In the mid-1970s, California physicians were embroiled in a malpractice insurance crisis. Driven by frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards, medical liability insurers levied massive insurance premium increases and canceled insurance policies for many physicians across the state. The situation worsened in early 1975 when malpractice carriers announced that premiums for some physicians would increase by as much as 400 percent, effective May 1. Many medical physicians had four choices, none of them acceptable: Raise fees and make medical care unaffordable for many patients, drop their professional liability insurance coverage, leave the state, or quit practicing medicine.
Seeking a stronger focus on the issue, the California Medical Association (CMA) channeled physician outrage into a massive grassroots campaign that mobilized thousands of physicians, patients, and other medical professionals to call and write their legislators to demand that the state act to cut the cost of malpractice insurance.
On May 13, 1975, CMA led more than 800 physicians, nurses, lab technicians and hospital personnel in a Capitol rally calling on then Governor Jerry Brown to convene a special session of the Legislature to deal with the crisis. Three days later, on May 16, Brown yielded, issuing a proclamation for a special session that began on May 19. Negotiations and legislative hearings that involved CMA and other health care providers, the insurance industry and trial lawyers continued until September 11, when the Legislature passed AB 1XX, a collection of statutes that is now known as the Malpractice Insurance Compensation Reform Act (MICRA).
Governor Brown signed the CMA-supported bill on September 23, 1975, and MICRA today remains the model for national medical liability tort reform, as the law has been hugely pivotal in making access to care a reality for patients.
Fast forward to current times, and on November 4, 2014, the voters of California spoke loudly and definitively, sending the trial lawyers' attempt to change MICRA (Proposition 46) to a solid defeat by a vote of 67 percent to 33 percent. The message was clear – Californians don’t want to increase health care costs and reduce health access so trial attorneys can file more lawsuits. An increase in the MICRA cap on non-economic damages has been rejected in California again and again: 10 times in court, five times in the Legislature and overwhelmingly by voters in 2014.
The efforts of the California Medical Association (CMA) and the component medical associations across the state proved what we can do for the future of health care, the quality of medicine and the dedication to patients everywhere.