PROP 46: Initiative Would Raise Medical Malpractice Cap

In this photo taken Tuesday Oct. 14, 2014, Bob Pack poses at the headstone of his children, Troy, 10 and Alana, 7. in Lafayette, Calif. Pack’s children were killed 11 years ago when a prescription drug-abusing woman drove into them as they were walking on the sidewalk to get ice cream. Proposition 46, on the November ballot, named after Pack’s children, would raise the the cap on pain and suffering in medical liability lawsuits from $250,000 to $1.1 million. Insurance companies and doctors are heavily opposed, saying it will raise health care costs.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The most expensive campaign in California this year matched doctors against trial lawyers in a fight over a decades-old cap on courtroom damages for medical negligence.

The duel over Proposition 46 attracted national attention, in part because it calls for making California the first state to impose to random drug and alcohol tests on doctors.

But the reason the campaign lured more than $60 million in donations was its proposal to lift the cap on damages for pain and suffering caused by doctor negligence to $1.1 million, up from $250,000.

Consumer advocates and lawyers who backed the proposal say it’s about safety and point to cases in which drug- or alcohol-addicted doctors have harmed patients. In one ad, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer says, “Make sure impaired doctors don’t treat someone you love.”

But insurance companies, hospitals and physician groups warn that if the initiative is approved Tuesday, consumer costs will soar and doctors could flee to other states. They depict it as a sugar-coated pill that’s really about fattening attorneys’ wallets.

The proposal has become a marquee battle in a year when Californians will choose a governor and vote on proposals ranging from funding water projects amid a record drought to how the state regulates insurance rates.

A third provision of the initiative would require doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing painkillers and other powerful drugs in an attempt to curb pill shopping and other abuses.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has concluded that raising the cap on medical malpractice damages will increase government health care costs “from the tens of millions of dollars to several hundred million dollars annually.” The higher costs could be offset to some extent by uncertain, but potentially significant, savings from prescription drug monitoring and doctor testing, the analyst found.

Research has indicated the rates of drug and alcohol abuse for health care professionals are similar to those in the general public, if not higher because of access to prescription narcotics.

According to the proposal, doctors with hospital privileges would be tested randomly or when a physician is suspected of abusing alcohol or drugs or when a mistake occurs in treatment, such as surgery.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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