by Ted S. McGregor Jr. & r & When doctors and lawyers go to war, you know it's going to get expensive. Now I-330 is in the books -- the record books, that is, as the most expensive initiative battle in Washington state history. The two sides combined to pour more than $14 million into the battle of TV ads. By comparison, the fight to build or not build Seahawks Stadium -- the next most expensive initiative fight -- cost a combined $7 million. And $14 million is in the range of a U.S. Senate campaign. I-336 was a related initiative, dealing with disciplining doctors and insurers, while I-330 sought to cap damages lawyers and victims could collect.
That it all has come to naught is a telling epitaph: When special-interest goliaths go toe-to-toe, nobody wins. The whole thing started when doctors and insurers decided the state Legislature was incapable of addressing the increasing cost of insuring docs against malpractice. The measure failed by less than 30,000 votes statewide as of Tuesday night. We'll see where this goes next, but either the Legislature will take the issue up again, or it may get tabled permanently, as some might determine that the people have spoken. In the meantime, we'll see if more doctors close up shop and if high-risk specialists move to Idaho or some other state. In Spokane County, where the risk of doctors fleeing to another state is very real, the measure had wide support, at 53 percent of the vote.
As you'd expect in a race with lots of loudly broadcast rhetoric, some voters around Spokane seemed to recite the talking points put forward by the two sides.
"I don't think [I-330] has anything to do with insurance," said Sherry Lewis outside Fatima Church on 33rd and Perry where she voted Tuesday. "It's not gonna control insurance. I don't think people who lose a loved one -- that shouldn't be capped. Like the ad says, I think you're just voting away your rights."
"Doctors are leaving the state," said Terri Crum outside Trinity Lutheran Church on Pines Road in Spokane Valley. "There's nobody to deliver babies. I'd rather see good doctors stay in the state. The money goes to attorneys anyway, rather than to the person filing the claim. People are sue-happy."
Some seemed to truly sympathize with the doctors' pleas that they were being run out of the business of healing people.
"It's a close call," said David Elton, outside Fatima Church. "I think it's preposterous when lawyers get 40 percent of a multi-million dollar lawsuit. There's no reason attorneys should get rich on someone else's unfortunate injury."
"All my doctors asked me to vote yes on [I-330]," said Doug Francis, a sheriff's deputy who voted at United Methodist Church near Audubon Park in Northwest Spokane. "I think that anything that increases insurance for them ultimately will come back on us."
But others did not like the idea that the potential payout if they are victimized could be lowered. And for some, the issue is all too real. Gaylyn Nybakken, who voted at the Northeast Community Center in Hillyard, was recently in an accident that has led to $300,000 in medical bills.
"I absolutely voted no," said Nybakken. "I am going through my own ordeal right now. I just don't think it's right [to cap awards]. And it's not the doctors; it's the insurance companies who are all running this."
Still others were able to admit the obvious: This is a hopelessly complicated issue, which naturally leads to the electoral equivalent of throwing your arms up in the air.
"No on both," said Lynette Destefano, an administrator for the state Unemployment Claims Telecenter, who voted in Spokane Valley. "The issues haven't been fleshed out. I think it was just a race to the ballot. These are very complicated issues that need more time and thought."
"I voted no on both of them," said Sheila McEvoy, who voted at Fourth Memorial Church on Indiana Ave. "I really studied those two.
"What really ticked me off was, it's doctors and lawyers and not the people. The doctors were for one, and the lawyers were against it. The lawyers were for the other one, and the doctors were against it. There's got to be a solution, but that's not it. It doesn't involve the people."
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