Measure To Raise Medical Malpractice Cap Qualifies for Nov. Ballot

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On Thursday, a measure that would alter California law to increase the limits on medical malpractice compensation to about $1.1 million and mandate random drug testing for doctors in the state qualified for the November ballot, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports (Mason, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 5/15).

The state first instituted a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice lawsuits in 1975 under the Medical Industry Compensation Reform Act.  Since then, several attempts to increase the limit have been unsuccessful.

Details of Ballot Measure

The new initiative would raise the ceiling on medical malpractice judgments to $1.1 million to account for inflation and would index the cap for future inflation rates (Cadelago, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 5/15).  

In addition, the measure would require hospitals to conduct random drug and alcohol testing on physicians. Doctors also would be tested if they make preventable medical errors.

Under the measure, physicians and pharmacists also would be required to consult a state-run online database known as the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System before prescribing such medications to patients ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 5/15).

Reaction

Jamie Court -- president of Consumer Watchdog, which supports the measure -- said, "Patient safety laws have not been modernized for 38 years and as a result dangerous doctors are not deterred and families victimized by medical negligence cannot get access to justice" (Chaussee, Reuters, 5/16).

Court also applauded the provision requiring drug and alcohol testing for physicians, noting that physicians' misuse such substances can be "catastrophic."

However, opponents of the measure -- including insurance companies, the California Hospital Association and the California Medical Association -- say the initiative is likely to increase health care costs in the state ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 5/15).

Louise McCarthy, president and CEO of the Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County, said, "More medical lawsuits and higher payouts is a budget buster for all of us," adding that the measure would "sharply drive up costs for health consumers and taxpayers, reduce health access across underserved communities, and make it harder for community clinics to keep their doors open and offer vital services to those who need it most" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 5/15).

So far, opponents have raised $33 million to fight the initiative, while proponents have raised less than $700,000 to support it, according to campaign finance filings (Reuters, 5/16).

P Duffy
Better get out the vote then! The message needs to be marketed using the same tactics the opponents use. They use scare tactics and ridiculous and wrongly reported cases (like the McDonald's coffee case). People need to know why this important but not by putting down docs and hospitals but by describing cases where people have been left destitute and showing records of bad behavior by docs and hospitals (wrongful deaths, malpractice cases, infection rates, etc. etc.)
Eric Andrist
The only way healthcare costs will increase is if Drs and hospitals continue on their downward spiral of being negligent and making errors (and I'm not talking about simple mistakes). 440,000 people die from medical error every year making it the 3rd leading cause of death behind cancer and heart disease. So when Louise McCarthy says that it will "sharply drive up costs for consumers and taxpayers," she's admitting that they have no intention of being more careful with their patients....that they intend to continue on in their negligent ways. Only curbing negligence and error will reduce costs, not penalizing victims once they've been harmed or killed. For 39 years doctors and hospitals have had a safe haven from accountability with MICRA, and the fact that they've raised $33 million (and say they'll raise up to $80 million), proves that they don't want to lose that safe haven. 22 states have no medical tort reform and 13 of those have found it to be unconstitutional.
Karen Short
With the existing limit, very few plaintiff's attorneys will take the case. The cost will easily exceed the benefit when the defendant (physician's insurance company) file excessive motions in court. The need to respond to each motion eats up the billable hours. People with legitimate grievances are precluded from finding a competent attorney to help. This built-in LOW compensation limit means that most defendants don't even file a suit, even when they have legitimate complaints and injuries. One of the big cases cited by the industry is the elderly lady who sued McDonalds for burning herself with coffee. In reality, she suffered severe burns requiring skin grafts, but the add doesn't say that. They made it sound frivolous, when it was actually life-threatening. This is not how our justice system should work. The justice system itself should not preclude access to justice.
P Duffy
True, but also, the ACA has built accountability into the law and most smart hospitals and doctor groups are realizing this AND struggling to figure out how to make it happen. So if hospitals and insurance companies have accountability based on outcomes then they shouldn't be afraid of lifting the cap. Voters need to be educated how lifting the cap helps them.
Eric Andrist
The only way healthcare costs will increase is if Drs and hospitals continue on their downward spiral of being negligent and making errors (and I'm not talking about simple mistakes). 440,000 people die from medical error every year making it the 3rd leading cause of death behind cancer and heart disease. So when Louise McCarthy says that it will "sharply drive up costs for consumers and taxpayers," she's admitting that they have no intention of being more careful with their patients....that they intend to continue on in their negligent ways. Only curbing negligence and error will reduce costs, not penalizing victims once they've been harmed or killed. For 39 years doctors and hospitals have had a safe haven from accountability with MICRA, and the fact that they've raised $33 million (and say they'll raise up to $80 million), proves that they don't want to lose that safe haven. 22 states have no medical tort reform and 13 of those have found it to be unconstitutional.

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