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Malpractice issue tops lawmakers' priority list

August 27, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

In the its last session, the West Virginia Legislature tried to deal with the fact that several insurance companies had stopped offering the state's doctors medical malpractice coverage. Now the doctors are saying the fix didn't go far enough. Lawmakers need to deal quickly with this vital issue.

Members of the legislature had hoped that the doctors would create their own physician-run insurance company. But on Sunday the state medical society said that to make that idea work, more cash and some key changes in state law are needed.

So far the limited program run through the state's Board of Risk and Management has enrolled about 500 doctors, seven hospitals and 10 health-care facilities and has collected about $3.7 million of the $6.7 million in premiums that are due. However, the medical society said it will take another $20 milllion in state funds to get the new company up and running - about twice what lawmakers had estimated.

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In addition, the doctors want changes in malpractice laws, to cut non-economic awards - for pain and suffering - from the current $1 million to $250,000. They also seek a change in the state's collateral source rule, which allows injured parties to get paid from several different sources for the same injury.

Another proposal would change the law which now holds physicians respoonsible for the entire setlment mandated in court, even of they're only found liable for 25 percent of the injury.

The first task for lawmakers is to verify the association's claim that such changes have been made in other states and have worked well. The pain-and-suffering cap is a concern, for example. If we're talking about a lifetime of pain, $250,000 might not be adequate compensation.

Reasonable people will differ on details, but there should be no disagreement on the importance of solving this issue. The new jobs the state needs won't be created if the companies providing them can't get adequate medical care for their workers.

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