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Proposed Ballot Initiative Would Lift Calif.'s Medical Malpractice Cap

CALIFORNIA HEALTHLINE

On Thursday, a consumer advocacy group filed a proposed ballot initiative that aims to eliminate a cap on damages under California's medical malpractice law, the Sacramento Bee reports (White, Sacramento Bee, 7/26).

Background

The Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act was enacted in 1975 to protect health care providers from increasing malpractice insurance rates and expensive lawsuits.

The law limits all damages related to pain and suffering or emotional loss from a loved one's death to $250,000. Under the law, economic and punitive damages remain unlimited in medical malpractice cases.

A coalition of trial attorneys and Consumer Watchdog have been working to qualify for the November 2014 ballot an initiative to eliminate the cap on medical malpractice damages, which has not been increased since its passage.

The groups argue that many attorneys refuse to accept malpractice cases because the litigation is too time consuming and costly and does not provide a large payoff (California Healthline, 7/10).

Details of Ballot Initiative

Consumer Watchdog filed papers for the measure on behalf of Robert Pack, whose children were killed by a driver who was impaired by drugs that were prescribed to him by a doctor.

The initiative would raise the limit on medical malpractice damages to $1.1 million and allow for continued adjustments for inflation, according to the Bee.

The measure also calls for doctors to:

  • Check a prescription drug tracking database before prescribing controlled substances;
  • Undergo random drug and alcohol testing (Sacramento Bee, 7/26);
  • Undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing after an unexpected death or injury occurs;
  • Report any witnessed medical negligence or substance misuse by other physicians; and
  • Be placed on automatic suspension if they test positive for alcohol or drugs while on duty.

In addition, hospitals would be required to report any positive drug or alcohol test results to the California Medical Board (Robertson, Sacramento Business Journal, 7/25).

Proponents must collect more than 504,000 registered voters' signatures to qualify the measure on the state ballot in November 2014 (York, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 7/25).

J.G. Preston -- spokesperson for the Consumer Attorneys of California -- said the group still is trying to "reach a legislative settlement" and has not decided whether to support the ballot initiative.

Criticism of Initiative

The California Medical Association, California Hospital Association and Civil Justice Association of California immediately criticized the ballot measure, saying it potentially could drive up liability and health care costs.

CMA President Paul Phinney said the initiative would "make it easier" for trial attorneys "to file meritless lawsuits to augment their fees, which will raise health care costs without doing anything to increase quality."

He also noted that the "main intent of this initiative doesn't have anything to do with (the prescription drug database) or drug-testing doctors. It has to do with the cap on economic damages because it will be a windfall for lawyers" (Sacramento Bee, 7/26).

CHA CEO C. Duane Dauner added that "any attempt to increase lawsuit payouts will harm patient access and increase costs" as "hospitals and health care providers are attempting to lower costs and prepare for an influx of new patients" under the Affordable Care Act (Lifsher, "Money & Co.," Los Angeles Times, 7/25).

After the filing on Thursday, leaders of CMA, CHA, the California Dental Association and Planned Parenthood formed a campaign committee that plans to spend more than $50 million to defeat the measure if it qualifies for the ballot ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 7/25).