As the Washington Post reports, now heating up (in terms of money and ads) is the campaign over California's Proposition 46, which will go to the voters this November. One aspect of the measure would raise the cap on medical malpractice damages from $250,000 to $1.1 million — an important step for accountability in the medical industry and compensation for victims of shoddy care. Another provision in the same measure would require drug and alcohol testing of doctors.
Over $60 million has been raised in the campaign, in a state in which big-ticket policy proposals regularly appear on the ballot (the infamous Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, is only the most recent — others in past years include measures banning affirmative action, reforming the state's "three-strikes" law, limiting property taxes, and banning the death penalty). The vast majority of the campaign money has been raised in opposition to the measure. The Post story includes a link to an ad arguing that Prop. 46 was cooked up by trial lawyers to make millions from malpractice lawsuits and that it will cause health care costs to rise. A 2013 Public Citizen report rebuts the argument that malpractice suits is correlated with rising health care costs.
Why is the drug testing measure in there? The Post offers this explanation from a Stanford political scientist:
“Changing the malpractice limits is a more controversial proposal, but requiring doctors to be drug tested is something that’s likely to get a lot of support, so they deliberately stuck that in there to make sure the pot was sweetened,” says Bruce Cain, a Stanford University political science professor.
But the attractiveness of the "sweetener" depends on your point of view. Prop. 46 proponents seem to be taking a gamble in pairing the two measures, forcing consumer-rights voters who also care about civil liberties to pick one or the other. Perhaps proponents are hoping the tail will wag the dog — that a large group of California voters won't care about medical malpractice suits (perhaps out of irrational optimism that disaster can't happen to them?) but think that doctor drug-testing makes them safer. In any event, the list of organizations opposing the measure is pretty long, and it extends beyond hospitals and insurance companies.