Guest Blog by:Lisa Maas Executive Director Californians Allied for Patient Protection
Trial lawyers and their allies have filed a proposed ballot measure that will make it easier for lawyers to file meritless lawsuits against doctors and other health care providers and to generate more in legal fees for themselves. The initiative would change California’s landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) to increase the cap on speculative, “non-economic” damages from the current $250,000 to nearly $1.1 million. While the measure contains other “window dressing” provisions, including mandatory doctor drug testing and a mandated prescription drug database, there is no doubt that the main goal of the trial lawyers is the MICRA change.
A higher limit on non-economic damages gives trial lawyers incentive to take on non-meritorious cases against doctors and healthcare providers because they can reap more in legal fees and the possibility of an out of court settlement is more likely. More lawsuits against doctors mean higher liability insurance costs and, ultimately, higher costs for patients and reduced access to healthcare services.
The Association of California Healthcare Districts is a member of Californians Allied for Patient Protection (CAPP), a coalition of more than 800 organizations representing doctors, community clinics, nurses, hospitals, EMTs, labor unions, local governments, employers, taxpayer groups and others that support MICRA and are actively opposing the trial lawyer ballot measure. CAPP will be providing support toward the effort to defeat the proposition or any legislative changes.
Since inception, MICRA has proven to be an effective way of ensuring injured patients are fairly compensated, while limiting meritless lawsuits against physicians, nurses, hospitals, community clinics, dentists and other health care providers. MICRA fairly compensates patients by awarding unlimited economic compensation for all past and future medical care, past and future lost wages, and unlimited punitive damages. MICRA’s reasonable cap of up to $250,000 for speculative, non-economic damages helps reduce incentives by lawyers to file meritless lawsuits which drive up health care costs.
Under MICRA, payments to patients are going up at more than twice the rate of inflation.
Filing a measure with the Attorney General is just a first step in qualifying a measure for the ballot. The trial lawyers would have to collect signatures over the fall and winter if they intend to qualify the measure. CAPP coalition members are also prepared to fight any end of session attempt by the trial lawyers to change MICRA in the Legislature.
Unless we defeat trial lawyer efforts, their changes would increase health care costs for doctors and consumers by billions of dollars per year while reducing patient access to healthcare providers. This could be disastrous, coming at a time when California is experiencing a growing shortage of physicians and access to care issues related to federal health care reform.
For more information about CAPP and MICRA, visit www.micra.org and sign up to receive e-mail updates about efforts to protect MICRA or follow CAPP on Twitter: @MICRAWorks.