California Will Vote on Drug Tests for MDs, Higher Awards for Medical Malpractice

By Logan Quirk

When Californians go to vote November 4, besides races for Congress, state and local legislators and officials, they’ll also decide half a dozen ballot propositions. One of these, Proposition 46, is shaping up as probably the most hotly, and expensively, contested fights in the nation.

Strongly backed by consumer lawyers and Consumer Watchdog, a state group that collected signatures from 840,000 Californians — well above the 504,000 signatures needed to win a spot on the ballot — the voter initiative is being fought just as hard by medical, insurance and business groups.


The high-profile ballot initiative would do two things: place new controls of doctors prescribing controlled substances, and raising the cap of damages available in medical malpractice lawsuits.


To stop drug abusers from “doctor-shopping” for those willing to write prescriptions for controlled substances, Prop. 46 would require prescribers to check

California’s new Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database, which shows prescribers a patient’s history of controlled substance prescriptions.

Prop. 46 is also known as the “Troy and Alana Pack Act,” named in memory of two young children killed when a driver, high on prescription painkillers bought from multiple doctors, crashed into the car in which the children were riding.

The children’s father, formerly a senior AOL executive, helped develop and win legislative approval for the CURES database. He’s now a leader in the drive to pass Prop. 46.Physician groups are divided on the database check mandate. The American College of Physicians supports requiring doctors to check state databases before prescribing controlled substances for patients. But the California Medical Association blocked a database check mandate bill in the state legislature last year.

Prop. 46 would also require random drug and alcohol testing for doctors. Those testing positive would be reported to the state Medical Board, which could suspend doctors being investigated, and discipline those found to have been on duty while under the influence.  Supporters of Prop. 46 claim these steps are needed to help deal with doctors who are impaired, or too readily provide abusers with controlled substances. They point to studies showing overprescribing doctors are a leading supply source for drug abusers, especially for chronic abusers. Backers also argue there’s just as much reason to drug test physicians as bus drivers, police officers, and other professions with mandatory testing.

Besides placing new controls on prescribers, Prop. 46 would boost more than fourfold the state’s long-time $250,000 limit on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, in medical malpractice cases, and index it to increase with inflation in future years.

 The current $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, in medical malpractice lawsuits dates back to 1975, when in his first term Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. Backers of Prop. 46 argue that, just to keep up with inflation over the past nearly 40 years, the cap would today have to be around $1.1 million.


Get out and vote.

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