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Insurance concerns cause doctor to cut back on services

April 18, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A local obstetrician/gynecologist announced Wednesday at City Hospital he was dropping the obstetrician portion of his practice after 18 years because of medical liability insurance rates in West Virginia.

"I would have to deliver 100 babies to pay for my medical liability insurance. That is a heavy burden on me," Dr. Albert Leung said.

He said he will no longer deliver babies after October, leaving only two obstetricians in Berkeley County.

About 30 other physicians from the Eastern Panhandle were on hand to hear Leung's announcement and to listen or discuss the consequences of the medical liability insurance rates facing the medical field in the state. Those include doctors leaving, problems with recruiting new doctors and the need to cut high-risk surgeries from their practice because of the medical liability insurance issue.

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Leung said his previous insurance carrier announced in November it no longer would offer medical insurance. He now has to use the carrier Medical Insurance, which he said will increase his annual premium from $40,000 to $91,000.

Medical Insurance is the only insurance provider in the state offering medical insurance. St. Paul, one of the largest national medical malpractice underwriters, announced it was leaving the market last year, leaving nine City Hospital doctors in search of a new carrier.

The West Virginia Legislature formed the Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management (BRIM) to deal with the medical liability insurance availability problem.

Its premium is 5 percent above the highest premium currently on the market, with 23 percent annual increases, Dr. Daryl LaRusso said.

Many doctors said they will leave the state before they use BRIM.

Leung said he probably will be the first to join BRIM.

"I will struggle along and see how long I can practice here," he said.

They said tort reform (civil justice reform), which would place regulations on civil suits against doctors and lower the rates, is needed.

"I hope the message will be sent to the Legislature so they will listen to the physicians who serve thousands of patients so there won't be limitations on health care," Leung said.

In the last legislative session, the tort reform bill did not get out of committee, said Dr. K.C. Nau, president of West Virginia University's Rural Medical Residency program.

Dr. Troy Foster said his private orthopedics practice has quit offering high-risk spinal surgery.

Foster said the insurance for an orthopedic surgeon is $30,000 in Hagerstown and $24,000 in Winchester, Va. Foster said he and his partner pay $80,000.

Dr. Colin Iosso, president of City Hospital's medical staff, said West Virginia has gained a national reputation as "a difficult climate in which to practice."

"We have been struggling as a medical staff to keep high-quality medical staff here and to recruit new doctors," he said.

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