Californians to Vote on Mandatory Physician Drug Testing and Increase to Medical Malpractice Cap
Come November 2014, Californians will be voting on a highly contentious measure that combines two much watched over debates: 1) whether doctors in California should be subject to mandatory random drug tests and 2) whether California’s medical malpractice cap of $250,000, an amount that’s been in place since 1975 with the enactment of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), should be increased to $1.1 million to reflect inflation.
Known as Proposition 46, part of the contention and critique leveled against proponents of the ballot initiative is that under the guise of increasing patient safety by subjecting doctors to drug tests, the bill is actually just a ploy by trial lawyers to increase their potential payouts. The ballot bundles two issues, and opponents of Prop 46 are convinced that had the physician drug screening measure not been added, the proposed liability cap increase, a matter that’s been suggested by trial attorneys in the past without success, would not have been able to collect enough signatures to even make it on to the ballot this fall. The notion that doctors, much like other professionals and employees, should be subject to similar drug screening and monitoring requirements, has widespread appeal. This is especially true for families that have suffered an injury or death of a loved one as a result of medical negligence stemming from a doctor’s drug or alcohol impairment.
In a recent New York Times article, Dr. Richard Thorp, the President of the California Medical Association strongly opposed the measure , referring to is as a “flawed, deceptive ballot initiative, with one goal in mind: to increase money for trial lawyers.” Other opponents of the bill make similar arguments and fear that such a drastic increase of the liability cap would result in dramatic and fearfully insurmountable rise in insurance costs and other expenses to be borne by city and state government, leading ultimately to the closure of clinics, reduction in state services, and resulting in decreased provider access to certain areas of practice that are traditionally considered high risk, notably obstetrics. But families of victims supporting the cap increase argue that MICRA has essentially limited the value of their family member’s pain, suffering, and life to $250,000, an amount for which some attorneys won’t bother litigating given the meager recovery. In an interview for The New York Times, Inspector General Daniel Levinson expressed his support for the random drug testing of physicians. “No one should be above suspicion or below suspicion. I think we all need to play by similar rules.”
The significance of the ballot decision in California will extend beyond the state’s borders, with many other states anticipating that should California adopt mandatory drug testing for physicians, such a requirement will be adopted in states across the nation. There already exists a questionable disparity between the practice to which most other regulated professions (airline pilots, engineers, bus drivers, etc.) are subject, and it makes sense to the general public that if doctors are rendering care to vulnerable patients and if they have access to medication and narcotics, they should not be exempt from random drug screening.