Healthcare providers and consumer groups alike will have their eyes on California this fall. A voter initiative to raise limits on medical malpractice awards and require drug testing for physicians recently qualified to be included on the November ballot. Attorneys and insurance companies are gearing up for a renewal of their long-standing battle.
The state’s 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act currently caps specific malpractice damages at $250,000. The current measure would raise the cap for these items, such as pain and suffering, to roughly $1.1 million to account for inflation. It would also establish an index tied to future inflation rates.
Supporters say that raising the cap will make it more financially feasible for lawyers to take on malpractice suits. On the other side, insurers and medical providers say the measure will create a domino effect with more malpractice claims resulting in higher healthcare costs and facility closures in already underserved communities.
The measure’s other initiative calls for hospitals to conduct random drug and alcohol tests on physicians. Such testing would be mandatory in cases of preventable medical error. In 2000, a report by the California Medical Board estimated that 18 percent of the state’s physicians have had a substance abuse problem at one time or another. Opponents claim this issue was added only as a way to get the malpractice limit change approved.
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