The Wall Street Journal has published a scathing editorial in Thursday’s edition, castigating California Attorney General Kamala Harris and her proposed ballot initiative to raise damage caps on medical malpractice suits.
Calling the state’s 1975 reform–under Jerry Brown, in his first term as governor–to cap damages at $250,000 the “gold standard” that set the pace for other states, the Journal notes that Harris’s initiative would benefit the state’s malpractice lawyers, but push doctors out of the state while raising the cost of health care to Californians:
The Berkeley Research Group estimated that raising the cap on damages to $1 million would increase malpractice premiums by between 16% and 38%, based on the experience of other states that have imposed or eliminated limits. California’s annual health costs would rise by $9.9 billion, or $1,000 for a family of four.
Higher premiums would also discourage new doctors, particularly those in high-risk specialities, from setting up practices in California and cause some doctors to leave or retire. A 2010 study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reported that nearly half of residents trained in Illinois were leaving the state with two-thirds citing high liability insurance costs as a reason. Many community health clinics that serve low-income populations might also close.
Harris is trying to raise the bar, the Journal notes, by burying a potentially unpopular reform inside confusing language and accompanying reforms that would crack down on drug abuse by physicians. If the initiative does pass, it would set back health care in California–at precisely the time when the need for more care is greatest.