Delta Dental of Washington, saying it needs to improve transparency in its operations and be more patient focused.

Irwin, Dr. Dennis Bradshaw of Pasco, Dr. Nathan Russell of Bainbridge Island and the Washington State Dental Association (WSDA) filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court last week alleging that the independent directors of Delta’s board twice have unlawfully rejected bylaw amendments overwhelmingly passed by the organization’s member dentists.

“There was a time when they would come out and help you with your practice,” said Irwin, who serves on the WSDA board. “It felt like we were on the same team trying to take care of patients and it became adversarial. You felt it switch.”

Delta Dental of Washington, the state’s largest provider of dental benefits, said in an email that it is reviewing the complaint and declined to provide additional comment.

Delta had not filed an answer to the lawsuit as of Wednesday.

Petition filed

In June 2017, Delta member dentists petitioned for special meetings to consider a series of bylaw amendments that WSDA said were designed to make Delta’s operations more transparent and patient-focused.

At the meetings, held Sept. 6, 2017, more than 2,300 Delta members were present, more than 91 percent of which voted to adopt the amendments, the complaint says.

Delta’s board is made up of dentists and of independent directors. The independent directors hold the majority.

Following the September meetings, the organization’s board of directors announced that 12 of the member-approved amendments were vetoed by the independent directors, that six member-approved amendments would not be implemented and that three member-approved amendments would be implemented with conditions, the lawsuit says.

In August members again petitioned for a special meeting to consider and vote on seven proposed amendment. Nearly 1,500 members attended a special meeting Nov. 15 where more than 95 percent of members voted in favor of the changes, the lawsuit says.

In January, the organization’s board announced that it did not approve all but one of the amendments, the complaint says.

The complaint asks a judge to issue a declaratory judgment that the bylaws are amended as approved by the members Nov. 15.

According to WSDA, the rational the Delta board provided was that certain amendments were inapplicable following corporate restructuring in 2013, which was undertaken without a vote of the membership. Delta members have filed another legal complaint with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner related to the restructuring.

Between the 2013 corporate restructuring and 2017, compensation paid to Delta’s board of directors, excluding the CEO, has grown 125 percent from $564,000 per year to $1,269,000 per year and compensation to Delta’s three highest paid employees has grown from $2,676,000 per year to $4,464,000 per year, according to WSDA.

“To Delta members, the doctor-patient relationship is the key to optimal dental care,” Irwin said. “Delta should be a strategic partner in strengthening that relationship and improving oral health in Washington.

“Instead, their actions show a desire to weaken that relationship by inserting themselves between the doctor and patient.”

Delta is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. It was created in 1954, under the name Washington State Dental Service Corp., by Washington dentists and with financial support from WSDA.

The legal complaint was just the latest in a series of attempts Delta members have made to drive changes at the organization, WSDA said in a press release.

“Delta’s continued efforts to repeatedly block member proposals reflect a corporate culture that consistently puts its own profits ahead of legitimate concerns about how it could better support patient care and treatment decisions,” Bradshaw said in the press release.

“The continued unwillingness of Delta’s board to work with its members has left us no choice but to take this action.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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