Signatures Turned In For Medical Malpractice Damages Initiative

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Consumer Watchdog and bereaved parents who lost two children to medical negligence turned in 840,000 signatures Monday to qualify an initiative for the November ballot that would raise the $250,000 state cap on damages for pain and suffering to more than $1 million.

Proponents need 504,760 verified signatures to land the measure on the Nov. 5 midterm elections ballot.

If successful, the initiative would adjust the noneconomic damages cap in the California Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act — better known as MICRA — to account for inflation and provide annual adjustments in the future. In 2013, the adjustment would have quadrupled the cap to $1.1 million.

Supported by trial lawyers and blasted by much of the health care industry, the measure is expected to qualify for the ballot and spur an expensive, high-stakes campaign.

The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act is named after two children killed on a roadside by a drugged driver who had doctor-shopped for painkillers. In addition to changes in the medical malpractice cap, the measure also mandates random drug testing of doctors and requires doctors to use the state’s prescription drug database  to curb doctor-shopping.

“Doctor drug testing will become a standard all across America, just as it already is for pilots, after California voters enact it in November,” Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court said in a news release. “Intoxicated and drug-dealing doctors cause harm and the Pack Act’s inflation adjustment of the state’s 38-year-old malpractice cap means families will have access to justice if their loved ones are injured or killed by these or other negligent doctors.”

A coalition of opponents that includes the California Hospital Association and California Medical Association simultaneously blasted the measure for unintended consequences that an increase in lawsuits would generate.

“A ballot measure that is certain to generate more medical lawsuits and drive up costs for every health care consumer in California is the worst possible idea at the worst possible time,” Dr. Richard Thorpe, president of the California Medical Association, said in a news release.

Rising medical malpractice costs could make it harder for clinics and others to attract skilled doctors to offer services, the coalition says, and the state’s prescription drug database, whacked by budget cuts in recent years, may not be fully functional in years.

Kathy Robertson covers health care, law and lobbying, labor, workplace issues and immigration for the Sacramento Business Journal.

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