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Liability insurance addressed

November 25, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG - The heads of the Eastern Panhandle's three hospitals came together Friday for a press conference to push for legislation to solve the rising medical liability insurance crisis that they say is driving physicians from The Mountain State.

Jon Applebaum, CEO at City Hospital in Martinsburg, John Sherwood, CEO at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Charles Town, and Patrick Nolan, administrator of Morgan County War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, painted a darkening picture of health care in West Virginia unless the State Legislature and Gov. Bob Wise step in.

Other speakers were Tony Gregory, spokesman for the West Virginia Hospital Association, Dr. Dave Ebbitt, an emergency room physician who ran unsuccessfully for the West Virginia House of Delegates from Jefferson County on a platform calling for changes in the state's medical liability insurance system, and Walter Pellish of Shepherdstown, vice president of administration at Better Minerals and Aggregates in Berkeley Springs. Pellish represented the business community.

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It is becoming harder for physicians, hospitals and other health care providers to find affordable medical liability insurance, Applebaum said. In some cases, current policies are not being renewed.

Sherwood said physicians are seeing their premiums go up by as much as 200 percent. The premium for Jefferson Memorial went from $265,000 in 2000 to $618,000 last year, he said.

The crisis makes recruiting new physicians harder, Sherwood said.

"In some counties, physicians have stopped delivering babies because of the high medical liability insurance," he said.

Among solutions, Nolan said, are limiting the amount lawyers get so more money goes to the patient, requiring doctors who testify in malpractice cases to be experts in their fields, placing limits on non-economic damages for pain and suffering, and limiting liability in cases where patients are treated in emergency settings unless there is clear evidence of negligence.

If allowed to continue, the crisis will dramatically impact the availability of health care in West Virginia, Ebbitt said.

Pellish said the problem is everyone's problem. He urged everyone to get involved, to write to their legislators and the governor and to support tort reform efforts.

The CARE coalition, a coalition of physicians and hospitals across the state, is leading the grass roots effort to lobby the legislature and governor.

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