A bill on Colorado medical malpractice claims that would have eased caps on court damages in lawsuits was gutted Monday by Colorado’s House Judiciary Committee, which then approved what was left of the bill in a 7-5 vote. House Bill 1344, sponsored by Rep. Christine Scanlon, D-Dillon, if passed, will make medical malpractice insurers get prior approval from Colorado’s insurance commissioner before they can raise premiums by more than 5 percent a year. The commissioner also could set hearings on proposed premium hikes when deemed necessary.
The original measure as it was written would have lifted restrictions on malpractice awards that Republican lawmakers put into place more than 20 years ago. The caps would have been changed to reflect inflation and other economic indicators. The issue has been the subject of an intense newspaper and television advertising campaign waged by medical interests, suggesting that victim’s would not benefit as much as the trial lawyers.
The newly revised legislation changes how medical malpractice insurance is regulated, but it offers no help to victims who are injured by careless doctors.
Members of the committee heard more than four hours of testimony on HB 1344. As in past years, several victims of medical malpractice gave emotional testimony in support of the legislation. This year one of the witnesses was Sam Fishbein, husband of the late Leslie Fishbein, the well-known Denver furniture retailer and public face of Kacey Fine Furniture. Fishbein received an injection for back pain, but died when she suffered a cardiac arrest and a doctor could not resuscitate her.
Representatives for the Colorado Medical Society argued against raising caps according to inflation, as originally proposed in HB 1344. More strange is the fact they also even argued against the revised bill as costly and burdensome, though it serves to protect doctors from escalating premiums.