Cabinet secretary to visit city

Charleston Gazette
Friday, August 16, 2002

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson will visit West Virginia Wednesday to talk to doctors about tort reform and announce a community health centers grant.

"We've got some West Virginia events scheduled, but we're not 100 percent positive where they'll be just yet," said HHS spokesman Tony Jewell.

Thompson will visit Charleston and Dawes and speak to West Virginia State Medical Association members about President George W. Bush's health agenda, mainly liability reform. A recently released HHS policy report said costly malpractice premiums are forcing doctors to close their practice, leave their communities and not take high-risk patients. The report called for reforms like caps on non-economic damages and stronger medical review panels - reforms similar to those pursued by the state medical association. …

But several groups have criticized the report, including the Center for Justice and Democracy. There is no connection between high insurance rates and tort reform, according to a 1999 report by the center. The report analyzed tort measures in every state for the past 15 years.

"When interest rates drop and the economy weakens, insurance companies respond by dramatically raising premiums," said Joanne Doroshow, executive director.

The rates in California - a state with tough tort reform measures - have had some of the quickest increases in the last 10 years, she added.

West Virginia's doctors have expressed concerns similar to the ones in the HHS report: They cannot get affordable malpractice insurance. Officials have since created a state-run medical malpractice insurance plan to cover state doctors. The state medical association is also trying to create a doctor-run insurance company.

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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