Pubdate: Tue, 14 Oct 2014
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Michael R. Blood, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Insurance Companies, Doctors, Hospitals Face Off Against Trial 
Lawyers Over Raising Limits on Negligence Damages

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Voters could make California the first state to 
require many doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests, a 
safeguard that has long been in place for pilots, police officers and 
others who must stay clear-eyed on the job.

While supporters are promoting that aspect of Proposition 46, it is 
not the initiative's most contentious provision.

If approved by voters, it also would lift the ceiling on damages for 
pain and suffering caused by medical negligence, something that has 
been sought for decades by trial lawyers.

Because of that, the campaign has become the most expensive in 
California this year. It matches the trial lawyers - who are pushing 
for the cap on damages to be boosted to $1.1 million, from $250,000 - 
against insurance companies, hospitals and physician groups that warn 
consumer costs will soar and doctors could flee to other states.

"The economic stakes of the policy in question are so massive that 
almost any amount of political spending is worth it," said Thad 
Kousser, a professor of political science at the University of 
California San Diego.

A third provision of the initiative would require doctors to check a 
statewide database before prescribing painkillers and other powerful 
drugs in an attempt to curb pill shopping and other abuses.

Proposition 46 supporters include Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who 
says, "Make sure impaired doctors don't treat someone you love." The 
long list of opponents ranges from the California Medical Association 
to the state Chamber of Commerce.

Proponents say the proposition is about safety and point to cases in 
which addled doctors have harmed patients or overprescribed drugs.

"I've treated thousands of patients, risked their lives, while high 
on prescription drugs. I was an addict," Dr. Stephen Loyd, who is now 
recovered, says in one video supporting the proposition.

Insurance companies and doctors depict the proposition as a 
sugarcoated pill that's really about fattening attorneys' wallets. 
They say the provisions on mandatory testing were included in the 
proposal because it was the most popular question with test groups 
used by supporters to judge political appeal.

In one ad, a narrator warns darkly that trial lawyers will make 
millions of dollars from larger jury awards with the bill paid by 
"the rest of us."

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office has concluded that 
raising the cap on medical malpractice damages will increase 
government health care costs "from the tens of millions of dollars to 
several hundred million dollars annually."

Fundraising already has topped a cumulative $60 million.

No one denies that doctors are vulnerable to the same addictions as 
the people they treat, and state records show dozens of physicians 
have been disciplined in recent years for abusing alcohol or drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom