Amid all the talk at the state Capitol of health care reform and how to lower costs, the most contentious debate so far has been over a bill that most lawmakers hadn't heard of two months ago.Here's a bill so bad that two sensible Democrats on the committee can detect its fetid smell enough to stand up against it, despite pressure from party leaders.
Senate Bill 164, which raises by 56 percent the top award for injured patients who sue doctors and hospitals, is backed by the Senate president, the assistant majority leader in the House and, reportedly, Gov. Bill Ritter.
Despite those endorsements, it could die today as two Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee seem unwilling to support the plan amid an opposition campaign to paint the bill as a "payback" for trial lawyers.
"I just think we're probably lining the pockets of attorneys," said Rep. Debbie Stafford, an Aurora Democrat who said she's opposed to the bill.
Rep. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, agreed. She said doctors should have more input into the process.
"We're putting the cart before the horse," Jahn said. "We should bring together all the people involved first."
With Stafford and Jahn poised to vote against the bill, it would fail on a 5-6 vote.
Stafford and Jahn are not alone:
"It feels like it's being ramrodded through by the trial lawyers," said Sen. Bob Hagedorn of Aurora, the lone Democrat who opposed the bill in the Senate. "I think there were at least two Democrats who would not have supported the bill if there was some other sponsor than the president of the Senate."If Betty Boyd was feeling conflicted, you know this has to be pretty outrageous legislation.
Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, voted for the bill but said she was torn. "It was a difficult decision," Boyd said. "There was pressure on both sides of the issue. It's difficult to vote against the president."
So where is Bill Ritter on the issue? Depending on whom you talk to, he might be on either side ... or both:
A group called Coloradans for Common Good, funded by Colorado Medical Society and COPIC Insurance Co., which provides medical malpractice insurance to Colorado doctors, has been running a TV commercial against the bill: "Health care just costs too much," an announcer begins in the ad. "Gov. Ritter has a plan to limit our health care bills. But personal injury lawyers have another plan that drives up costs through bigger lawsuits. Who'll pay? All of us."Bill Ritter could easily clear the air about his position on this trial lawyers' boondoggle. But either he doesn't want to make those trial lawyer friends unhappy, or he really isn't serious about cost-cutting health care reform.
The ad seems to suggest that Ritter would oppose the bill.
Asked about the bill last week, the Democratic governor said little.
But trial lawyers and Carroll said they received assurances of support from Ritter before the bill was introduced. [emphasis added]
That's some serious indecision, Mr. Governor.
(H/T Go To Mario)