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Don't like Wise's proposals? Then offer some of your own

January 10, 2003

West Virginia will solve its malpractice crisis and close the gap between spending and revenue in its budget, Gov. Bob Wise promised Wednesday. But getting there will involve passing some bills guaranteed to be unpopular.

The governor's pledges came as part of the annual State of the State address delivered in the state capital. To beef up the state-run malpractice insurance fund, Wise wants to take $20 million from the national tobacco settlement funds that come to the state. He also proposes tax credits for doctors, a cap on damage awards and limitations on malpractice lawsuits.

On the budget issue, Wise promised to restructure government to cut costs and enact a tobacco tax hike - from 17 to 55 cents per pack - that would bring in $59.7 million.

Most of that would be designated for Medicaid-related programs like nursing home care and children's health programs. Without the hike, Wise said that the state would have to cut reimbursements to health-care providers, giving them one more reason to flee the state.

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But fixing what ails the malpractice system and closing the budget gap will require lawmakers to embrace some ideas they've consistently rejected.

Lawmakers know that during the debate on capping damage awards, they will certainly hear from one or more people who face a lifetime of suffering because of a physician's error. And they also know that those who vote for any tax increase will guarantee their opponents an issue in the next election. And that could get ugly, as the recent contest between Jim Humphreys and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito demonstrated.

But those who reject Wise's proposals can't just say no. This is not a debate over the state motto or the state song, but an attempt to keep the state's citizens healthy. Reasonable people can disagree on the details of the solution, but if Wise's plans aren't acceptable to some lawmakers, they need to offer their own, and right now.

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