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To set up physicians' group, explore who's done it before

May 20, 2003

By the end of this week, 1,200 West Virginia physicians must decide which of their colleagues to trust with their financial and professional futures. We applaud those doctors willing to put in the time and effort to help solve the state's malpractice crisis.

How will they do that? By serving on a board that will create a physicians' mutual insurance company that will provide malpractice insurance for doctors faced with rates they can't afford - or who can't find coverage at any price.

Coverage is being provided now through the state's Board of Risk and Insurance Management, but state lawmakers have made it clear that the state will only remain in the insurance business for a transitional period.

To complete that transition, state officials said BRIM and the new board will write bylaws and a business plan and work to obtain re-insurance, which is in effect backup coverage to cover catastrophic claims.

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Right now it's unclear whether the board will be paid for any of its expenses, because it hasn't even been decided how the costs of electing the board's members will be paid.

To those physicians who are elected to the board, we have this advice: Look at how this has been done successfully elsewhere. It's been our experience that those who have succeeded in solving a problem are usually proud of their work - and generous enough to share what worked and what didn't.

The most contentious issue probably will be how to set up a mechanism to decide when it's no longer financially feasible to provide coverage to a physician, either because of repeated malpractice claims, or the inability to obtain re-insurance for certain specialties.

Because their actions could potentially end a doctor's career, board members will also need liability coverage of their own.

No doubt there are a host of other issues we haven't anticipated.

To protect themselves and the health of West Virginia citizens, we urge the new board's members to find some group which has done this before and get a scouting report on any possible bumps in the road.

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