CDA gears up for MICRA fight

The law protecting dentists, physicians and other health care providers from frivolous lawsuits is under attack again, and this time trial lawyers threaten to take the issue to voters next year if the Legislature does not make changes to the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) before the end of the summer legislative session.

Legislation has not surfaced yet, but CDA and other partners in the coalition, Californians Allied for Patient Protection, are gearing up to fight efforts to change the law that ensures injured patients receive fair compensation, while stabilizing liability costs.

Since 1974, when a medical malpractice insurance crisis in California led to MICRA’s passage, health care providers, including dentists, have been protected from extreme liability exposure and skyrocketing premiums by its various provisions, the most important of which has been a $250,000 cap on speculative noneconomic damage awards, which helps reduce incentives by lawyers to file meritless lawsuits that drive up health care costs.

Trial lawyers and their allies held a news conference in May to announce their intentions to repeal or pursue changes to MICRA, first through the Legislature and, if unsuccessful, a ballot initiative in November 2014. On July 24, they filed a ballot measure with the Attorney General -- the first step in a long and expensive process to qualify a measure for the ballot -- which would increase the non-economic damages cap to more than $1.2 million in addition to a mandated cost of living adjustment.

This latest effort to change MICRA is occurring at the same time the state is implementing federal health care reform (ACA), which will bring coverage to millions of additional Californians. Higher costs that could result from trial lawyer-sponsored changes to MICRA would likely increase operating costs for doctors, hospitals and community clinics, jeopardizing the ability of providers to take on more patients.

“This is a critical time for CDA and our coalition partners,” said CDA President Lindsey Robinson, DDS. “CDA has been anticipating a fight over MICRA for years and we have been able to set aside millions in our issues fund for this very reason — to protect members from frivolous lawsuits and outrageous liability claims.”

CDA is working closely with coalition partners to respond quickly to any legislative effort that may surface and monitor activities related to any possible initiative campaign to change MICRA, which would increase costs for consumers by billions of dollars per year while reducing patient access to health care providers.

“We want members to know this isn’t going away without a fight,” said Robinson. “The other side will engage in scare tactics, and we need to educate lawmakers and the public about the negative consequences of changing the law.”

CDA will keep members informed about the latest developments regarding MICRA in the CDA Update, e-newsletter and on cda.org.