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Calif. advocacy groups decry ballot measure to increase med-mal cap

By David Yates | May 20, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - Already crowned the No. 1 "Judicial Hellhole" for two years running by the American Tort Reform Association, California may ensure a three-peat if a new ballot measure passes in November, some advocacy groups are worried.

On Thursday, a ballot initiative aimed at repealing the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, which currently caps non-economic damages at $250,000, submitted the 500,000-plus signatures required to qualify for the ballot.

The measure has spurred Golden State watchdog groups such as California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse into action against the forces they believe are pushing the initiative forward - trial lawyers.

"Trial lawyers have one goal in mind with this initiative: they want to file more lawsuits against more doctors and make more money doing it," Tom Scott, CALA executive director, said in a statement.

"If this initiative passes, trial lawyers will profit wildly, and California consumers will be the ones left holding the bag. A recent study found that this initiative will increase health care costs by $9.9 billion annually - or more than $1,000/year in higher health costs for a family of four."

For the last two years, the American Tort Reform Association has ranked California as the worst "Judicial Hellhole" in the nation - a fact that has not escaped Scott.

"California has been named the worst 'judicial hellhole' in the nation for two years in a row. With business after business leaving the state, it's clear that California needs to improve its business climate," said Scott.

"We need to create more jobs, not more lawsuits, but this initiative seeks to do the opposite."

CALA isn't the only concerned advocacy group.

A day after the initiative qualified, the California Medical Association sent out a tweet asking followers to go to its website and "join the fight" to "defeat the anti-MICRA measure."

CMA is supporting a broad-based coalition of Californians formed to oppose the initiative and even asks physicians to fill out a "MICRA Commitment Card" on its website.

The association contends the initiative is written and funded by trial attorneys and will increase the overall number of medical lawsuits and the cost of health care across the board.

When Californians go to the polls in November, they will be voting for a proposition that headlines "Drug and alcohol testing of doctors," as the language for increasing non-economic damages is at the bottom of the measure.

In fact, CMA believes the measure contains a number of unrelated provisions designed to mislead and deceive voters - including a little-discussed mandate relying on a massive expansion of a government-run prescription drug database, which could leave personal medical information vulnerable to privacy breach, it says.

"The consequences of mandating the use of a government-run website that experts say won't work when required before physicians are allowed to prescribe needed medication is nothing less than a recipe for disaster," CMA president Dr. Richard Thorp said.

On its website, CMA asserts that the mandate relies on the uploading of personal prescription drug records of millions of California patients onto the database, but the initiative fails to add new funding for its expedited expansion or require any additional security standards or safeguards to prevent hacking.

Kimberly Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, shares the association's assessment that the initiative is misleading.

Stone believes the measure is "bad public policy" and agrees that its sponsors "are playing hide the ball" with voters, saying California is ranked the top "Judicial Hellhole" for a reason and that "MICRA is our one shining light."

"We're prepared to fight big time to keep MICRA," Stone said. "If the initiative were to pass, it would raise medical-malpractice rates for doctors across the state. There is no question this initiative would lead to higher health care costs for all Californians."

The state trial lawyers group, Consumers Attorney of California, feel change to MICRA is necessary to comply with decades of inflation that have occurred since the cap was first imposed.

"Under MICRA, the 'non-economic' damages cap frozen at $250,000 in 1975 would equal more than $1 million today. It also should be fitted with a cost of living adjustment to make sure it doesn't become equally outdated in the future," the group's website says.

"MICRA was unfair to Californians who have been injured through no fault of their own when it was enacted in 1975. It is even more unfair today. It is time for change. It is time for MICRA to be modernized."

If the measure is approved by California voters, the MICRA repeal would elevate the cap on non-economic damages to $1.1 million and would adjust it in the future for inflation.

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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