Danville couple’s MICRA measure will be on ballot

A measure that would raise California’s decades-old limit on medical-negligence awards and force doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing narcotic drugs, put forth by a Danville couple whose two children were killed by a drugged driver in 2003, has qualified for November’s ballot.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office said the measure needed at least 555,236 projected valid signatures to qualify by random sampling, and it exceeded that threshold Thursday. Bob and Carmen Pack had announced in March that they had submitted 840,000 signatures.

“The patient safety protections in this ballot measure will save lives and protect families from dangerous, impaired and drug dealing doctors,” Bob Pack said in an statement issued Thursday. “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 measure would index for inflation the state’s cap on malpractice recovery – now fixed at $250,000 – for those without wage loss or medical bills. The Packs were entitled to recover only this $250,000 limit for each of their children’s lives; they note that $250,000 in 1975, when the cap was enacted as part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), would be worth only about $58,000 today. Adjusted for inflation, the cap would now be around $1.1 million.

The measure also would require random drug testing of doctors to prevent physician substance abuse, and require that doctors use the state’s existing prescription drug database to weed out doctor-shopping drug abusers like the one who killed the Packs’ kids.

The measure is supported by trial attorneys, but is staunchly opposed by medical and business groups.

“We always knew this flawed measure was bad for the pocketbooks of everyday Californians, but the more they read the fine print, the more they realize it’s equally bad for their personal privacy,” Jim DeBoo, manager of the campaign against the measure, said in a statement issued Thursday. “If this measure passes, it will mandate a database that isn’t properly working and open the privacy floodgates to the sensitive personal medical data of millions of Californians with no increased security safeguards or funding. It’s a hacker’s dream – and a privacy nightmare.”

Opponents had about $31.9 million cash on hand as of March 31, while supporters had about $42,000.

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

    There is no fine print! Just read the initiative for yourself! http://goo.gl/w7tX6w

    The medical and insurance industry is just mad because they’ll finally be held accountable for all the medical negligence they’ve been getting away with for 39 years..since MICRA was instituted.

    Even Senator Barry Keene, who wrote the law, agrees that the MICRA cap needs to be raised: http://goo.gl/TC4D1C

    Jim DeBoo (and who can trust anyone with that name!) doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The database is operational and will be in tip top shape by the time this ballot measure passes. There is no risk whatsoever to patient’s “privacy.” He just knows that’s a scary buzzword that people will see and make them think it’s a bad thing. The database is already functional, there’s no “hacking” going on.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    I want trial lawyers subject to random drug testing, too.

  • JohnW

    Doctors and hospitals are already accountable for negligence — they pay actual economic damages plus up to $250k for non-economic damages (“pain and suffering”) Could be millions of dollars depending on the circumstances. Malpractice attorneys want to cash in on jury sympathy awards. Causes doctors to practice defensive medicine and drop out of high-risk specialities, drives up the insurance and health care costs that we all pay. The $250 cap is one of the things California got right.

  • Eric Andrist

    No that’s not entirely true. A victim can only get a judgment IF they actually make it to court. MICRA prevents lawyers from taking medi-mal cases. 90% of the cases brought to lawyers are turned down because they can’t afford to bring them to court. Women, children, senior citizens and the disabled often only qualify for the non-economic damages. So even if they are awarded the $250k, they never see that amount. You first have to deduct court costs which can be $100,000 or more. Then you have to deduct the lawyer fees which can run another $75,000. The $75k that’s left is in 1975 valued dollars which equates to about $17,000.

    A recent study of doctors in the VA system proved that defensive medicine has nothing to do with fear of litigation since va Doctors can’t be sued in the same way as regular doctors. Yet the amount of defensive medicine was the same. So you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • JohnW

    You make some valid points. I could live with indexing the cap, but using the current cap as the baseline, not stepping it up to a million and indexing from there. We need comprehensive malpractice reform, looking to Canada and Europe for good models. We need medical malpractice courts, not juries deciding awards. We need to get rid of the presumption that a bad outcome means negligence was involved.

