MICRA Reform Measure Looks Headed For Ballot

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Consumer attorneys, medical industry have not reach deal yet to raise MICRA limit

Despite what consumer attorneys say was a willingness on their part to compromise on a push to raise California's cap on medical malpractice lawsuit payouts and avoid a costly ballot measure fight, they appeared almost certain late Monday to push forward with a voter initiative to raise the cap to $1 million – and to require drug testing of hospital doctors.

Tort lawyers since last spring have been pushing for legislation to raise the cap, which restricts the payout medical malpractice victims can collect for pain and suffering to $250,000, a number not adjusted for inflation for nearly 40 years. They also prepared a ballot initiative in case the legislative effort failed, emphasizing an included provision that would require drug testing of doctors – a move widely seen as intended to pressure the medical industry to support a reform bill.

With no compromise in sight, however, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg stepped forward early this year to broker a deal between attorneys and medical providers, both of which are key constituents of Democratic lawmakers.

"An initiative battle is costly and uncertain, and will damage the reputation of two fine professions," Steinberg said in a recent press statement.

Steinberg proposed last week that the medical industry agree to support raising the cap to $500,00 – a boost still well below inflation – in exhange for attorneys withdrawing their ballot initiative. "This issue cries out for a legislative solution, and what I'm offering is a conservative increase that's fair to injured patients as well as the medical and legal communities," he said of the proposal.

John Feder, head of the Consumer Attorneys of California, a tort lawyers lobby, said his side had been willing to accept the proposal.

The medical industry's campaign spokesman, Jason Kinney, didn't comment on the subject.

Tort lawyers and consumer advocates announced Monday morning that they were prepared to turn in their 840,000 signatures by the end of the day. The ballot fight that will likely follow carries high stakes for both sides, with attorneys and medical providers alike prepared to spend millions of dollars attacking each other's positions.

Proponents say the cap, part of the 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, prevents patients without economic damages from being able to sue. The medical industry says increases lawsuits will drive up medical costs.

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