U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) emerged as a forceful spokeswoman for an inititiative to raise some medical malpractice awards in the state, appearing Wednesday in supporters' first campaign ad.
Boxer appeared at a news conference in San Francisco to unveil the new spot and to tout the measure as a "modest compromise" in a decades-long battle between trial lawyers and medical provders on malpractice damages.
The measure, Proposition 46, would increase the limit on certain medical malpractice damages from $250,000 to approximately $1.1 million. The limits on non-economic damages have been in place since 1975, when lawmakers passed the state's landmark medical malpractice law.
Boxer, who said that she has been interested in the issue since the 1990s when Congress was considering a federal cap on damages, said higher limits on malpractice awards would "prevent medical errors in the first place, because there is more at stake."
The measure would also require hospitals to randomly test physicians for drugs and require doctors to check a statewide database of prescriptions before prescribing certain drugs in an effort to curb the abuse of those medications.
Also at Wednesday's news conference were women who had lost children as a result of medical malpractice. They said that because of the limits on non-economic medical malpractice damages, they have trouble finding attorneys who will take their negligence suits.
The ad, narrated by Boxer, features pictures of children who died after "preventable medical errors." While the ad does not explicitly mention raising the malpractice cap, Boxer says the measure would "hold the medical industry accountable for mistakes."
In response, Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Assn., said, "since this ad is entirely paid for by the trial attorney lobby, we aren't surprised that it barely mentions what Prop. 46 is really about — increasing medical malpractice lawsuits and attorney fees, while costing everyone else more money."
The spot is currently online and will begin running in television markets statewide in two weeks, said Carmen Balber of Consumer Watchdog, the advocacy group backing the initiative. Supporters have raised around $5 million as of Sept. 2, mainly from trial attorneys and consumer advocates.
Balber said that while proponents do not expect to match the other side's fundraising, they "will be competitive on television."
Opponents have collected more than $54 million in donations from doctors, medical associations and malpractice insurers. They released their first television ad two weeks ago.