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Passing malpractice bill top feat of '03 session

March 11, 2003

The 2003 session of the West Virginia Legislature wasn't perfect, but on malpractice, the session's most important topic, lawmakers' performance was outstanding. Now state officials must closely monitor what they've set in motion to see if it needs any fine tuning.

The malpractice bill that Gov. Bob Wise is due to sign today will put $31 million toward a doctor-run insurance company, cap damages and put other limits on lawsuits.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Wise conceded that at some point during the debate he had managed to irritate someone on every side of the issue. But he said he felt what he'd done was in the state's best interest.

We agree. Though some may argue that those who are injured through medical errors should not be limited in terms of what they can recover for their pain and suffering, the state faced a shrinking number of insurers who would write malpractice policies.

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Without those insurers, doctors had two choices - risk treating patients without insurance or leave the state. West Virginia could not afford to risk citizens' health in that way, or damage its economic-development effort in the way that news reports of an exodus of doctors would do.

The hope is that the doctor-run insurance company eventually will drop its ties to state government, but with the cost of medical care increasing as quickly as it has in recent years, the ultimate solution may have to come at the national level.

In other health-related matters, the legislature approved a 55-cent-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax, with the proceeds to be dedicated to Medicaid.

That action ensures that medical providers will get paid and that staffing won't be cut, but it's only a temporary fix. As the price of cigarettes increases and the campaign to get people to quit continues, cigarette-tax revenues will decline. Elected officials would be wise to start looking ahead and planning how to replace it in the future.

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