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editorial - herald - 12/4/01

December 27, 2001

Malpractice plan needs more work



Like a hungry family that settles for a sub-par fast-food meal, the West Virginia Legislature chewed on the issue of medical malpractice for more than a month, but went away hungry for something more satisfying. Lawmakers facing the regular session say they're not in the mood for leftovers, but unless they do something, the state is likely to get fiscal indigestion.

On Saturday lawmakers voted to set up a state-run insurance plan that would operate on an interim basis until something better is crafted. The plan would cover only those doctors who can't get coverage elsewhere until there's agreement on one of two other options.

The first would be an assigned risk pool, in which every insurer who provides casualty coverage in the state would be required to offer malpractice insurance, at much higher rates than doctors now pay. The other would have doctors run their own insurance company, taking the risks and sharing the profits.

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The risk-pool approach sounds like an excellent way to chase insurers out of the state, while the doctor-run company seems more like wishful thinking that anything that could work. If it were possible to make a profit easily, wouldn't regular insurance companies be lining up to compete for the business?

What's likely to happen now is that any doctors who face a malpractice claims - justified or not - will find themselves unable to get private insurance. Over time the state will take on more and more of them until it becomes the sole source for malpractice coverage.

Before that happens, lawmakers should look, as we've recommended previously, at how other states have handled the same problem. The one thing we haven't heard in this debate is a recommendation to consider another state's plan, for example.

Which state? Without research it's impossible to know. That's what needs to be done before the next legislative session. If there's no state that's solved this problem, then West Virginia needs to start the push for a federal solution.

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