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).
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).