Californians go to the polls next week with an opportunity to resolve a 39-year old issue over medical negligence payments.
Currently in California, when a medical professional is found to have been negligent and caused a patient an injury or the avoidable deterioration of an existing condition, a limit of $250,000 is imposed on the “non-economic” medical negligence payments that the patient can receive for their pain and suffering.
The limit was originally imposed in the 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act after medical professionals complained of a “ruinous escalation of malpractice insurance premiums”, and an option to include an “insurance escalator” was declined at the time by the California Trial Lawyers Association because they believed that without accounting for inflation the Act would be easier to oppose.
Had this “insurance escalator” been included in the original Act, the current limit on medical negligence payments in California would be $1.1 million. Voters are being asked whether to introduce the new limit and adjust it each year in line with inflation in order to allow more victims of medical negligence to recover compensation for the injuries they sustain.
Supporters of Proposition 46 say that many hundreds of people have been denied access to justice over the past thirty-nine years because of the limit on medical negligence payments. Bringing a medical negligence case is particularly expensive, and supporters of the Proposition claim that the current compensation limit results in patients being awarded an inadequate settlement of compensation for their pain and suffering and often barely enough to cover their legal costs.
Consequently many victims of medical negligence – who have suffered an injury or the deterioration of an existing condition due to a lack of care by a medical professional – decline to make medical negligence compensation claims. This situation particularly affects injuries to children, non-working spouses and the elderly, who have a relatively small amount of economic damages to claim for loss of income.
Opponents of the Proposition claim that an increase in medical negligence payments will result in health insurance premiums rising by 50% to 100%. They allege that this will cause some medical centers to refrain from providing riskier healthcare – such as maternity care – or reduce costs by treating fewer patients without insurance.
Proposition 46 also includes plans to safeguard patients from medical professionals who are substance abusers, and to put a stop to the over-prescribing of opoids and other dangerous medications, by developing a database of prescriptions that have been filled before drugs which could lead to abuse are dispensed to a patient for the first time.