Consumer Watchdog Campaign: Landmark Patient Safety Act Qualifies for November California Ballot
Sacramento, CA – More than 840,000 voter signatures turned in by consumer advocates and families victimized by medical negligence have qualified a landmark patient safety ballot measure for the November 2014 California ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Voters will have a chance then to enact the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act and some of the strongest patient safety laws in America.
“The patient safety protections in this ballot measure will save lives and protect families from dangerous, impaired and drug dealing doctors ” said Bob Pack, proponent of the Pack Act, whose two young children were killed by a drunk and drugged, doctor-shopping driver who had been overprescribed thousands of pills from Kaiser physicians despite not having physical symptoms. “Today, California voters have taken the first step in making sure that more families like mine don’t have to experience the pain of losing a child due to dangerous medicine. No family should suffer because a doctor recklessly prescribes pills to an addict, is a substance abuser, or commits repeated acts of medical negligence.”
The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act:
– Mandates random drug and alcohol testing of doctors modeled after the Federal Aviation Administration’s testing of airline pilots, and testing after an adverse event in a hospital;
– Requires that physicians check the state’s existing prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics and other addictive drugs to first-time patients to curb doctor-shopping drug abusers (Bob Pack created the database);
– Promotes justice for patients and legal deterrence to wrongdoing by adjusting the state’s malpractice cap to account for 38 years of inflation, while maintaining the existing cap on attorneys’ fees
– Requires physicians to report suspected drug or alcohol abuse at work by a colleague, as well as physicians’ substandard care if it leads to an adverse event.
Medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States according to a study in the Journal of Patient Safety that estimated up to 440,000 people die each year because of mistakes in hospitals. The California Medical Board reported that nearly one in five doctors will abuse drugs or alcohol during their career. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have more than tripled since 1990 and most of those deaths are due to prescription drugs. The Pack Act creates new protections to detect and deter medical negligence, overprescribing of prescription drugs, and doctor drug and alcohol abuse.
The Act’s qualification follows the refusal of the medical industry to accept a compromise promoted by state Senate leader Darrell Steinberg to modernize medical malpractice laws and improve patient safety. Pack, other survivors of medical negligence, and Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court went to Sacramento in May of 2013 to demand that either the legislature take action on improving patient safety or that voters would have to take matters into their own hands with a ballot measure.
“Voters will now have a chance to save lives by creating greater accountability and transparency for the medical industry,” said Jamie Court, a director of Consumer Watchdog Campaign, which helped with the organizing drive. “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. Voters now have an opportunity to send a signal to a defiant and arrogant medical lobby that dangerous doctors should not be practicing and that reckless physicians should not be above the rules that apply to other professions and citizens.”
Opponents of the Pack Act have already raised $34 million for its defeat.
Patient safety experts have called for doctors to undergo random drug testing. Earlier this year, Daniel Levinson, the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, argued in the New York Times for hospitals to be required to perform comprehensive random drug testing on doctors. Levinson said “this is hardly a radical suggestion…many workers in transportation or other safety-sensitive areas are already subject to random drug tests.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/opinion/why-arent-doctors-drug-tested.html)
Dr. Lucian Leape, widely considered the father of the modern patient safety movement, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that doctors are especially susceptible to substance abuse and called for random drug testing for all physicians, saying that “contributing to [physician performance problems] are fatigue, stress, isolation, and easy access to drugs.” Finally, a recent USA Today report found that over 100,000 medical professionals across the country currently have a substance abuse problem. In the report, Dr. Stephen Loyd, who was taking up to 100 pills a day while practicing on patients, spoke strongly in favor of random drug testing: “I worked impaired every day; looking back, it scares me to death, what I could have done…but no one ever reported me.”
The Pack Act indexes for inflation the 38-year old cap on malpractice recovery set at $250,000 for those without wage loss or medical bills, which the patients contend devalues the lives of children. No matter how egregious the malpractice, the most a patient can recover when a child dies from negligence is $250,000, preventing attorneys from taking most of those cases and letting dangerous doctors continue to practice.
Tammy Smick, who lost her 20-year old son Alex to a lethal mix of prescription drugs administered in the hospital, said of the Pack Act, “Our son’s life isn’t worth $250,000 to us. Alex was priceless. The pain of losing a child is unbearable, but the victims of medical negligence deserve the accountability that’s been denied to them for almost four decades. The Pack Act will finally correct this injustice.”
The Journal of the American Medical Association reported recently that physicians are the biggest suppliers of chronic prescription drug abusers.
A ballot number for the Pack Act will be assigned next month. The Pack Act will appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot.
Learn more about the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act at www.PackAct.org
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