Opinion

Prop. 46: Boosts legal costs, hurts health care

As the heads of groups representing California’s physicians and community health centers in the Central Valley, we have devoted our careers to promoting the safety of patients – particularly the most vulnerable among us.

We believe strongly that every Californian deserves access to high-quality, affordable health care that works – not sham “reform” designed to benefit a particular special interest while pretending to enhance patient safety.

The main provision of Proposition 46 would quadruple the cap on non-economic damages in California’s landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which governs legal proceedings if someone is injured in a medical procedure.

That’s why our organizations, the California Medical Association and the Central Valley Health Network, strongly oppose Proposition 46 on the November 2014 ballot.  We have joined a broad coalition that includes doctors, community health centers, hospitals, local governments, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, business and labor groups and many others to fight this misleading ballot measure.  Our group includes people from both sides of the aisle politically – the California Republican Party and the state’s largest county Democratic Party both oppose Proposition 46.

Proposition 46 was drafted by trial lawyers for trial lawyers. It would make it easier and more profitable for them to file medical lawsuits. We oppose this measure because it would increase health care costs for everyone, jeopardize people’s ability to see their trusted doctors, and threaten the privacy of people’s prescription drug information.

The main provision of Proposition 46 would quadruple the cap on non-economic damages in California’s landmark Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which governs legal proceedings if someone is injured in a medical procedure.

Because lawyers are compensated based on the payouts from such lawsuits, this change would significantly increase legal fees in suits filed against doctors and hospitals. Ultimately, someone would have to pay these costs – patients and taxpayers.

It’s not just us saying that. California’s independent Legislative Analyst’s Office warns that Proposition 46 could increase state and local government health care costs by up to “several hundred million dollars annually.” Increasing government costs would sock all taxpayers in our wallets.

Respected community clinics and health centers, including Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, warn that specialists such as obstetricians and gynecologists would have no choice but to reduce or eliminate vital services,

According to another study by a former Legislative Analyst, the costs of Proposition 46 would extend far beyond the direct costs to state and local governments. The end result would be increased costs across all sectors of the economy by $9.9 billion annually – or about $1,000 a year for an average family of four. That’s a price tag Californians can’t afford.

If Proposition 46 were to pass, higher costs could threaten Californians’ access to high-quality, affordable health care – especially in some rural and dense urban areas where doctors are already scarce. Some doctors would be forced to cut back services – or even leave California to practice in states where medical liability insurance is more affordable.

Respected community clinics and health centers, including Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, warn that specialists such as obstetricians and gynecologists would have no choice but to reduce or eliminate vital services, especially for women and families in underserved areas.

What’s more, Proposition 46 is essentially three initiatives in one. As a “sweetener” to distract voters from the lawsuit provision, it includes two other, unrelated provisions dealing with drug testing and a prescription drug database.

The doctor drug testing provision is politics at its most cynical.

The lawyers behind Proposition 46 have never approached the state legislature to devise a workable drug testing program for medical professionals. In fact, one of the main backers of Proposition 46 brazenly told the Los Angeles Times that drug testing of doctors is “the ultimate sweetener” for voters – an idea floated in focus groups, rather than designed as thoughtful policy.

Proposition 46 includes another provision that would require doctors and pharmacists to consult a statewide database of Californians’ personal prescription information.

Proposition 46 would force a flood of new users to rely on a state prescription drug database that is already slow and unreliable – without putting in place any new protections to safeguard patients’ privacy. That’s a risky gamble in this era of pervasive hacking and data breaches.

In short, Proposition 46 would increase health care costs, threaten access to care and take unacceptable risks with patients’ sensitive medical and personal information.  We urge California voters to reject this cynical measure.

Ed’s Note: Cathy Frey is CEO of the Central Valley Health Network, comprised of 13 Community Health Centers. Richard Thorp, MD, is the President of the California Medical Association representing nearly 40,000 physicians statewide. He is a practicing physician in Paradise, Calif.

 


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