MALPRACTICE CAP: Doctors, Lawyers Gear Up for Fight
A proposal to raise the cap on malpractice awards is pending in the Legislature, "setting the stage for a bitter fight between two of California's wealthiest and most influential interest groups: doctors and lawyers." The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that the medical community has been "fiercely protective of the law," which is credited with helping keep down malpractice insurance premiums, but trial lawyers argue that inflation makes the $250,000 cap equivalent to about $82,500 in today's dollars. "In all probability, this is the year of confrontation," said former state Sen. Barry Keene, who sponsored the 1975 Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), who is sponsoring the bill, has yet to specify a new cap amount, but it would have to grow to $760,000 to account for inflation since 1975, according to the cite>Press Democrat. Villaraigosa spokesperson Elena Stern said the senator has not come specified a fixed amount because he does not want to risk "alienating at least one side." Gov. Gray Davis has indicated he may sign although "he hasn't taken a public stance" on the measure.
Mobilizing for Battle
California doctors have prepared a widespread campaign to prevent a legislative change to the cap. "We don't think MICRA is broken," said the California Medical Association's chief lobbyist, Steve Thompson. Doctors and insurers say lifting the cap would "drive up premiums and eventually restrict access to health care, particularly specialties such as obstetrics that carry inherently greater risks than other medical procedures." But malpractice attorneys say dozens of cases "never get filed because the high cost of litigation can't be reconciled with the potential reward." The CMA has enlisted the help of Planned Parenthood and rural health clinic administrators, among others, and has targeted for friendly treatment about nine legislators who support MICRA (Sweeney, 2/28).