California Docs Face Mandatory Drug Testing If Prop 46 Passes

By Victoria Kim 10/21/14

Opponents claim that the drug testing provision is to disguise the true nature of the proposition—raising the cap on non-economic damages for lawsuits.

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This November election, California voters will be faced with a proposition that would require doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests.

If Proposition 46 passes, California would be the first state to require drug testing of doctors. This idea has polled well with voters, some of whom thought it was already law. The proposition would give the Medical Board of California one year to establish a system under which California doctors are tested both randomly and within 12 hours after an unexpected patient death or serious injury at the hospital.

Prop 46 would also make it mandatory for doctors to consult a statewide database, where doctors can see how many times a patient has been prescribed serious narcotics like Vicodin or Oxycontin, before prescribing painkillers. This proposal aims to decrease “doctor shopping,” where an individual who may be addicted to painkillers or who is looking to get drugs to sell sees multiple doctors in search of prescription drugs.

Another proposal in the proposition would raise the cap on pain and suffering awards in California from $250,000 to $1.1 million, providing an annual adjustment for inflation in the future. Economic damages for medical expenses or lost wages are not capped. Currently, a 1975 law called the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) limits non-economic damages to $250,000. MICRA was passed with the intention of keeping medical liability insurance costs low.

The battle over Proposition 46 has become heated as November approaches. Its opponents—which include insurance companies, doctors, and pharmacists—have amassed $57 million to fund their campaign, while the proposition’s supporters have raised just $6.5 million.

Those who are opposed to the proposition say the doctor drug-testing provision, a popular idea that has general voter support, is nothing more than a political gimmick to disguise the true intent behind the proposition—to raise the cap on non-economic damages.

“The only reason that was added to the proposition is because it polled well with voters,” Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Association told NPR. “They’re just hiding the fact that they’re trying to increase the cap on non-economic damages so that the payouts to trial attorneys can increase."

Thorp said the drug testing provision is “too heavy handed” and “too inappropriate,” adding that hospitals already have systems in place to suspend doctors who are intoxicated at work.

Lifting the cap on non-economic damages would “encourage additional lawsuits in the system,” according to Thorp. He argued that more lawsuits will cause malpractice insurance premiums to rise, and those costs could drive doctors out of California and make it difficult to recruit doctors to the state.

But for the families of victims of medical negligence, such as Carmen and Bob Pack, who lost their two children a decade ago when a woman addicted to prescription drugs blacked out while driving, veered off the road and struck them head-on, Prop 46 symbolizes their aspiration to prevent other families from suffering similar tragedies.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr