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California ballot measure to increase malpractice cap, target impaired doctors


California consumer advocates successfully placed on November's ballot a measure that would eliminate the current $250,000 cap on medical malpractice awards, replacing it with an inflation-based formula, as well as target impaired doctors and prescribing practices.

But a coalition of health care, business and other organizations that includes the California Medical Association is criticizing the proposition as a “flawed government-run database mandate with new threats to personal privacy.”

The “Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act,” whose placement on the ballot Thursday was spearheaded by the Santa Monica, California-based Consumer Watchdog organization, would adjust for inflation, as of Jan. 1, 2015, the $250,000 cap established in 1975 as measured by the consumer price index published by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the 38 years since it was introduced. It would continue to be adjusted annually thereafter.

Among other provisions, according to Consumer Watchdog, the proposal would:

• Mandate random drug and alcohol testing of doctors modeled after the Federal Aviation Administration's testing of airline pilots and after an adverse event in a hospital.

• Require that physicians first check the state's existing prescription drug database before prescribing narcotics and other addictive drugs to first-time patients.

• Require physicians to report suspected drug or alcohol abuse at work by a colleague, as well as physician's substandard care if it leads to an adverse event.

A proponent of the proposition is Bob Pack, whose children Troy and Alana were killed by a “drunk and drugged, doctor-shopping driver who had been overprescribed thousands of pills” by physicians despite not having physical symptoms, according to a statement issued by the Consumer Watchdog Campaign, the lobbying arm of Consumer Watchdog, which was “organized to protect consumers' interests in the ballot initiative and legislative process,” according to Consumer Watchdog.


The more than 840,000 signatures the coalition gathered qualified it to be placed on the November ballot.

“Voters will now have a chance to save lives by creating greater accountability and transparency for the medical industry,” said Jamie Court, a director of Consumer Watchdog Campaign, in a statement.

“Patient safety laws have not been modernized for 38 years, and as a result dangerous doctors are not deterred, and families victimized by medical negligence cannot get access to justice.

“Voters now have an opportunity to send a signal to a defiant and arrogant medical lobby that dangerous doctors should not be practicing and that reckless physicians should not be above the rules that apply to other professions and citizens.”

A Sacramento, California-based coalition called the Patients and Providers to Protect Access and Contain Health Care Costs said in a statement that the initiative “is written and funded by trial attorneys and their allies. In addition to increasing the overall number of medical lawsuits and the cost of health care across the board, it 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 third-party analysts say cannot be implemented as written and will leave personal medical information vulnerable to privacy breach.”