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OPED: Colorado insurance proposals would hurt our most vulnerable patients

When children can’t get the preventive care they need, like refilling their asthma medicine or G-tube formulas, they end up in the emergency department or hospitalized

by Dr. Sophia Meharena, Sentinel Guest ColumnistApril 30, 2024

As a pediatrician at Every Child Pediatrics (ECP) in Aurora, I am passionate about providing quality care to our mostly low-income community—80% of our patients are on Medicaid or low-cost public health insurance and 10% are uninsured. Unfortunately, our ability to continue offering excellent affordable care and patient service is being threatened by a series of proposed ballot measures that would eliminate reasonable limits on the amount of money people can collect when suing a health care provider.

To be clear, I fully support that patients who experience negligence deserve to be compensated fairly, which is why there is currently no cap on the amount of money someone can be awarded for economic damages such as lost wages or ongoing medical costs. But without limits on how much they can receive for unmeasurable damages, the cost of health care will skyrocket and result in worsened health access and outcomes for all Coloradans.

If these measures succeed in abolishing caps on non-economic damages, statewide health care costs would surge by approximately $155 million a year, as estimated by COPIC, a Colorado-based medical liability insurance carrier. In states with non-economic damage caps that are too high or don’t exist, practices have been forced to file for bankruptcy or close altogether because of astronomical verdicts, ultimately limiting access to care for patients.

As a safety net clinic that offers everything from general pediatrics to mental health and dental services, our operations could take a debilitating hit from cost hikes like these. Inflated professional medical liability insurance premiums would make it much more difficult to maintain our staffing levels. With fewer staff, our pediatric patients and their families would face longer wait times to schedule appointments, speak to a nurse or connect with their medical provider. This would negatively affect health outcomes for the most vulnerable kids in our community.

At ECP, we serve complex patients who can’t afford to have delays in care. In any given week, I see infants who are failing to grow well, multiple children with autism and behavioral problems whose parents need help understanding how to support and manage them, and adolescents with suicidal ideations who require psychiatric support and close monitoring. We have patients with chronic conditions from diabetes to asthma, as well as others who must be fed through G-tubes or use home oxygen. These kids cannot afford a lapse in access to care.

When children can’t get the preventive care they need, like refilling their asthma medicine or G-tube formulas, they end up in the emergency department or hospitalized. And children who can’t get mental health appointments end up hospitalized for suicide attempts or worse. These are horrible outcomes for the child and their family and strain our entire health care system. And what many don’t realize is that this also increases the burden on taxpayers.

As a mission-driven physician, I know that reduced access to care disproportionately hurts people in rural and low-income communities, and we can’t let that happen in Colorado. My colleagues and I are asking the state legislature and Governor Jared Polis to pass Senate Bill 130 to avoid this disastrous impact on patient care and access. Senate Bill 130 would proactively raise the cap on non-economic damages from the current $300,000 up to $500,000, putting Colorado on par with other states that cap non-economic damages. This ensures patients are fairly compensated for non-economic losses when negligence occurs while also protecting vulnerable Coloradans’ access to affordable, quality health care. Contact your elected officials and urge them to support Senate Bill 130 to protect accessible care for all, including vulnerable, underserved children.

Dr. Sophia Meharena, DO, is a pediatrician at Every Child Pediatrics (ECP) in Aurora and a board member of COPIC, a medical liability insurance carrier.