SACRAMENTO – The California Medical Association (CMA) says legal reforms that place limits on damages for medical malpractice is essential to protecting the stability of the medical system.
U.S. Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) last month reintroduced to Congress the Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare 6 (HEALTH) Act of 2016. It would, among other things, limit the amount a plaintiff can recover at trial for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, to $250,000, which is the same cap under California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) of 1975.
Though the CMA underscores the importance of a nationwide cap, the organization indicated recently that it is not yet ready to fully endorse the latest version of the HEALTH Act.
CMA is a 160-year-old, physician-founded organization. It serves more than 41,000 member-physicians across the state of California through a comprehensive program of legislative, legal, regulatory, economic and social advocacy, according to the organization.
“California Medical Association has no official position yet on the HEALTH Act, but historically California’s physician community has supported federal legislation that mirrors our state’s landmark MICRA laws as a proven and essential safeguard to keeping health care costs stable and protecting access,” Jason Kinney, principal at California Strategies LLC, told the Northern California Record on behalf of CMA.
MICRA provides stability to California’s health care system and protects access, especially in under-served areas, Kinney explained. Therefore, extending it nationwide would be a positive step for patients everywhere.
It is unclear as of yet how passage of the HEALTH Act might impact California’s state MICRA law, but Kinney speculated that the measure, if passed, would help to reduce the number of challenges to MICRA and ensure its provisions and protections stay in place.
“As long as there’s a financial incentive for trial lawyers to file expensive lawsuits, MICRA will always remain under attack,” Kinney said. “But, since its passage, MICRA has been threatened more than 20 different times – either by legislation, in court or on the ballot – and those attacks have failed every single time.”
MICRA’s most recent attack was Proposition 46, which provided a 40-year inflation adjustment to the 1975 cap, raising it from $250,000 to $1.1 million. Sixty-seven percent of voters gave it a thumbs down on voting day.
Kinney estimated MICRA opponents spent more than $10 million on the 2014 Proposition 46 ballot measure that he said was handily defeated in all 58 counties in California.
“So MICRA is here to stay and, at some point, you have to think that the trial lawyer lobby will take the hint, start listening to voters and stop throwing good money after bad,” he said.
Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA) is also in support of nationwide MICRA-type caps, calling it important step toward much-needed tort reform.
“On a national basis, we need to have the entire country embrace California’s medical liability reforms. This includes caps on noneconomic damages, limits on attorneys’ fees and the period payments of future damages,” Michael C. Stinson, PIAA vice president of government relations and public policy, told the Northern California Record.
These measures are necessary in order to stabilize medical liability insurance premiums, he said.