Higher Malpractice Rates Looming for Colorado Doctors

October 8, 2004

The biggest medical malpractice insurer in Colorado said it is preparing for its largest rate increase in 16 years.

COPIC Insurance said it is notifying 6,000 doctors of a 15.9 percent rate increase, taking insurance to an average of $15,500 per physician next year. COPIC covers four of every five Colorado doctors.

Dermatologists will see a 47.5 percent rate increase, the highest, to around $13,000 annually. Neurosurgeons will pay $88,600 next year, 18 percent more than 2004 and the most for any speciality.

The company blamed steeper jury awards, settlements and legal costs. It also cited legislation that raised the cap on “pain and suffering” awards to $300,000 from $250,000 in 2003.

“I’m not buying it,” malpractice attorney Neil Hillyard told the Rocky Mountain News. “We don’t have access to their books. They obviously have a great financial motive for increasing their premiums.”

Earlier this year, the Doctors Co. filed a rate increase of 18.4 percent in Colorado effective Sept. 1.

The double-digit rate increases come despite efforts by the Legislature to cap damage awards. The Health Care Availability Act of 1988 limited total awards to $1 million per patient.

Judges can override the $1 million limit in exceptional cases. The Colorado Supreme Court, however, has ruled the $250,000 “pain and suffering” damage cap didn’t include physical impairment and disfigurement.

National malpractice rates rose 23 percent in 2003 and 38 percent last year, according to the Medical Group Management Association based in suburban Denver.

“(COPIC’s numbers) are reflective of national epidemic of rising liability insurance prices,” said Dr. William Jessee, president of the MGMA.

Hillyard, however, said he was speechless at COPIC’s explanation.

“You don’t see runaway juries in the state,” said Hillyard, a past president of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. “The citizens of this state are essentially pretty conservative and responsible.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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