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The White Coats are coming

There are, it seems, a lot of doctors in West Virginia who are mad as heck and they aren't gonna take it anymore. Hundreds of physicians plan to close their offices on Feb. 19 and 20 and head to Charleston for "White Coat Day at the Legislature."

Doctors want to impress on lawmakers and their patients the difficulties they are having operating their practices in the Mountain State.

The West Virginia Medical Association has four specific complaints:

-- Doctors in this state are more likely to be sued for malpractice than in surrounding states.

-- Malpractice insurance rates, as a result, are double what physicians pay in Ohio and Kentucky and three times what doctors pay in Pennsylvania.

-- Reimbursement rates from government-run insurance plans such as PEIA are declining.

-- West Virginia doctors are charged a 2 percent tax on their gross to help fund Medicaid.

There are probably many out there who have little sympathy for these doctors. But some of their complaints have merit, and we are probably facing a serious doctor shortage in West Virginia in the next few years.

In a weekend story by Paul Darst, we learned that Harrison County has only one neurologist. A Nutter Fort heart surgeon has been seeking another doctor to join his practice for the past three years, but many balk at the state's malpractice insurance rates.

The doctors are seeking some kind of tort reform, but we wonder how that can be done without infringing on the rights of people who are genuinely aggrieved.

Even though 85 percent of the doctors sued for malpractice in West Virginia win their cases, the medicos are 212 times more likely to be sued than their counterparts in Ohio. Just getting hauled into court can jack up their insurance premiums.

As for the 2 percent tax for Medicaid: We have a lot of unfair taxes in this state -- the food tax comes to mind -- and the Legislature needs to address an overall tax reform package. Your tax may be unfair. Get in line.

When the doctors descend on Charleston we hope lawmakers listen. We need to recruit more doctors to the state and we need to keep the ones already here. It won't be easy and the solution is not crystal clear. But we can't just sit and do nothing.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent editorial board which is comprised of James G. Logue, Kevin S. Courtney, Patrick M. Martin, Nora Edinger and J. Cecil Jarvis.

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