THE BLOG
10/23/2014 06:16 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

All We Have to Lose Is Our Lives

Buero Monaco via Getty Images

I've never been able to stomach a bully, whether on the playground or in a corporate executive suite. The biggest bully in California politics these days is the "No on 46" gang -- the collection of billion-dollar insurance companies and medical industry honchos spending big and spreading falsehoods to defeat Proposition 46.

Oh, the money! (They've amassed a $66 million war chest.)

Goodness, the factually challenged TV commercials! (Passage of the initiative, they warn with classic campaign-season hyperbole, will send doctors fleeing the state.)

Not surprisingly, their rhetoric ignores something far less melodramatic but far more important -- good old facts.

We live in a world where as many as 440,000 Americans die each year because of preventable medical mistakes, according to the Journal of Patient Safety. The federal government estimates that more than 500,000 health care professionals are abusing drugs or alcohol. Meanwhile, the nation's fastest growing illicit narcotics problem is prescription drug abuse.

It all adds up to a patient safety crisis that should have stopped the presses and sparked government action long ago. Instead, it has been met with indifference by the media and downright neglect by our elected leaders, particularly those in Sacramento under the sway of the medical industrial complex.

With Prop 46, California voters can do what the politicians and the status-quo crowd won't: Nudge our healthcare system toward safer practices, deter doctor substance abuse and hold negligent physicians accountable. Bottom line: it will save lives.

Contrary to all the ominous TV commercials blanketing the Golden State, Prop 46 will have no impact on health care expenses and little to none on most doctors' malpractice premiums. And despite the distortions put forth by its opponents, this patient safety initiative isn't about enriching trial lawyers.

In fact, the Prop 46 coalition of patients, consumer advocates and contingency-fee attorneys are underdogs, outspent 10-to-1 by a medical insurance Goliath fueled by fat checks from the wildly profitable malpractice insurance industry.

What Prop 46 will do is make California the nation's first state to require physician drug and alcohol testing, just like we do for pilots, police and others who hold our lives in their hands. Physicians would be suspended pending investigation of a positive test and face potential disciplinary action.

It will also mandate that doctors check the state's existing prescription drug database to curb the epidemic of pharmaceutical abuse. And it will adjust California's malpractice cap for pain-and-suffering damages to account for nearly four decades of inflation -- while leaving in place a fee cap on lawyers.

For most Californians, the prospect of falling victim to medical negligence, a physician under the influence or a doctor-shopping drug abuser seems remote. But the sad reality is it could happen at any time.

Bob Pack's two children -- Troy, 10, and 7-year-old Alana -- were run down and killed by a motorist high on pharmaceuticals recklessly prescribed by multiple physicians at the same hospital. All these doctors didn't bother to check that peers had passed along duplicate prescriptions.

In the months after the tragedy, Bob tried unsuccessfully to work with the hospital to bolster use of its prescription database to prevent doctor shoppers. Turning to the courts to hold the hospital accountable, he discovered that an obscure state law passed in 1975 put the value of a child's life so low that no one would take his case.

Bob then sought help in the legislature, but soon found the powers that be in Sacramento and hospital boardrooms were too formidable and unwilling to change the status quo.

That's why he wrote Prop 46. He didn't ask for this fight, but Bob Pack believes California voters deserve the right to improve a system that is resistant to change and puts such a low price on a child's life. I wholeheartedly agree.

While the public polls show support for Prop 46 weakening under the assault of foes' TV ad blitz, I have faith in the average voter to see past the paid-media manipulation. If Californians look at the stakes and the solutions, they'll know what to do on Election Day. They'll know that despite the opponents' flashy ads, laden with fear mongering and mistruths, we the people need to step in and stem the death toll from medical errors.

Prop 46 gives us that chance, a shot at correcting a dangerous problem that politicians and the health care establishment refuse to seriously address. In the absence of leadership, it's up to us to do what's necessary to protect patients -- and save lives.