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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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When the advertising wars over the medical malpractice issue conclude in November, voters are going to be begging for a cap on hyperbole and distortion. Yes, some of the smartest, best-educated people in our state have raised record amounts of money to “throw down” over an issue that defies simple solutions.

Voters will determine the winners when they make their choices on Initiative 330 and Initiative 336.

In this corner is I-330, which is supported by doctors, hospital administrators and other health-care professionals who say “jackpot awards” from “frivolous lawsuits” delivered by “runaway juries” have caused a spike in malpractice insurance premiums. And if pit-bull trial lawyers aren’t brought to heel, doctors will continue to flee the state or give up higher-risk practices, such as baby delivery and trauma surgery. Patient access to critical health-care services, they conclude, will be severely curtailed.

In the other corner is I-336, backed by trial lawyers and consumer advocates who say the “hidden details” of I-330 produce a “sweetheart deal” for “greedy” insurance companies and forces you to “give up your right to your day in court.” Furthermore, I-336 would lift the veil of secrecy that protects dastardly doctors and nefarious nursing homes and drives up insurance rates.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, just wait until the commercials flood the airwaves. Some are already running. One shows a smiling attorney stuffing greenbacks into his pocket. Apparently, he runs a cash-only operation.

Want to see more? Well, you have four Web sites to choose from. There’s the pro-I-330 site, the anti-330 site, the pro-336 site and the anti-336 site, which is called “Their Lips Are Moving.” Get it? All contain the type of garish typography and splashy color that befits the level of discourse. Why not just have a doctor and a lawyer meet by the bike racks after school? That fight would be a lot cheaper.

Thus far, the I-330 forces have raised more than $8.5 million; the I-336 camp has raised more than $730,000. That crushes the 1997 record set with Referendum 48, which led to the new Seattle Seahawks football stadium.

Most of this money will be spent on crafting sound bites and 30-second melodramas that state with unswerving certainty that the answer is simple.

But it isn’t simple. After years of debate in state legislatures and in Congress, it still isn’t clear what’s driving the increase in insurance premiums. The media campaigns are designed to draw that conclusion for you.

Voters will have no shortage of information to sift through on these two initiatives. Read the ballot measure carefully. Follow news coverage. Look beneath the surface. The ads will bring heat; independent sources will bring light.

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