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Steinberg Offers Qualified Support of Lifting MICRA Cap
2013-07-10 05:33:40 PM
SACRAMENTO — California's Senate leader said Wednesday that he would back legislation raising caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, but he wants factions sparring over the issue to cut a deal first.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's comments to reporters suggest there's little chance for a legislative solution this year as parties in the fight over the 38-year-old Medical Insurance Compensation Reform Act — better known as MICRA — report little in the way of talks, let alone an agreement.
"I support a reasonable increase in the MICRA cap, and I would prefer to do that legislatively," Steinberg said. "But the best way that that can actually get done is with real conversation, real negotiation between the affected stakeholders. And I think it's an appropriate subject for discussion. That's different from whether or not we have the votes now in both houses to pass this bill."
Focus now shifts to 2014, when a coalition including trial lawyers, consumer groups and NetZero founder Bob Pack have threatened to run a ballot measure that would, among other things, eliminate the $250,000 MICRA cap.
The coalition "has repeatedly indicated a willingness to work with the opposition but with no success," said Consumer Attorneys of California president Brian Kabateck. "So there may be no other alternative than to take this important fight to the voters."
Kabateck said his group has been willing to discuss legislation that would tie the cap to a regular inflation adjustment instead of eliminating it altogether. Opponents have rebuffed that offer, he said.
So far, the threat of what would surely be a costly initiative fight has not driven MICRA supporters to the negotiating table either.
"Changing MICRA is unnecessary and would harm patients and our health care system at the worst possible time," Lisa Maas, executive director of an umbrella group fighting the MICRA reform efforts, said in an email.
Legislative politics have been on MICRA defenders' side. No legislation to raise the cap has emerged in recent years and any bill that carries a hint of affecting MICRA usually draws an immediate lobbying response from insurers and the California Medical Association.
Courts, too, have been unwilling to tinker with MICRA. In an unpublished opinion issued Tuesday, the First District Court of Appeal cited MICRA in upholding a trial court's decision to slash a jury's award of $1 million in non-economic damages to $250,000 in a medical negligence case.
"I think what the recent [political] activity is showing is that this is just not going to go away," Steinberg said. "It could be an initiative, future legislation and whether or not the side that opposes any changes to MICRA can defeat a single bill or even a single initiative is in some ways beside the point. Because it's going to keep coming."
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