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Lawmakers to confer with doctor

Malpractice, CHIP program and cigarette tax are among priorities

Malpractice, CHIP program and cigarette tax are among priorities

January 13, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG - Doctors will meet with state legislators in Charleston, W.Va., starting Monday for White Coat Day, an annual event that's become more important after nine City Hospital surgeons threatened to walk out Feb. 1 if something is not done about the medical malpractice insurance issue.

Between 30 and 50 doctors from the Eastern Panhandle plan to go to Charleston, said Dr. Konrad C. Nau, president of the Eastern Panhandle Medical Society and a Jefferson County physician.

Although the medical malpractice issue tops the list of priorities, Nau said doctors have other suggestions they hope the Legislature can incorporate into law.

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Access to the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, needs to be expanded. Doctors are not seeing as many people enrolled as they had hoped, Nau said.

Physicians also plan to lobby for an increased per-pack tax on cigarettes, with the revenue to be used to help reduce smoking by young people, Nau said.

West Virginia leads the nation in heart disease and is in the top five of states with the highest levels of other smoking-related problems, Nau said, meaning the state has high health care costs.

States with the highest cigarette taxes have fewer smokers and reduced health care costs, he said.

On another issue, finding a way to retain and recruit physicians in the state is also key, Nau said. Nau is the director of a local residency program, which is part of West Virginia University.

"Our malpractice mess is a powerful deterrent to those folks wanting to stay," he said.

Dr. Jim Carrier, one of the nine surgeons who plans to walk out Feb. 1, agreed.

"We can't get physicians to come to West Virginia to practice," he said.

Carrier is one of four general surgeons in Martinsburg. He is 50, two of the surgeons are in their 60s and one is in his 30s, Carrier said.

If the oldest surgeon retires and no new doctor replaces him, Carrier said a problem is imminent.

"Three of us can't carry the load," he said.

Nau said that last year estimates varied on how many doctors attended White Coat Day, but all agreed the number was in the hundreds. He expects a similar turnout this year.

Monday morning, the doctors will head to the Capitol building. Half will meet with members of the House of Delegates while the other half will speak with members of the Senate, Nau said.

Doctors will be introduced on the floor and meet with their local legislators one-on-one, he said.

And yes, Nau said, the doctors actually wear their white coats while in the capital.

Because of White Coat Day, some physician's offices will be closed Monday. Doctors plan to return Monday night.

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