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West Virginia's medical malpractice insurance market goes from grim to BRIM

West Virginia, like its neighbor Pennsylvania, is struggling with a crisis in the availability of medical malpractice insurance. The situation worsened considerably when The St. Paul Cos., the second-largest underwriter of medical malpractice insurance in the country, announced plans to exit the medical-malpractice insurance market due to a $940 million loss in 2001.

But West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise has high hopes that medical malpractice insurance now offered to doctors through the state's Board of Risk and Insurance Management (BRIM) will ease the crisis. Through BRIM, any West Virginia doctor who cannot get professional liability insurance elsewhere may purchase up to $2 million per claim in coverage with a $4 million annual limit. Additionally, hospitals can be covered up to $3 million per claim.

Doctors can download an application for BRIM coverage from the BRIM Web site. While exorbitant medical malpractice insurance premiums are wreaking havoc in communities throughout the United States, West Virginia has been particularly hard hit. A West Virginia Medical Association survey of 1,033 of its physician members finds:

  • 70 percent say the malpractice insurance situation has affected their practices.
  • 44 percent have been sued.
  • 56 percent have increased their practice of "defensive medicine," such as ordering additional, sometimes unecessary tests.
  • 40 percent have stopped performing riskier procedures.
  • 23 percent have considered leaving the state.
  • 18 percent decline to provide Medicaid services.
  • 14 percent reduced their medical malpractice insurance coverage to save premium dollars.
  • 14 percent limited new patient access.

For more information on the medical malpractice insurance crisis, read Soaring malpractice premiums bleed doctors, rob consumers.

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