Opinion: Increase Medical Malpractice Rewards Limit to Protect California Consumers
Under a California law of 1975 known as MICRA – the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act – a victim of medical malpractice cannot be paid more than $ 250,000 for pain and injury. suffering, regardless of the severity of the injuries. As a state that leads the nation in consumer protection, how can we allow this blatant injustice to continue?
Forty-seven years after its adoption, the cap has never been adjusted for inflation. It is worth less than $ 50,000 in today’s dollars. The cap prevents many patients from obtaining justice and deepens racial inequalities in the healthcare system, disproportionately harming low-income patients, communities of color, women and children.
Medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 200,000 people each year and injuring millions more. Black, Hispanic and Indigenous patients experience more preventable medical errors and suffer worse health problems because they are more likely to be uninsured, underinsured, and to receive poorer quality health care.
Real-world examples here in California: a young mother and her baby lose their lives after ignoring the signs of a common pregnancy complication; a patient dies after a misplaced IV causes a month-long infection; postoperative pain is not treated until it becomes a nearly fatal infection; and a brain cancer survivor is denied treatment for mild pneumonia, resulting in death.
As a former California Insurance Commissioner, I know the cost of doctors’ insurance is no excuse. The California Insurance Commissioner has more power than any other state to keep physician malpractice insurance rates fair. Commissioners are using that power to require malpractice insurers to justify every rate hike and have lowered malpractice insurance rates by more than $ 100 million after direct public challenges.
Instead of enacting new laws to protect patients, the medical insurance complex has spent tens of millions of dollars to keep the cap in place and the door to the courtroom closed, so injured patients don’t. never get justice.
How does California’s $ 250,000 cap compare to other states? Twenty states plus Washington, DC, have no caps on pain and suffering (non-economic) damage. Only California, Montana and Texas have caps as low as $ 250,000 without exception.
Some say the low ceilings help attract more doctors. Corn In 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges’ State Physician Workforce Data Book report shows that there are 15.5% more physicians per capita in states without a cap than in states with a cap. According to the same report, California has fewer doctors per capita than 20 other states. Eleven of those 20 states have no cap on damages.
This is a problem that is not limited to the economy; it is about justice.
Medical malpractice can cause physical and emotional damage, as well as serious financial hardship. Permanent disability, loss of quality of life and loss of future wages are just a few examples of negative impacts on patients. While we know that no amount of money can ever make up for the death or disability of a loved one, the fact that in California today the loss of a child due to preventable medical negligence is not valued at more than $ 250,000 is horrible.
How can we fix this?
The Injured Patient Fairness Act qualified for polling in California in 2022 by people who were harmed by medical malpractice. The law would adjust the maximum compensation cap of $ 250,000 based on inflation, allow judges and jurors to decide that compensation above the cap is appropriate in certain cases of catastrophic injury or death, and require that juries are informed of the existence of the ceiling.
This is common sense and a modest adjustment to a woefully outdated law that is keeping California behind, rather than being a leader in patient care and medical accountability. It is unfortunate that once again the state legislature has not been able to fix this problem – for over four decades.
There is still time for the politicians in Sacramento to step in and correct this mistake. But if not, it will be up to Californian voters next November to correct this long-awaited injustice.
Steve Poizner, former California Insurance Commissioner, is Executive Director of Health Care Consumer Rights Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public service journalism firm committed to explaining how the California Capitol works and why it matters.