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UnitedHealth Group Inc. is under fire in a Nevada, defending allegations that it is responsible for the actions of a Las Vegas doctor who allegedly gave his patients Hepatitis C by mishandling anesthetic.

The case surrounds Dipak Desai, 62, a former gastroenterologist. The suit contends that United Health’s Health Plan of Nevada holds partial blame because it continually renewed contracts with the doctor although knowing about his alleged substandard practices.

In Nevada, an HMO must show annual reporting that it reviewed the quality of health services provided to consumers that are covered by their plans. But a plaintiff attorney states there were readily signs of improper procedures and had the HMO investigated, it would have seen the unsanitary conditions and practices.

On the opposing side, Health Plan of Nevada says health insurers have no duty to monitor patient care. But, they do have a duty to have qualified practitioners within its network.

The jury will have to decide to what extent the insurer should be held accountable for the quality of care by the practitioner.

The trial in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas is an outgrowth of a Nevada hepatitis C outbreak linked to Desai’s clinic. As a result of the outbreak in late 2007 and early 2008, Nevada officials notified 50,000 patients of potential risks.

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