Medical-negligence measure hits the streets

A Danville man whose two children were killed by a drugged driver in 2003 has been cleared to start circulating petitions for his proposed ballot measure to raise California’s nearly 40-year old limit on medical-negligence awards and force doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing narcotic drugs.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Monday said proponent Bob Pack has until Feb. 10, 2014 to gather valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to qualify the measure for next year’s ballot.

The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure is as follows:

DRUG AND ALCOHOL TESTING OF DOCTORS. MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE LAWSUITS. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Requires drug and alcohol testing of doctors and reporting of positive test to the California Medical Board. Requires Board to suspend doctor pending investigation of positive test and take disciplinary action if doctor was impaired while on duty. Requires health care practitioners to report any doctor suspected of drug or alcohol impairment or medical negligence. Requires health care practitioners to consult state prescription drug history database before prescribing certain controlled substances. Increases $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages in medical negligence lawsuits to account for inflation. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: State and local government costs associated with higher medical malpractice costs, likely at least in the low tens of millions of dollars annually, potentially ranging to over one hundred million dollars annually. Potential state and local government costs associated with changes in the amount and types of health care services that, while highly uncertain, potentially range from relatively minor to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. (13-0011.)

Pack, supported by the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, says his proposed ballot measure would prevent other families from suffering as his has. “It’s a simple and reasonable step forward that the Legislature should have taken decades ago,” Pack, 58, wrote in a July when announcing the measure.

But medical organizations staunchly oppose it.

“We see this initiative as a very stark, trial-lawyer-sponsored attempt to increase their ability for a payday,” Dr. Paul Phinney, the California Medical Association‘s president and CEO, said in July. “It will increase medical costs for everybody in the state without doing a thing to improve care. … We think policy now should be directed toward lowering health care costs, not increasing them to benefit trial lawyers.”

The California Medical Association, California Hospital Association, California Dental Association, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and Central Valley Health Network have created a “Patients and Providers to Protect Access and Contain Health Costs” committee to oppose the measure. Those and other groups have loaded that committee with $31.5 million so far.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Eric Andrist

    Make no mistake, this ballot measure is supported by far more than just the trial attorneys. My disabled sister died last year from medical negligence and I am now part of a huge and growing group of victims and advocates that support this measure. Here’s a simple question that should change anyone’s mind: If you or a loved one have to go in for a medical procedure, and come out damaged or crippled for life, or worse…dead, do you really want to risk not being able to get a lawyer due to MICRA’s stupidly low $250k cap? Do you really want to risk someone getting away with harming or killing because you couldn’t get a lawyer to take your case?

    MICRA prevents hundreds, if not thousands of victims from getting legal representation every year in California. Go to http://www.38istoolate and read the stories of some of them.

  • peppermintinSF

    Wow 31.5 million being funded by insurance companies and other doctor groups to prevent medical professionals to get drug tested. Why would they do that unless they have something to hide?

  • Linda DeRogatis

    Every mother, father, sister, brother, grandparents, family, neighbors and friends i.e
    The People will sign in blood if we need to. From Sacramento to San Diego.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Emotion-driven, useless measure. Trial record shows this law would not have prevented road tragedy

  • lauralouise90
  • RRSenileColumnist

    Big diff between unhappy outcomes and preventable errors