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Controversy Surrounds Proposal That Would Increase Malpractice Damage Cap

CULVER CITY ( — A proposal that would increase the malpractice damage cap, which has remained at $250,000 for several decades, has gotten mixed reactions in California.

Supporters on Monday are expected to submit more than 800,000 signatures to put the medical reform measure, which would also require doctors to submit to drug tests and make it harder for prescription drug abusers to get their pills, on the November ballot.

Dr. Hector Flores, the co-director of the Family Medicine Residency Program at White Memorial Medical Center in Boyle Heights, said while he sympathizes with people who have lost loved ones due to hospital mistakes, the proposal is not what it appears to be.

"The referendum is flawed the way it is written because there's too much baggage in it," he said. "Someone who loses their child, my heart goes out to them. I have a daughter and if something happened to her, I'd be devastated. There's no amount of money that would replace my daughter. The idea is to find a better way to make sound policy."

Flores said raising the malpractice cap may drive up health care costs dramatically. It could also have unintended consequences for doctors, neighborhood clinics and patients, especially those in underserved communities.

"Potentially we may have to lay off some doctors, we may have to lay off staff, or reduce the pay we offer to our staff. None of that is good for the community," he said.

Flores added, "It will have an impact with more lawsuits, more costly insurance, and the most adversely affected will be those communities we're trying to help, which will be the underprivileged, low-income communities."

Consumer Watchdog's Jamie Court told KCAL9's Dave Bryan that doctors just don't want to change.

"They don't want to held accountable to the same rules that you and I are. If a child dies in a car accident, a jury decides the value of their life and how negligent the driver was. If a child dies in a hospital, the cost is never more than $250,000 to a company like Kaiser and that's not enough to change. I think the doctors who oppose this should be ashamed," he said.

Tammy and Tim Smick back the proposition.

The couple lost their 20-year-old son, Alex, two years ago when he was hospitalized to be treated for a prescription drug addiction after incurring a stress fracture in his back.

"Alex checked into an Orange County hospital to 'safely' detox off of pain medication and he died the first night that he was at the hospital," Tammy said.

The Smicks said Alex was repeatedly given powerful drugs on his first night at the hospital without being properly monitored.

"He was administered 11 medications, including multiple central nervous system suppressants. He was left unmonitored without even one blood pressure check for over seven hours. When the nurse finally checked on him shortly after 6 in the morning, he was found dead. How can a patient be given so many medications and then be left unmonitored?"  Tammy said.

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