The Colorado legislature recently added a paragraph to the state statute that governs non-compete agreements to permit physicians to continue to treat patients with rare disorders without liability. Signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper on April 2, 2018, Senate Bill 18-082 allows physicians to disclose their continuing practice and new professional contact information to any patient with a rare disorder to whom the physician was providing consultation or treatment before termination of their relationship with the organization.
Physician Non-competes Only Allow Damages
Under Colorado Revised Statute 8-2-113, non-compete provisions in an employment, partnership, or corporate agreement with a physician that restrict the physician’s right to practice medicine when the agreement terminates is void and unenforceable. However, the law does permit such an agreement to require the physician to pay damages in an amount that is reasonably related to the injury suffered because of competition. In other words, if a physician in Colorado leaves a group practice or other employer, he or she may practice anywhere but may be compelled to pay damages if he or she practices within an area that is directly competitive with his or her former employer.
New Provision Creates Exception to Damages Remedy
Under the newly passed amendment, physicians and their new employers are shielded from damages for providing information and care to patients with a rare disorder, as defined in accordance with the criteria developed by the National Organization For Rare Disorders, Inc., or any successor organization. Specifically, a non-compete agreement cannot prohibit physicians from disclosing their continuing practice of medicine and new professional contact information to any patient with a rare disorder. Similarly, physicians may continue to provide care to such patients.
Next Steps for Healthcare Employers
Hospitals, physician groups, and other healthcare employers should consider the extent to which this new exception to non-compete damages will apply to the doctors in their group. It is possible that very prominent, renown physicians who may cause the hospital or group to suffer the most in monetary damages when they leave the group will be the same physicians who treat multiple patients for rare disorders. But because the new exception applies only to those patients with rare disorders, the physician may still be held liable for damages for continuing treatment of patients without rare disorders. If in doubt about how to structure and enforce these types of non-compete agreements with physicians, please consult with experienced counsel.