MICRA fight returns

By Kevin Yamamura with

09/26/2019 09:00 AM EDT

With help from Katy Murphy, Debra Kahn, Angela Hart, Alexander Nieves, Jeremy B. White and Victoria Colliver.

MICRA FIGHT RETURNS: A deep-pocketed lawyer and a coalition led by Consumer Watchdog are launching a November 2020 ballot initiative that would multiply the amount that medical negligence victims stand to receive in court, potentially resurrecting a political dogfight involving attorneys, insurers and doctors.

Opponents of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act, passed in 1975, are seeking to pass a November 2020 ballot initiative that would index the legal payout cap for inflation — initially raising it to $1.2 million for people injured as a result of what's referred to as "non-economic" damages such as pain and suffering, loss of limbs or hearing and wrongful death, according to a document obtained by POLITICO's Angela Hart.

The coalition estimates it will need $4 million to gather signatures and qualify the initiative. The effort comes nearly five years after another MICRA initiative was roundly defeated amid opposition from major health industry groups.

Three initiative filers said they're getting involved because they've been personally affected by the cap and are expected to submit the "Fairness for Injured Parents Act" today. Trial lawyer Nick Rowley said the lungs of his own infant son were "blown up" as a result of medical malpractice. He told POLITICO he will dig into his own pockets and do "whatever it takes" to undo the cap, while parents of injured kids will be the face of the initiative.

In addition to raising the cap for inflation, the initiative would allow judges and jurors to provide additional damages above that cap for permanent disability or death and require that juries be informed about the existence of the cap, according to Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica-based group that teamed up with trial lawyers to back the 2014 initiative. The new proposal would also require wrongdoers to pay more of the cost of patient care for those injured by medical malpractice.

Political consultant Gale Kaufman ran the 2014 opposition campaign but said Wednesday she couldn't comment until reading the initiative. Individual groups involved in the 2014 campaign declined to comment, including the California Medical Association, which represents doctors.

But a coalition opposing MICRA changes, Californians Allied for Patient Protection, warned in a statement to POLITICO of higher health care costs. The group's board has representation from organizations representing doctors, dentists, insurers and hospitals, among others in the health industry.

Lisa Maas, the group's executive director, said that "last time there was an initiative to lower MICRA protections, California voters realized that changes to MICRA would ultimately increase costs and decrease access to health care and resoundingly rejected the proposition by a 2-1 margin in every county across the state.”

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