Surgeons won't walk out today

February 17, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

All nine surgeons who had planned a walkout from City Hospital starting today have withdrawn their requests for leaves of absence, confident the state Legislature is close to passing a bill dealing with medical malpractice insurance and tort reform issues.

Dr. Jim Carrier, who has been speaking on behalf of the group and was one of the surgeons involved in the proposed walkout, said he believes a bill will be on Gov. Bob Wise's desk next week.

High medical malpractice insurance premiums and the absence of tort reform have caused doctors to leave the state and has hindered recruitment efforts, Carrier said. The surgeons in Martinsburg threatened to walk out if legislators did not pass a bill in an attempt to solve the problem.


Carrier, a general surgeon and president of the medical staff at City Hospital, and eight other surgeons submitted their leave of absence requests Jan. 10. They were supposed to walk out Feb. 1, but the date was pushed back to today because of a bill making its way through the Legislature.

Both the House and Senate have passed versions of a medical malpractice bill, and joint conference committee members are looking over the two.

The Senate's version, passed Feb. 7, includes a $2.5 million tax break for doctors but still charges them $1,000 each to fund their own insurance program. That mutual insurance program is to take effect Jan. 1, 2004.

The Senate version retains the lawsuit limits passed Jan 16. by the House of Delegates and amended slightly by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bills include a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering, with a $500,000 exception for certain cases.

Those exceptions worry Carrier, who said he feels they could especially affect obstetricians. Attracting obstetricians is already difficult, especially in rural parts of the state, Carrier said.

Still, Carrier said experts have advised him the tort reforms should cover up to 80 percent of the cases that might otherwise end up in court. Some cases are truly malpractice and should be heard, Carrier said.

Carrier said he does not imagine the possibility of a walkout will be revisited in the near future. If the state Supreme Court should declare the tort reforms unconstitutional, another walkout plan is possible, he said. By then, though, he hopes President Bush will have enacted federal tort reforms, which would supersede any state measures.

Some hoped-for reforms did not make it into either bill, Carrier said, including the idea that large judgment payments be staggered and that plaintiff's attorneys fees be reduced.

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