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Early Christmas for ballot measure committees

Christmas came early for a few California ballot measure committees.

The California Health Foundation and Trust gave $2 million Tuesday to Californians United for Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability. That committee backs a measure on next November’s ballot which would require the state to use fees paid by hospitals and federal Medicaid matching funds only for the intended purpose of supporting hospital care to Medi-Cal patients and to help pay for healthcare for low-income children, unless the Legislature casts two-thirds votes to do otherwise.

Also, the California Medical Association gave $1 million Monday to the committee backing a proposed ballot measure that would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack. The Secretary of State’s office cleared that measure’s proponents to start circulating petitions earlier this month. The Service Employees International Union has already kicked in $3 million, and billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmentalist Tom Steyer of San Francisco has given $1 million.

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SD7: This week’s money and endorsements

Independent expenditure money continues to rain down upon the 7th State Senate District’s special election’s Democrat-on-Democrat showdown.

Competing to succeed Mark DeSaulnier (now a congressman) are Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord; former Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo; Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer; and former Concord City Council candidate Terry Kremin.

Since my last report, in which I detailed the big independent spending that the California Dental Association has done on Bonilla’s behalf, other Bonilla IE benefactors have materialized as well. The California Professional Firefighters IE PAC has spent about $118,000 for mailers, postage, data and polling since last Friday, Feb. 13, while the California Medical Association IE PAC has spent about $83,400 on mailers.

But weighing in against Bonilla and Buchanan is JOBSPAC, the California Chamber of Commerce political action committee, which on Tuesday reported spending about $21,000 on research and mailers. Glazer was a consultant for JOBSPAC back in 2012 – one of the ways in which he has burned his bridges to much of the Democratic Party and the unions that support it.

And Republican-turned-independent millionaire Southern California businessman Bill Bloomfield – a patron of centrist Democrats who buck their party and labor – has spent about $75,000 more on Glazer’s behalf beyond the $104,000 I reported last week, bringing his total so far to almost $180,000.

Meanwhile, among the more significant new endorsements, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, the East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club, the California Nurses Association and the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges endorsed Bonilla this week; former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin endorsed Buchanan; and former state Controller Steve Westly and former state Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti endorsed Glazer.

The special primary is scheduled for March 17; if nobody gets more than 50 percent of the vote that day, the special general election will be held May 19.

Bonilla and Buchanan will meet with the East Bay Women’s Political Caucus members and other district residents from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, March 2 in the Oak View Room at the Walnut Creek Library, 1644 N. Broadway; the event is open to the public.

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Danville couple’s MICRA measure files signatures

A Danville couple whose two children were killed by a drugged driver in 2003 submitted 840,000 signatures Monday to qualify a measure for November’s ballot that would raise California’s decades-old limit on medical-negligence awards and force doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing narcotic drugs.

Bob and Carmen Pack, and the attorneys’ groups backing them, needed to gather 504,760 valid signatures from registered voters by today in order to get the measure on the ballot.

“The Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act will save lives and prevent families across California from having to endure the tragedies ours have by creating accountability and transparency in medical care,” Bob Pack said in a news release. “Voters should have the right to enact the patient safety protections the legislature has denied them for decades, including protections from drug abusing, drug dealing, and dangerous doctors.”

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.

Medical organizations oppose the measure.

“A ballot measure that is certain to generate more medical lawsuits and drive up costs for every health consumer in California is the worst possible idea at the worst possible time,” California Medical Association President Dr. Richard Thorp said in a news release Monday. “This initiative is bad for patients, bad for taxpayers and bad for California’s entire system of health care delivery.”

Opponents note California’s independent Legislative Analyst found the measure could increase state and local government health costs by hundreds of millions of dollars per year. “If this measure passes, it will cost taxpayers, health consumers and local governments across our state a significant amount of money,” said Central Valley Health Network CEO Cathy Frey.

Opponents had banked about $31.3 million by the start of this year to fight the measure, while proponents had banked about $375,000.

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Bill would require warning labels on soda

Sodas and sugary drinks sold in California would have to bear a label warning consumers of health risks, under a bill introduced Thursday in the state Senate.

sodaSB 1000 by state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, would require all containers of beverages with added sweeteners of 75 or more calories per 12 ounces to bear this label: “STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

“When the science is this conclusive, the state of California has a responsibility to take steps to protect consumers,” Monning said in a news release. “As with tobacco and alcohol warnings, this legislation will give Californians essential information they need to make healthier choices.”

Dr. Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in Monning’s news release that there’s “clear and conclusive” scientific evidence that soda and sugary drinks are major contributors to these harms. “These diseases cost California billions of dollars in health care and lost productivity every year. When any product causes this much harm, it is time to take action.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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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.

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Medical orgs put up $7.5m against MICRA measure

As predicted, California’s medical establishment is starting to put up big money to oppose a proposed ballot measure that would lift the cap on non-economic damages that can be awarded in medical-negligence lawsuits.

The California Medical Association, California Hospital Association, California Dental Association, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and Central Valley Health Network recently created a “Patients and Providers to Protect Access and Contain Health Costs” committee to oppose the measure.

That committee got its first big cash injection last week: $5 million from the California Medical Association. The California Hospitals Committee on Issues anted up Wednesday with $2.5 million.

Leading the charge for the ballot measure is Bob Pack of Danville, whose two children were killed by a drugged driver in 2003. Supported by the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, Pack says his proposed ballot measure – by raising California’s nearly 40-year old limit on medical-negligence awards and force doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing narcotic drugs – would prevent other families from suffering as his has.

The medical organizations see the proposed measure as “a very stark, trial-lawyer-sponsored attempt to increase their ability for a payday,” said Dr. Paul Phinney, the California Medical Association’s president and CEO. They say it will boost Californians’ medical costs without doing anything to improve care.

The proposed measure is awaiting an official title and summary from the state attorney general’s office before it can be cleared to start gathering petition signatures.