In 1975, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) into law, capping compensation for “non-economic” injuries relating from medical malpractice at $275,000.
In the nearly 40 years since MICRA was instituted, the cap has not been adjusted for inflation.
Someone who suffers a medical injury would receive the same compensation as they did in 1975, when gas was less than $0.60 a gallon and a loaf of bread cost about a quarter.
“At least 10,000 Californians perish every year, along with many more aggravated injuries and preventable illnesses, due to medical malpractice,” wrote Ralph Nader for the Huffington Post. “This toll does not even include fatalities and other casualties brought on by hospital-induced infections. Compensation for such ‘non-economic’ injuries is now capped at $250,000 for each affected person due to MICRA. Adjusted for inflation, $275,000 in 1975 dollars is worth well under $100,000 today!”
Proposition 46, on which Californians will vote Tuesday, would change that. It would “adjust the buying power to $1.1 million for a lifetime of pain and suffering,” wrote Nader. “It only make sense — adjusted for inflation; the purchasing power of $275,000 in 1975 is the equivalent of $1.1 million today.”
The proposition also would set up a “stringent” drug and alcohol testing for California doctors, which would cut down on medical errors greatly.
MICRA’s “pain and suffering cap” is also extremely harmful to children, the elderly, stay-at-home parents, and others who wouldn’t suffer from wage loss or other “explicit economic damages.”
Lobbied for hard by doctors, hospital, and insurance groups, MIRCA was signed by Gov. Brown, who thought “that the California Supreme Court would declare [it] unconstitutional,” according to Nader.
In 1993, MICRA provisions were being considered for the Clinton Health Care Plan, Gov. Brown came out strongly against the idea, and wrote in a statement:
“We have learned a lot about MICRA and the insurance industry in the seventeen years since MICRA was enacted. We have witnessed yet another insurance crisis, and found that insurance company avarice, not utilization of the legal system by injured consumers, was responsible for excessive premiums. Saddest of all, MICRA has revealed itself to have an arbitrary and cruel effect upon the victims of malpractice. It has not lowered health care costs, only enriched insurers and placed negligent or incompetent physicians outside the reach of judicial accountability. For these reasons, MICRA cannot and should not be a model for national legislation.”
Medical malpractice payments are at a historical low at the national level, but estimates “of ‘avoidable adverse events’ in hospitals … are rising.”
“All eyes are on California voters when it comes to addressing the ongoing crisis of medical practice in the United States,” Nader concluded. “Whereas MICRA served as a bad example to the nation, let us now reverse the tide and set out on a positive path when it comes to deadly and destructive medical negligence and incompetence.”