Ballot Initiatives

California Ballot Initiative Targets Doctors for Drug War Expansion (Also: Another Payday for Lawyers)


"Yeah, this doc is tripping balls right now. Keeps going on about a sonic screwdriver."
Doctor Who

Another California election, another host of ballot initiatives with hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas. Consumer Watchdog is sponsoring a couple of healthcare-related ballot initiatives this November. One of them, Proposition 46, increases the cap on the medical malpractice claims for pain and suffering from $250,000 to a little bit more than $1 million. Note that this is just a cap on the pain-and-suffering component of a claim, not the other parts of a claim like lost wages, et cetera.

While this is obviously an effort to increase malpractice payouts, the initiative has been packaged with some rather bizarre drug war-influenced regulations, apparently as a way to get popular support. The ballot initiative would require drug and alcohol testing of doctors, require all health care officials to narc on any doctor he or she thinks might be under the influence, and also forces health care workers to consult a prescription drug database before prescribing certain drugs (like painkillers).

All these other regulations may end up being what helps kill the initiative. It was the addition of the drug testing that prompted the San Jose Mercury News to recommend against the initiative's passage, even though it supports the other stuff. Dozens of medical groups and unions oppose the bill, no doubt because of the potential financial impacts on the industry and their bottom lines. But the drug war component has also drawn opposition from several civil liberties groups. Everybody from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the California chapter of the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has declared opposition to the initiative. Opponents have raised more than $56 million to campaign against it, compared to $7.5 million from supporters. Californians can expect lots and lots of commercials on this one.

Consumer Watchdog is also the sponsor of Proposition 45, which would require insurance companies to seek permission from the California Insurance Commissioner and have public hearings for any rate changes. Steven Maviglio, a consultant for Californians Against Higher Health Care Costs (which opposes Prop. 45) writing at The California Majority Report, notes that Consumer Watchdog earns millions of dollars billing the state of California for intervening in rate cases that come up before the state's Department of Insurance, thanks to a no-bid contract. Just to make it clear, Consumer Watchdog directly earns revenue from the state as a result of its activism in controlling state policy, something to keep in mind when it complains about the evils of the insurance industry.