Don’t believe it for a second if someone tells you that money isn’t a factor in important ballot initiatives. The Los Angeles Times reported recently that last November’s Proposition 46 fight cost both camps about $70 million altogether. More than 80 percent of that came from opponents of the measure — the winning side.
Prop 46 would have made important changes to California’s medical malpractice laws. According to the state’s Voter Information Guide, the proposal would have increased the cap on noneconomic damages for plaintiffs in med mal cases. The cap is currently set at $250,000, the same dollar amount lawmakers adopted in 1975. Prop 46 would have raised the cap to $1.1 million immediately; after that, the amount would increase every year based on the rate of inflation. The $1.1 million figure, by the way, is the 2014 equivalent of 1975’s $250,000.
The proposition also included two patient safety measures. The first would require that hospitals test certain physicians for alcohol and drugs. Proponents argue that 1 in 5 physicians suffer from substance abuse at some point in their lives. Professionals like pilots, law enforcement officers, bus drivers and soldiers are subject to mandatory drug testing, so why shouldn’t doctors be? Each of these professions has a duty to protect the people in their care.
The second addresses the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Had Prop 46 passed, health care practitioners would have had to check California’s Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System prior to prescribing or providing particular drugs to a patient for the first time.
Proponents of the law change spent about $11 million during the campaign. They also spent almost $1.1 million more than they took in.
Opponents spent $58.6 million on their successful campaign. They even had money left over after their triumph: $850,000 in cash and unpaid debt of about $8,000.
Who were they? A consumer advocacy group and plaintiffs’ attorneys were the primary drivers of the “vote yes” campaign. The “vote no” camp included medical malpractice insurance companies, hospital groups and medical and dental associations from all over California.
In spite of the defeat at the polls, change may be on the horizon. The California Supreme Court has at least one case challenging the $250,000 cap on its docket right now.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “In malpractice initiative battle, opponents heavily outspent backers,” Melanie Mason, Feb. 2, 2015