Opinion

Prop. 46: When health care kills

We live in a nation where up to 440,000 patients die each year of preventable medical errors. It’s now the third leading cause of death, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Any of us could become a victim of medical negligence. You could be harmed by a doctor impaired by drugs or alcohol. Your life could be ruined by a prescription drug addict strung out on too many drugs obtained by “doctor shopping.”

I know it can happen, because it happened to me.

Prop 46 would help by mandating random testing of physicians, a step advocated by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

My two children, Troy and Alana, were 10 and 7 when they were run down and killed by a driver high on Vicodin. She obtained hundreds of pills from several different Kaiser doctors, none of whom bothered to check to see if she was already being prescribed.

That tragedy led me to put Proposition 46 on the Nov. 4 ballot, giving voters the opportunity to do what lawmakers beholden to the medical-insurance complex won’t: Improve patient safety, promote better health care and save lives.

Modernize malpractice cap: Prop 46 would update California’s malpractice “pain-and-suffering” damages cap, adjusting it for nearly four decades of inflation and restoring the economic value it had when enacted in the disco era of 1975. Updating the cap will give patients harmed by malpractice fairer compensation, hold negligent doctors accountable and act as a deterrent.

Who is affected by the cap? People like Claire McCormack, whose daughter died after her doctors failed to realize her IV nutrition had been disconnected for two days. People like Holly Stewart, whose mother died after her doctors didn’t notice she had a twisted intestine. People like Rob Downey, who lost his hands and feet to sepsis after his doctors failed to test him for the same dangerous infection his son had just recovered from.

Prop 46 foes have claimed medical malpractice premiums will go up and doctors will flee California if the initiative is passed.

But it didn’t happen in Illinois, Georgia or Missouri when courts there struck down similar malpractice damages caps in recent years. Malpractice premiums are the same or lower in all three states since caps were removed, and each has more doctors per capita now than it did when the cap was in place.

Doctor drug and alcohol testing: California’s medical board estimates 18% of doctors suffer substance abuse during their lifetime.

Want a doctor under the influence practicing on you?

I worked impaired every day,” Dr. Loyd says today. “Looking back, it scares me to death, what I could have done.”

Prop 46 would help by mandating random testing of physicians, a step advocated by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and well as researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Pilots, police and bus drivers are drug tested. Why not doctors who hold our lives in their hands?

Dr. Stephen Loyd knows the danger firsthand. A decade ago, he was hooked on prescription painkilling drugs, taking up to 100 pills a day. He’s sober today, named one of the White House drug control office’s 2014 “Advocates for Action” for his efforts to promote doctor drug testing.

I worked impaired every day,” Dr. Loyd says today. “Looking back, it scares me to death, what I could have done.”

Prescription drug database: Prescription drug addiction is the nation’s fastest growing form of drug abuse. California has an online database known as CURES to curb “doctor shopping” addicts and over-prescribing. I helped create it. Unfortunately, less than 1 in 10 physicians bother to use it.

Prop 46 would require that doctors check this lifesaving tool before prescribing potentially addictive narcotics to a patient for the first time. The database is managed by the state Attorney General’s office and has never been hacked. The Legislature has authorized funding and work is underway to upgrade the system to handle additional physician users.

As Election Day approaches, the TV ranting against Prop 46 will surge to a fever pitch. Our foes’ campaign budget exceeds $60 million, mostly from the wildly profitable medical malpractice insurance industry bent on protecting its cash cow.

These firms pay out so little in malpractice awards that roughly 70% of every premium dollar comes back as profits. The gravy train grew so large that Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones in 2012 ordered several of the largest insurers to return $52 million in premiums they overcharged California physicians.

Instead of profits, Prop 46 backers are motivated by a desire to better protect patients, ensure sober physicians, curb prescription drug abuse, and give victims of medical malpractice a fighting chance in court.

Taken together, it will save lives.

Ed’s Note: Bob Pack of Dublin is the main proponent of Proposition 46.


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