Malpractice bill gains – Doctors say raising the cap on awards will hike costs for everyone.

by Tim Hoover

A Senate committee Monday passed a bill that would allow injured patients to sue doctors for more money, despite warnings from physicians and insurers that it would raise health care costs and hurt patient access.

Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, said his legislation restores medical malpractice law to the intent lawmakers had when it was first passed in 1988.

“This really is about justice and accountability,” Groff said, adding that opponents had been trying to spread “fear and distortion” about the bill.

Doctors in white coats filled the hearing room. Several testified that the measure would increase their malpractice-insurance premiums, causing many doctors to order more-costly tests and procedures to back up their diagnoses.

“Why at a time when our policymakers are striving to expand access to care and reduce health care costs, would we enact policies that will have the exact opposite effect?” asked Dr. David Downs, president of the Colorado Medical Society.

Now, a person suing a doctor or hospital for malpractice can recover $300,000 in non-economic — or “pain and suffering” — damages.

Senate Bill 164 would raise the cap on non-economic damages to the same amount allowed in general personal-injury cases, about $450,000.

And the bill would allow injured patients to recover separate damages for “disfigurement and impairment,” which could include the loss of a limb, scarring or burns.

However, unlike general personal-injury cases, where there is no cap on economic damages, all damages in medical malpractice cases would still be capped at $1 million, unless a judge approves a higher award.

The committee passed the bill on a 3-2 vote, with Republican Sens. Bill Cadman and David Schultheis, both of Colorado Springs, voting against the bill. The measure moves to the full Senate.
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