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Prop. 46 support drops as voters hear details on medical negligence initiative

Californians in favor of drug testing doctors, split on increasing lawsuits cap

Proposition 46 illustration
Support for Proposition 46 has dropped to 50 percent. (Illustration/Holly Wilder)

Californians back Proposition 46 by wide margins until they hear details about the ballot initiative, according to results from the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Initially, 62 percent of voters supported the initiative when read the ballot language, with 28 percent in opposition. Proposition 46 increases the cap on medical malpractice lawsuits and requires that doctors receive drug and alcohol testing, with positive results reported to the California Medical Board.

When presented with a statement detailing the arguments of the proponents as well as the opponents of Proposition 46, support for the initiative declined steeply to 50 percent opposed and 39 percent in favor.

This statement noted that the proposition would ensure patient safety and improve medical care by holding physicians accountable. It continued that California’s $250,000 limit on pain and suffering awards in malpractice suits is decades old, and that lawyers for injured people can no longer afford to take these important cases unless the limit is raised. In addition, it stated that raising the malpractice cap would drive up state and local government costs by hundreds millions of dollars each year, which would result in higher insurance rates. More bureaucracy would result, taking away doctors from providing care. Moreover, a database of Californians’ personal medical prescription information would be created and run by the government.

“The initiative sponsors were very smart,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and executive director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. “They tried to cover up a very controversial policy measure with a very popular one. But a ballot initiative is only as strong as its weakest link, and the polling shows that voters’ concerns about medical malpractice are outweighing their eagerness for doctors to be drug tested.”

When queried about specific elements of Proposition 46, 70 percent of voters said they favored requiring drug and alcohol testing of doctors and requiring that the California Medical Board suspend doctors who received positive tests for drugs or alcohol. Twenty-four percent of voters opposed.

In contrast, voters were split about increasing the cap on medical negligence lawsuits from $250,000 to $1 million. Forty-six percent of California voters opposed the proposal and 43 percent were in favor.

The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted Sept. 2-8 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,507 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

For the record

USC/Times poll: An article in the Sept. 13 LATExtra section about a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll on Proposition 46 was based in part on a survey question that contained an error. The proposition would raise the state ceiling on damages for pain and suffering in malpractice lawsuits, require random drug and alcohol testing of physicians and require doctors, when prescribing medications, to consult a state database of patients’ other prescriptions. The poll found that 61 percent of likely voters were in favor of the measure or leaning in that direction but that approval dropped when respondents were told of the proposition’s potentially high costs to the state — and declined further when they heard the main campaign arguments for and against the proposition. One of the poll questions summarized those arguments and then asked respondents how they would vote on the initiative in light of that information. Referring to one of the opposition arguments, the question said that Proposition 46 “establishes a massive new database filled with Californians’ personal medical prescription information run by the government.” That statement was in error. In fact, the database already exists, and the question should have reflected that. A spokesman for Consumer Attorneys of California, which supports Proposition 46, complained that the error likely skewed the poll results. The bipartisan team that conducted the survey — Drew Lieberman of the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Dave Kanevsky of the Republican company American Viewpoint — said the results would likely not have been materially different if the question had been phrased correctly. “There are certainly instances when the difference of a few words in a question can create a very different response,” the pollsters said in a statement. “But given the structure and length of this question, and considering it within the context of the results on five total Proposition 46 questions in this poll, it is our professional opinion that different phrasing is unlikely to have altered the results significantly.”

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Prop. 46 support drops as voters hear details on medical negligence initiative

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