    Then there is the business of random drug testing of docs. As though we haven’t already given docs enough reason to get out of the business and go into real estate or something.

  • Eric Andrist

    The current cap IS the baseline. It’s being indexed for the 39 years of inflation that have passed without it going up at all! NOTHING today is the same value as it was in 1975 EXCEPT for MICRA lawsuits.

    I agree that the system needs to change, but in the interim we cannot continue to punish medical negligence victims by keeping them from getting accountability from negligent doctors and hospitals.

    Most of us don’t believe that all bad outcomes means negligence was involved. Summary judgment weeds out those cases before they ever get to a jury.

    If a doctor gets out of business because of drug test to keep patients safe, they shouldn’t be doctors to begin with.

  • JohnW

    We’ll just have to disagree. I’m not in favor of catching up for the 39 years of past inflation.

    I understand that there are doctors with substance abuse issues. I know of specific cases. Generally, their peers know about it and don’t report it. That’s the problem. Focus on that, not random testing.

  • Eric Andrist

    But WHY don’t you agree? Do you know that we have 22 states with no medical tort reform at all and 13 of those have found it to be unconstitutional? They aren’t having any of the problems that the medical and insurance industry want you to believe we’ll have here. We should never have had the MICRA law in the first place, so raising to inflation isn’t the problem!

  • JohnW

    Medical malpractice insurance rates in California are about one fourth the cost in New York and Florida for high-risk specialties and a fraction of the cost in those states for primary care. I’m pretty sure MICRA is a significant reason for that.

    An OB/GYN in New York or Florida — about $200k a year for insurance. In California, less than 50k. An internist in CA – about $3,000. Other states? $12,000 and up.

    Insurance for an ER doc is expensive in CA for obvious reasons, but nothing compared to other states.

  • Elwood

    John, please yield to Eric’s superior knowledge.

    He says you don’t know what you’re talking about and he obviously does.

    Just read his posts if you don’t believe it.

  • JohnW

    Well as President turned artist George W. Bush once said, we need tort reform because “Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across the country.” But, thanks to the $250k cap, the OB/GYNs can practice their love with women all across California.

  • Eric Andrist

    Write a ballot measure like we did then.

  • Eric Andrist

    My sister died from medical negligence in 2012 and I have nonstop studied this problem and this ballot measure every since. You bet I know what I’m talking about.

  • Eric Andrist

    Medical Malptractice insurance rates are not governed by MICRA, they are governed by Prop 103 and the insurance commissioner. So even if this measure passes and their rates went up (which they won’t unless they continue to be negligent), the commissioner has the power to rate reduce them. MICRA has NEVER affected their rates in California. Here’s the Insurance Commissioner talking about it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwy3AjageYA

  • JohnW

    FYI, I don’t question your knowledge, only your conclusions. I’m sorry about your sister. My father spent the last 15 years of his life living with the consequences of an incorrect diagnosis and treatment. But negligence was not involved. No litigation was pursued.

  • Eric Andrist

    What conclusions? Everything I say is based on facts and I try to link references to it all.

  • Marga

    I would have voted for this initiative if it didn’t include drug testing for doctors. As it is, it’s a demeaning invasion of privacy which serves no purpose whatsoever.

  • JohnW

    Meaning I don’t share your views on either the drug testing or the cap.

  • JohnW

    Oh sure. If the actuarial risks go up due to raising the cap from $250K to $1 million and indexing from there, the commish will save the day by telling the insurers that they can’t raise premiums to reflect the risk. And, of course, the insurers will just continue business as usual and suck up the additional cost.

  • Eric Andrist

    I realize that, but you’ve yet to share a good reason why.

  • Eric Andrist

    I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Elwood

    And you’re modest, too.

    Thanks for playing.

  • Eric Andrist

    He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good.


  • JohnW

    If you say so. I get your passion about this. Really do. But neither of us is about to be convinced by the other. So, I’m “over and out” on this topic.