BLAME GAME - Someone's Asleep At The Wheel

(12/27/2002)

By Teresa Starcher

dagwood2us@yahoo.com

Oops! It seems someone was asleep at the wheel. State legislators now have a wreck on their hands. Now all parties involved feign wide-eyed innocence. Well, I smell a rat. I have many questions about this “pretty kettle of fish”. Number one being, who was minding the store when Medical Assurance was charging some doctors as much as four times the approved rate for their insurance?

Insurance Commissioner, Jane Cline and Deputy Commissioner, Bill Kenny indicated that laxity on the part of insurance companies was possibly the root of the state's crisis concerning doctors leaving the state due to outrageous rate hikes in their medical malpractice insurance.

It was stated that six companies, including Medical Assurance had not filed their business reports between 1994 and 1999. Yet Kenny also stated that there were some years where the Insurance Commission itself didn't request the information from carriers and that there were also years when the carriers didn't respond to information request. People, people! This is no way to "earn your bread by the sweat of your brow” as my father was fond of saying.

The governor appointed Jane Cline to her office in 2001. What a muddle she walked into. Her band-aid fix was to level fines, while forgiving some of them for Medical Assurance for its agreement to cover more state doctors. Well, I guess this is better than shutting the barn door after all the cows are out; but it's too little, too late.

Since I am personally affected by this muss. I want heads to roll. Two of my doctors have left the state. Dr. Richard Cain, when Medical Assurance, graciously bestowed upon him a rate of $ 20,000 with no end in sight; and Dr. R. Kesselring, graced with $85,000. Now that's a chunk of change by anyone's standards.

Far be it from me to tip the wink, but it would seem that Medical Assurance is enjoying a bit of a monopoly and has been for years. Its “consent to rate” deal had allowed them to charge certain doctors four times the approved rate. Also, according to The Parkersburg News, it's the only company actively writing policies in WV. And that the others have “pulled out” for financial reasons. What prompted other insurance companies to do this? Why wasn't it lucrative to continue to write policies within WV.? With soaking doctors alone it should have been counting a windfall. The cap on awards should have increased their paper profits. Why didn't it? Oh, pother everybody just ignore laws.

The paper also reported that Medical Assurance has stopped writing the “consent to rate” agreements,” which were illegal until the Legislature last year passed a law allowing them”. I don't really understand this, but I think it is a botch. Didn't they have at least an inkling that physicians wouldn't cotton to any more rate gouging and were trying to make this known before hand? Weren't the legislators even aware of anything? Talk about cognitively impaired.

So, who is to blame? Who should pay the piper? Cline, Kenny, lawyers, officials, legislators, the governor, insurance companies or even the doctors for having to have medical malpractice insurance in the first place? I think that they all should lick their calves over and do a better job.

Del. Tom Azinger, R-Wood, has the best solution. He claims that the Legislature needs to address liability reforms in the next Legislative session and governor Wise should call a special session for tort reforms. I readily agree with this. To do less than these will be to do a great disservice to our state and its citizens. It may take a might of jawboning but we must make tort reform a major issue. Litigation of frivolous cases have become as a cancer upon our legal system. Who pays? We do.


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