Several legal challenges against California's medical malpractice law have divided health care providers and patient advocates, California Watch reports.
Details of the Law
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.
Support for the Law
Proponents of the law say that it makes practicing medicine in California financially feasible for physicians by controlling costs related to malpractice claims and liability insurance.
Lisa Maas -- executive director of Californians Allied for Patient Protection -- said that the law is "a critical component of California's health care infrastructure, and it makes sure that injured patients receive fair compensation while preserving access to health care services for all Californians."
Alicia Wagnon, legal counsel for the California Medical Association, said that the law is necessary because the state must "preserve and maximize access to (health) care for California," adding, "The mechanism is by keeping cost in medical malpractice cases down."
Some health care providers say that the law will become more relevant following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the federal health reform law.
Kathy Kneer of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California said, "With the Affordable Care Act being upheld, more people will be entering the medical system." She said that if the state "raise[s] the MICRA caps, that means it will increase our costs."
Opposition to the Law
Some patient advocates and trial attorneys argue that basing a medical malpractice award on lost wages is unfair to plaintiffs who either do not earn much money or do not have income because of age.
Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog said, "By limiting damages in a medical malpractice lawsuit to provable economic damages … it impacts most severly seniors because they have no income and are retired, or children because they are not wage earners."
Bruce Brusavich -- a past president of the Consumer Attorneys of California -- said that scarred and disfigured plaintiffs who are able to return to work also are disadvantaged by the cap on damages.
In addition, Shirley Svorney -- a California State University Northridge economist and adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute -- in a policy brief wrote that the caps will "reduce the resources allocated to medical professional liability underwriting and oversight and make many patients worse off." She added, "Legislators who see mandatory liability caps as a cost-containment tool should look elsewhere" (Yeung, California Watch, 7/2).