Proposition 46 asks California voters to decide if doctors, like athletes, must submit to random drug testing conducted by the hospitals where they treat patients. Great idea, wouldn’t you say?
Though my physician-brother might disagree, being a doctor does not make one less human or less subject to the addiction demons haunting many in our society. Moreover, dopey doctors can do a lot more harm to us than dopey athletes, so we should protect patients from those doctors who descend into the hell wrought by substance abuse, right? That’s the question voters are being asked to answer by voting “yes” on the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act of 2014 next month.
But wait…there’s more!
If you vote to keep substance-abusing doctors away from patients — a really good thing to do— you also will be voting to increase the paydays for the trial lawyers who suit these doctors and the hospitals where they work—a really bad thing to do. Oh, and did I mention, it’s largely trial lawyers who are funding the campaign to pass this ballot measure?
Here’s what I’m talking about.
Much to the dismay of trial lawyers, back in 1975, Governor Jerry Brown (version 1.0) signed into law the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which among its many provisions put a cap on attorneys’ fees in medical malpractice cases court-ordered awards for non-economic damages to $250,000. Your vote on this ballot measure would lift that cap, adjust it for inflation all the way back to 1975, and index it to inflation going forward. That would immediately boost the cap on non-economic damages to about $1.1 million, which also immediately boosts the pay of the lawyers who get a percentage of the gross awards.
Don’t be fooled. We’re not talking about taking care of the real and tangible economic needs of injured patients; courts have the leeway needed to make those awards. Rather, we’re talking about increasing the amount that courts can award for “pain and suffering,” a very subjective and intangible variable that, left unchecked, will make lawyers wealthy while bankrupting doctors and hospitals.
A study published in 2005 by researchers at UC Santa Barbara concluded that raising the MICRA cap to more than $500,000 (half the increase that is proposed by this ballot initiative) would cost consumers in California more than $6.5 billion annually. Moreover, such an increase would motivate malpractice lawyers to pursue even more marginal/questionable cases to scare doctors and push their insurance companies into settlement agreements, all resulting in an unpredictable increase in health care costs.
I want to vote for random drug testing of doctors, but I can’t buy the rest of the package. I hope that California voters will see through this sham for what it truly is, a money grab by ambulance-chasing trial lawyers that will cost consumers billions of dollars.