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Proposition 46 Fails to Gain Voter Approval in California

Medical Malpractice

Patients and patient safety advocates in California had high hopes for this past election day, when Californians cast their votes to approve or disapprove a proposed medical malpractice law, known as Proposition 46 or Prop 46. Their hopes were dashed when it became apparent that voters had rejected the measure, despite a massive media campaign. However, despite the loss, some proponents of Prop 46 have vowed that their fight is not yet over. The author of Prop 46, Bob Pack, and his wife Carmen have hinted that they may attempt medical malpractice reform again in future elections. The couple lost both of their children, Troy and Alana, to medical negligence.

Adjustment of compensation cap

The proposed reform to the current California medical malpractice law was intended to have a two-pronged effect. It was intended to both reduce incidences of medical malpractice and to fairly compensate the victims of it. Currently, California law does not limit the amount of money that may be awarded to victims of medical malpractice for economic damages. Those refer to measurable losses, such as medical bills, pharmaceutical costs, and lost wages. However, Californians are subject to a cap on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of society. That limit is set at $250,000. The cap was established in the 1970’s and proponents of Prop 46 argued that it was outdated, since it was never adjusted for inflation.

Bob Pack, the author of Prop 46, lost his two children to a car accident caused by a driver who was impaired by prescription drugs. He argued that the doctors who prescribed the drugs should have been held accountable. Since Pack’s children did not survive the accident and their young ages precluded any significant economic losses, the jury award would be quite low. “I was never able to bring the doctors who wrote all the prescriptions to any kind of justice or reprimand,” said Pack.

Had Prop 46 been approved by voters, California medical malpractice law would have changed to set a new compensation limit on non-economic damages. The new limit would have been $1.1 million. Additionally, that limit would have been periodically adjusted for inflation.

Drug testing for doctors

In addition to raising the current limitation on non-economic damages for medical malpractice lawsuits, Prop 46 would have implemented measures aimed at curbing incidences of medical negligence from occurring in the first place. Doctors would have been required to make use of a state-wide database of prescription medications. Specifically, they would have had to check the database before prescribing certain medications such as powerful narcotics and other drugs with a high potential for abuse.

Had Prop 46 passed, a state-wide drug database would have presumably reduced incidences of “doctor shopping,” or visiting multiple doctors for the sake of fueling a drug addiction.

The third component of Prop 46 also involves curbing drug abuse. Although it may seem counterintuitive, the medical profession has a higher rate of drug abuse as compared to the general population. Healthcare providers have easy access to prescription pads and medications, and the high-stress nature of the job could contribute to drug addiction. Had Prop 46 passed, healthcare providers would have been subjected to random drug testing. Proponents of the medical malpractice reform initiative had claimed that this would be no different than other professionals who must submit to the same tests, such as firefighters and police officers.