Danville resident Bob Pack traveled to Sacramento Thursday to push state legislators to pass a package of medical reform bills. Together with about two dozen state and national advocacy groups, Pack is mounting a campaign to aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse and holding doctors more accountable for misconduct.
Pack knows firsthand the effect that prescription drug abuse can have. In October 2003, Pack's son Troy, 10, and daughter Alana, 8, were struck and killed while walking along Camino Tassajara. The driver of the vehicle, Jimena Barreto, was found to have been drinking and taking Vicodin.
The Troy and Alana Pack Public Safety Act proposes an upgrade to the state's prescription drug monitoring program, CURES, so physicians can check to see if their patients are doctor-shopping. Pack told the Los Angeles Times that the current bill doesn't go far enough and he wants a requirement that regulators monitor the database for signs of reckless prescribing and take action against doctors. The measure requires more than 500,000 signatures to qualify for the November 2014 ballot; Pack plans to file by the end of October.
"We've been able to raise over $2 million to initiate this ballot movement. Our turnout at the capitol was strong, we've been able to talk to both Governor Brown and (Senate President) pro tem Darrell Steinberg," Pack said.
Chief among Pack's concerns is the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), signed by Gov. Brown in 1975, which puts a $250,000 cap on "non-economic" damages awards in a medical malpractice lawsuit, The law was intended to lower medical malpractice liability insurance premiums for healthcare providers by decreasing liability.
"Where the law is really egregious from my point of view, if due to medical negligence or malpractice someone dies...the only thing you can sue for is non-economic damage. This MICRA law caps the limit at $250,000 and you can't even get $250,000 because it takes at least that or more to go through and get to trail," Pack said.
When Pack tried to sue the physicians who prescribed medications to Barreto, several lawyers declined
because the case would cost more than the $250,000 damage cap to pursue it.
"It wasn't really the money, I wanted to go to court and bring some accountability to the doctors, because I wanted them to change their habits, be forced to address the problem and put better protocols for how they prescribe," he said.
Pack called the MICRA law unconstitutional and said nothing in his research proved that doctors' insurance rates are increasing because of malpractice pay-outs. He added that the law is flawed because there is no inflation adjustment and $250,000 in 1975 is a little over $1 million in today's money.
"We should let the jury decide the value of human life and what people have suffered," Pack said.
According to Pack, Gov. Brown gave the coalition "a nodd" and agreed that MICRA is flawed; Brown said he would sign the act if it were to come across his desk as a Senate bill.
"We're also pushing Darrell Steinberg saying you owe it to Californians to do it as a Senate bill, but if you don't do it, we will," Pack continued. "He agreed to hold a hearing on it, to bring in all parties involved on both sides. I suspect that would happen in the next month."
In the meantime, Pack said he will work to progress the Troy and Alana Pack Public Safety Act by raising more funds and crafting the measure's language in order to file it with the state. Through two rounds of statewide polling and reports, Pack said his proposal to overturn the MICRA law received a 70 percent positive response.