• Why California Proposition 46 Will Save Patient Lives and Cut Health Care Costs
  • October 8, 2014 | Author: Robert J. Nelson
  • Law Firm: Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP - San Francisco Office
  • The number of persons killed by preventable medical errors each year in the U.S. is shockingly high. Fifteen years ago, the Institute of Medicine released a report on patient safety called To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. The report estimated that 98,000 patients died each year as a result of medical errors.

    This July, Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health, testified before a U.S. Senate Committee that the Institute of Medicine study likely substantially underestimated patient harm. The actual number of U.S. deaths as a result of medical error may be 440,000 per year.

    In addition to deaths and injuries, medical errors also cost our nation billions of dollars. One 2011 study put the figure at $20 billion a year. Counting indirect costs like lost productivity due to missed work days, medical errors may cost over $750 billion each year, according to a 2012 report in the Journal of Health Care Finance.

    In California, voters have the opportunity to enact a measure that will save patient lives and reduce wasteful spending due to medical errors.

    Proposition 46, on the November 2014 ballot, will promote patient safety and curb medical errors in three ways. It (1) mandates drug testing of doctors with hospital privileges to prevent impaired physicians from treating patients, (2) requires that physicians log onto the state's existing prescription drug database prior to prescribing addictive drugs and other controlled substances to a new patient to ensure the patient is not "doctor shopping," and (3) allows injured patients to hold negligent physicians accountable by adjusting the state's $250,000 limitation on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases adopted in 1975 to account for inflation over the past 39 years.