MICRA's Big Deception

by Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP
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Michael Newman authored an op-ed for the May 29th edition of the Daily Journal to speak out against what he believes is an initiative that will deceive California voters this coming November.  

Newman writes that the primary purpose of the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act is to alter MICRA, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975. Currently, MICRA caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases at $250,000.

The initiative slated for the November 2014 ballot, among other things, would seek to increase that limit to $1.1 million, which going forward will be adjusted to inflation.

Yet the official summary of the initiative, written by the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, buries the MICRA reform provision.

The first three sentences of the summary describe provisions that would require drug testing for doctors. The fourth sentence refers to a provision that would require health care practitioners to consult a state prescription drug history database before prescribing certain controlled substances. A reader would need to get all the way to the fifth and final sentence to see that the initiative increases the cap on pain and suffering damages in medical negligence lawsuits.

This bit of deceptive presentation appears to be a deliberate attempt to sneak the measure past voters. As reported in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, The battle between doctors and trial lawyers grows more infantile, one of the law's primary advocates described the drug testing provision as "the ultimate sweetener," admitting that when the proposal was put before focus groups, "the only thing that made them light up was drug testing of doctors."

Newman also objects to the initiative the ballot measure's potential illegality. The state constitution provides that an "initiative measure embracing more than one subject may not be submitted to the electors or have any effect."

As the state Supreme Court has explained, one of the purposes of single-subject requirement was "to minimize the risk of voter confusion and deception." The initiative certainly violates the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of this law.    

The fundamental changes contained in the initiative deserve an honest and open debate, with Californians clearly understanding what they are voting for or against. The proponents, as evidenced their packaging, appear to lack confidence that they would win such a debate on its merits. If they would invoke the initiative process, proponents should show respect, not contempt, for voters' intelligence.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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