NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Doctors Quit West Virginia Over Insurance Costs

June 13, 2002

West Virginia is one of the costliest states in the nation in terms of obtaining medical malpractice insurance. It has also achieved the dubious distinction of driving one in every 20 of its doctors out of the state or into early retirement in the past two years.

Medical officials call the situation no less than a statewide crisis -- exacerbated by West Virginia's traditional difficulty in attracting physicians due to its poverty and rural character.

  • Obstetrical and neurosurgical practitioners are at particular risk -- having seen their premiums rise by 30 percent or more.
  • Trauma center services are also said to be hard hit by the exodus -- as in Wheeling, for example, where the departure of the last emergency room neurosurgeon means patients must be helicoptered to other areas.
  • According to a recent medical association poll, 40 percent of West Virginia's doctors are considering early retirement or moving to another state.
  • Nationally, malpractice jury awards grew from an average of $1.95 million in 1993 to $3.49 million in 1999.

The state's largest major commercial underwriter, the St. Paul Companies, withdrew from malpractice coverage nationally last winter -- which one medical official in West Virginia described as having the bottom fall out.

Source: Francis X. Clines, "Insurance-Squeezed Doctors Folding Tents in West Virginia," New York Times, June 13, 2002.


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