The largest medical malpractice insurance provider in West Virginia, the West Virginia Mutual Physicians Insurance Company (WVPMIC), announced a change in leadership. And the new president and chief executive officer, R. Austin Wallace, MD, heaped large amounts of praise on the medical liability insurance company he now runs as well as the state legislature that passed a series of tort-reform laws that created the WVPMIC and the stable liability climate West Virginia now enjoys. Most importantly, Wallace said, medical malpractice insurance premiums have been on the decrease since those tort reforms passed.
In an interview with the newspaper News & Sentinel, Wallace explained the previously terrible situation the state’s healthcare workforce found itself in after PIE Mutual declared bankruptcy in 1998 and the St. Paul Companies exited the medical malpractice insurance business in 2000. PIE had insured about one-third of the state’s healthcare workforce before bankruptcy; St. Paul had insured more than 1,450 of the state’s doctors before exiting the market. Following the departure of these two medical malpractice insurance companies, those doctors were left without any coverage and unable to practice. Specialty physicians began leaving for other states, and West Virginia maternity wards began shuttering.
The West Virginia General Assembly amended its Medical Professional Liability Act in 2003 to allow for the creation of WVPMIC, the state’s first and only non-profit, mutual medical liability insurance company. WVPMIC was founded with a $24 million loan from the state’s taxpayers and currently insures about 60 percent of the state’s physicians. By playing an active role in underwriting, risk management and claims, WVPMIC’s physician board members have been able to medical malpractice insurance premiums for its member insureds.
Explaining the success WVPMIC has had since its founding almost eight years ago, Wallace credited the state’s previous tort reform measures. Prior to the passage of West Virginia’s Medical Professional Liability Act in 1986, the state’s medical liability climate was atrocious. Following the enactment of the Medical Professional Liability Act, it has been amended twice to further stabilize the West Virginia’s medical malpractice environment.
All together, the Medical Professional Liability Act and its amendments strictly defined the specific elements of a medical professional liability case, capped non-economic damages at $250,000, limited joint and several liability, established and codified expert witness requirements and provide healthcare workers with procedural safeguards against frivolous lawsuits.
In 2009, West Virginia was named the “Ninth Best State to Practice Medicine,” which Wallace credited to Medical Professional Liability Act and the efforts of the WVPMIC.