A medical malpractice arbitration act scheduled to sunset next July ought to remain on the books another 10 years, the Legislature's Heath and Human Interim Committee decided Wednesday.

The act was passed in 2004 following widespread public opposition to a bill approved in 2003 that allowed doctors to refuse care if a patient did not agree in writing to binding arbitration in lieu of full legal redress in court in the event of malpractice.

If the act were allowed to sunset, doctors could again refuse care to those unwilling to sign an arbitration agreement.

Legal representatives told committee members that allowing the act to sunset is counter to protecting the rights of patients.

The original bill was intended as a step toward limiting medical costs associated with protracted legal proceedings and huge jury awards in malpractice cases.

Under the act, patients cannot be denied care if they refuse to sign an arbitration agreement. Patients who have signed an agreement were also given the right to rescind the agreement after 10 days.

— James Thalman