Ballot initiative to increase med-mal caps in California qualifies

By David Yates | May 16, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - A ballot initiative that one attorney general candidate calls a "deceptive threat to healthcare in California" has qualified for the November ballot.

On May 9, David King, one of four Republican candidates running for attorney general, released a column accusing Attorney General Kamala Harris of enabling a ballot initiative aimed at repealing the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which currently caps non-economic damages at $250,000.

On Thursday, the initiative landed the 500,000-plus signatures required to qualify, according to the secretary of state's website.

However, now that the measure has made it to the ballot for November, Californians will be voting for a proposition that headlines "Drug and alcohol testing of doctors."

As King alleges in his column, "the repeal of MICRA is deceptively buried under the issue of 'substance abuse.'"

"Kamala Harris has repeatedly abused her powers as attorney general to mislead voters on ballot initiatives, destroying the measures she disfavors, such as pension reform," King wrote.

"She shamelessly misuses her authority to lay the foundation for her 2018 campaign for Governor. Medical doctors are only the latest victims of Harris's political manipulation of Californians' Constitutional rights of direct democracy.

"Harris favors the repeal of MICRA, so she cloaks this unpopular initiative under a misleading summary."

King goes on to state Harris sanctioned the misleading summary with the support of trial attorneys.

"The ballot summary focuses on drug and alcohol testing of doctors, checking a patient prescription database and only then notes that the initiative will increase the MICRA cap," King wrote.

"Voters are left with a false choice: opposing the initiative suggests they reject drug-testing and requiring a query of patients' existing prescriptions prior to prescribing controlled medications."

The $250,000 MIRCA cap hasn't been adjusted for inflation since the act was enacted nearly 40 years ago.

If the measure is approved by California voters, the MIRCA repeal would elevate the cap on non-economic damages to $1.1 million and would adjust in the future for inflation - an act King says will ultimately reduce Californians' access to healthcare.

"The initiative would increase exponentially the number of malpractice lawsuits, raising insurance premiums, reducing the services offered by doctors, driving doctors out of California or into retirement," King wrote.

According to the California Medical Association, trial lawyers are waging the campaign to overturn MIRCA, seeking to return the state to a time when physicians were embroiled in a malpractice insurance crisis driven by frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards.

"Under MICRA, injured patients are fairly compensated, medical liability rates are kept in check, and physicians and clinics can remain in practice treating patients," the CMA website states.

"The $250,000 cap on non-economic damages is an effective way of limiting frivolous lawsuits and keeping health care costs lower, but has been targeted by the trial lawyers because it restricts the amount of money they can collect in damage awards.

"Increasing MICRA's cap on speculative non-economic damages will have a dramatic, costly and negative impact on the cost of health care in California, and will seriously impede access to care for patients who need it most."

So why does King feel Harris sanctioned the measure? Well, "trial attorneys fund campaigns," King wrote, adding that the attorney general needs to build her for an eventual run for governor.

Multiple requests for comment were not returned by Harris or the Attorney General's Office.

The secretary of state tracking number for the measure is 1606 and the attorney general tracking number is 13-0016.

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

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