California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

U.S. Lawmakers Look To California Malpractice Law as Option for Nation

As President Obama and Congress continue to hammer out various health care reform proposals, some policymakers are considering whether California's medical malpractice regulations offer a model for reform, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

California's Legislature passed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, or MICRA, in 1975.

The law imposes a $250,000 cap on the amount plaintiffs can receive in non-economic damages for "pain and suffering." It does not limit the amount plaintiffs can seek for other costs such as lost wages, medical expenses and punitive damages.

California as a Model...

Many physicians and malpractice insurance companies say MICRA could be a national model because it has:

  • Curbed high malpractice insurance costs;
  • Encouraged physicians to continue practicing in California; and
  • Prevented juries from awarding excessive damages.

Californians Allied for Patient Protection, a pro-MICRA group, says increasing the cap to $500,000 would increase California's health care costs by $7.9 billion per year.

Or a Cautionary Tale?

On the other hand, many consumer groups and trial attorneys say the law has hindered justice for injured patients and their families.

Critics note that lawmakers have not adjusted the $250,000 cap for inflation during the past 34 years.

Some families who cannot claim economic losses also might have difficulty finding an attorney to take their case, critics say (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21).


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