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Doctors wary of Wise's malpractice plan

January 09, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Gov. Bob Wise's proposals Wednesday night to address what some call a medical malpractice insurance crisis in the state was met with both praise and skepticism by local doctors and lawmakers.

At least two dozen doctors in the northern part of the state have walked off their jobs for 30 days to protest skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance premiums.

Berkeley County doctor David Ebbitt said Wednesday he would not be surprised to see walkouts spread across the state if state officials do not deal seriously with the issue.

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In his State-of-the-State address Wednesday night, Wise said he wants to bring insurance rates under control by placing a cap of $250,000 on awards juries can give for pain and suffering in medical malpractice suits.

Wise proposed a $500,000 cap on liability for medical providers who work in trauma care.

Wise said he wants to take $20 million from a tobacco settlement to offset the costs of providing medical liability protection to doctors through a new state-run insurance program for physicians.

Wise said his malpractice reform measures and other proposals in his speech represented a "bold agenda in tough times."

Ebbitt, an emergency medicine physician at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., was skeptical any meaningful resolutions will be reached in Charleston, W.Va.

Ebbitt said there is a "genuine concern" that there will be nothing but finger-pointing over the issue in the Legislature. He said the $20 million Wise proposed putting in the state insurance plan is not much money for such a complex problem. "I don't think it will impress us. It certainly won't impress me," Ebbitt said as he met with local doctors at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg Wednesday night.

Ebbitt and about 35 other local doctors will be in Charleston Monday for the annual "White Coat Day" event, at which doctors discuss malpractice insurance concerns with lawmakers.

Konrad Nau, a local doctor who is president of the Eastern Panhandle Medical Society, said he wants to see if Wise's proposals are close to those put forward by the CARE Coalition, a group of medical care providers.

Nau said medical malpractice is a "complex issue and the devil is in the details."

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said he believes Wise's reform proposals will create a "more friendly environment" for insurance companies, which will encourage more to locate in the state and create a more healthy, competitive insurance market.

"I think the governor is right on track here and I'm enthusiastic about it," Unger said.

"He went a lot further than I thought he would go," said Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson.

Doyle said he thinks the House of Delegates will act quickly on the issue, passing a malpractice bill within a few weeks.

Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, declined to speculate on how successful Wise's proposal will be in the Legislature, saying lawmakers need to look at the details.

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, said Wise's ideas such as the jury award caps are a "good outline" for a solution and Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said the governor's ideas "sound good."

"It sure appears we're all working toward the same common goal," said Del. Craig Blair, R- Berkeley, Morgan.

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